The Fake Open Access Scam

We have just enabled Lens-viewing of open access articles on PubChase, in collaboration with Ivan Grubisic1. Lens is an extraordinary step forward in visualization of research. Not only is it infinitely superior to PDFs, but it is even better than reading manuscript printouts. Figures are next to the text and you no longer need to hop around the articles between the text and references, constantly losing your place2. Alas, there is a wrinkle. We had hoped to Lensify all Pubmed Central free content, but turns out that we cannot because only a fraction of PMC content is truly open access; free to read does not mean open access.

The PMC content that we can legally display in the Lens format on PubChase is that which is under the Creative Commons Licenses. Most of these papers are from the PLOS, BiomedCentral, and Hindawii publishers. Unfortunately, almost 90% of PMC articles are free to read as PDFs, but are under restrictive publisher copyrights that make it illegal for PubChase to reformat them. Even author-submitted manuscripts in compliance with the NIH Public Access Policy are subject to the publisher copyright and we cannot display them.

This shocked me. While there has recently been much buzz about scams by new OA journals, especially with the Science Sting by Bohannon, the biggest scam is the one by subscription journals. Many erroneously assume that only open access journals charge a fee for publication, while subscription journals only charge for access. Far from it. My recent paper in PNAS cost $3,500 to publish with the following fees (excerpt from PNAS acceptance e-mail):

Payment of the page charge of $75 per printed page will be assessed from all authors who have funds available for that purpose. Payments of $300 per article for up to five pages of Supporting Information (SI), $600 per article for six or more pages of SI, and $350 per color figure or table will be assessed. Authors of research articles may pay a surcharge of $1,350 to make their paper freely available through the PNAS Open Access option. If your institution has a current Site License, the open access surcharge is $1,000. Payment by authors of the following additional costs is expected: $150 for each replacement or deletion of a color figure or table, $25 for each replacement of a black-and-white or SI figure, and $25 for manuscript file replacement. Proofs should be returned within 48 hours.

This is way more than the cost of publishing in PLOS One, or even PLOS Biology, not to mention PeerJ, and after publication PNAS would still charge for access to the paper. But the part that upsets me most is that on top of these fees, PNAS charges $13503 to publish an article as “open access”, and it now turns out that it’s not even open access and we cannot display it in Lens on PubChase.

While the scams of the shady OA journals are irritating, they are largely irrelevant. On the other hand, the scam by the subscription journals is outrageous and seriously damaging to science.

  1. Lens is an open access project that was initially sponsored by eLife. We are helping Ivan extend it beyond eLife to as much content as possible []
  2. Please note this is still in Beta. Because of lack of uniformity in XML formats submitted to PMC, Ivan has to handle the Lensification of articles separately for each publisher, and some links may not work yet depending on the article []
  3. The PNAS charge of $1350 is exactly what it costs to publish the entire article in PLOS One!!! []
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6 Responses to The Fake Open Access Scam

  1. Pingback: Twitter Open Access Report – 22 Jan 2014 |

  2. Why don’t you just withdraw your submission to PNAS and submit it to PLOS ONE? Problems solved.

  3. Lenny Teytelman says:

    Jeffrey, maybe I was not the only author on this paper and it wasn’t so easy? Maybe I thought that with the extra fee my paper really would be Open Access? And maybe me pulling the paper and putting it in PLOS One is not the solution to the problem?

    The problem is not my paper. The problem is the subscription journals fleecing scientists with the fake “open access” option. Well, the problem is certainly deeper than just that, when it comes to subscription journals, but that’s for another thread.

  4. Science Oddities says:

    It is ironic that Beall should select to criticize only some OA publishers but, despite knowing about this PNAS scam at least since January 21, 2014, has not added such a story to his blog, nor has he added PNAS to his list of predatory OA journals. The practice indicated above is, without a doubt, predatory, and more scientists should be made aware of it. And in order to get a balanced perspective, scientists should also take more note of criticisms made of Beall:
    This is to say that there appears to be an element of bias.

  5. Lenny, since authors are usually allowed to publish their papers on their own websites, could you guys imagine an opt-in system where the XML version of the article gets posted elsewhere on the net, authors submit the URL to you guys, and your Lens engine accesses and displays it? Would be small at first, until people get used to Lens and start demanding it.

  6. Lenny Teytelman says:

    That is a terrific idea!

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