Thousands of academics spurn Nature’s new paid-access Machine Learning journal

Nature, one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world, has just announce plans to create a Machine Intelligence imprint, and researchers are not happy. The field has been doing fine with open-access journals — why clog it up with the paid-access model everyone has been trying to escape for decades? Over two thousand have signed a statement saying they won’t publish in it.

Academic publishing is a tumult right now, with open-access journals and proponents thereof battling with the old-guard prestige of the likes of Science and Nature — along with the fees from jealous keepers such as Elsevier and Springer. Meanwhile sites like Sci-Hub have worked to liberate the data held by paid journals, illegally of course, and become indispensable in the process.

The statement comes from Tom Dietterich at Oregon State University, founding president of the International Machine Learning Society.

“Machine learning has been at the forefront of the movement for free and open access to research… We see no role for closed access or author-fee publication in the future of machine learning research and believe the adoption of this new journal as an outlet of record for the machine learning community would be a retrograde step,” it reads.

The statement cites past opposition in the community to paid journals and the fact that all the major ones in existence charge nothing as well “The following list of researchers,” it continues, “hereby state that they will not submit to, review, or edit for this new journal.”

There are nearly 2,300 signatures from all over the world. Students, professors, researchers, architects, and engineers people the list; there are representatives of many major companies in the field: Google, Intel, Amazon, Microsoft, IBM; many of the world’s most august learning institutions can be found on it as well.

It’s not that machine learning is fundamentally incompatible with paid access, Diettrich told me in an email; rather, the field has grown to prominence so recently that free and open-access journals have just been the better option from the start.

“Our research community has been fortunate to develop an expectation of free and open access to published research, but many other areas of science and mathematics are moving in the same direction,” he wrote.

I asked if he thought Nature’s interest manifesting in this way indicated a healthy field. “It is a sign that Nature Publishing Group believes they can make money in this relatively young area of research,” he answered.

But the pledge seems like a widely supported one, he concluded: “My impression is that we have excellent representation from all of the major research labs in universities and companies.”

Nature may still draw papers because of its clout, but it looks like at least a significant number of researchers in this area will give it the cold shoulder. Are you among their number? Feel free to add your name to the list.