The best sources for news and perspectives on open access continue to be Peter Suber’s Open Access News weblog, www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/fosblog.html (and the monthly newsletter from Suber that’s publicized on the blog); Charles W. Bailey, Jr.’s Scholarly Electronic Publishing Weblog, info.lib.uh.edu/sepb/sepw. htm; and Charles’ other blog, DigitalKoans, www.escholarlypub. com/digitalkoans.
Those aren’t the only sources. In her new job, Dorothea Salo’s been offering some fascinating posts at Caveat Lector, cavlec.yarinareth.net, about the realities of running a DSpace installation. There are others.
One source has disappeared. As noted by Peter Suber on August 15, BioMed Central has ceased publishing Open Access now. That newsletter lasted a total of 23 issues between 2003 and today. BMC says that, since the newsletter began, “[O]pen access has truly come of age and has acquired unstoppable momentum. As a result of this success, Open Access Now is no longer being published…” Suber agrees that OA has unstoppable momentum but notes that he’ll miss the newsletter for its “wonderful interviews” and “very useful profiles of OA initiatives.” Suber also wants to see “more voices and perspectives [on OA], not fewer.” The archive continues to be available, if you want to check out the 23 issues (they’re all brief and professionally formatted).
Suber’s desire for more voices and perspectives is natural and proper. If OA is to serve as an effective counterbalance to overpriced STM publishing and means to provide access for more people to more papers, it needs to be discussed broadly. Two things that might help encourage more people to discuss and implement OA more broadly:
Ø It would help if people didn’t fear attack when they show more interest in OA publishing than in self-archiving.
Ø It would help if it was possible to discuss the actual costs of building and maintaining digital repositories that will serve scholarship in the long run without being hammered by persistent claims that it costs essentially nothing to self-archive, and that self-archiving is all OA really needs.
I’ve said these things before, even naming name (yes, that’s a singular) and I have no reason to believe repetition will help. So here are my own notes on a selection of miscellaneous items and articles related to various aspects of scholarly publishing and library access, with a topical focus on the continuing struggle of various agencies to encourage or require OAI archiving. First, the miscellaneous items:
Ø On May 11, the Cornell University Faculty Senate endorsed another resolution concerning scholarly publishing. This one calls OA publishing “an increasingly effective option for scholarly communication.” It calls for faculty to become familiar with pricing policies for journals in their specialties (a first-rate idea!), consider publishing in OA journals or reasonably-priced journals with brief embargo periods, and deposit articles in an OA repository, and for the library to do its best to resist exorbitant subscription prices. It also “strongly urges tenured faculty to cease supporting publishers who engage in exorbitant pricing, by not submitting papers to, or refereeing for, the journals sold by those publishers, and by resigning from their editorial boards if more reasonable pricing policies are not forthcoming.”
Ø C.Kelty of Savage Minds (savageminds.org) posted “Recursive public irony” on May 24, 2005. Kelty’s article “Geeks, social imaginaries and recursive publics” appears in Cultural Anthropology. The irony: One of Kelty’s friends, part of a group discussed in the article, spotted it at AnthroSource—but couldn’t get at a copy because the friend isn’t a member of the American Anthropological Association and wasn’t ready to pony up $12 for a copy. As Kelty notes, the research was partially funded by NSF, “and any self-respecting American Taxpayer should balk at paying a second time for research they have already funded.” Even Kelty can’t get a copy of the article online although he has affiliations at Rice, MIT, and Harvard: None of them subscribe to AnthroSource—and his AAA membership doesn’t seem to get him in. The association absolutely forbade a Creative Commons amendment to the standard author contract, with a message including this comment: “unlike the many commercial, for-profit publishers against which Creative Commons pits itself.” Kelty calls that suggestion “asinine.”
Ø The Canadian Library Association passed an OA resolution on June 17, encouraging both branches of OA and calling for CLA itself to implement OA. (Is ALA next? It should be…)
Ø BioMed Central issued a press release on June 23, 2005, “Open Access journals get impressive impact factors,” and the title describes the release pretty well. Tony McSean of Elsevier found it necessary to beat down the enthusiasm, arguing that the impact factor results are “unremarkable…and certainly do not provide evidence to support the common assertion that the open access publishing model increases impact factor scores.” I recommend Charles W. Bailey, Jr.’s July 11, 2005 DigitalKoans posting as a fine summary of the “controversy” and some sound reactions, including Charles’ note that comparing young OA journals to old, well-established traditional journals is tricky—and David Goodman’s comment that the real point here is that BMC titles “are at least as good as the average [of traditional journals] and the best of them well above average. For a new publisher, that is a major accomplishment.”
Ø Speaking of DigitalKoans, you should also read the August 4, 2005 post entitled “The economics of free, scholar-produced e-journals.” Charles knows this stuff: He founded Public-Access Computer Systems Review in 1990. The first internet-published scholarly e-journal probably dates back 18 years to New Horizons in Adult Education. Since then, quite a few of these low-overhead ejournals have appeared. They’re OA—but they’re not “author pays.” The brief essay discusses the economics of such journals—which are increasingly plausible in an age of dirt-cheap storage, inexpensive server hardware, and free and cheap software.
Ø Elsevier never stops spinning. If it’s really so sure OA doesn’t threaten it, you wonder why Crispin Davis feels the need to assure financial analysts that “authors are really not very interested” in using OA journals and that “researches themselves don’t like” open archiving. Peter Suber says Davis is “wrong on the facts” (in an August 5 Open Access News posting) and offers specific rebuttals.
Ø Ending up back at DigitalKoans, “The e-print deposit conundrum” appeared August 25. Another fine essay, considering ways to encourage scholars to take the few necessary actions to deposit their articles in digital archives; again, well worth reading.
Ø Heads up: The Open Content Alliance and its ambitious plans. I’m mentioning it here as particularly noteworthy (and access-oriented); I plan to look at OCA together with developments in Google Print in the near future.
Long-term library access to scholarship, including the scholarship published in monographs, requires the kind of financial relief that OA publishing could potentially provide. OA archives may or may not provide financial relief, but they serve open access.
Several initiatives work to improve access by causing more research articles to be deposited in such archives. It now appears predictable that any such initiative will be met with resistance from both commercial and association publishers, raising cries and alarums about the terrible dangers of encouraging OA archiving. These notes cover a few items over the past several months relating to three somewhat-overlapping initiatives:
Ø NIH’s policy encouraging PubMed Central archiving for all papers predominantly funded by NIH, but allowing up to a year’s embargo for access. There’s also the matter of PubChem, an NIH-created open access database of information about organic molecules and their biological impact.
Ø The Wellcome Trust policy that, beginning October 1, 2005, papers from new Wellcome Trust-funded research projects must be deposited in either PubMed Central or the future UK PubMed Central within six months of publication—a policy that will extend to existing projects in another year. The Wellcome Trust is a huge nongovernmental funder of biomedical research in the UK, spending £400 million per year and producing almost 3,500 papers each year, so this is a significant boost to OA. (As Peter Suber notes in SPARC open access newsletter 90 (October 2, 2005), Wellcome’s policy “does not require publisher consent and therefore does not accommodate publisher resistance”—which should also be true of NIH and RCUK policies.)
Ø A draft policy by Research Councils UK (RCUK) to mandate self-archiving for articles produced from RCUK-funded projects—but a policy that allows for embargoes.
PubChem comes first because the American Chemical Society wants to restrict its content, fearing that it will interfere with sales of ACS’ SciFinder Scholar and Chemical Abstracts Service.
In early June, Nobel laureate Richard J. Roberts wrote a widely-distributed letter pulling out of a January 2006 ACS-cosponsored conference in India because of ACS’ opposition to PubChem. Roberts, an advisor to PubChem, asserts that it is “in no way a threat to anything ACS is doing” but rather complements ACS activities “and provides for the biological community an important resource that is not provided by CAS.”
My only interpretation of the recent actions by the ACS Board and management is that it is no longer trying to be a scientific society striving towards the goals of its Congressional charer, which is to represent the best interests of the scientists who form its membership. Rather it seems to be a commercial enterprise whose principle objective is to accumulate money…. [T]he recent actions of the ACS are a disgrace to its image in the USA and around the world.
Madeleine Jacobs, director and CEO of ACS, responded in a public letter the next day, calling Roberts “hardly a disinterested party” and claiming to “correct the misinformation that has been deliberately propagated by NIH staff and its consultants.” Jacobs says “This is, after all, a controversy about science.” Her letter—which is available in the SPARC Open Access Forum archives—claims that ACS does not oppose PubChem but “want[s] it to stay with its stated mission.” Jacobs’ reading of that mission says that PubChem would only provide access to data generated by one specific project. She goes on to state that PubChem duplicates the CAS Registry and includes a paragraph asserting a long-time conspiracy:
It appears that there are individuals in the Library of Medicine who, for 25 years, have wanted to own the CAS Registry, and now that ACS, along with sister organizations, helped get NIH’s budget doubled, they finally have the money to simply replicate the Registry. This is not speculation. We have strong evidence in the minutes from the ACS Board of Directors meetings in the 1979-80 timeframe, in the clear recollection of Dr. Mary Good…and in current information from people inside the Library. So there is much more going on than would first appear.
There it is: NLM conspired to put CAS Registry (which, incidentally, began with NSF grants) out of business. A startling charge, if true. But that’s not the most startling statement in this letter. Try this one:
We question the premise that the federal government should be the funder, publisher, and repository of all scientific information. That’s what is happening now with NIH and the National Library of Medicine. Yes, Rudy Baum has called this “The Socialization of Science.” Concerned citizens should be alarmed.
I’m alarmed—alarmed that a society of chemists is headed by someone capable of making such exaggerated claims. Jacobs goes on to note that NIH’s $30 billion budget dwarfs the ACS budget and says NIH “should use its money to support research grants to advance its mission.” (I would suggest that using one-one hundredth of one percent of that money to assure access to research results might be considered an effective way to advance NIH’s mission, but I’m not ACS.)
Jacobs goes on to defend the absurd lawsuit against Google: “The lawsuit against Google is about the use of a name we have had in the marketplace for many years: SciFinder Scholar. It is strictly about unfair competition, not about its product per se.” So ACS still asserts that “Google Scholar” represents unfair competition for “SciFinder Scholar”!
Steve Heller wrote an open letter responding to Jacobs: “As for disinformation, you are way ahead of us all. You can add untruths, distortions, and misleading statements to that as well.” Heller asserts first-person knowledge that Jacobs’ conspiracy claim is false, notes that there is essentially no duplication of information between PubChem and CAS Registry, and puts the “$30 billion budget” number in context:
How dare you use the total NIH budget of somewhat less than $30 billion to say that the $3 million of PubChem funds (most of which has nothing to do with chemicals) are competition or will put CAS out of business. [Emphasis added.]
And give me a break—who can really take you seriously when you say 12 NLM employees can/will put 1300 CAS employees out of work? It is an insult to most every CAS employee to imply that they do so little that 1 NLM staff member can put 100 of them out of work.
Heller also has some choice words about the Google suit. I don’t know the truth of all this; I do know that Jacobs’ letter is so heavy-handed that it’s hard to take seriously, particularly as she assaults a Nobel laureate.
Apparently ACS is trying to get Congress to restrict PubChem. A June 14 letter from the University of California Academic Council to Congressman Ralph Regula (chair of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies of the Committee on Appropriations) notes that such restrictions are apparently being considered and points out the importance of PubChem. The letter includes a worry about “the chilling effect that the ACS campaign might have on creative attempts to increase access to science” and notes UC’s considerable contributions to ACS publications (2,300 articles in the last 2.5 years, 72 editorial positions, etc.)
This particular dispute may be resolved, if we’re to believe a piece in Chemical & Engineering News (an ACS publication). It notes that ACS is looking for assurance that PubChem won’t disseminate “information on the commercial availability of compounds” and asks for steps to assure that PubChem data is “pertinent and derived from established, bona fide sources.” This “olive branch” may or may not have anything to do with the heat noted above.
The weakened NIH public access policy has had some unfortunate side-effects. Some traditional publishers are “complying” by insisting on either a six month or twelve month embargo and (generally) refusing to allow the published versions of articles to be deposited. In some cases, the new embargo periods are longer than those previously required by journals—and some publishers and associations seem to imply that they’ve lengthened the embargoes in order to comply with NIH policies. SPARC Open Access Newsletter 86 (June 2, 2005) begins with an excellent discussion of the situation.
Unfortunately, submissions haven’t started out all that well. A July 15, 2005 press release from the Alliance for Taxpayer Access gives these figures:
Based on annual data, NIH funding is responsible for about 65,000 scholarly articles a year. Therefore, NIH grantees could have chosen to place approximately 11,000 articles on PubMed Central—making this taxpayer-funded research available free to the public. However, statistics provided by NIH this week show that only three percent of this number, or 340 articles accepted for publication, have been submitted by NIH grantees.
It’s early—July was only two months into the process—but those are appallingly low figures, suggesting that the voluntary process may not be working.
Then there’s the proposed RCUK policy—and here the response from ALPSP is so predictable that it’s hardly worth recounting. This from ALPSP News:
The proposed RCUK policy for mandated self-archiving would accelerate the move to a disastrous scenario in which the free availability of ‘good enough’ versions of journal articles will allow cash-strapped librarians to save money by cancelling subscriptions.
This will destroy journals’ financial viability, and thus their ability to support quality control processes (including peer review) and all the other benefits which flow to both authors and readers from inclusion in a prestigious journal. And this in turn will deprive learned societies of a vital income stream which helps to support all the other activities which benefit both their own research communities and the general public.
Disastrous scenario. Destroyed viability. Threat to peer review. And the indirect assertion that it is the responsibility of “cash-strapped libraries” to subsidize the non-publishing activities of professional societies.
One wonders what ALPSP believes “cash-strapped libraries” will do if ALPSP and its allies succeed in making sure that there are no alternatives to current journal prices and practices. Stop buying monographs altogether? Lay off staff? Or, ahem, cancel subscriptions even if that means less access?
ALPSP’s full response has the usual claim, “ALPSP encourages the widest possible dissemination of research outputs”—but ALPSP’s actions belie that claim. That response produces a powerful sense of déjà vu, with the usual self-serving rhetoric. The short form, a letter to the chair of the RCUK Executive Group, is even terser than the ALPSP News item: “We are convinced that RCUK’s proposed policy will inevitably lead to the destruction of journals.” The letter also “absolutely reject[s] unsupported assertions” that self-archiving “does not and will not damage journals”—and manages to twist ArXiv experience in a way that suggests actual damage.
Naturally, OA advocates refuted ALPSP’s critique. An August 30 piece in the Guardian quotes both sides to some extent, and includes a surprising concession (sort of) from Sally Morris of ALPSP: That “those physics journals where 100% of content was open access had not lost subscriptions yet” (“yet” being several years after ArXiv began)—but added this oddity: “but there was a worrying trend of academics no longer reading the journals.” And this curious formulation about peer review, not as a direct quote:
Journals organise the all-important peer review process, which is the quality control for research—although the academics involved do it for free—and this has to be paid for somehow, she pointed out.
Ah. So it’s not the cost of peer review, it’s the cost of organization. When submissions and refereeing are handled electronically, that cost should amount to a modest spreadsheet or database (say, MySQL or Access) and a tiny amount of someone’s time to track papers and results: The kind of thing that a good administrative assistant in an academic department could handle in a few hours a week for a midrange journal handling 100-200 submissions a year.
As reported at Open Access News, ALPSP met with RCUK representatives on September 16. ALPSP says it’s “reassured that RCUK have agreed to explain to grant recipients why publishers might find it necessary to impose an embargo…for deposit of articles in order to protect subscription and licence sales, and also to insist that such embargoes must be observed.” ALPSP also says RCUK will be “consulting publishers over the specification of the research which will be conducted over the next two years, to evaluate the likely effects of the policy…we hope that the research will be sufficiently objective to ensure that publishers do provide data on the effects, if any, on downloads, subscriptions/licence sales, and other measures of journal sustainability.” Does this equate to “RCUK backed down”? Probably, at least to some extent. Here’s Peter Suber’s comment, given as a “PS”:
It looks like the RCUK will not close the “copyright loophole” in the current draft, which allows publishers to impose embargoes. Instead, it may even let publishers reword it to suit themselves.
Big initiatives can turn into baby steps, but those steps still constitute forward motion.
Gad-el-Hak, Mohamed, “Publish or perish—an ailing enterprise?” Physics Today 57:3 (March 2004): 81-82.
In June 2004, I commented about “an article I don’t have access to, but would dearly love to read”—this one. Dr. Gad-el-Hak (Virginia Commonwealth) became aware of that comment and sent me a copy. It’s an opinion piece and a lovely one, two dense pages of tight writing with strong opinions.
Gad-el-Hak begins with three events: An annual report from an engineering school whose dean “proudly listed 52 papers that he wrote in the course of the year”; a physics professor introduced “as the author of 80 books”; and a book Gad-el-Hak was asked to review that “was clearly never seen by a copyeditor and was mostly a shoddy cut-and-paste job from the author’s doctoral dissertation—and worse, from the publications of others,” priced at $100 for a 200-page book. He suggests a “syndrome of what is ailing academic publishing today.”
Part of the problem is that publish-or-perish seems to emphasize quality over quantity; Gad-el-Hak says that at some institutions the process has “deteriorated into bean counting.” He notes the results: “Many articles…remain without a single citation five or more years after publication.”
Although more difficult to measure, I presume even more papers remain unread by anyone other than their authors. The way some papers list their authors today, some articles may not even be read by all their respective coauthors.
He offers one measure of possible shortage or oversupply of journals within a field: “If, say, 80% of the journals in a given field accept 20% of the submitted papers, there is probably a need for those papers. If, on the other hand, 80% of the journals accept 80% of the manuscripts submitted, perhaps there is an excess of journals in that field.” Note that this measure is independent of the number of journals in a field.
Gad-el-Hak says, “Hopping from one journal to another until something is eventually accepted for publication is fast becoming a pastime for some researchers.” That’s another way of putting something I believe: In too many fields, peer review doesn’t determine what gets published, only where it gets published. In Gad-el-Hak’s own specialty, fluid mechanics, there are at least 250 English-language journals—of which five, all from nonprofit organizations, have reasonable impact factors.
Gad-el-Hak offers “a few modest suggestions” for reform, including these:
Ø Resumés submitted to promotion and tenure committees should be limited to listing only 5-10 significant publications…
Ø Coauthors should contribute meaningfully to a publication…
Ø Researchers should decline to review or to serve as editors for what they suspect to be mediocre journals.
He also says a camera-ready manuscript should be a red flag for evaluating the quality of a book, but that one’s tricky, based on my own experience of preparing final camera-ready pages for half a dozen books that went through full manuscript and copy editing before that final copy was prepared.
A forceful, interesting, worthwhile essay. Highly recommended.
Corrado, Edward M., “The importance of open access, open source, and open standards for libraries.” Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Spring 2005 (www.istl.org/05-spring/ article2.html).
Corrado (College of New Jersey) offers a useful summary of what open access, open source, and open standards are all about and their benefits for librarianship. I wonder about his use of J. Willinsky’s “nine flavors of open access,” only three of which would be considered OA by most people in the field, and I’m a bit surprised that he ignores NISO in discussing open standards. Despite those qualms, it’s a good piece (fully OA since it’s in an OA ejournal—and yes, this is a refereed scholarly article). Recommended.
Shelton, Victoria, “Scientific research: The publication dilemma,” Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Spring 2005 (www.istl.org/05-spring/article1.html).
Shelton focuses on OA itself in a relatively brief, readable article. She says BioMed Central and PLoS “are in the center of the open access movement,” and that may be true of one arm of OA, but there’s a lot more to OA publishing than the high-profile BMC and PLoS. Yes, they get most of the publicity, but they don’t account for the bulk of OA journals. Citing them and only them as “Open access leaders” (except for a closing paragraph about NIH and PubMed) gives short shrift to the many initiatives that preceded and accompany these two. Recommended.
Bailey, Charles W., Jr., “Key open access concepts,” www.escholarlypub.com/oab/keyoaconcepts.htm
This excerpt from Bailey’s Open access bibliography: Liberating scholarly literature with e-prints and open access journals (an OA publication available at the same address, replacing the last segment with “oab.htm”), is what its title implies: A relatively terse, very readable discussion of key concepts. Bailey gets the restrictive definition of OA as defined by BOAI right on the money. That definition of OA is restricted to peer review and requires not only free access but no restrictions (other than attribution and integrity) over reuse. A Creative Commons BY-NC license isn’t good enough, since it restricts commercial reuse.
While Bailey also gives BMC and PLoS more prominence than other OA publishers, he mentions the Directory of Open Access Journals before mentioning the two publicity leaders. He glosses over one event at the start of PLoS slightly:
Its first activity was to circulate an open letter that was intended to convince biomedical publishers to make their journals freely available within six months of publication. Roughly 34,000 scientists from 180 countries ultimately signed the letter, pledging not to publish in (or otherwise support) journals that did not meet this requirement by September 2001. When this letter did not invoke the desired response, the Public Library of Science began to publish its own open access journals.
All this is true, but there’s one missing piece of “did not invoke the desired response”: When publishers called the (possible) bluff of the 34,000 signatories, the letter was exposed as meaningless. Best estimates are that no more than 1% or 2% of the signers took any action beyond signing the letter.
Highly recommended. If you read all three of the articles noted above, you’ll gain a fair background in what OA means—and should move on to the sources noted at the start of this section to keep up with current activities.
Maniatis, Petros, Mema Roussopoulos, T J Giuli, David S. H. Rosenthal, and Mary Baker, “The LOCKSS peer-to-peer digital preservation system,” ACM Transactions on Computer Systems 23:1 (February 2005): 2-50. (berkeley.intel-research.net/maniatis/publications/TOCS2005.pdf).
I’ve talked about LOCKSS before. This massive paper tells you how it works. Here’s the abstract:
The LOCKSS project has developed and deployed in a world-wide test a peer-to-peer system for preserving access to journals and other archival information published on the Web. It consists of a large number of independent, low-cost, persistent Web caches that cooperate to detect and repair damage to their content by voting in “opinion polls.” Based on this experience, we present a design for and simulations of a novel protocol for voting in systems of this kind. It incorporates rate limitation and intrusion detection to ensure that even some very powerful adversaries attacking over many years have only a small probability of causing irrecoverable damage before being detected.
I won’t attempt to summarize or comment, except to note the key design principles (expanded in section 2 of the paper): Cheap storage is unreliable; no long-term secrets; use inertia; avoid third-party reputation; reduce predictability; intrusion detection is intrinsic; and assume a strong adversary.
If you find those principles mysterious but intriguing, go read the paper (it’s nicely-formatted PDF). If you’re interested in LOCKSS and have a mind for technical details, go read the paper. Highly recommended (for some readers).
JISC disciplinary differences report, August 3, 2005, 92pp. (www.jisc.ac.uk/uploaded_documents/ Disciplinary Differences and Needs.doc)
This lengthy report looks at the needs of academic researchers in different disciplines for information resources; it’s based on a survey of 780 UK research academics. The summary of key findings alone runs to four pages (44 findings), including these (among many others):
Ø “19. In terms of the single most essential resource, what stands out is the importance of journal articles for the medical and biological sciences; the importance of e-prints (pre and post) in the physical sciences and engineering; the broader mix in social sciences and the particular importance of books in languages and area studies.
Ø “36. The overwhelming majority of researchers in all disciplines do not know if their university has an institutional repository.
Ø “39. There is a high level of awareness of current debates about open access across the board.
Ø “40. The majority of researchers in all disciplines favour research funding bodies mandating self-archiving.
Ø “42. A surprisingly large minority of scholars think traditional peer review is ripe for replacement. The majority for traditional peer review was smallest in medical and biological sciences and social sciences.”
Obviously that’s just a taste of an in-depth report. Recommended for those interested in how different disciplines approach research and publication, at least in the UK.
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