Shame On Nature: Academic Journal Demanding Researchers Waive Their Own Open Access Policy

from the shameful dept

We’ve been talking a lot about the power and importance of open access for academic (and especially government funded) research. More and more universities have agreed, with some even having general open access policies for their academics, requiring them to release research under open access policies. This makes sense, because one of the key aspects of education and knowledge is the ability to share it freely and to build on the work of others. Without open access, this is made much more difficult. So it’s immensely troubling to discover that one of the biggest science publishers out there, Nature Publishing Group, has started telling academics that they need to get a “waiver” from their university’s open access policies. The issue was raised by Duke’s Scholarly Communications Officer, Kevin Smith, though it’s likely happening at other universities as well:

A new thing started happening here at Duke this week; we began getting inquiries from some faculty authors about how to obtain a formal waiver of our faculty open access policy. We have had that policy in place for over three years, but for the first time a single publisher — the Nature Publishing Group — is telling all authors at Duke that they must obtain a waiver of the policy before their accepted articles can be published. It is not clear why NPG suddenly requires these waivers after publishing many articles in the past three years by Duke authors, while the policy was in force and without waivers.

Indeed, the waivers are essentially meaningless because of the way Duke has implemented its open access policy. When the policy was adopted unanimously by our Academic Council in March 2010, the statement in favor of openness was pretty clear, but so was the instruction that implementing the policy not become a burden to our faculty authors. So throughout the ensuing years we have tried to ensure that all archiving of published work in our repository be done in compliance with any publisher policies to which our authors have agreed. NPG allows authors to archive final submitted manuscripts after a six month delay, so that is what we would do, whether or not the author sought a policy waiver. But suddenly that is not good enough; Nature wants a formal waiver even though it will have no practical effect. The demand seems to be an effort to punish authors at institutions that adopt open access policies.

As noted above, there seems to be no need for such a waiver in the first place, given current policies, but it’s still quite troubling that Nature would push for such a thing. Smith notes that the effort in many ways backfires, since it’s really only served to remind Duke’s faculty that Duke has this open access policy — perhaps leading more of them to remember to “self-archive” papers they’ve gotten published in Nature. But, still, the request from Nature is quite troubling, as Smith again details:

This effort to punish faculty who have voted for an internal and perfectly legal open access policy is nothing less than an attack on one of the core principles of academic freedom, faculty governance. NPG thinks it has the right to tell faculties what policies are good for them and which are not, and to punish those who disagree.

As my sense of outrage grew, I began to explore the NPG website.  Initially I was looking to see if authors were told about the waiver requirement upfront.  As far as I can tell, they are not, in spite of rhetoric about transparency in the “information for authors” page.  The need for a waiver is not even mentioned on the checklist that is supposed to guide authors through the publication process.  It seems that this requirement is communicated to authors only after their papers have been accepted.  I suspect that NPG is ashamed of their stratagem, and in my opinion they should be.

Smith also notes that as he explored Nature’s terms more carefully, he realized that they also play some other questionable games, including getting anyone having a paper published in Nature to waive their moral rights. As he notes, moral rights (except in a few specific instances) are not recognized in the US, but they are common elsewhere. And he wonders why Nature could possibly want authors to waive the attribution right that is embedded within moral rights:

But my point here is to wonder why NPG requires all of its authors to waive their right of attribution. This is not an incidental matter; the clause is carefully structured to attempt to get authors even from the countries that do not allow the waiver of moral rights — they are considered that important – still to promise not to assert those rights (whether or not that would be enforceable in those countries). Nature actively does not want its authors to be able to insist that their names always be associated with their work. Why? Does NPG imagine reusing articles it is given to publish in other ways, without providing proper attribution? If this seems like a remote possibility, it remains the only conceivable reason that NPG would insert this bizarre clause.

All of this leads Smith to point out that Nature seems to be attacking two separate, but fundamental values in academic publishing: both attribution and open access to knowledge. It should make many academics think twice about whether or not they wish to have their articles published in such an enterprise.

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Companies: duke university, nature publishing group

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Comments on “Shame On Nature: Academic Journal Demanding Researchers Waive Their Own Open Access Policy”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Fraud in the future?

While either one, waiving the open access rights and waiving ‘moral rights’, seem to be rather dodgy, taken together I can’t help but think, it almost sounds like they intend to post articles and attribute them to other people, and since the researchers wouldn’t have their own copies posted elsewhere, having signed it over to the publisher, they’d have a wicked time proving their case without taking it to court, and even then the waivers would make it difficult for them.

Really though, try as I might, I just cannot think of a valid reason they might have for wanting to force those making submissions to give up their rights, or ‘promise’ not to enforce them, with regards to attribution, unless they were planning on changing the attribution, making it seem like articles and research was done by someone completely different than who actually submitted it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Fraud in the future?

They are by definition included in the term “moral rights” when referring to copyright, as defined by all the countries that include them in their copyright laws. So, no, the contract does not specifically mention the right of attribution, but does mention giving up or not insisting on moral rights. I suspect they don’t mention the right of attribution specifically so that scholars in the US are less likely to realize what they are giving up.

DrZZ says:

Re: Fraud in the future?

Really though, try as I might, I just cannot think of a valid reason they might have for wanting to force those making submissions to give up their rights, or ‘promise’ not to enforce them, with regards to attribution …

If you read the comments they say they are trying to avoid a situation where they can not add corrections, clarifications, or other information important to the scientific record because one or more authors refuses to consent. It is a rare, but real situation, but there is still a strong argument that the wording they used goes far beyond what is necessary to take care of this concern.

Crusty the Ex-Clown says:

Re: Re: Fraud in the future?

Do what other journals do – reject the paper if it needs corrections to which one or more authors refuse to consent. Problem solved. Really, why would Nature feel it had the right to accept a scientific paper and then force additional material into said paper even when an author objected? I’ve always thought the proper place for corrections and clarifications is in rebuttal articles, letters to the editor, and possibly editorial comments.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Fraud in the future?

If you read the comments they say they are trying to avoid a situation where they can not add corrections, clarifications, or other information important to the scientific record because one or more authors refuses to consent.

1) they should not edit a paper after publication, but only link to erratta, corrections or refutations. This is because other papers, including those in other journals may refer to the original, and depend on what was said when the paper was published.
2) the next thought is Which corporations want papers altered to suite their agendas. Its not as if academic publishers would support a corporate positions without telling people… hello Elsevier.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The problem for academics is that the people who are in charge rely on the reputation of the journal in which an academic publishes when rating the academic, along with the number of publications they have made. Until the on line journals gain the same reputation amongst the administrators as the traditional journals the academics have to publish in the traditional journals if they wish to advance their career.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Reputation is on its own a subjective measure for objectively qualifying an academics work. It is not a good measure for what it is meant to accomplish!

Unfortunately a better measure for “quality” is extremely hard to develop into a non-abusable universal and objective form and publishers will not recognize it!

Anonymous Coward says:

There's a lame response from Nature

It’s here; look for “Reply from Nature Group”.

It’s pretty clear that Nature has figured out that it’s a worthless bunch of middlemen who not only don’t add any value, but REMOVE value from academic publishing. This is the last gasp of a soon-to-be-extinct dinosaur desperately trying to extract as much revenue as it can before it ceases to exist. They don’t care about science. They don’t care about scientists. They don’t care about ANYTHING except profit, profit, profit.

I hope Duke tells them to pound sand.

Anonymous Coward says:

Reputation and attribution is the essential internal organs of academic life. If nature is intending to separate authors from their works, this is the end of functioning science, so far as they succeed in their goal.

Without sustaining attribution, how do we know how to assign monies and such for grants? Grants are, rightly, based on the track record of a researcher. It determines who people want to collaborate with, who gets invited to speak at conferences, who gets promoted, what their pay scale is , what economic opportunities they have, whether they have the power to successfully solicit investors, etc. etc. etc. .

Moreover non-attribution does violence to the essential activities of students of science itself. To understand what is happening in science, we have to have an intact narrative, including who did what when and what their motivations, insights, previous experience etc. were. Productive and insightful researchers don’t grow in isolated petri dishes; they’re created in large part by their environment. If this wasn’t true, then why would a huge part of university life and expenses go to maintaining and supporting that environs? Perhaps they could all just log in remotely from their living rooms and save everyone involved a bundle of cash.

Attribution gives us important evidence about how to stimulate scientists’ thinking, how to train them, what works and what doesn’t, what experiences, contacts, opportunities, events etc at university create an overall fertile environment for researchers and what is stifling.

What’s happening is crystal clear. Nature has a business plan to make key people at Nature rich. That business plan rests on these new requirements. There’s nothing more to it than that. Like anyone who gets the cocaine of money up their nose and likes it, they’re perfectly willing to destroy even the thing that sustains them in order to get more of what they crave.

I think the scientific classification of a creature which kills its host is “parasitoids”

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