Physics Journals Cost Study Ruled Fair

29 August 1997 8:00 pm

Two U.S. physics societies are celebrating victory in a long-running court battle over whether their journals are a better bargain than a competitor's. A federal judge ruled this week that the American Physical Society (APS) and the American Institute of Physics (AIP) did not advertise falsely when they sent a study to librarians lauding the relative value of their journals. The analysis, the court held, was fair.

The article in question was published in 1988 by the late physicist Henry Barschall in AIP's Physics Today and the APS's Bulletin. Barschall ranked the "cost-effectiveness" of more than 200 physics journals by comparing the average number of characters per issue and how often they were cited. He found that AIP and APS journals were an overwhelming bargain compared to most others, including several journals published by the Swiss-based Gordon and Breach Publishing Group. Gordon and Breach then sued, arguing that the articles were a "cynical promotion" and constituted false advertising. In 1994, U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand found that First Amendment protections allowed the societies to publish the article.

In the latest decision, issued on 26 August, Sand threw out claims that APS and AIP were guilty of false advertising when they planned to promote the articles in mailings to librarians. After examining Barschall's methodology in a 7-day trial in June, Sand concluded the studies showed "reliably" that by the standards Barchall used, the APS and AIP journals "are substantially more cost-effective than those published by plaintiffs." Sand also took Gordon and Breach to task for suing or threatening to sue APS, AIP, and other critics of its journal prices, agreeing that it had "engaged in an aggressive corporate practice of challenging any adverse commentary upon its journals."

APS Treasurer Thomas McIlrath says the society is pleased that the decision showed the analyses by Barschall, who died last January, were "done honestly, openly, with integrity," and that he hopes the decision "will allow more open discussion as well as studies" of journal prices. Gordon and Breach plans to appeal, says Chief Executive Officer Martin Gordon, who maintains that the analysis was flawed in part because it compared "niche" journals with those for a broader audience. Related lawsuits are pending in France and Switzerland.

Posted In: