June 17, 2013
I know I’ve written about this before, but Richard Poynder’s new post reminds me that we Brits really do need to be up in arms over the abject behaviour of our supposed representatives, the research councils (RCUK). As a direct result of this policy, the publisher Emerald has now introduced 24-month embargoes on RCUK-funded papers, where before it had none.
- Specifically stating that Open Access includes unrestricted use of manual and automated text and data mining tools; and unrestricted reuse of content with
- proper attribution.
- Requiring publication in journals that meet Research Council ‘standards’ for Open Access.
- No support for publisher embargoes of longer than six months from the date of publication (12 months for research funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)).
Subsequent revisions of this policy have systematically removed all three of these policies: Green-OA papers may now be encumbered by commercial clauses, RCUK has said it will not enforce its journal standards, and the maximum six-month embargo for STM publication has quadrupled to 24 months.
As a matter of fact, it looks uncannily as though they read my comments and deliberately did the exact opposite. (No, I am not seriously suggesting that’s what happened. I’m not paranoid. What actually happened is less conspiracy-flavoured: I want what’s good for the world; publishers want what’s good for publishers, which is the opposite. They got what they wanted.)
How the hell did this happen?
The irony here is that the House of Lords select committee criticised RCUK for “lack of consultation” when in fact it had circulated its initial policy for comments. It was after this that RCUK threw out all its progressive promises without consultation — except, evidently, with the publishers to whom it so cravenly capitulated.
Where was the consultation on the 24-month embargoes now being exploited by “publishers” like Emerald? There was none: suddenly, from out of the blue, the Publishers Association’s “decision tree” appeared bearing the shameful legend “endorsed by BIS and RCUK”. On whose mandate? BIS and RCUK both exist to spend taxpayers’ money: when did taxpayers give their consent to quadrupling embargoes?
The whole thing makes me want to weep. By this stage in the proceedings, we expect barrier-based publishers to act against the interests of every other party. What we don’t expect it for our elected representatives to collude.
Could we at least have the courtesy of some kind of explanation for RCUK?
June 14, 2013
Here’s what Science Europe, an association of European research and funding organisations, said in their recent position statement Principles on the Transition to Open Access to Research Publications:
The Science Europe member organisations [...] stress that the hybrid model, as currently defined and implemented by publishers, is not a working and viable pathway to Open Access. Any model for transition to Open Access supported by Science Europe member organisations must prevent ‘double dipping’ and increase cost transparency.
The term “hybrid open access” refers to a subscription journal in which individual articles can optionally be made open access on payment of a fee — for the Big Four publishers, typically (though not always) in the region of $3000.
We’ve not said much about the hybrid model here on SV-POW!. A year ago, when we were discussing what society journals should do about open access, I wrote:
I also have an increasing sense that “hybrid OA” (i.e. a subscription journal with an optional open-access fee) doesn’t really work. Certainly Elsevier have had astonishingly low uptake, and there are good reasons for this. [...] I think that hybrid is really a bit of a fig-leaf that’s used by publishers and journals that don’t really want to do OA but feel they have to be seen to be doing something.
With the subsequent publication of the Finch report and the strong swing towards a Gold-OA economy, at least in the UK, it’s no longer fair to call hybrid OA a fig-leaf: even the most reactionary publishers are now positively embracing it as a revenue stream that can continue into the increasingly inevitable open-access future.
More recently, while considering what it costs to publish a Gold Open Access article, I wrote:
Why do people use hybrid journals when they are more expensive than fully OA journals and offer so much less (e.g. limited length, no colour, number of figures)? I suspect hybrid OA is the lazy option for researchers who have to conform to an OA mandate but don’t want to invest any time or effort in thinking about open-access options. It’s easy to imagine such researchers just shoving their work into in the traditional paywalled journal, and letting the Wellcome grant pick up the tab. After all, it’s Other People’s Money.
I think that’s still fair comment. Despite legacy publishers’ move towards embracing the hybrid-OA revenue stream, and their forced move towards true open-access licences for such articles, they continue to offer very bad value for money, and generally provide very little help in locating their open-access articles.
As an example of the latter, I have often wanted to find those Cretaceous Research articles that are open access, but never found a way to do it. Their web-site has an Advanced Search option (which searches across all Elsevier journals, not just Cretaceous Research) but that doesn’t seem to have any way to narrow to only open-access articles. Yesterday, PeerJ’s Alf Eaton found a way: start from the completely different Science Direct site, click on Advanced Search (up at top right), choose the Expert Search alternative, and enter SPONSOREDACCESSTYPE(unlimited OR delay) AND SRCTITLE(“Cretaceous Research”).
One is put in mind of this classic exchange from The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:
Elsevier: But Mister Dent, the open-access papers have been available in the journal for the last nine months!
Arthur: Yes! I went round to find them yesterday afternoon. You’d hadn’t exactly gone out of your way to pull much attention to them have you? I mean, like actually telling anybody or anything.
Elsevier: The papers were on display.
Arthur: They weren’t immediately obvious to the eye were they?
Elsevier: That depends where you were looking.
Arthur: I eventually had to go down to the cellar!
Elsevier: That’s the display department.
Arthur: With a torch!
Elsevier: The lights, had probably gone.
Arthur: So had the stairs!
Elsevier: Well you found the papers, didn’t you?
Arthur: Yes. They was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet, stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard”.
This isn’t mere whining about a badly designed web-site. It seems to me that such unconcern with the plight of users trying to find free content indicates a fundamental lack of interest in the openness of the articles: from the publisher’s perspective, Cretaceous Research is a subscription journal where merely happens to have a bit of of OA fringing around the edges.
By the way, Elsevier are not alone in this. Good luck finding the open-access articles in Palaeontology, published by Wiley; or in Paläontologische Zeitschrift, published by Springer; or in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, published by Taylor & Francis. It just isn’t something the publishers care about.
(In contrast, it’s pretty easy to narrow to open-access articles only when searching in a BMC or PLOS journal, or eLife, F1000 Research or PeerJ.)
Anyway, for these reasons and others, Science Europe is skeptical about hybrid OA — a skepticism that I share. Science Europe’s statement provoked Wiley’s Head of Society Relations, Alice Meadows, in a recent Scholarly Kitchen post:
Hybrid journals are a sustainable way of enabling researchers to publish in their journal(s) of choice while complying with funder requirements to make their articles available OA immediately on publication [...] Clearly, there are some legitimate concerns about “double dipping” (charging libraries for content where a fee has already been paid to make it available open access) [...] However, many publishers, including Wiley, have already developed or are developing solutions to this.
Here we come to maybe the gravest problem with hybrid OA: double dipping. If we take a look at what that Wiley document, Subscription Pricing for Hybrid Journals, says, the problem should be apparent:
We will adjust the variable portion of each title’s price (and of our collection as a whole) proportionately for any shift from subscription-funded articles to gold open access articles. We will calculate this adjustment using the most recent full calendar year data at the time we set prices, and will make available details of the numbers of articles published under each model.
What we have here is a complete lack of transparency. No-one knows how subscription prices are calculated in the first place; the obscure numbers are made wholly impenetrable by Big Deal bunding, so it’s literally impossible to know what a given journal costs; and non-disclosure agreements prevent customers from comparomg notes. Against such a backdrop, how can anyone possibly know whether and to what degree individual journal subscription fees are being reduced? (Knowing the number of OA articles is interesting, but not at all the same thing.)
In the complete absence of any actual data on pricing, all we can do is take it on trust from the publishers that they’re playing fair. And unfortunately, they have violated that trust repeatedly. There’s no trust left for the big legacy publishers. On the occasions when they do play fair, they have to show us that they’re playing fair. That means truly transparent pricing, which no-one believes we’re going to get any time soon.
Wiley’s statement goes on to spell out part of the problem:
Not all of the value or cost of a journal relates to the number of articles published. Titles incur fixed costs before we publish a single article [...] A portion of the subscription price is therefore fixed and not subject to adjustment for the shift to Gold OA articles.
This is saying that even if every single article in a journal was Gold OA, and had been paid for by an APC, Wiley would still charge a subscription fee for the journal. To me that seems both self-evidently absurd and wholly exploitative. APCs have to cover those fixed costs (“discovery and platform services, library interfaces, and the development and implementation of consistent standards”) at true open-access journals such as those of BMC and PLOS, so why shouldn’t they do so at hybrid journals?
What this says is that the APC is only part of the revenue that Wiley expects to derive from its open-access articles — in other words, that their true price is higher than the nominal $3000 OnlineOpen fee. They’re still hiding charges.
So there are plenty of reasons to mistrust the hybrid model. True open-access journals have a much simpler financial model, and are far more transparent. You can tell how much you’re paying, and you know exactly what you’re getting in return. (What’s more, you tend to pay much less and get rather more, but that is incidental.)
So I don’t think hybrid journals are the way to go. As Harvard said in their we-can’t-afford-our-subscriptions memo, that means we need to “move the prestige to open access”. Specifically, we need to move it to open-access journals, not band-aid open access on fundamentally subscription-mired journals.
June 12, 2013
Looking again at Clay Shirky’s “How we will read” interview, I re-read these now classic words:
Publishing is not evolving. Publishing is going away. Because the word “publishing” means a cadre of professionals who are taking on the incredible difficulty and complexity and expense of making something public. That’s not a job anymore. That’s a button. There’s a button that says “publish,” and when you press it, it’s done.
In ye olden times of 1997, it was difficult and expensive to make things public, and it was easy and cheap to keep things private. Privacy was the default setting. We had a class of people called publishers because it took special professional skill to make words and images visible to the public. Now it doesn’t take professional skills. It doesn’t take any skills. It takes a WordPress install.
Here’s what Shirky could have gone on to say, but didn’t.
An unfortunate side-effect of this shift is that we still have these big, lumbering publishing corporations clogging up the landscape, with nothing constructive to do. And the reason that’s a problem rather than merely a waste, is that whereas it used to take special professional skill to make words and images visible to the public, now it takes special professional skill to make words and images invisible to the public, and that’s what these corporations are now dedicating their energies to.
This is the true tragedy of modern “publishers”: that as the world has become able to do the job that once only they could do, they’ve not stepped graciously aside, but devoted their energies to preventing works being available. The publishers’ outdated business model forces them to act in a way directly opposed to their mission.
Why do you think legacy publishers’ open-access APCs are so much higher than those of all-OA publishers like PLOS, F1000 Research, eLife or Peerj? Sure, part of it is sheer profiteering, but even when you factor that out their prices are outrageous. It’s because they have to pay for:
- The paywalls themselves
- Authentication systems
- Integration of their own authentication systems with others such as Athens and Kerberos
- Lawyers to sue people who access published materials in ways the publishers don’t like
- Spin doctors to fabricate reasons to mistrust open access
- Public Relations people to grope for explanations of why their own behaviour is not reprehensible
Bribescampaign contributions for politicians to perpetuate their obsolete business model.
- Media people to guide the anti-open policies of special-interest groups
- Countless executives to waste time on conference calls about text-mining (in this case, three Directors, a Deputy Director, a Vice President and an Account Manager.
All of these are the costs of not publishing openly. In a world where infinite perfect copies are free to produce, it costs a fortune to avoid publishing.
No wonder Elsevier, Wiley, Springer and Blackwell are all converging on APCs on the order of $3000*, while PLOS ONE charges $1350, F1000 Research $1000, eLife free and PeerJ a one-off fee of $99.
1at the request of Davod Mainwaring, I here note that legacy publishing doesn’t always mean $3000 fees. They can be much higher (e.g. $5000 for Elsevier’s Cell Reports) and sometimes rather lower. In particular, the SAGE charges £800 for SAGE Choice in humanities journals, and $99 for the SAGE Open humanities megajournal.
June 11, 2013
Here’s a thing … Looks like the first ever mention of PeerJ on this blog was a year and nine days ago. All we said in that first post was “… the proliferation of other publishing experiments such as F1000 Research and PeerJ …” with no further comment.
That was just before the formal launch of PeerJ, which was on 12 June. A little more than two months later, Matt bought all-you-can-eat membership so he’d never have to think about it again. Three months on and we were enjoying the reference-formatting instructions (yes, really!) A few days after that — on 3rd December, the day it opened to submissions — we sent in what became our neck anatomy paper. They turned it around quickly enough to be in the first batch of articles on 12 February this year, for an impressive submission-to-publication time of two months and some silver.
Since then it’s cropped up all the time on SV-POW! — and for all the obvious reasons. Matt and I both see it as a game-changer, eating academic journals from “below”, and preprint servers and scholarly blogs from “above”. It’s certainly had an eventful year!
We wish it all the best in its second year. And its third, fourth and fifth years, and all the ones after that.
June 11, 2013
On 29th May, I gave a frankly evangelistic talk on open access at UCL’s “Future Univercities” seminar. I was the first of three speakers on the panel. When Johnny Golding got up to speak second, she began by saying something like “that was as passionate a defence of socialism as I’ve ever heard”.
It got a laugh, but thinking about why it was wrong also provoked an important insight for me.
Classic socialism is about the redistribution of wealth (“rob from the rich and give to the poor”). The idea is that it’s good for people with little to have more; and that in order to achieve that good it’s worth making the sacrifice that people with much have to make do with less. (Let’s ignore the ways this idealistic version of socialism has been perverted.)
The very fundamental difference from socialism is that with open access doesn’t ask anyone to make do with less. Because it deals with access to digital, rather than physical, goods, infinite perfect copies are free.
In the bad old days of physical copies, if I had a reprint library of 1000 papers and wanted to share them with you, I might give you 500 or them and keep the other 500 for myself. But if I have 1000 PDFs, I just give you a copy of my library, and then we both have it.
With open access, we don’t rob from the rich and give to the poor. We rob from no-one and give to the rich and the poor.
Why is this important? For various reasons, good and bad, a lot of people dislike socialism. For those people, when open access is tarred with the socialist brush, it turns them off the idea of OA. But there is no need for that. When even the richest university in the world can’t afford all its subscriptions, open access is good news for the rich as well as the poor.
I’m sure we all remember the White House OSTP’s recent memo on open access — a huge step forward that extends an NIH-like Green OA policy to all US federally funded research. It was a triumph for common sense, an explicit repudiation of the mindset behind the Research Works Act, and an affirmation for the ongoing FASTR legislation.
Yesterday, the publishers announced their response to this: an initiative named CHORUS (ClearingHouse for the Open Research of the United States), described most fully on the Scholarly Kitchen blog. The idea is that publishers themselves will make articles available open access after embargo periods have expired, and that they will provide a portal (they suggest chorus.gov) that links out to the various publishers’ green-OA papers. With this established, the publishers think the government can then dispose of PubMed Central.
I commented on the Scholarly Kitchen post:
This does look potentially positive, though I think there is a big trust gap to be bridged before researchers, librarians and indeed the government will be happy entrusting all this to the very publishers who up till now have made themselves roadblocks in the path of all such initiatives.
And then in response to a comment by David Wojick:
“where the industry keeps the eyeballs by meeting the Federal needs, provided the latter are reasonable.”
That’s the kicker. Those of us who remember PRISM, the RWA and the Georgia lawsuit are not predisposed to imagine that publishers’ notions of what is “reasonable” will coincide with ours. To pick one obvious example, I’m pretty confident that the OSTP’s 12-month embargo periods will quickly become 24 or 48.
I think publishers have a lot of bridge-building to do before librarians and researchers will trust them with something as important as a PMC replacement, and the CHORUS proposal has come too soon for that to have happened.
Other opinions were not slow to appear.
Jonathan Eisen wrote one of those posts whose title tells you much of what you need to know: I am highly skeptical of the CHORUS system proposed by scientific publishers as an end run around PubMed Central. He gives the example of Nature Publishing Group’s repeated failures to keep to its own policy of making genome papers freely available.
PLOS co-founder Michael Eisen (Jonathan’s brother) offered A CHORUS of boos: publishers offer their “solution” to public access. He points out that the Association of American Publishers (AAP), who are behind this proposal, ”have been, and continue to be, the most vocal opponent of public access policies. They have been trying for years to roll back the NIH’s Public Access Policy and to defeat any and all efforts to launch new public access policies at the federal and state levels. And CHORUS does not reflect a change of heart on their part – just last month they filed a lengthy (and incredibly deceptive) brief opposing a bill in the California Assembly would provide public access to state funded research.” Skepticism about their motives is understandable.
PeerJ co-founder Jason Hoyt wrote CHORUS: It’s actually spelled C-A-B-A-L, which begins be asking questions about the financial cost before making the crucial point that “more concerning is the cost of giving control of Open Access content to organizations whose business model is counter to the principles of OA“. He asks: “Are these APIs truly open? What happens if I decide to build an aggregator with this content that is supposed to be Open Access? Will I be restricted or charged for high volume access, because publishers are now losing eyeballs as researchers go to my aggregator search engine?”
Finally, pseudonymous academic librarian The Library Loon gave us a post entitled CHORUS: hoping for re-enclosure. I find the Loon’s habit of referring to herself in the third person an irritating affectation, but she is an informed and astute commentator, always worth listening to. She makes the important point that “control of the infrastructure on which open-access copies reside is important for more than immediate financial reasons, and it’s what the publishers are playing for here. Infrastructure that publishers control is vastly easier to re-enclose.“
But maybe my favourite commentary on CHORUS is five short words from a tweet by Heather Morrison:
Public access needs public stewardship.
That’s the issue in a nutshell
I’ve been really struggling to find anyone with a good word to say about CHORUS who does not work for a barrier-based publisher. Here are a few selections of the comments I’ve seen:
Heather Piwowar (@researchremix) June 05, 2013
Ethan White (@ethanwhite) June 05, 2013
.@emckiernan13 So instead of having papers in 1 place, we get redirected to different publishers so they can show us advertisements. Great.—
Justin B. Kinney (@jbkinney) June 05, 2013
Erin McKiernan (@emckiernan13) June 05, 2013
Given the one-sidedness of my tweet-stream, I asked for dissenting views:
Mike Taylor (@MikeTaylor) June 05, 2013
But they were not forthcoming:
Erin McKiernan (@emckiernan13) June 05, 2013
I’m afraid it’s still the case that no-one outside of traditional publishing (i.e. the vested interests) seem to have a remotely positive perspective on CHORUS. It’s perceived as at best irrelevant, and at worst a land-grab.
This post pulls together information on basic parameters of tubular bones from Currey & Alexander (1985), on ASP from Wedel (2005), and on calculating the densities of bones from Wedel (2009: Appendix). It’s all stuff we’ve covered at one point or another, I just wanted to have it all in one convenient place.
- R = outer radius = r + t
- r = inner radius = R – t
- t = bone wall thickness = R – r
Cross-sectional properties of tubular bones are commonly expressed in R/t or K (so that r = KR). K is defined as the inner radius divided by the outer radius (r/R). For bones with elliptical or irregular cross-sections, it’s best to measure two radii at right angles to each other, or use a different measure of cross-sectional geometry (like second moment of area, which I’m not getting into here).
R/t and K can be converted like so:
- R/t = 1/(1-K)
- K = 1 – (1/(R/t))
ASP (air space proportion) and MSP (marrow space proportion) measure the cross-sectional area of an element not taken up by bone tissue. ASP and MSP are the same measurement–the amount of non-bone space in a bony element divided by the total–we just use ASP for air-filled bones and MSP for marrow-filled bones. See Tutorial 6 and these posts: one, two, three.
For tubular bones, ASP (or MSP) can be calculated from K:
- ASP = πr^2/πR^2 = r^2/R^2 = (r/R)^2 = K^2
Obviously R/t and K don’t work for bones like vertebrae that depart significantly from a tubular shape. But if you had a vertebra or other irregular bone with a given ASP and you wanted to see what the equivalent tubular bone would look like, you could take the square root of ASP to get K and then use that to draw out the cross-section of that hypothetical tubular bone.
To estimate the density of an element (at least near the point of a given cross-section), multiply the proportional areas of bone and air, or bone and marrow, by the specific gravities of those materials. According to Currey and Alexader (1985: 455), the specific gravities of fatty marrow and bone tissue are 0.93 and 2.1, respectively.
For a marrow-filled bone, the density of the element (or at least of the part of the shaft the section goes through) is:
- 0.93MSP + 2.1(1-MSP)
Air is matter and therefore has mass and density, but it is so light (0.0012-0.0013 g/mL) that we can effectively ignore it in these calculations. So the density of a pneumatic element is: 2.1(1-ASP) For the three examples in the figure at the top of the post, the ASP/MSP values and densities are:
- (b) alligator femur (marrow-filled), K = 0.35, MSP = K^2 = 0.12, density = (0.93 x 0.12) + (2.1 x 0.88) = 1.96 g/mL
- (c) camel tibia (marrow-filled), K = 0.57, MSP = K^2 = 0.32, density = (0.93 x 0.32) + (2.1 x 0.68) = 1.73 g/mL
- (d) Pteranodon first phalanx (air-filled), K = 0.91, ASP = K^2 = 0.83, density = (2.1 x 0.17) = 0.36 g/mL
What if we switched things up, and imagined that the alligator and camel bones were pneumatic and the Pteranodon phalanx was marrow-filled? The results would then be:
- (b) alligator femur (hypothetical air-filled), K = 0.35, ASP = K^2 = 0.12, density = (2.1 x 0.88) = 1.85 g/mL
- (c) camel tibia (hypothetical air-filled), K = 0.57, ASP = K^2 = 0.32, density = (2.1 x 0.68) = 1.43 g/mL
- (d) Pteranodon first phalanx (hypothetical marrow-filled), K = 0.91, MSP = K^2 = 0.83, density = (0.93 x 0.83) + (2.1 x 0.17) = 1.13 g/mL
In the alligator femur, the amount of non-bone space is so small that it does much matter whether that space is filled by air or marrow–replacing the marrow with air only lowers the density of the element by 5-6%. The Pteranodon phalanx is a lot less dense than the alligator femur for two reasons. First, there is much less bony tissue–the hypothetical marrow-filled phalanx is 42% less dense as the alligator femur. Second, the marrow is replaced by air, which reduces the density by an additional 40% relative to the alligator.
Next time: how to write punchier endings for tutorial posts.
- Currey, J. D., and Alexander, R. McN. 1985. The thickness of the walls of tubular bones. Journal of Zoology 206:453–468.
- Wedel, M.J. 2005. Postcranial skeletal pneumaticity in sauropods and its implications for mass estimates; pp. 201-228 in Wilson, J.A., and Curry-Rogers, K. (eds.), The Sauropods: Evolution and Paleobiology. University of California Press, Berkeley.