May 6, 2017 by Town Peterson
I recently was honored to work with a group of colleagues from a developing country, Pakistan, on an analysis of one element of biological diversity in their country. We submitted the results of that work to an open access journal. It is a society-sponsored journal that is “gold” open access, such that all contents of the journal are open to all readers. The submission was reviewed and accepted, and all involved were pleased that our work would be published in such a journal.
The post-acceptance formalities include editing the manuscript, signing licenses, and (of course) paying the APCs. I am a minor participant in the project, so my colleagues requested a waiver of the APCs, given the minimal resources available to them for their scholarship. To quote a passage from the waiver request,
We are enormously excited about this manuscript being published in XXXXX, and we have done our best to assemble the funds necessary. Nonetheless, we ask you to understand that the monthly salary of a beginning Professor Emeritus at our university is approximately US$1240. As such, these charges represent a significantly higher economic burden for us than it might for a researcher based in the USA or Europe. As a result, we humbly request that you would consider a significant reduction in the article processing charges for this paper.
Unfortunately, the response was not helpful… as follows:
The fee of 1500.00 USD (not including VAT) is mandatory for publication in this Open Access title. At this time, we are only able to grant fee waivers to authors from countries found on our Open Access Waiver Country list… Should you wish to publish your article without paying for Open Access, you will have to withdraw your submission from [journal name] and resubmit the piece to one of [publisher] non-Open Access titles.
Curiously, the open access waiver country list is odd. The map below shows the distribution of “waiver” countries: 94 countries and entities are entitled to an automatic fee waiver (in green), and a further 23 countries and entities are entitled to a 50% discount (in blue). Researchers in more prosperous countries are not offered any fee reduction (in gray). However, interestingly, 37 countries (with diagonal hatching on the map) have 2015 GDPs lower than at least one of the full-waiver countries, and yet are not included at all in the discount or waiver list.
Although one could argue that some of these excluded countries (which included Pakistan, by the way) have economies that support large-scale investment in science (e.g., the Peoples’ Republic of China), many do not. In this sense, researchers in those countries are faced with a significant expense should they wish to publish in this journal… countries that may be most affected in this way include American Samoa, Antigua and Barbuda, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Romania, and Serbia.
Where does all of this take us? The journal should–I guess–be congratulated on having a waiver program at all. My Pakistani colleagues managed to scrape together the APC fees, and so were not–in the end–excluded, but the economic pain was far greater than it would have been for someone in the United States or Western Europe. More generally, this example serves to illustrate how serious scholars who happen to be based under less-than-prosperous circumstances can run serious risk of being excluded from participating in an APC-based scholarly communications system.