The Higgs will be open access

George Monbiot is right, but how did particle physics escape?

At the Guardian.

I read George Monbiot’s piece on the high social, intellectual and financial cost of the academic publishing business with a familiar sense of outrage, shared in most of the follow up letters. That journals charge prohibitive amounts of money for the privilege of reading research funded by others is amazing. Even more amazing is that they are still getting away with it more than 20 years after the web was born.

In particle physics, everything worth reading is posted on the arXiv server, which is why I am able to link original articles from my blogs and you are able to read them free. No one I know would consider publishing in a journal which didn’t allow this.

CERN is very active in promoting open access publishing. Unfortunately one plank of this is archiving everything on the CERN Document Server, which is about the most unsearchable archive I have ever come across. But it doesn’t matter, because the papers are all on arXiv too; and the principle is sound. I have been closely involved in about 30 papers from ATLAS over the past year, all published as open access.

I don’t quite know why particle physics manages to do this but other areas of science do not. I guess the very high impact journals call the shots, but we are prepared to live without them. This probably damages us on some metrics. The highest-impact particle physics journals behave more reasonably. Quite right too, since we provide the content, the typesetting, the graphics, the peer review and for most people the distribution.

So unless they have a change of policy, you probably won’t read about the discovery of the Higgs, or extra dimensions (or their exclusion) in Nature, for example. Though they do have open access deals for Nature Communications, which accepted this. (Declaration of interest, I’m on their editorial advisory panel, though I don’t actually get paid for it). Not sure what the impact factor of this is, though. Or it’s impact, in the wider world.
Note added 2/9/2011 in light of the comments below. “Nature” at least does not forbid making articles public on servers such as arXiv as well as publishing them, apparently. So why is this not standard practice in all fields (as it is for particle physics and astronomy)?

About Jon Butterworth

UCL Physics prof, works on LHC, writes (books, Cosmic Shambles and elsewhere). Citizen of England, UK, Europe & Nowhere, apparently.
This entry was posted in Science Policy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.