Friday, June 22, 2012

(Deep breath) Medical history again

The story so far

My three previous blogs on this topic are, in chronological order,  1 here, 2 here, and 3 here.
(All my blogs on the topic of the journal Medical History are collected here.)


  1. In the first post, I sketched the history of this important journal and expressed regret about the journal's move from the Free-to-read, Open Access, author's copyright model to a pay-to-read, closed access, publisher's copyright model. 

    The journal's new editor, Sanjoy Bhattacharya, responded here, defending the new policies.
  2. I responded here, noting that the new website was inconsistent, and that there were unsolved contradictions about payment structures, and that in no case did the publisher offer the author the option of retaining copyright.
  3. When the first new issue appeared in January 2012, I noted that articles were freely downloadable and authors were ascribed copyright. This was very good for the authors and readers, but some contradictory information about rights and payments continued to be present on the publisher's website. 

And now...

No abstract
The April 2012 issue of Medical History is out.  I'm sorry indeed to see that things have changed for both this issue and the previous January one.  The freedoms that were earlier present in the January issue have been revoked.  The statements giving authors copyright have been removed.  Articles are not freely downloadable.

No way to read the article...
Most bizarre of all, no articles are now readable at all.  Even at a price.  The website give abstracts for most - but not all - articles (see above right).  But that's all.  Even if you have an account with the CUP journals site, and log in, you still cannot read any articles in Medical History.
You can link to them, you can refer to them, you can link, blog and write to the author.  You can request permissions, e.g., to reprint or copy the article.  You can do most things, except reading the articles (see left).

This surely has to be a temporary glitch?

If you are logging in from an institutional licensee, such as a university network, then yes, you can download the PDFs.  But if you do not have such an affiliation, then you cannot download any article.

No downloads at PMC
I thought that perhaps the articles were now at Pub Med Central (PMC), as Sanjoy had said they would be, and that readers were meant to know this and read the articles from there.  But that's not the case either.  Neither of the new issues has appeared at PMC (see right).  It was always understood that there would be a time-lag before articles appeared at PMC, and the journal is starting again from zero, administratively speaking, so perhaps it's just a matter of patience before the freely-downloadable version of the articles appear.

Subscription prices
However, as long as an individual cannot download the articles at all from anywhere, I suppose the only way to read the journal is to order a printed copy.  But one can only buy the printed journal if one is an organisation (left).  So for anyone who doesn't have access to an institutional licence, access to Medical History is limited or impossible.

Back issues

And, confusingly, CUP is offering to sell rights to consult the past archive, that the Wellcome Trust has paid for already to be freely available at PMC: "... access to the digitised archive must be purchased separately. Please email [so-and-so] for a tailored package quote." This again must be a glitch.

In general, it looks as if CUP is trying to fit Medical History into a Procrustean bed designed for its other more commercial offerings.

On CUP's MH website under "back issues / digitised archive," selected past issues of MH are now displayed (see right).  But once again, there is no button for actually downloading a PDF for any of the articles.  Nor is there any link to PMC, where whole journal from 1957-2011 is already available free.

New Open Access Policy

I think the terms of the Open Access agreement for Medical History have changed since I last looked at them.  I don't remember seeig the following statement:
If you choose to publish your article in this way [Open Access] you are required to complete the following form, within one week of your
manuscript being accepted for publication by Medical History. If you prefer not to take part in the Open Access option,
you need not do anything; your article will be published in the usual way, with access to the complete text being available only
to subscribers
. [my bold]
The corresponding author should complete this form, and by doing so he or she authorises that the full charge of £425/$675,
plus VAT where applicable, will be paid.
CUP will NOT grant Open Access to your article unless you pay them $675.  This statement raises serious questions about whether all articles will continue to appear in PMC, as asserted by Sanjoy and as desired by the Wellcome Trust.

Summary

So, where do things stand now?
  1. Authors don't have copyright, in any model of publication in MH.
  2. Articles are not freely downloadable.
  3. Articles cannot be downloaded at all by private persons, even for purchase.
  4. Private persons apparently cannot buy the print version of journal issues.
  5. CUP wants to charge for access to past archived issues of the journal.
  6. No article will be available Open Access unless $675 is paid by the author.
I still hope that some of these issues are just teething problems.  I also hope that, as Sanjoy said, articles will appear as free downloads at the PMC site, in a "version of record," and that the current de facto embargo period of six months and growing is also just an initial administrative problem.

Between 2005 and 2011, Medical History was an Open Access journal that assigned copyright to individual authors, and charged no fee to authors or to readers.  The journal embraced all the best and most innovative models of the distribution of scholarly knowledge (see Open knowledge, Open definition, Open Access).   That model of publication has been abandoned, in favour of a closed-access, strongly commercialized system.  If all MH articles start to appear for free, full-text, version-of-record download at PMC, it will make a big difference.  But it remains hard to see how the commercial and copyright requirements of CUP can be squared with free distribution though PMC.

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