ACS: The Perfect Storm

Oct 05 2010 Published by under Praxis

Chemistry and scholarly communications issues have a difficult, stormy relationship. Why?

Part of the problem is the disconnect between industry and academia. This exists in all areas of science but can particularly bad in big pharma and profitable trade secrets.

Another part of the problem is that professional societies, with the American Chemical Society (ACS) as a notable example, use income generated from journal subscriptions and literature index licensing costs to fund other society activities. Has the society quantified this? I'm not sure - I can say as a local section officer our small section was able to obtain several programming grants and other supplemental funds to host Science Cafes, seminars, outreach activities and the like. As an incoming local section officer I was able to attend a weekend leadership institute with free hotel, meals, and transportation costs. This was not a trivial amount of money - I estimate this totalled approx. $3,000 - $4,000 in my year as President. And I'm not counting the money our section recived from the ACS as our allotment of  member dues - these "grants" all came directly from ACS HQ programs and presumably from journal profits.

While our section hosted worthwhile activities that promoted science to the general and local public, I question handing out funds this easily when libraries are struggling to pay subscription costs and maintain access to the literature. Isn't having a usable local library collection part of my outreach to my users? How can I but new ACS journals when I can't afford the ones that currently exist?

A third example of  the gathering storm clouds is the New Publishing Agreement for ACS Journals released this week. It allows authors to retain copyright for copyrightable material in the article's supplemental information - generated tables, graphs and illustrations are some examples. That's about it though, for author rights. The author still has to transfer exclusive copyright to the ACS for the manuscript, as well as "all versions in any format now known or hereafter developed." It seems the ACS has tried to retain as much control as possible to protect future revenue streams.    

In addition to copyright transfer there is a lengthy section on appropriate use of materials in repositories, personal websites, and classroom use. Does the ACS not realize in-classroom use is already covered by the existing rules for reserves and fair use? Apparently not, as it goes into great detail about how students can access articles for their classes using passwords and when access will end. Their stance on prior publication appears little changed, with basically any activity considered prior publication. Better be careful with those preprint submissions and precedings posts on the Nature Publishing Group website! 

Want to put your ACS papers and manuscripts in the local repository? Better get out the letterhead - authors must receive written confirmation from the appropriate ACS journal editor that posting a submitted manuscript doesn't conflict with that journal's prior publication policies. They will let authors post materials mandated by funding agencies, but you better get out the checkbook, as the only route is still the Author Choice program. Last time I checked this was $3,000 an article. But hey, you'll get to fund some of our local section activities for a year. It's a bargain! 

Is this progress? Yes, in that this is better than the previous ACS Copyright Status Form. Is it still protecting the revenue and the profits?  You bet it is. I'm curious to see if this will be further amended with the implementation of the NSF Data Management Plans.  It seems they are not sure how to support it, although I think even they realize they can't own the data. Let's hope so anyway.

14 responses so far

  • Christina Pikas says:

    Wait, what? You can't comply with the NIH policy unless you pay for the Author Choice program? really? Holy cow, I'm going to have to read the policy.

    • Teri Vogel says:

      This is Option A. The Author Choice option is for immediate open access. Otherwise, there are 2 options if you cannot or do not want to pay the fee:

      Option B: The author deposits the final, peer-reviewed manuscript with NIH, for open availability 12 months after publication (free).

      Option C: ACS deposits on behalf of the author the final, peer-reviewed manuscript with NIH, for open availability 12 months after publication. (free for ACS members, $100 for everyone else).

      Also, $3K is the base fee, with discounts based on ACS membership and whether your institution is an ACS subscriber (if both, Author Choice is $1K)

      • chemicalbilology says:

        Phew, I was gonna freak out there. That would completely change my choice of journals to submit to, since I am NIH-funded but normally would publish in ACS journals whenever possible, but NO WAY could I afford to pay $3K per paper.

        • ebrown says:

          The language in the agreement says: "Regardless of any mandated public availability date of a digital file of the final Published Work, Author(s) may make this file available only via the ACS Author Choice Program. For more information see:" I interpreted this as the only option. I didn't see a link to the NIH page that Teri mentioned, and I don't know if this new policy supercedes that one.

          Teri is correct there is a sliding scale for charges for the Author Choice option:

          The base fee for the ACS AuthorChoice option is set at $3,000, with significant discounts applied for contributing authors who are members of the American Chemical Society and/or who are affiliated with an ACS subscribing institution. The fee structure is as follows:

          •$3,000: Base Fee (authors who are neither ACS members nor affiliated with an ACS subscribing institution)
          •$2,000: Affiliated Subscriber (non-ACS members affiliated with an ACS subscribing institution)
          •$1,500: ACS Member (ACS members not affiliated with an ACS subscribing institution)
          •$1,000: ACS Member and Affiliated Subscriber (ACS members affiliated with an ACS subscribing institution)

          • Teri Vogel says:

            The NIH link is here at (see Funded Research Options, under Services and Policies).

            If this supersedes the NIH "deposit to make public in 12 months at no charge" option, that is a big problem.

            I'm emailing someone at ACS Pubs for clarification on this.

          • Teri Vogel says:

            Per ACS, the NIH B & C options are still in place so you can deposit your *accepted* manuscript to be available in 12 months at no charge (or they can deposit it for free or $100 depending on whether you have ACS membership).

            The AuthorChoice option is required for the *final published* manuscript, which makes the copy on the ACS site publicly available immediately.

      • Dorothea says:

        It probably doesn't need saying that ACS is encouraging this precise misunderstanding. They would love researchers to think that the NIH Public Access Policy will cost them plenty out-of-pocket.

  • Peter Murray says:

    I think you forgot about the bit where ACS is the accreditation body for chemistry programs, and having access to ACS journals at the institution are a part of those accreditation standards.

    4.4 Chemical Information Resources. The vast peer-reviewed chemical literature must be readily accessible to both faculty and students. Historically such access came through a good library providing monographs, periodicals, and facilities for database searches. Electronic access has changed the function of libraries as physical repositories. An approved program must provide students with the following minimum chemical information resources:
    An approved program must provide access to no fewer than 14 current journals chosen from the CPT recommended journal list (available from the CPT Web site) in either print or electronic form. At least three must come from the general content list, and at least one must come from each area of analytical chemistry, biochemistry, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, physical chemistry, and chemistry education. In addition, the library should provide access to journal articles that are not readily available by a mechanism such as interlibrary loan or document delivery services. If primary student access is electronic, cost or impractical times for access should not limit it unduly.
    Students must have print or electronic access to Chemical Abstracts, including the ability to search and access full abstracts.

    -- From the ACS Guidelines for Bachelor's Degree Programs.

    • chemicalbilology says:

      Yeah... conflict of interest anyone?

      • ebrown says:

        Thanks - I didn't go into this aspect as it really deserves a post of its own. Its also another example of why chemistry library resources are so expensive.

    • Christina Pikas says:

      yes do note "Students must have print or electronic access to Chemical Abstracts, including the ability to search and access full abstracts" - that means SciFinder which is incredibly expensive and which has very restrictive licensing policies (also discussed frequently elsewhere)

  • Wow, that is EVIL Peter.

    Wonder how many universities are set up to make the Chemistry Dept pay for those journals neccesary for accreditation?

    If the Chem Dept actually had to pay for it, then I bet the Chem Dept faculty -- who are the ACS members are they not? The ones who theoretically control the body? -- would start worrying about keeping prices down more.

    • Dorothea says:

      Yes. This is the secret evil reason I favor author-pays OA. (Well, I favor OA in all its forms, but I don't reserve the hatred for author-pays that several other OA advocates do.) It's well past time that researchers faced up to the cost of their publication decisions.

      I'm meditating a blog post on the topic, in fact...

  • Rich Apodaca says:

    "Has the society quantified this?"

    I decided to follow the money by looking into the 2009 ACSfinancial statement.

    Although not terribly detailed, it seems that 80% of ACS' $376 million in revenues for 2009 came from "Electronic Services". Compare that to the percentage for 'dues': 3%.