Winston Hide, associate editor of Genomics, quits in protest 1


Winston Hide is the associate professor of bioinformatics and computational biology in the Department of Biostatistics at the Harvard School of Public Health. There he specialises in the bioinformatics of genomic approaches to public health. He also used to be the associate editor of Genomics, a top tier peer-reviewed scientific journal, but no longer is because he quit.

Why?

Because he has decided to take an ethical stance against the journal publisher Elsevier. He explains all in yesterday’s Guardian

Today I resigned from the editorial board of a well respected journal in my field – Genomics. No longer can I work for a system that provides solid profits for the publisher while effectively denying colleagues in developing countries access to research findings.

It has not been an easy decision. Some may feel that I’m grandstanding or making a futile gesture. And it may be a toxic career move. Scientists are expected to contribute to the community by reviewing papers and serving on editorial boards. But I cannot stand by any longer while access to scientific resources is restricted.

My work on biomedical research in developing countries has shown me that lack of access to current publications has a severe impact.

The vast majority of biomedical scientists in Africa attempt to perform globally competitive research without up-to-date access to the wealth of biomedical literature taken for granted at western institutions. In Africa, your university may have subscriptions to only a handful of scientific journals.

This is a truly admirable stance. If you are wondering what Elsevier thinks about this, well they commented as follows:

All of us at Elsevier are grateful for the contributions that Dr Hide has made to the journal Genomics.

We certainly respect his opinion on Open Access publishing, but we should make clear that Genomics and all of Elsevier’s other health and life science journals are available through the Research4Life program which offers free or low cost access in over 100 developing countries. Genomics itself is extensively available to Chinese and South African Universities, including the University of Western Cape.

For interested readers, further information about Research4Life is available online at http://www.research4life.org/

Ah, so he resigned for no reason at all then? Actually no, the research4Life program has a few constraints

  • The list of countries eligible for free access is based on GDP and so it is limited – for example Eastern European & some Caribbean countries only qualify for a discount.
  • This initiative IS NOT available for smaller institutions with limited funds in countries with a higher GDP. For example Argentina, Costa Rica, and the above mentioned South Africa are not on either list. GDP may be high(ish) in these countries, but investment in academia does not match that in either Europe or N. America, and so access to the literature is limited, thus greatly limiting any ability to conduct competitive research activities.

Don’t take this the wrong way, Research for Life is an admirable initiative, but it does not solve the problem, the subscription rates of the established journals are horrendous, I know many folks who are locked out and have no access. So I would suggest that it is simply a PR scheme that has been designed to deflect both criticism and also try to stave off the trend towards open access research.

Now that professor Hide has resigned, what will he do?

I’d prefer to devote the limited time I have available to an open access journal that provides its work at no cost to researchers who urgently require its contents to improve their environment.

I can only applauded this move and salute him for making a truly ethical choice.

As for those of us who don’t have access to articles locked behind paywalls and don’t have a fortune to spend, then I suggested that you could send an email to the author and simply ask. The email address is usually visible on the abstract published in PubMed, and about 80% of the time they will send it to you.


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