Freedom isn't free 1

July 18, 2003

Carl May writes passionately about free online access to published work (Letters, THES, July 11) but ignores the diversity of journal ownership.

Of the three leading medical sociology journals, the one I edit is a charity that franchises its title to a publisher. Our main rival is US owned and published by a discipline association, the other is by a large European publisher. Competition keeps the pricing honest. In two out of three cases, journal revenues are substantially reinvested in their supporting community.

Our host university receives the full cost of the editorial office and our editors a modest honorarium. We have debated paying authors and reviewers but our community's preference has been to use the surplus to support the participation of junior or poorer colleagues.

In May's monopolistic world, funders would extend their control over intellectual agendas through a closed circle of peer reviewers.

May can submit to about 20-30 journals, each with its own editors, policies and reviewer networks. If one journal does not like his work, there are reputable alternatives. This would not happen under his preferred regime.

There are genuine issues about the costs of print media and about global inequalities in access to scholarly communication. These require co-operative solutions, in which internet distribution will, no doubt, play a part.

However, I think we might be spared the cant about the democracy of scholarship when the result is as likely to be an electronic oligarchy that confiscates one of the few property rights that remains to academics - the right to publish what they choose when they choose and where they choose.

Robert Dingwall

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