Journal of Chemical Education should be free

A recent editorial in Journal of Chemical Education appeared to be a pre-emptive strike at those in favour of maintaining a print edition of the Journal, and one assumes that web-only will be encouraged in future years. The editor explained that the cost of postage and packaging was barely covered by subscription, and advertisement income is plummeting. Perhaps as a foretaste of what online only journal would entail, the January issue was made freely available to all. But it begs the question: why does Journal of Chemical Education (online) cost anything at all?

The Journal is a fantastic resource for chemistry teachers, with articles stretching back to 1924. No one working in college/university level chemistry could have escaped using an article or practical activity drawn from its pages. But for us in third level, first world, institutions, it is easy to forget that most people can’t actually access it. It is very frustrating to talk to teachers about using resources from its pages only to find they can’t access them. This seems crazy.

The journal is co-published by the Division of Chemical Education and the American Chemical Society (ACS), which is a professional society for members, and I presume somewhere in its mission, it is keen about the promotion of chemistry. It would be a very easy thing indeed to make the journal open access. Not everything needs to make money.

Such a bold move isn’t without precedent. The Royal Society of Chemistry, the professional body for UK and Irish chemists has two publications in chemistry education. Its journal Chemistry Education Research and Practice is free for all to view (member and non-member). While it is part of the RSC publishing platform along with all its profit making journals (aimed at 3rd level researchers) and hence costs money (editorial and production costs), the RSC have had the foresight to make it freely available. Its cost is offset, one assumes, by the highly profitable suite of journals offered by the RSC. I think this is a very good way a professional Society can tangibly demonstrate its commitment to promotion of education, teaching, and learning in chemistry. Furthermore, the RSC publishes Education in Chemistry, a bimonthly periodical that is sent free of charge to every school in the United Kingdom, as well as all university chemistry departments. The majority of its articles online are freely accessible and the remainder as accessible for an annual fee of £20, which includes the excellent Chemistry World. The RSC is implicitly generous in other ways; for example in releasing images from its publications for re-use free of charge for educational purposes. It has recently announced that all of its articles prior to 2007 (and I assume this will be a moving wall) are free of charge to members.

Both the RSC and the ACS are not-for profit professional societies. The President of the ACS is a noted chemistry educator. I would ask him (of course he will read this!), and anyone with any influence in the ACS to lobby for the opening up of the Journal of Chemical Education to the global audience it deserves.

Note: I am a member of the editorial board of Education in Chemistry, but these views are my own.