Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Carl Gans, Biology of the Reptilia and Open Access

In my post of 30 January 2015, I lauded the fact that all volumes of Biology of the Reptilia were available online because of the efforts of the Carl Gans charitable foundation. Carl Gans (1923-2009) edited all 22 volumes.

I also included in that post a plea for the free availability of the older literature noting that some learned societies protect their own back numbers behind expensive paywalls even barring free access to their own members.

Kraig Adler wrote to me after that post appeared giving the background to the achievement of making the Biology of the Reptilia freely available:

…I read what you wrote about charging for research that should be free, but the situation is more complicated than that. Carl came to me, as editor for Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, to ask if we would become his publisher. We were honored and readily agreed. The problem was that University of Chicago Press was projecting to charge $175 for volume 19, but SSAR did it for $55. Carl was always attentive to keeping prices low for students. Anyway, SSAR got no subsidy from Carl or anybody else and had to pay well over $100,000 for the composition, printing, and binding of the four books, all sold at very attractive prices. Our funds come from members' dues and sale of publications, so you can appreciate that we simply can't just give them away free. (We need to recover our expenses so we can publish future books. The Francis Anatomy of the Salamander was one of them.)
   Nevertheless, when Leo Gans, Carl's dutiful younger brother, asked if SSAR would allow its books to be put online, we said yes. By the way, I am now Chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee for the Gans Fund and work very closely with the Gans family to honor the memory of Carl. He was a longtime friend of mine.
All the best.  Kraig

In my own defence, I did mean to refer to original papers in journals rather than books and have over the years mentally noted the efforts of SSAR (and its publication policy) as the model of a learned society that others could do well to emulate.