On “Purpose-Led Publishing”

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I was flabbergasted by the cheek of an article that recently appeared in Physics World by Michael Brooks announcing that:

I can’t speak about the American Institute of Physics or the American Physical Society but in the context of the Institute of Physics – of which I am a Fellow and in whose house magazine the article appears – I draw your attention to the last sentence of the above excerpt which contains a commitment to “invest funds generated from publishing back into research” (my emphasis).

Really? The IOP invests in research? That’s news to me. How do I apply for a grant? Will they fund my next PhD student?

The IOP invests its funds in many things – many of them worthy – but it does not spend a significant part of the vast income it generates from its publishing house on research. The claim that it does is just dishonest. There’s point in mincing words.

This is an important distinction, particularly so that publishing in most IOP journals now requires the payment of a hefty Article Processing Charge (APC; Artificial Profit Charge would be more apt) which often has to be paid for out of research grants. Previously the revenue of IOP Publishing was appropriated from library budgets through subscriptions, so physicists were less aware of just how much the IOP was raking in. Now that researchers are having to find the funds themselves from research grants it has become more obvious that the IOP is actually a drain on research funds, not a source of them. The APC is a levy on research, designed to generate funds for other things. I think this model is indefensible. What gives the IOP the right to impose charges that far exceed the cost of disseminating scientific results in order to appropriate funds for its other activities?

Moreover, even if the IOP did fund research, what benefit would that be to a researcher in Spain, South Korea or Singapore or indeed anywhere outside the UK and Ireland?

The slogan for the initiative described in the article is “Purpose-led Publishing”. That reminds me of an old saying from systems theory: the Purpose Of a System Is What it Does (POSIWID). What the system does in this case is to raise funds for the IOP. That’s its purpose. Everything else is just marketing spiel.

The claim that IOP Publishing does not make a profit is disingenuous too. It does make a substantial profit. The only difference between it and the likes of Elsevier is where the profits go. A true not-for-profit publisher would charge only at the level to cover the costs of publication. The Purpose that should be leading Publishing in physics is the dissemination of scientific results, not the generation of revenue for sundry other things.

I have avoided publishing in IOP journals for many years because I think the approach of IOP Publishing is unethical. Now I have decided that I no longer wish to be associated with the IOP in any way. I have paid the subscription for 2024 but when that lapses I won’t renew it. Enough is enough.

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