Is the Academic Publishing Industry on the Verge of Disruption?

Harvard complaints roil the debate over publishing and profits.

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There are many public access advocates who hope that the Obama administration will enter the fold, and there's been some indication that the White House will get behind expanding the NIH policy. But regardless of when or if that happens, the drumbeat for open access, both as a business model and as government policy, is only growing. There may soon be a day when the market share of the big commercial publishers begins to slip. But lest one gets too excited about the large boycotts of closed access journals and Harvard's vocal endorsement of open access, it's important to remember this isn't the first time these kinds of battle cries have occurred. In fact, PLoS's first journal was founded in the wake of just this sort of outcry nearly a decade ago.

"Individuals were invited to sign a petition with the Public Library of Science to never publish in a subscription journal and never review for a subscription journal," said Frank of The American Physiological Society. "They have over 30,000 signers, but very few of them actually abided in action by the terms of the petition. So just because Harvard has issued a letter it doesn't mean that Harvard's faculty going to do what the university wants.

Simon Owens is an assistant managing editor at U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Reach him at