Saturday, June 06, 2009

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose (Where are the Hearts of Gold?)

This blog is about how journal publishers are so concerned with the bottom line that they cannot see the forest for the trees. It's another riff on the cost of obituaries in scientific journals, i.e., musings on why publishers charge for celebrating the dead.

In Jan. 2006 I wrote a blog titled, The cost of an obituary in Transfusion.
Transfusion medicine giant, JJ van Loghem of the Netherlands, died in 2005 and his obituary was featured in the Nov. 2005 Transfusion. I wanted to include van Loghem's obituary (giving full credit to Transfusion) on a website for transfusion professionals.

The publisher at the time, Blackwell Scientific, had a link to "Order permissions", which brought up the Copyright Clearance Center from which you can choose to distribute an article in several ways and get a "quick price." The CCC charged $306 US to put the obit on a website, about $355 CDN then, and $31 US to send it in an e-mail to one person. The cost for the obituary was the same as for any scientific paper.

Well, another TM giant has died, Charles Salmon of France and his obituary is in both the May 2009 issue of Vox Sanguinis (ISBT) and the June 2009 issue of Transfusion (AABB). Blackwell Scientific merged with Wiley in 2007 and Blackwell's journals are now available via Wiley Interscience.

Being an AABB member I have online access to Transfusion but, curious about the current cost of viewing an obituary, I registered as a non-subscriber at Wiley and investigated 24-hr access to the obit.

Bottom line - the cost to read the obit for personal use was ~$35 CDN. I cannot find any information on the cost of republishing it on a website.

As mentioned in the earlier blog, the Nov. 2005 Transfusion had an editorial on the movement towards open (free) access to published scientific literature and the competing reality that publishing quality journals is costly. The editorial focused on the NIH policy requesting recipients of NIH funding to deposit on PubMed Central (free access to all) the author's version of an accepted manuscript produced with NIH support within 12 months of publication and what that meant for authors submitting papers to both Transfusion and PubMed Central.

The authors ended by noting:

AABB, Blackwell Publishing, and TRANSFUSION editors have been discussing open access, and the Journal may introduce options in the future to make authors' work available in an additional open archive. Although it is clearly attractive to gain wider exposure for articles via public access, we must carefully weigh the pros and cons of such exposure to ensure that any negative effects on the Journal are minimized. We urge TRANSFUSION authors and readers to remain awareof these evolving developments and to participate in the lively dialogue that is likely to continue in the coming years.

To my knowledge, the new publisher Wiley Interscience does not make research papers from any of its journals available in an open archive. Not even celebratory obituaries.

As the French say, Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

As I wrote 3 years ago, it seems wrong to pay to provide a wider distribution to an obituary that pays tribute to a great TM pioneer. It's not as though reproducing the obituary would deprive the authors of their livelihood or impact the publisher's revenues.

Here's a short excerpt from the Charles Salmon's Transfusion obituary by Jean-Pierre Cartron and Philippe Rouger (which I believe falls under US copyright "fair use"):

At first austere, sometimes quite terrifying at some meetings, Charles Salmon was in fact a simple and very warm man. Charles Salmon has always been able to listen, advise, guide, and sometimes scold those who have had the chance to know him. We cannot name all his staff as they are numerous, but many have contributed significantly to the research he has initiated and all are deeply grateful for what he has given them and the time he spent with them. He was a demanding master, but also an example of scientific rigor.

A sometimes terrifying man, who was a warm man.... Reminds me once again of the cliche that you cannot judge a book by its cover.

Just for fun, an instructive example of a book cover being misleading is this comparison:

Which song rendition of this sultry, sexy blues song is better?


Back to Wiley Interscience being incapable of nuance, being unable to offer an obituary of a great TM pioneer for free. Such content, celebrating a life of contributions to the field, falls outside Transfusion's aims and scope as well as those of Vox Sang.

Wouldn't it be great if young TM professionals, those unable to pay for society memberships or journal subscriptions, or not lucky enough to have free access to medical library holdings, could read about the life of such pioneers?

If freely available, other websites could link to the obituaries and create an exponential readership. Yet the publisher makes no concessions.

As Canadian Neil Young might say, it's an apparently endless search for A Heart of Gold.

Comments are most welcome BUT, due to excessive spam,  please e-mail me personally or use the address in the newsletter notice. 


  1. Anonymous7:45 PM

    Surely there are alternatives to Vox Sanguinis and Transfusion for obituaries? Why not link to other obits, like Le Monde's tribute to Charles Salmon, or, better yet, start one in Wikipedia and invite his colleagues and students to contribute too? I don't have high expectations for change by pay-for-access publishers who, 4 years after the Transfusion editorial, still treat the distribution of obituaries and, say, clinical trial results as if they have the same value. I'd rather wait for the rest of us to come round to using Wikipedia.

  2. Thanks, Shanta.

    I searched but did not bring up Le Monde's tribute, probably because US search engines are biased to US and English language websites. And I did want something en anglais.

    Difficulty with starting a wiki on any topic is that most transfusion professionals do not know how to wiki. <8-(

  3. Anonymous8:24 AM

    Pat, you have many bilingual fans! The LeMonde tribute to Charles Salmon is available at

    But it seems it too is behind a subscription wall. Last night when I accessed it I must have used my university account. So back to the original problem of access . . .

    My personal experience is that transfusion professionals easily take to wikis - as a group we all seem to intuitively appreciate the ability to edit a document infinitum! It is other web technologies like RSS feeds that struggle to find acceptance.

    Thanks for bringing Charles Salmon to my attention. I really appreciate these kinds of contributions via your blog.

  4. Roger2:24 PM

    Where indeed! Oh how so many of the TM techs of today would have enjoyed listening and learning from the giants of yesterday (I was lucky enough to have Ruth Sanger as one of my lecturers). So - if they can't learn from them at least make their obits freely available so we can learn at least a little about the greats without whom we would not be where we are today. Perhaps if we all wrote to Vox and Transfusion (nah... not a hope)

  5. That's neat about Ruth Sanger, Roger. I had the pleasure to work with John Bowman in Wpg.when they were researching the efficiacy of antenatal RhIg.And at a CSTM conference I got to meet Patrick Mollison. Sounds corny, but that was thrilling!

  6. Just out of interest - I happened to notice today as I was searching for an article in back issues of Immunohematology on-line that Volume 21, 2005, carried obits on Professor van Loghem, as well as Drs. Bowman, Dacie & Greenwalt. Immunohematology is available for free access from the ARC site. So at least, one organization does provide this service at no cost. Unfortunately, their publishing schedule is somewhat erratic so the information may not be particularly timely...