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July 7, 2014 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD

Imagine that you had just completed a component of an important task that you had worked on for years. Imagine you were a scientist, something that is easy for me because I am. Imagine that you had had an original idea about how something in nature worked. You mustered the available resources and performed some preliminary studies that were supportive that your idea was in fact correct. You spend weeks or months organizing your ideas, your vision, and your preliminary data into a grant proposal and submitted this to a federal agency or private foundation for funding. Imagine further that your grant proposal was viewed favorably by your peers who supported your idea so your grant application was funded. You would be able to support a laboratory and a staff allowing further studies. You and your coworkers execute these experiments over a period of time that is likely to be measured in years.  These studies provide strong support that meets the standards for scientific proof that your idea was in fact correct.

Now you are able to begin the process of writing the scientific paper so that you can tell the world your great idea and studies you have done which provide support that your idea is correct. You and your coworkers, now coauthors, carefully construct the introduction where you explain to the world why you thought what you thought and did what you did. You carefully and in excruciating detail describe exactly how you did the experiments which yielded the data, and how you analyzed the data. You are now able to show the results of those experiments illustrated by carefully generated tables and graphs. You have now reached the point of offering discussion of the significance and importance of this new contribution to the world’s knowledge. Throughout this process you have dutifully acknowledged all of those whose previous work set the stage for your own contribution.

You send this work off to a biomedical journal. The editor will send it off to your scientific peers for review. They suggest a few more experiments to solidify the work and ask for rewrites of a few portions which they believe could be expressed more clearly.  You complete the additional experiments; you rewrite the manuscript and send it back to the editor. At long last the reviewers recommend that your work should be published (even reviewer 2 who you thought was an ass based on his stupid comments). This is a time for a feeling of accomplishment, of work well done. You are proud and you should be.

Now come a few surprises. You learn that the publisher wants you to pay publication costs. They will bill you for this. You learn that the journal owns the copyright for your years of hard work. You will have to ask their permission if you wish to use the figures or tables in another publication. Yes, you must ask them. You learn that the publisher charges your institution an exorbitant price to place the journal containing your work in the library and even more if your library has an online collection. You learn that the publisher has sold these subscriptions by bundling them with other journals that your library had to buy even if it did not want to.

There should be little more professionally satisfying than achieving your goal of contributing to the scientific literature. However, the business practices of many private academic publishers are nothing less than predatory. They engage in shady practices including price gouging. They do everything possible to limit the ability of those who did the work to freely disseminate the product they took years of work to produce. I recommend that all should consider supporting the journals published by the non-profit academic societies and limit to the minimum possible the business you do with private for profit publishers. We will all be better off. (Apologies to John Lennon for my excessive use of the word “imagine”.)

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.
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