Suggestions for Graduate Students Completing Dissertations at Panama College of Cell Science

 by Walter P. Drake, Director
Panama College of Cell Science
November 2015

“Do not pay any fees to view scientific articles. Boycott all “pay to view” scientific journal publishers.”

At the Panama College of Cell Science, we require dissertations as part of our 3 year online PhD degree in stem cell biology. So when our graduate students ask us: Why do I have to pay $45 to view a scientific journal article?

Answer: Because the  journal publishers hold the copyright to the researcher’s manuscripts which they did not create nor for which they paid anything. The general public should co-own all copyrights to research results and related manuscripts which are achieved and made possible through public taxpayer funding.

Yes, they will argue that the submitting research scientist “voluntarily” assigned the copyright to them in return for publication.  But if they do not pay the scientist for the copyright to his valuable original work, should this be permitted?   Under the law we would call this a contract of adhesion, because the researchers submitting their original works have little say in the matter and really have no choice. There is no negotiation of any fee to be paid to the submitting scientist. This practice by the pay to view journal publishers should not be permitted and new laws are definitely needed.

The pay per view journal publishers  go so far as to ban the submitting research scientist from submitting the manuscript anywhere else. This is so even though the scientist intended the broadest possible public audience for his work, and the granting agency supporting the research by funding the purchase of laboratory supplies, equipment and stipends also intended the broadest possible audience. So, once the journal gets their mitts on the paper, they can charge other researchers and the general public including students a big fat “toll” to view the research results of publicly funded research, since the results cannot be submitted anywhere else such as a free and open source internet publication.

An excerpt from an article in The New York Review of Books, is highly instructive:

Consider the cost of scientific periodicals, most of which are published exclusively online. It has increased at four times the rate of inflation since 1986. The average price of a year’s subscription to a chemistry journal is now $4,044. In 1970 it was $33. A subscription to the Journal of Comparative Neurology cost $30,860 in 2012—the equivalent of six hundred monographs. Three giant publishers—Reed Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, and Springer—publish 42 percent of all academic articles, and they make giant profits from them. In 2013 Elsevier turned a 39 percent profit on an income of £2.1 billion from its science, technical, and medical journals.

All over the country research libraries are canceling subscriptions to academic journals, because they are caught between decreasing budgets and increasing costs. The logic of the bottom line is inescapable, but there is a higher logic that deserves consideration—namely, that the public should have access to knowledge produced with public funds.

Congress acted on that principle in 2008, when it required that articles based on grants from the National Institutes of Health be made available, free of charge, from an open-access repository, PubMed Central. But lobbyists blunted that requirement by getting the NIH to accept a twelve-month embargo, which would prevent public accessibility long enough for the publishers to profit from the immediate demand.

Not content with that victory, the lobbyists tried to abolish the NIH mandate in the so-called Research Works Act, a bill introduced in Congress in November 2011 and championed by Elsevier. The bill was withdrawn two months later following a wave of public protest, but the lobbyists are still at work, trying to block the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), which would give the public free access to all research, the data as well as the results, funded by federal agencies with research budgets of $100 million or more.

FASTR is a successor to the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA), which remained bottled up in Congress after being introduced in three earlier sessions. But the basic provisions of both bills were adopted by a White House directive issued by the Office of Science and Technology Policy on February 22, 2013, and due to take effect at the end of this year. In principle, therefore, the results of research funded by taxpayers will be available to taxpayers, at least in the short term. What is the prospect over the long term? No one knows, but there are signs of hope.

…. Yet accessibility may decrease, because the price of journals has escalated so disastrously that libraries—and also hospitals, small-scale laboratories, and data-driven enterprises—are canceling subscriptions. Publishers respond by charging still more to institutions with budgets strong enough to carry the additional weight. But the system is breaking down. In 2010, when the Nature Publishing Group told the University of California that it would increase the price of its sixty-seven journals by 400 percent, the libraries stood their ground, and the faculty, which had contributed 5,300 articles to those journals during the previous six years, began to organize a boycott.

The libraries and the publisher eventually reached a compromise, but the relentless increases continued to produce protests in the US and Europe. In France the University Pierre et Marie Curie recently canceled its subscription to Science when faced with a 100 percent increase, and the University of Paris V dropped subscriptions to three thousand journals. At Harvard, where e-journal subscriptions cost $9.9 million a year, the Faculty Advisory Council on the Library passed a resolution condemning the price increases as unsustainable.

[Robert Darnton, “A World Digital Library is Coming True”, The New York Review of Books, May 22, 2014 Issue: ]

A review of the US National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine and its digital depository, Pub Med Central, reveals that what we have now is that scientists whose research is publicly funded by federal agency grants are required to deposit their manuscripts with the NIH Manuscript Submission System. This does begin to void the journal publishers ban on alternative publishing sites; however, a quick review of how this is working as of November 2015 demonstrates that there still is an “embargo” of up to 12 months to view the most recent articles in the “pay per view” journals.

All of this could easily be fixed by simple laws either banning the no-payment assignment of manuscript copyright to the Pay Per View scientific journals; or granting the The Public at Large copyright by operation of law,  in tandem with the scientist, to any results achieved by way of public grants. These changes would thus empower a scientist to publish his works anywhere else, including free to publish and free access internet journals, as well as the government repository, wherein the results and manuscripts describing them could be seen  immediately for free by anyone.

And scientists should wake up too!! Stop pushing to get into a so-called “prestigious” journal that no one can any longer afford to read and begin publishing your works on your own or via deposit in one or more peer reviewed public access journals. Go for the widest readership possible!! If your work is good, people will find it. You can even publish yourselves by creating a free website featuring all of your scientific results and writings!! In short, these pay per view journal publishers should be boycotted.

So this is a summary of our recommendations for our graduate students:

1. While we continue to recommend that our graduate students in our online PhD program in stem cell biology, hook up with a university library, medical library, or government sponsored library in whatever country they are in, all of those libraries will be stuck in the same boat with respect to non-access to embargoed pay per view journals, wherein most recent articles cannot be viewed until 12 months after they appear in publication.

2. There are many ways to access online databases of scientific articles, but for us the best is Pub Med Central. Whatever you CAN get, you can get there. But even though the law requires: “When publishing results in a peer -reviewed journal scientists must deposit the final manuscript of their article in Pub Med Central”, we could find no way to access these manuscripts earlier than the embargo period, actually we could not locate any separate data base for these materials. But what they do have available, which is most everything else, can be full text viewed and downloaded via pdf.

3. Google Scholar: There is a pretty good trick that may help with finding 10-20% of embargoed research articles. By entering the paper into the search box, Google Scholar has a box sometimes at the bottom of the citation: “See All Versions” and by clicking on that box, sometimes a downloadable pdf version of the article is noted, which, upon clicking, will give you a pdf version of the article. This may work for a paper that has been out more than 6 months, but probably not for a paper recently published.

4. Do not waste your money on some fee based services such as or When you dig deep, they cannot deliver the embargoed papers either.

5. The Library Genesis Project is seeking to provide ALL scientific papers for free. Apparently, they obtain the most recent journals and upload all articles to their site in Russia. The website is: This may be worth a try, and be patient with their interface which is a bit clunky. Our IT staff maintain that they have Everything.

6. While these next ones will not solve the embargo problem, they are nonetheless useful to graduate students researching a thesis. These services are free and are attempting to collect all the free pdf articles out there. Since science moves forward by consensus, it is possible and quite probable that data in an embargoed article may nonetheless be found in a different pdf, possibly using a different animal model or different patient make-up:

Some in this category include:  [Research Gate]  [Free Full Pdf]

7. Lastly, every article in every journal has a Contact Person with an email address. Don’t be afraid to write the author directly, respectfully requesting a pdf copy of their article, explaining why you feel it is essential and also explaining you are a graduate student preparing a dissertation and cannot afford to buy the published article. We were all graduate students at one time, and I can sure recall most everyone’s willingness to share results with colleagues and others if requested.

We here at the Panama College of Cell Science will closely monitor changes in the Pay Per View journal publishing practices. We all but eliminated costly textbooks from our program by using older editions of textbooks in free pdf form, or just free pdf texts altogether from such well respected open access publishers such as Intech: . From their website: “InTech is the publisher of one of the largest multidisciplinary open access collection of books covering the fields of Science, Technology and Medicine. Since 2004, InTech has collaborated with 89,295 authors and published 2,542 books and 5 journals with the aim of providing free online access to research.” And if you do desire a hardback copy, they make them available at modest cost.

And we will boycott all of these Pay Per view journals and seek parallel works from the same scientists published elsewhere, or from similar works by other scientists published in free access journals online. As those of us who have actually done independent scientific research presented in per-reviewed journals know: a great idea for a research project seldom occurs in a vacuum, and at any point in time there are many other scientists around the world completing the same or similar experiments and publishing their results elsewhere.

We expect our graduate students to complete excellent dissertations that will be meaningful and advance the field of stem cell biology in some small way. And this can be achieved without resort to paying for the most recent journal articles which for the most part is unnecessary to a great result.

The Panama College of Cell Science...
still the worlds only  3 year online PhD program in stem cell biology

Now part of Blue Marble University.

We are writing the book on affordable online graduate education…and we do it well!!