19 Mar 2007

Who pays the fiddler calls the tune?

"In our capitalist society, one of our basic tenets is who pays the fiddler calls the tune". This was a comment by Jeffrey Drazen, Editor-in-Chief of the New England Medical Journal, referring to the idea that because many open access journals charge an article processing charge rather than a subscription fee (including most of BioMed Central's), they will lower their standards to take the cash.

Peter Suber has already countered that slur criticism in detail, so I don't need to repeat the arguments here, but I think that it's worth noting that in my time at BioMed Central I've seen the acceptance rate fall by at least 10% on the BMC series. This is not exactly what you'd expect from a vanity publisher pushing its editors hard to accept articles no matter the quality, in order to take the cash. In case I've been too subtle, that's because BioMed Central is not a vanity publisher, and payment and publisher finances are kept separate from editorial decision making. Matt Cockerill doesn't stand over us with a whip, demanding more acceptances.

The reason I quoted Jeffrey Drazen above is that I think that there's quite an irony here. The NEJM raised $30 million in advertising revenues in 2005, with nearly 5000 pages of advertising. Is Dr Drazen admitting that one of the "basic tenets" of the NEJM is that the advertisers call the shots? [Shome mishtake, shurely?]

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