Royal Society: rent-seeking is more important than science — UPDATED

Update: Man, did I ever screw up. I confused the Royal Society with the Royal Society for the Arts (RSA). The RSA is and continues to be a sterling organization that does good works — the Royal Society is the villain here. I've edited my post below. My sincere apologies to the RSA for blackening its good name — I should have known that it was wiser than that. Thanks, Ian Brown, for pointing this out.

The Royal Society has issued a call for restricting access to scientific publishing. They claim that free journals, such as the ground-breaking, field-leading Public Library of Science will undermine the ability of nonprofit societies to publish their own journals.

The Public Library of Science and other open access journals have proven a new model for science publishing, one that is both commercially sustainable and that delivers more science to more researchers who do better science as a result.

Arguing the need to sustain the Royal Society's now-outmoded publishing model despite its inferiority at advancing science relative to PLOS and others (like BioMed Central) is an embarrassment to the Royal Society.

The five-hundred-year Dark Ages were a period when alchemists labored in secret. Every alchemist jealously guarded his research outcomes, so whenever an alchemist discovered the hard way that drinking mercury was poison, that knowledge died with him (literally). The Enlightenment accomplished real alchemy: converting research into knowledge through the application of full disclosure. Once alchemists began to share their research outcomes, they became true scientists, and the hundred years that followed made more progress than the half-millennium that preceded it.

Open Access science publishing is the latest installment in the saga of the Enlightenment: the evolution of a sustainable publishing model that makes research outcomes available to every single researcher in the world, gratis, without prejudice or burden.

The Royal Society should respond to this by adopting the Open Access publishing model, not by fearmongering.

The Royal Society fears it could lead to the demise of journals published by not-for-profit societies, which put out about a third of all journals. "Funders should remember that the primary aims should be to improve the exchange of knowledge between researchers and wider society," The Royal Society said…

A spokesman for the Royal Society said: "We think it conceivable that the journals in some disciplines might suffer. Why would you pay to subscribe to a journal if the papers appear free of charge?"

(via /.)
(Disclosure: I am a proud member of the RSA))

Update: Dr Paul Camp of Spelman college sez,

In physics, at least, all recent communication has been by way of the arXiv server. It is way faster than the traditional publication cycle, which we value, but has had no noticeable effect on paper journals, including the important ones published by not-for-profit societies such as Physical Review (American Physical Society). I think there are a few reasons for this. For one, everything eventually ends up in a peer-reviewed journal because that is what counts for tenure and promotion. For another, peer review produces a distinct improvement in the quality of published arguments and we value that. And for a third, we personally value the process (painful though it is) of pushing our ideas past our peers. And, in fact, prior release on the arXiv server helps in that regard.

Open access is alive and well in the world of physics. It has done no damage to any published journals. And even if it did, to a scientist this is irrelevant. What we want is valid, peer-checked information. What does it matter if that occurred by means of an editor farming an article out for review, or by direct feedback from the community of people interested in a topic by email in response to your preprint on arXiv? It amounts to the same thing.