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Big data research paper costs $226 for 30 days access

Out of curiosity, I was checking recent articles published in Journal of the American Statistical Association, as I used to publish in such journals 20 years ago, during my post-doctorate years. I did find some interesting articles, but when I tried to access them, I was asked to fork over $40 to get online access for 24 hours, and $226 to get online access for 30 days.

Big data research paper costs $226 for 30 days access

The article in question, entitled A Multi-Resolution Approximation for Massive Spatial Datasets, had received only 283 page views, and took two years before being submitted and being published. You can check these stats here

Who still pay for such expensive articles, which in addition usually contain a substantial amount of arcane mathematics? And why would anyone still publish in such outlets, that take so long to publish results — in a fast-evolving domain — and provide such a limited reach? I don’t have an answer, but I would be very interested to read your comments. And what is the pricing model? I checked a different article: it was cheaper for 30-day access, but more expensive for 24-hour access.  

Surprisingly, after Googling the title (something you should always do with research papers), I found a version of this article available for free, from the Cornell University Library. You can access the PDF version here. How much  does Cornell pay to the publisher, to offer this service?

I believe that this model is unsustainable. Authors with relevant articles can post here on DSC: their articles reach  a far larger audience, and the author (or anyone) can get as many copies as they want, at no cost (it’s all digital with free access.) In addition, authors will receive comments and criticism from our large community of data scientists, machine learning and statistical practitioners. Many other quality outlets provide the same service.

Interestingly, when checking other publications by the same author in the same journal, I found one co-authored by Noel Cressie, who invited me 20 years ago for a job interview for a Professor position at Iowa State University. What a small world! I ended-up purchasing his famous book Spatial Statistics on Amazon, published in 1995. That said, the majority of authors publishing in Journal of the American Statistical Association have a Chinese name as you can easily check. I was also intrigued by this fact, though I don’t have an explanation. They clearly outnumber people with Indian origin despite the language barrier, and despite the fact that in the corporate world in America, the contrary is true in general for analytic departments (companies such as eBay are an exception.)

As an author, publisher, buyer, or reader, what do you think the future looks like, for this type of publication? Could it move outside Academia? In the future, could research also be carried out outside the traditional circles (academia and big corporate/government research labs?) I am a living proof that this is possible, but currently, this is still pretty rare. Maybe an opportunity for VC’s or entrepreneurs interested in disrupting the classic models?

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