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My lab:
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While quantum physics teaches us that predicting the future is impossible, forecasting it is possible but fraught with errors, uncertainties and it is exceedingly difficult. Our own research tells us that our ability to forecast the behavior of animals and humans decreases with the amount of time into the future I want to forecast the behavior. However, there are some extreme cases where behaviors are exceedingly easy to predict. Faced with this situation, most people will turn and run:

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Over the last few weeks and months, we've seen comments and articles from corporate academic publishers that make their customers turn and run about as predictably as this charging lion would. A recent release from Springer topped this all off with insulting/threatening a scientist (i.e., Springer customer) when he alerted them to their own mistakes and possible transgressions. A friend, who is also an academic publisher, asked me what he could do to not be lumped in with the corporate publishers and be tainted by their image sure to erode their (and potentially his) customer base.
I answered that, from a scientist's perspective, he should try and follow three easy rules, which wouldn't ensure staying in business, but at least would help prevent alienating his customers:

  • Don't insult or threaten your customers. If, for instance, they complain about your mistakes, apologize and promise to not make that mistake again.
  • Don't charge your customers so much that you make profits which would make Steve Jobs rotate in his grave in envy. Like people looking into Apple's business practices in China, people will start checking where these profits come from, if they're seen as too excessive. That's the case for any business, but especially so if the money you're charging comes from tax-payers who weren't asked if they want to line your shareholders' pockets with their hard-earned cash.
  • Finally and perhaps most importantly: Make sure you have a good case for charging the money you charge. If you try to prevent publication of the part of the work you didn't add your value to (i.e., the preprints of the scientists who submitted their work to you), you send the unmistakable message that you find your contribution to scholarly communication to be so worthless, that nobody would pay anything for it and that you expect people to rather read the work without your added value, than pay for your added value. In other words, believe in your product yourself before you try to sell it.

Heeding these three simple rules won't guarantee you stay in business, but violating them will almost certainly guarantee you'll be out of business soon - with about the same certainty with which one could predict that anybody would turn and run from a charging lion.
Posted on Thursday 07 June 2012 - 14:37:41 comment: 0
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