If you care about open access, you should be reading the SPARC Open Access Newsletter (SOAN). Period. The excellence and breadth of Peter Suber’s coverage, and the fairness of his commentary, are primary reasons Library Access to Scholarship appears so rarely: It’s largely superfluous.
If you really care about open access, you should make sure these four blogs are in your bookmarks or your aggregator subscriptions: Open access news, DigitalKoans, OA librarian and, although it covers considerably more than OA, Caveat lector. (Open access news may make more sense as a bookmark, given the volume of coverage and the way it’s organized.) There are others, but those will provide broad, deep coverage.
Here’s another wildly incomplete selection of items, with my commentary as an OA independent scattered among the notes. The big story is another legislative attempt to encourage open access to federally funded research—and the usual reactions to that proposed legislation.
Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) introduced FRPAA on May 2, 2006. According to Peter Suber’s coverage (beginning in SOAN 97), “This is [a] giant step forward for OA, even bigger than the CURES Act that Senator Lieberman introduced in December 2005.” Some details (excerpted from SOAN):
Ø FRPAA applies to all federal funding agencies that spend more than $100 million/year on research grants to non-employees. At the moment, 11 agencies fall into this category: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Science Foundation (NSF), and the cabinet-level Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Transportation. NIH is part of Health and Human Services, so it’s covered.
Ø Agencies have one year from the adoption of the bill to develop OA policies. They may host OA repositories or ask grantees to deposit their work in any OA repository meeting the agency's conditions of open access, interoperability, and long-term preservation.
Ø FRPAA applies to the final version of the author's peer-reviewed manuscript, which must incorporate all changes introduced by the peer-review process. Publishers can opt to replace the author's manuscript with the published version when the agency decides that the published version advances the agency's “goals...for functionality and interoperability.”
Ø FRPAA applies to manuscripts arising from “research supported, in whole or in part from funding by the Federal Government” including projects with multiple sources of funding and those with multiple authors, as long as one is covered.
Ø Agencies must insure free online access to these manuscripts “as soon as practicable, but not later than 6 months after publication in peer-reviewed journals.”
Ø Agency policies must apply to agency employees as well as agency grantees, but work by employees will be in the public domain, labeled as such, and released to the public immediately upon publication.
Ø The OA mandate does not apply to lab notes, preliminary data analyses, personal notes, phone logs, classified research, revenue-producing publications like books, patentable discoveries, or work not submitted to journals or not accepted for publication.
Ø Agencies will maintain OA bibliographies of publications resulting from their funded research, with active links from citations to OA editions.
Ø Nothing in the bill modifies patent or copyright law.
Ø Instead of (or perhaps simply before) relying on copyright-holder consent as the legal basis for disseminating copies of the articles, the agencies must “make effective use of any law or guidance relating to the creation and reservation of a Government license that provides for the reproduction, publication, release, or other uses of a final manuscript for Federal purposes.” Two existing licenses may come into play.
Suber’s comment on that last:
Don't let the technical detail of this section disguise its importance. The NIH recognized the existence of a government license to provide OA to NIH-funded research, but deliberately decided not to use it. Instead, it relied on publisher consent, with the effect that it accommodated, if not invited, publisher resistance. By relying on government licenses instead, FRPAA makes publisher dissent irrelevant.
Ø Once a year, agency heads will report on their public-access policy to the Senate. They must assess the effectiveness of their policies in providing free online access to the agency's research output, list published papers to which the policy applies, list papers made freely available under the policy, and report on delays or embargoes between journal publication and free online access under the agency policy. All reports and lists must themselves be OA (4.f.3).
Ø The rationale for the bill: “Congress finds that the Federal Government funds basic and applied research with the expectation that new ideas and discoveries that result from the research, if shared and effectively disseminated, will advance science and improve the lives and welfare of people of the United States and around the world.” Moreover, “the Internet makes it possible for this information to be promptly available to every scientist, physician, educator, and citizen at home, in school, or in a library.”
Could FRPAA be stronger? Sure. As Suber notes, it doesn’t currently provide for processing fees charged by (some) OA journals; it doesn’t directly require deposit in an OAI repository immediately upon acceptance; and it doesn’t address noncompliance. But the policies required by FRPAA could very well address those issues.
It’s a good bill—Suber calls it “superb.” He says, “It’s informed by the arguments for OA and the shortcomings of the NIH policy.” What are its chances? Suber notes bipartisan support, that the boldest ideas (a mandate rather than a request, and a six-month deadline) were both approved by both houses of Congress in its instructions to the NIH, and evidence that NIH’s weak policy doesn’t harm journals—but also doesn’t yield much participation.
In the same issue of SOAN, Suber notes that NIH Director Elias Zerhouni testified before the NIH-appropriating subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on April 4, 2006.
Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK) pointed out the low compliance rate for the NIH public-access policy and asked what we could do to improve it. According to an observer present for the testimony, Zerhouni responded that “it seems the voluntary policy is just not enough” and that he will have to review the recommendations of the NLM Board of Regents. Those recommendations, of course, included a shift from a request to a mandate. At the same time, however, Zerhouni said the 6 to 12 month embargo is “a different issue” and affects the economic viability of publishing and peer review. He called the 6-12 month period “the sweet spot” and said “I don't think we should do anything at the expense of peer review.”
It’s a shame Zerhouni finds it necessary to repeat the usual “endangering peer review” myth.
Publishers were all over FRPAA within a few days. A May 8, 2006 New York Times article begins with a solidly anti-FRPAA bias:
Scholarly publishing has never been a big business. But it could take a financial hit if a proposed federal law is enacted, opening taxpayer-financed research to the public, according to some critics in academic institutions.
That first sentence is questionable—although I suppose you could twist definitions enough to call Elsevier and Wiley something other than “big business.” Most of us, I suspect, assume that anything measured in billions of dollars per year (or even hundreds of millions) qualifies as big business. The second sentence does have a key phrase—“taxpayer-financed research,” the kind of thing that perhaps ought to be available to, ahem, taxpayers—but makes a point of citing critics as being “in academic institutions.” Oddly, though, at least the first two objections are from publishers—or, rather, societies acting as publishers. They’re high-minded: One says “advertising promotion” may be affected if articles are freely available and another brings up the paternalistic “can ordinary citizens be trusted to interpret scientific data?” theme. Suber comments on the “pettiness of the publisher objections” and—well, I can’t say it any better:
Should we really reduce the effectiveness of the enormous US public investment in research in order to help journals measure traffic and charge for ads? Should we really reduce access for scientists in order to paternalize non-scientists who may not understand the literature or care to read it? Let’s get serious. It’s not about journal advertising or journal subscriptions, and it’s only secondarily about lay readers. It’s about $55 billion/year in research, making it available to all the researchers who can apply or build on it, and making it as useful as it can possibly be.
Michael Carroll (Villanova University, on the board of Creative Commons) commented on the Times article in a same-day post at Carrollogos. He finds the elitist argument “particularly galling”…the idea “that taxpayers cannot be trusted with open access because they might harm themselves by misreading or misunderstanding an article written by specialists for specialists.” He looks at analogous arguments: Voters shouldn’t get information about the war on Iraq because they might misunderstand the complexity of modern warfare; they shouldn’t have access to hurricane readiness info because meteorology is complex. (I could see officials arguing the first example!).
Barbara Fister also commented in a May 10 post at ACRLog, “Never been a big business? Don’t tell Elsevier shareholders.” Fister is sympathetic to the scholarly society argument that they might lose profit that now provides “membership perks,” but finds the ad argument odd—and is nicely snarky about the “misunderstanding” argument. She finds that argument a little dubious—“It’s not that [ordinary folks] will benefit by reading them, because for the most part they won’t, but that they will benefit because scientists will have greater access to them. And that public good is why we fund their research in the first place.” I’d disagree in part: In fact, “ordinary folks” have benefited from greater access to medical literature, if only so they can ask questions and probe beyond initial findings.
On May 9, Jeffrey Goldfarb of Reuters reported that Wiley, Elsevier and others “are launching an offensive against newly proposed U.S. legislation that would require them to make much of their research available for free within six months of publication.” [Emphasis added.] Wrong, FRPAA would not make one iota of Elsevier’s or Wiley’s research available; it would make taxpayer-funded research available, as the second paragraph notes.
This article is another one with a clear slant, informing us that publishers invest “hundreds of millions of dollars” and charge subscriptions for “up to hundreds of dollars a year.” If only STM journals ran “up to hundreds of dollars a year,” rather than thousands and sometimes tens of thousands! But AAP/PSP’s chair (I hate to give his last name) informs us that this mandate “will be a powerful disincentive for publishers to continue these substantial investments.” PSP wants an “independent study” on the effects FRPAA might have “on research quality and taxpayer costs”—which makes no sense at all unless PSP is somehow suggesting that making research publicly available will lower its quality. And, of course, we can all get to the papers anyway: “the general public can find the journals at libraries and nearly all researchers access it through their universities or companies.” PSP’s chair even suggests that NIH “wanted to show limited compliance to gain a mandatory policy”—and a different AAP official raises the “peer review” alarm. As to balance in this particular article, there’s almost three times as much text supporting the AAP/PSP view as providing FRPAA arguments; the piece reads more as advocacy than as journalism.
Peter Suber posted a May 9 AAP/PSP press release that may be the source of the Reuters story. The press release goes further. Quoting:
Publishers argue that the legislation, if passed, will seriously jeopardize the integrity of the scientific publishing process, and is a duplicative effort that places an unwarranted burden on research investigators… The provisions…threaten to undermine the essential value of peer review… “Full public access to scientific articles based on government funding has always been central to our mission.”… Americans have easy access to [STM literature] through public libraries [and other means]… [FRPAA] would expropriate the value-added investments made by scientific publishers… [It] could well have the unintended consequence of compromising or destroying the independent system of peer review.”
There’s more, most of it the same tired old myths including the “centrality” of “full public access” to PSP’s mission and the easy availability of STM literature through public libraries.
Suber offered a ten-point rebuttal to the press release in a May 10, 2006 Open access news posting—a vivid discussion peppered with “false” and “begs the question.” FRPAA isn’t duplicative; AAP/PSP clearly doesn’t behave as though full public access was its policy; STM literature isn’t generally available in public libraries (and not fully available in academic libraries); most peer review is done for free and not endangered by OA; and calling for another study is, at best, disingenuous. But go read the post; Suber handles justifiable anger at these repeated myths with élan and eloquence.
May 11, 2006: The Scientist chimes in with “Publishers, societies oppose ‘public access’ bill.” Martin Frank of the DC Principles Coalition says FRPAA unfairly puts authors “between the agency that funds the research and the publisher” if the publisher refuses to grant “republication” rights—but as Suber notes, no member of the DC group has refused to publish federally funded research. In any case, the government has a license and legitimate cause to enforce its policy, which should eliminate this threat from publishers.
I find this case sad. The American Anthropological Association came out against FRPAA. The AnthroSource Steering Committee disagreed; it sent AAA a letter indicating support for FRPAA. As recounted at Savage minds by a member of the committee, AAA sat on the letter for two months, at which point this member said that if AAA didn’t publish the letter, it would appear on the blog—and posted it. A few weeks later, AAA disbanded the AnthroSource Steering Committee.
Here’s an unfortunate one, showing how much Jan Velterop has changed since he went to work for Springer. In a May 16, 2006 post at The Parachute, he calls the bill “a bit of a dog’s dinner” and says, “The six months’ embargo is a perilously short period of time for most publishers to recoup their costs via subscriptions.” He admits to “assertions” that such an embargo poses no threats and that immediate self-archiving is safe. He notes ArXiv and the continued health of physics journals but calls it “evidence” only with scare quotes. Astonishingly, Velterop goes further in his Amazing Shrinking Parachute role:
I know of assertions that not all OA journals charge authors anything at all. This is undoubtedly so, but a quick look at those journals leaves one with the inescapable impression that ideas about scaling up that mode of operation to anywhere near the bulk of the serious journal literature firmly belong in the realm of unlimited impossibilities. [Emphasis added.]
Even the PSP-funded study found the fact that most OA journals do not charge author-side fees. The second sentence, stated without examples, is unfortunate, as it appears to dismiss such journals as inconsequential. Frankly, Velterop comes off here much more as an employee of a Big Commercial Journal Publisher than he does as an OA advocate.
Skipping over some other examples of misleading (and typical) anti-OA rhetoric, I come to a striking Viewpoint in the Spring 2006 Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship (which is, with no apologies to Jan Velterop’s dismissive comment, an outstanding open access journal that charges no author-side fees because its minimal costs are covered by the Science and Technology Section of ACRL, the Association of College and Research Libraries). David Flaxbart notes the introduction of FRPAA and continues:
Naturally, it didn’t take long for the publishing industry’s lobbyists, led by the eminently hissable American Association of Publishers, to shake off their cocktail-circuit stupor and begin frothing at the mouth at this dangerous exercise in socialist engineering. They immediately trotted out their tired and discredited mantras about the loss of subscription revenue, removal of investment incentives, and threats to peer review, in addition to the accusations that the government is trying to fix a system that—for them at least—isn’t broken.
After citing some of the rhetoric from the AAP and labeling as “absurd” the claim that Americans have easy access to the STM literature, Flaxbart continues:
It is sad that some of the loudest anti-OA rhetoric is coming from some non-profit publishers and societies who should really know better by now, and whose pretense at protecting the integrity of science has long since been exposed as a ploy to protect their revenue streams. We all know who they are. Claims of imminent bankruptcy are disingenuous at best, especially those coming from publishers rolling in cash. Societies that depend on money from library budgets to fund most of their activities need to divert their energies to looking for new sources of revenue, because the golden goose is on life support.
The claim of threats to the system of peer review also seems particularly weak now, given the recent well-publicized hits that system has taken in the wake of high-profile scandals such as the Woo Suk Hwang case in stem cell research. Editors have scrambled to explain that peer review isn't really intended to catch fraud after all. Knowledgeable observers can understand the finer points of their arguments, but these are lost on an increasingly skeptical public. Journals are actively abdicating any responsibility for investigating fraud, which further erodes their credibility. Publishers' persistent defense of this tattered fig leaf of "added value" is starting to sound rather desperate.
As Flaxbart notes, FRPAA’s future is uncertain—but even the proposal is cause for celebration.
The June 2006 SOAN includes a followup on FRPAA, noting that a Harris poll in late May 2006 showed that an overwhelming majority of Americans want OA for publicly funded research: 83% wanted their doctors to have such access, 82% wanted everyone to have it. Suber also notes what I couldn’t help but notice: “Some mainstream news media covering the proposal give much more space and detail to publisher objections than to the proposal’s own rationale or to the supporting arguments…” His take: “It’s as if these media companies were dedicated to business news rather than general news.”
An August 31 post at T Scott notes a letter opposing FRPAA being circulated for signatures among senior leadership of some research institutions—“clearly in response to the supporting letters signed by provosts from around the country.” Scott says the DC Principles group is behind the letter, since earlier versions are on their website. He’s not surprised by the letter or the fact that it’s getting a few signatures. He also believes these people, most of them involved with society publishers, “sincerely believe that FRPAA threatens the health of the societies to which they have devoted a significant portion of their attention and time throughout their careers. They are not wrong to be concerned.”
Scott goes on to say that some journals will fold and it’s “disingenuous of open access partisans to argue that FRPAA and related efforts don’t represent a serious threat.” But he says the tide is changing in any case; “traditional subscription-based publishing is on the wane, and societies whose economy is based on it are going to have to make radical changes.” Academic librarians should be worried as well because “we need [the societies] to weather this transition successfully…. Yes, we need open access; but we need strong, vibrant and effective scholarly societies, playing a critical and key role in managing the scholarly communication process.”
Maybe so—but, once again, those societies can no longer fund themselves through library subsidies. That was never an appropriate financial model, and it’s simply unsupportable at this point. If societies need subsidies, those subsidies need to be in the open; they cannot continue to be hidden subsidies taken from library budgets. (Dorothea Salo comments on Scott’s post in a September 25, 2006 Caveat lector post. Her stance is pretty much the same one I’ve been repeating: “Libraries are not responsible for supporting society activities unrelated to the scholarly literature.” She goes on to add more commentary—and notes, as I would agree, that the responsible scholarly societies with reasonably-priced journals are “not the problem and never were,” and OA is “not about [them] right now.”)
The last item, for the moment, is a press release from ARL dated October 25, 2006: “Higher education and library leaders voice support for free access to federal research.” The release notes a forum on “Improving Access to Publicly Funded Research” and voiced support during that forum. David Shulenberger of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges notes the evidence of journals that already provide open access immediately or after brief delays: “That evidence is not consistent with an apocalyptic collapse of the subscriber base.” SPARC and ARL officials spoke to the critical need for public access; Duane Webster of ARL called FRPAA “an essential step toward broadening access to widely needed information resources.” The release also notes work at MIT and UC to aid faculty in retaining rights—and Clifford Lynch’s note that other universities should provide institutional support for faculty negotiations with publishers.
The June/July 2006 issue of Research Information featured a cluster of nine commentaries on open access from a range of (mostly British) perspectives. You’ll find the lot online (www.researchinformation.info/, go to previous issues, June/July 2006). A few notes on some of the commentaries:
Ø Martin Richardson of Oxford Journals, which now offers Oxford Open as a hybrid option but also publishes some OA journals without author-side fees, says the firm is experimenting with models and claims not to have a “preconceived idea about which model is best.” They don’t believe there will be one single model (a sensible conclusion, in my opinion). So far—it’s only been offered for a year or so—only 10 to 20% of authors have chosen the “author-pays” option in the life sciences, with lower percentages elsewhere. Richardson says there will be more research projects, and makes some sensible statements: “I don’t see any effect to the peer-review process. We do the peer review and accept papers before we discuss with authors how the paper will be funded… Most models don’t really involve the author or reader paying. It is the librarian or funding body…. Our view is that there is not a right or wrong way.”
Ø Michael Mabe was with Elsevier and is now CEO of the International STM Association. He starts out much as you might expect: When asked how he defines open access, he comes up with this gem:
Giving a definition goes to the heart of the problem with open access. In principle it is free availability to everybody on the world-wide web. However, many academics think they are accessing open-access material or publishing in open-access journals when in fact there simply appear to be no barriers because their library has already paid for the subscription.
In the industry as a whole there has not been an appreciable increase in downloads for open-access articles. This demonstrates that research papers are generally by academics for academics and they have access anyway.
Given that bafflegab (don’t OA advocates claim proof that the start of the second paragraph is false?), you won’t be surprised that Mabe says Elsevier’s position is “quite neutral”—but, of course, “many open-access journals are not sustainable and there is a concern about whether the articles that they hold will still be there in 10 or 15 years time.” That, to me, is a new strawman: Oppose OA—which inherently supports institutional repositories, LOCKSS and other archiving initiatives, and pretty much any archiving technique—because the articles might disappear! There’s a lot more, but it’s painful to summarize, including comments about “true costs” rather than existing profits and overhead structure, claims that OA will exclude “different people” from the equation, an astonishing discussion of institutional repositories (they’re for “showcasing a university” and “the material will not necessarily be kept in any useful way,” plus “it is potentially parasitic to traditional publishers”), and dismissal: “I am not sure that open access in the sense of an author-pays model is going to have much future.” Mabe is consistent on one thing: Anything that might threaten the profit and overhead structures of today’s journals is “clearly damaging the research process.” Expect the International STM Association to be just as OA-friendly as AAP/PSP.
Ø Robert Terry of the Wellcome Trust is, as you might expect, friendlier to OA. “We want the digital versions of papers to be available to all in an unrestricted way and for them to be available forever by putting it in an archive or institutional repository.” Wellcome is also strong on subject-based archives. Terry looks forward to text mining of subject archives to “enable new facts to be discovered.” He’s less excited by the future of institutional repositories. As for OA in general: “Open access is better for research.” That’s followed by what may be a non sequitur: “Publishing research in journals worked very well in a paper-based format but people do not work like that now.” Since Wellcome’s guidelines call for archival deposit “on the day of publication or no later than six months after publication,” and since Terry goes on to note that it makes funding available to publish in OA journals, I don’t understand the link with journals becoming irrelevant. Terry says the biggest challenge is the researchers—“There is a lot of passive inertia. They either don’t know or don’t care about open access. They publish work in journals but they don’t even know how much the subscriptions cost.”
Ø Tim Smith publishes the New Journal of Physics—an OA journal published by a traditional publisher, the Institute of Physics Publishing. It’s been around since 1998 and growing since around 2001: “We expect to publish more than 300 papers in 2006.” Smith regards it as prestigious (the Impact Factor in 2004 was 3.095 and rises every year), and it has a high rejection rate (70% rejections). “[O]ver 40,000 articles are downloaded each month and on average an NJP paper will be fully downloaded more than 700 times within one year of publication.” That’s “very high” when compared to other (subscription) IOPP journals. The author-side charge is £600 per article; 85% of articles are paid for (some are subsidized). IOPP hopes that the journal will be self-sustaining within five years.
Ø Matthew Cockerill is publisher at BioMed Central. He says the life sciences have “really led open access” (hasn’t physics been a leader with ArXiv?) and OA “is driven partly by the frustrations at the barriers in the toll-access model.” Cockerill notes, “Many areas of research are funded by taxpayers but they do not see the results.” He says BMC has proved that online-only and open-access can compete with print subscription journals. The number of articles is doubling every 18 months and “authors have also been very pleased with download statistics.” There are some 150 BMC journals; the current “realistic article-processing charge” is £750. BMC is expanding beyond biomed—“we already publish several chemistry journals and have had interest from the physics and social science communities.” While OA is still small, it’s growing; “We see this as a model whose time has come.”
Ø Alma Swan is director of Key Perspectives, a consultancy. She’s written on OA and says “dissemination of research results is a part of the research process and should be funded from within that.” On the other hand, she has no problem with high profits for publishing companies. Swan focuses on institutional repositories as the way to achieve OA.
Ø Jens Vigen heads CERN’s library. CERN’s view is “that everything should be freely available to everybody, without any embargo.” That’s been the practice of CERN since its founding, and high-energy physicists started distributing preprints in the mid-1950s. To Vigen, a six-month embargo would be “a bit of a step backwards,” as the community is “used to immediate release of preprints, six to 12 months before publication” [emphasis added.” Vigen notes, “Publishers tell us that the physics pre-print archive does not affect their subscriptions”—but later does support a strawman: “Open-access publishing could disrupt the peer-review process” (Vigen adds: “but it could actually make it more stable if the funding bodies got involved”). Vigen expects to see charges of “perhaps $1000 per article” and considers this “affordable” from the viewpoint of funding research.
It’s hopeless to summarize the excellent commentary Suber throws in with his extensive citations. Here are a few notes of interest, if only as ways to entice you to go to the originals:
Ø April 24: Suber critiques an article by William H. Walters on institutional journal costs in an OA environment because its cost analysis appears to have some of the same flaws as the Cornell study: Assuming that all OA journals charge author-side fees, that all such fees will be paid by the universities, and that the average fee will be $2,500 (an assumption that Walters refines). The first two assumptions are clearly incorrect.
Ø April 27: Commenting on a Jonathan Zittrain lecture that calls for universities to encourage their faculties to publish in OA journals, Suber says universities would be “much wiser to encourage or require OA archiving”—which may be true, but I have to fault one statement: “There’s no reason for universities to steer faculty away from subscription journals, at least when these journals consent to the OA archiving of peer-reviewed postprints.” I’ll assert that there is one very large reason: Without a shift toward OA journals, today’s crippling subscription prices will continue to make libraries more expensive and, on the whole, less valuable to their universities (because they have so little money left for anything beyond STM licenses).
Ø May 30: Suber cites John Udell citing John Willinsky on education and the internet. “Among his themes, Willinsky talks about how he, as a reading specialist, would never have predicted what has now become routine. Patients with no ability to read specialized medical literature are, nonetheless, doing so, and then arriving in their doctors’ offices asking well-informed questions… ‘They don’t have a context? They build a context.’” The “access to research is dangerous for laypeople” strawman has always been elitist and patronizing; this is one example of why it’s also probably false.
Ø August 22: BioMed Central broadens into chemistry—and the Royal Society of Chemistry’s director of publishing strikes back, saying authors have “absolutely no interest” in OA publishing and that it’s “ethically flawed,” raising the risk of “substandard science” because peer review won’t be rigorous and, sigh, risking the loss of the scientific record if journals go under. Suber gives clear answers to the usual canards.
Ø September 5: Richard Charkin of Macmillan raises an odd “issue” regarding OA: “None of this answers the fundamental question of why paying for publication is likely to result in better scientific literature than the existing subscriber system.” As Suber notes, that’s not an issue: OA improves access to the literature. OA could indirectly improve the literature by improving the chances that researchers know what’s been done before, but “better scientific literature” isn’t the claim of OA.
In my office cubicle, my woodcarving of Don Quixote sits tall on his spavined nag grasping his spear, his beard jutting proudly forward. He reminds me that I am predisposed to tilt at windmills. Sometimes I ought to lean back in my saddle with my hands folded over my paunch and survey the situation, like Sancho beside the Don.
Thus begins a first-rate May 12, 2006 Caveat lector post (“How are we doing?”) on the likely future of open access. “I think the world will change in our direction. Utopia, certainly not. An entirely open-access landscape, certainly not. A world where many more people have unfettered access to much more research and scholarship—yes.” [Emphasis added because it’s such an important point: “100% OA” is just not in the cards.] Then Salo offers some reasons.
She thinks for-profit publishers are fighting on too many fronts—and their repeated lies about OA aren’t working. As Salo notes, once the anti-OA forces lose one significant legislative battle, the whole landscape starts to change. Salo would be “honestly shocked to see nothing pass in the US or Western Europe within ten years.” [Emphasis in the original.] So would I—and, unfortunately, I think you need to use a five- to ten-year horizon to be sure of a major victory. (I’d love to be proved wrong—to have FRPAA pass within the next three years, to have comparable British efforts take hold. Heck, I hope I’m wrong.)
Salo also notices the emergence (growth?) of grey literature and the open data movement, where publishers really don’t have a plausible counter-argument.
Slowly but surely, the environment is changing in an open-access direction. That’s what I see. I don’t see what can stop it. And as the environment changes, more and more researchers will make independent self-interest–based decisions to play along.
I think Salo’s also right to feel that the continued indifference of most researchers isn’t so bad: At least the researchers aren’t, in general, actively opposed to OA. “If the slumbering behemoth had ranged itself behind the publishers, we’d be outright dead in the water.” But that hasn’t happened and isn’t likely to. Meanwhile, although “the pace and nature of this change are glacial,” change is happening. Yes, some OA journals will fail (some already have)—but it appears that most will succeed. Sure, some publishers will abandon overpriced “hybrid” experiments and claim that their failure proves OA doesn’t work—but unless the big publishers hire every OA advocate (which is, I suppose, possible) their credibility on this issue is shrinking all the time. Meanwhile, OA institutional and subject repositories are growing (slowly but surely), new OA journals are springing up and some established ones are prospering, and some journals are converting to full OA or something close to it. I don’t believe we’ll ever get all the way there, but progress is happening.
A few days later (May 16, “That’s the stuff,”) Salo discussed “Citation advantage of open access articles” by Gunther Eysenbach (May 2006 PLOS Biology), a research article that finds:
This comparison of the impact of OA and non-OA articles from the same journal in the first 4–16 mo after publication shows that OA articles are cited earlier and are, on average, cited more often than non-OA articles.
It appears to be a careful study: All articles studied (toll and OA) are from one high-impact, widely available hybrid journal (PNAS); all are newly published; other factors were canceled out. “And guess what. Even taking all that into account, there’s still a significant and measurable advantage for open access.”
There’s a joker: Articles published as OA have higher impact than self-archived or otherwise openly-accessible OA articles. “Gold beats green,” in other words. Salo buys that for newly published articles: “It’s just plain easier to find an article via a publisher’s website than on the open web.” Salo thinks that will thin out over time, and she’s probably right.
The next day (May 17), Salo takes on Harnad (at least indirectly). She admits to being “anti-for-profit-journal-publisher,” and “[i]t blows my mind when Harnad et alia want to trust them with long-term e-journal archiv[ing]. I just cannot fathom it.” As she notes (and she’s worked for a service bureau), publishers don’t understand preservation and have never been in the archival business. She offers a wicked little proposal (a fine one at that):
If the repository I run has to go through NARA/RLG certification to be a trusted digital repository, why shouldn’t publishers who want their electronic archives to be the e-copy of record have to do that, too? Libraries can write that into their contracts: “get NARA/RLG certified, participate in LOCKSS or Portico, and/or give us copies of the bits.”
If we’re to trust them with the scholarly record, they’re going to have to prove they’re trustworthy. Libraries can relax, responsible publishers can show they’re responsible, steps can be taken to cover for the irresponsible ones. Everybody wins except the slackers. I like that.
I don’t track Stevan Harnad (for reasons that will be obvious to long-time readers), but he was apparently distraught over the Eysenbach article and an accompanying editorial. A back-and-forth followed. Salo offers comments on May 25; I strongly recommend reading them directly (and referencing the back-and-forth linked from Salo’s post). Basically, while Salo agrees with Eysenbach that OA is more complicated than Harnad seems to accept, she’s less convinced that journal-as-community continues to be a strong argument. She notes the virtues of depositories to promote interdisciplinarity and the greater ease with which “green OA” can capture datasets. But that’s an unfair summary. Go read the original, which ends:
In short, green and gold open access should not really be considered competitors; they are complements, and a great deal of the green-vs.-gold fuss verges on the ridiculous. I look forward to more thoughtful work and commentary such as Eysenbach’s.
Jumping ahead to September 3, Salo discusses peer review (the hook to OA being that some anti-OA forces wrongly claim OA threatens peer review). She notes comments by Bob Holley in a fine Info Career Trends piece about peer review. For Holley—and for me when I’ve been a peer reviewer—gatekeeping is not the only or primary role. Holley rarely concludes that a paper’s unsuitable and lets it go: “This has happened only about three times in all my years of peer reviewing.” Holley goes on to note ways in which a good peer reviewer aids the author by finding and pointing out errors, problems and inconsistencies that can be corrected before an article is published.
This is true in my experience, from both sides. The few peer-reviewed articles I’ve written were improved thanks to reviewers’ comments. I’ve offered comments in reviewing articles that did, I believe, lead to improvement.
There is, as it happens, a connection to some of the more radical alternatives being proposed: That is, the suggestion that we’d do just as well with “post-publication peer review,” comments and critiques following online publication. Salo:
If we admit that improving papers before they see the harsh light of day is one (though not the only) function of peer review, then post-publication measures come up short, don’t they? By design, they hit a paper once it’s been enshrined in the scholarly record as final.
I still think it quite possible to come up with peer-review systems that take advantage of the breadth of reviewing talent available via the Internet to improve the quality of the scholarly record while avoiding some of the cronyism, bias, and outright error that plague the existing system. Unless we acknowledge all the functions of peer review, though, whatever systems we come up with will not serve even as well as the present one.
Three days later, Salo offers critical comments on a new book on OA, noting that it lacks an essay on what open access will do to and for libraries. She’s working on a proper review; these are notes along the way. I can’t do them justice (and haven’t seen the book); the post, “Libraries and open access,” appears September 6 and justifies reading on its own merits.
Charles W. Bailey, Jr. has been posting useful essays including these four, well worth reading:
Ø “How can scholars retain copyright rights?” (July 3, 2006, with a “More” on July 4) offers the list of exclusive rights provided by copyright and basic strategies for dealing with copyright transfer agreements. It’s easiest to choose a narrow rights license (magazine agreements are typically very narrow; ALA divisional publications offer both an appropriate narrow license and a less appropriate copyright assignment); if that’s not possible, you’ll need to amend the agreement you’re offered—or replace it entirely. Bailey links to examples in each case.
Ø “Open access to books: The case of the Open Access Bibliography” (July 9, 2006) discusses 16 months’ experience with Bailey’s book of that title, published as a $45 print book and as a freely available PDF version (under the CC Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 license). Bibliographies reach narrow audiences and only a fairly small group really cares about OA. “The question is: Was it worth putting up all of those free digital versions of the books and creating these auxiliary digital materials?” (Bailey provided separate PDFs of key portions at additional sites, HTML versions of some portions, and eventually an HTML version of the whole bibliography.) The numbers are convincing (Bailey doesn’t provide print sales, but as he notes, “most scholarly publishers would be delighted to sell 500 copies of a specialized bibliography.”) In the first three months, the book was downloaded more than 29,000 times in PDF form—with another 15,000 since then. In all, more than 44,500 copies of the complete book and more than 31,000 sections have been distributed. That’s impact!
Ø “The American Library Association and open access” (July 23, 2006) is a detailed analysis of the topic—both at the mission level and in terms of actual performance. While there are two gold OA journals (one of which isn’t listed on ALA’s periodicals page), most divisionals are green OA (most support self-archiving). “As a whole, the American Library Association appears to support the open access movement to a limited extent. If this is incorrect and its support is strong, ALA appears to be having difficulty making its commitment visible and “walking the talk.” That’s true—and the first thing ALA could and should do is scrap the copyright assignment agreement altogether and use the copyright license agreement or even narrower licenses.
Ø “Overcoming obstacles to launching and sustaining non-traditional-publisher open access journals” appeared on August 14. Bailey notes the long history of such journals, back at least to 1987, and that new open source journal digital publishing systems make it more attractive to start up OA journals. But there are still obstacles: Such journals are new, digital-only, typically lack branding, typically publish fewer articles, may not be indexed well, may lack citation impact, still require copy editing, and may “depend on the continued interest of their founders.” He offers comments and in some cases suggestions to overcome these obstacles, concluding that OA journals are more likely to succeed and survive “if they are produced by a formal digital publishing program that has the firm backing of a nonprofit organization.” The copy editing point may need repeating: It’s not too difficult to set up a peer review system, but good copyediting requires skill and time. “Novice editors can easily underestimate how much copy editing is required to produce a high-quality journal and how demanding this can be.”
In “Open access, quo vadis?” (July 12, 2006, The parachute), Jan Velterop concludes that “open access is just not all that attractive to individual researchers when they publish their articles.” He says that “with pain in my heart.” He goes on to note proposed mandates—but then he goes off track, as far as I’m concerned. He agrees that research funders “have the power to impose OA on their grantees, and maybe the duty.” Followed by this gem:
And as they mostly pay the bill for library subscriptions anyway (indirectly, via overhead charges of institutions, but they pay nonetheless), they could simply re-route that money to OA article processing charges and reform publishing in the process.
There’s the Velterop Formula for Assured Springer Wealth: Rip off the libraries. First is the questionable assumption that most library subscriptions are funded in a way that can be traced back to NIH, Wellcome, or other research funding institutions. Second is the direct suggestion: re-route that money.
If you take the view cited by at least one economist that the main purpose of academic libraries is to provide journal articles, and if the first assumption could be proven, maybe that suggestion is reasonable—if you’re willing to abandon other library functions. I’m not. Velterop wants to “flip the model” and makes the highly questionable claim that assured funding for high-priced author-pays publication would cause “real competition” and “put downward pressure on prices and upward pressure on efficiencies.” How so? Journals don’t follow standard economic models, because each one is a monopoly. Velterop calls this “reforming publication,” but as long as that “reform” assures the huge profits and overheads of commercial publishers at the explicit expense of academic libraries, it’s the kind of reform Tammany Hall would love.
Francis Ouellette posted a hard-hitting list of “Top 10 things you should [d]o to support the Open Access of scientific publications” at bioinformatics.ubc.ca/ouellette/open_access/top_ten/. Some of them:
10. Publish in OA journals.
7. Only review for OA journals [and for OA articles in hybrid journals]
2. When reviewing papers, give the authors a hard time for citing closed access publications when there are better ones that are OA.
1. If you are looking for a position in Academia, and you find yourself in front of a departmental chair- person that tells you they will not grant you tenure if you publish in OA journals, don't take that job.
The suggestions may be extreme (especially “8. Move to a country that has signed the Berlin Declaration on Open Access”), but they’re worth thinking about.
Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe posts “You can change a contract” at ACRLog on October 5, 2006. She discusses advice in the ACRL Scholarly Communication Toolkit on modifying contracts and offers her own experiences. She’s been offered interesting reasons for copyright-assignment contracts; she’s learned to respond. “The reality is of course that to negotiate from a position of real strength, you have to be willing to walk away from the opportunity…” Hinchliffe thinks we need more success stories and offers her own.
It’s a hard road in some cases but, I agree, a necessary one. Within the last two years, I had one case in which a minor piece—already written—was signed away because of a promise I’d already made (see, Dorothea, it happens to all of us). It won’t happen again if I can possibly help it.
When a publisher wants a copyright assignment, offer a fair alternative (see Charles W. Bailey, Jr.’s advice) and explain why you’re offering it. If the publisher insists, insist back. This does require that you be willing to walk away—to lose the publication offer. But you know what? There are other places to publish, places that do offer narrow rights assignments. I absolutely agree with Hinchliffe’s closing:
I think we need to share our stories and not just principles if our community is going to move forward on this. I look forward to hearing from others.
Andy Powell posted “Pushing an OpenDOAR” at eFoundations on October 27, 2006. OpenDOAR is a directory of open access repositories that now has a search service based on Google’s Custom Search Engine. The announcement for the services says:
It is well known that a simple full-text search of the whole web will turn up thousands upon thousands of junk results, with the valuable nuggets of information often being lost in the sheer number of results.
Powell wondered about that assumption: “simply repeating it over and over doesn’t necessarily make it true!” So he selected ten papers from eprints.org, as randomly as he could, and used the title of the paper to construct a known-item search on the OpenDOAR interface and on Google.
The results are interesting if anecdotal (as Powell admits): Google did just fine, even without phrase searching. Twice Google did significantly better than OpenDOAR (the paper showed up third or fifth in Google, not in the top ten at OpenDOAR). Twice OpenDOAR did better, but in both cases the paper was within the top five at Google. The other six papers were #1 on both engines. Powell concludes that full-text exposure to the web search engines is critical—as are consistent links. As for metadata, it’s important—but not primarily for regular searching.
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