Apparently, Nature doesn’t nurture.

The University of California  may be throwing down the gauntlet and declaring war on the Nature Publishing Group (NPG). In addition to the Nature-branded publications, the NPG includes the EMBO Journal and Scientific American among its impressive list of 67 journals. The California Digital Libraries (CDL) made public a letter  on June 4 imploring UC faculty to participate in an NPG boycott. The reason? A proposed 400% increase in CDL online subscription costs for all NPG publications.

Like many libraries the CDL has been facing a budget crunch with the economic crisis and released an open letter to all vendors in May of last year that highlighted their financial difficulties and requested that vendors “work with [them] to provide creative solutions to preserve the greatest amount of content possible to meet the information needs of the University of California’s students, faculty and researchers”. It would appear that the NPG has decided to ignore this appeal. While the CDL is currently paying $4,465 on average for online NPG journals, if the proposed rate increases were introduced this would sky rocket to $17,479. This is compared to an average subscription cost of about $3,103 for non-NPG journals (though this number doubles when considering only physical sciences and engineering publications).

The CDL suggests that UC researchers participate in the boycott by removing themselves from NPG editorial and advisory boards, refuse to review manuscripts from NPG journals, cease to submit to NPG journals and to consider submitting to alternative open access journals such as the popular PLoS publications. This is interesting to consider in the context of a larger debate over the current peer-review system. I read a recent editorial on The Scientist website that discussed many of the issues surrounding the current peer review process. It made me question what many of us do when we come to submit a manuscript: is it worth trying to submit to top-tier journals? The submission to publications like Cell, Nature and Science is on the rise which means that rejections are on the rise too leaving no shortage of angry scientists in the wake. As submission numbers increase reviewers for all these manuscripts become harder to find and the turn around time on a submitted manuscript can be as much as 8 weeks or more. A colleague informed me that she knows of a (Nobel prize winning) faculty member who prefers not to publish in these top-tier journals. Unfortunately, with mounting pressure to “publish or perish” in the face of ever scarcer funding sources this is a luxury that many of us can not likely afford. But with this newest souring of the NPG image, I wonder if more researchers will go to alternative journals such as PLoS and thus boost the impact factor of these publications? Will we hit the ceiling in the peer review process that forces us to re-evaluate the system? Is it even the peer review process that is the problem or should we be re-evaluating how “progress” is measured for grant review?

These questions aside, Nature has posted a rebuttal to the UC proposed boycott claiming that the CDL has been receiving an unfair discount of about 88% on NPG publications. This is in comparison to the 55% discount that they are receiving from other publishing groups. Whatever the case turns out to be, it seems apparent that when it is a question of Nature versus nurture, Nature wants more money.

Links Related to this posting:

Boycott letter

Nature’s response

The Scientist: Is Peer Review Broken?

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