Paying for it (Open Access in Science)

“It’s not easy to meet women. Sure I can walk into a bar and buy a lady a drink and under the pretext of a perhaps budding relationship seduce her into satisfying my sexual needs, but that goes against my grain to deceive another person no matter what the personal gratification. So I thought it more honest to solicit a prostitute.”
John, in court, in Ally McBeal: “Compromising Positions”

Science should be about the open exchange of ideas … backed up by theory and evidence. Theory in the sense of “a set of interrelated concepts that explains a large number of facts in a particular area of study.” (McBurney, 1996) and evidence in the sense of well conducted empirical studies. And yeah, there’s a difference between “lies, damned lies, and statistics” and science. In science, the biases should be known and you should know in which direction the results are skewed.

But sometimes, you just want to get some ideas out there for which you haven’t done the necessary empirical studies.

You know, you see some a lot of potential and you realize that there is a huge potential, but also that you cannot realize it yourself. And yeah, you might be mistaken, but still, you want to “get the word out”.

I was in such a situation recently and it really bugged me — for close to two years. Finally, I wrote a paper about it, citing a lot of papers that provided the basis, yet fully knowing that I would step into “opinion” territory. And I submitted it to a journal that represented the community I wanted to address. It was also a highly respected one, but that was not the reason for choosing it. It was “these are the people who could use these ideas (if I am not mistaken) and realize them” — for (hopefully) huge benefits. If the reviewers accept it.

Unfortunately (for me), the reviewers slaughtered it.

And yeah, I can understand their reply. It’s essentially, an opinion piece. It does not come with empirical evidence that it actually works. And issues like “my time is short and I cannot realize it myself” do not count. Scientific journals are concerned with things that work (apparently work I should say), not with failures or ideas. But unfortunately, it also means that there are probably many ideas that are already out there with no place to be heard. And while I can understand that few scientists want to do commission work and realize the ideas of other people (openly), I wonder how that impedes science.

But as for the ideas I have — I found another journal that accepted it. It’s open access, meaning I have to pay an author fee. And this raises questions whether it is a predatory journal just out for making money by collecting author fees (well, it is not on that list, on the other hand, they did not provide any feedback by peer-reviewers). But frankly, I don’t think that they are a predatory journal and — also frankly — I also really don’t care.

What I care about is that the ideas I had are available — easily. In contrast to other journals, the article will be available for immediate download (you need to create an account, but it’s free). It does not get easier than that. Not sure though whether it will appear in the standard databases, but there is always Google Scholar.

These ideas have a better chance this way then if they remained in my folder. Science has become a brutal career with people competing for the high impact journals, and at least in some disciplines, sometimes with questionable research practices. And it seems that in my discipline, spreading ideas has no value. So if I have to put them out without any benefit to me and to a financial disadvantage (about 200€), then so be it.

There are worse things than to pay for it.


  1. Morally there is nothing wrong with paying for it, as far as the service is concerned in your case.
    Conceptually, though, I believe it is wrong. One should not have to pay others to have one’s ideas published. Or, to go a step farther back, one should not be prepared, not to say desperate enough, to pay to get one’s ideas out.
    If you are that convinced of the value of your ideas then you should go that extra mile to find a way to either get them published free of charge, or charge for it yourself, but not the other way around. In today’s internet society there are plenty of ways to get things done for free. You mention Google Scholar yourself, why not. And there must be others. Start your own blog for example, etc.

  2. Well, I can’t realize it myself and as for websites, I have a currently retired one called “Ark of Ideas” just for this purpose. But it’s also a question of where the target audience hangs out — and here it’s journals, not private websites.

  3. You are going to have to make a bit of an effort to find your target audience. Whether it is written stuff via internet or bringing physical stuff to a real physical audience, nothing is served to you on a silver platter, you’ll have to work at it.
    You are taking the easy route by paying someone, but this way you are spoiling it for yourself in the long run and for many others. Think about that too.

  4. Why not also blog it? Then it is discoverable by Google, which probably has a wider reach than PubMed.

  5. @Angry Thinker
    I agree with the first paragraph, although I would argue that I am making the effort. And it’s costing me. As for the second paragraph — how is this the easy route? I am conflicted about paying author fees, and unsure of how to spot a legitimate vs. a predatory journal (although I am pretty sure it is not predatory), but all in all, I think that Open Access is a great idea and I would wish to see more papers easily accessible. Of course it’s got its downsides — for example, some countries might not have the funding to pay the author fees, but why is it spoiling anything?

  6. @Bill

    Yup, good point. 🙂 As soon as the paper is available, I’m going to write a posting about it (will take until first quarter of 2015, I think).

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