(I speak for myself. Although I am employed by Faculty of 1000 (F1000) and this post is about the company, I am not writing on behalf of F1000: this is my opinion only.)
Somewhere on the internets the other day I came across a comment about Faculty of 1000, written by one of our (erstwhile) Faculty Members. At least I assumed it was a Faculty Member: the gist of the comment was that he was no longer participating in the project because F1000 is not open access.
Now, you might think that’s a noble stand. After all, our chairman is the man who effectively invented open access, and you might be forgiven for thinking that philosophy would permeate his other ventures (you’d be wrong, but you might be forgiven for thinking it). But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how stupid that stand is, and the angrier I became.
Open access has taken on the mantle of a religious crusade. Open access, it seems, is a panacea for all ills, adhered to by faith in the face of any evidence to the contrary. All journals, all publications, should be made freely accessible at the point of consumption, according to their wild-haired, starry-eyed prophets.
To anyone with half a brain, this is ludicrous. Allow me to take the example of F1000 itself, and show you why open access is unsustainable in this instance. It won’t take long.
Faculty of 1000 publishes short evaluations of published papers. Mini-reviews, if you like. About 1200 every month, covering most areas of biology and medicine. We only publish evaluations of papers that are reckoned to be worth reading–important, or interesting, or worth bringing to a wider audience. Depending on discipline, 1-2% of what’s indexed in PubMed makes it into F1000. It’s a filter, highlighting the best work in any particular field.
Who does this evaluating and reckoning?
You do. To be precise, nearly 10,000 scientists and medics, leaders in their respective fields whose opinions, and work, are respected by their peers. Faculty Members. When they see a paper worth evaluating, they’ll write it up, give it a rating and send it in. We’ll edit the report and put it live on the website; categorized and indexed.
Our Faculty Members do this for the good of the community, because they get value from it and because it’s actually quite prestigious to be invited to join the Faculty.
We don’t pay Faculty Members to do this (just like journals don’t pay authors to publish their papers). There are a couple of reasons for this. First, we do not, ever, influence Faculty Members’ choice of papers. We help them choose, by providing tables of contents of journals they might be interested in and providing search tools so they can find papers relevant to their field. But we offer no financial or other incentive; nobody can accuse us of influencing what gets evaluated. We don’t actually, care which papers they pick, as long as they’re good.
But the main reason is that we couldn’t afford to. Twelve hundred evaluations, and we’d probably have to offer at least fifty quid per so Faculty Members didn’t feel insulted: three-quarters of a million pounds per year right there.
And we have a large staff. There are thirty people whose job it is to ring our ten thousand Faculty Members and commission evaluations. You do the math. That’s taking into account the editorial team, hosting, the development team and–because we need to sell this project to finance it–sales and marketing. Because everything is curated, our marginals are significant.
We sell subscriptions to the service. Our charges are based on the number of full-time equivalents at the subscribing institute. I don’t know exactly what we charge, but it’s not horrendously expensive: we used to sell personal subscriptions at US$150 per year (and you get The Scientist thrown in too).
So those subscriptions pay for everything. Yes, we’ve got advertising, but the amount of advertising needed to pay for an operation like this would make the site unusable.
What to do? Personally, I’d love to make F1000 open access. But it’s not going to happen. The only way it might is if we charged our Faculty Members, who we already have to hassle to produce evaluations for you, each time they wrote something. Until publishing on F1000 counts as CV points (and believe me, we’re working on it), that’s not going to happen–and probably not even then.
Look, one of my colleagues is trying to set up another section, or ‘Faculty’ on the site. This involves recruiting a couple of Heads of Faculty, who then appoint Section Heads to run the sub-disciplinary areas. These Section Heads nominate ‘ordinary’ Faculty Members to do the actual evaluating. And we can’t get people to do it, in this specialty. “What will you pay me?” they ask. These mucking fedics have essentially ensured that this particular Faculty is still-born.
And you want it to be open access?
Saying F1000 should be open access is like walking into a shop and saying the bread they sell should be free to anybody who wants it, because that’s what your religion believes. You could, I suppose, persuade somebody to run the infrastructure for free; get someone else (lots of someone elses) to hassle people for their evaluations; have students edit all the text; get someone to come in at 3 in the morning when the server falls over; maybe even get a bunch of like-minded individuals to code the user, editor and contributor websites. But in the real world?
Get a grip.