A couple of weeks ago, more than hundred scientists sent an open letter to the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) about their new open-access journal Science Advances, which is deficient in various ways — not least the absurdly inflated article-processing charge.

Today I learn from email that there has finally been a response — of sorts. Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt had a long phone-call with Jon Tennant — one of the hundred-plus authors/co-signers. All we know about that call is (and I quote from Jon’s email account) “it became quite apparent that we would have to agree to disagree on many points”.

All I want to say is this. When a hundred scientists co-sign an open letter, it is TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE for the response to take the form of a private telephone call with one of those authors.

Come on, AAAS. This is all about openness. Let’s see an open response: a substantive, non-patronising one which addresses the actual points made in the original letter.

Meanwhile, you may like to read this article at The New StatesmanScientists criticise new “open access” journal which limits research-sharing with copyright. In finishes on this very clear note, courtesy of Jon Tennant:

The AAAS should be a shining beacon within the academic world for progression of science. If this is their best shot at that, it’s an absolute disaster at the start on all levels. What publishers need to remember is that the academic community is not here to serve them – it is the other way around.

 

Dear  AAAS,

This is an open letter concerning the recent launch of the new open access journal, Science Advances. In addition to the welcome diversification in journal choices for authors looking for open access venues, there are many positive aspects of Science Advances: its broad STEM scope, its interest in cross-disciplinary research, and the offering of fee waivers. While we welcome the commitment of the Association to open access, we are also deeply concerned with the specific approach. Herein, we outline a number of suggestions that are in line with both the current direction that scholarly publishing is taking and the needs expressed by the open access community, which this journal aims to serve.

The first of these issues concerns the licensing terms of the journal articles. The default choice of a non-commercial licence (CC BY-NC) places unnecessary restrictions on reuse and does not meet the standards set out by the Budapest Open Access Initiative. Many large funders, including Research Councils UK and the Wellcome Trust, do not recognise this as an open license. The adoption of CC BY-NC as the default license means that many researchers will be unable to submit to Science Advances if they are to conform to their funder mandates unless they pay for the upgrade to CC BY. There is little evidence that non-commercial restrictions provide a benefit to the progress of scholarly research, yet they have significant negative impact, limiting the ability to reuse material for educational purposes and advocacy. For example, NC-encumbered materials cannot be used on Wikipedia. The non-commercial clause is known to generate ambiguities and uncertainties (see for example, NC Licenses Considered Harmful) to the detriment of scholarly communication. Additionally, there is little robust evidence to suggest that adopting a CC-BY license will lead to income loss for your Association, and the $1,000 surcharge is difficult to justify or defend. The value of the CC BY license is outlined in detail by the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association.

We raise an additional issue with the $1,500 surcharge for articles more than 10 pages in length. In an online-only format, page length is an arbitrary unit that results from the article being read in PDF format. Can the AAAS explain what the additional costs associated with the increased length are that would warrant a 50% increase in APC for an unspecified number of additional digital pages? Other leading open access journals, such as PeerJ, the BMC series, and PLOS ONE, offer publication of articles with unlimited page lengths. The extra costs create constraints that may adversely incentivize authors to exclude important details of their study, preventing replication and hindering transparency, all of which are contrary to the aims of scholarly publication. Therefore it seems counterproductive to impose this additional charge; it discriminates against researchers’ best effort to communicate their findings with as much detail as necessary.

We feel that the proposed APCs and licencing scheme are detrimental to the AAAS and the global academic community. As such, we recommend that Science Advances:

  • Offers CC BY as standard for no additional cost, in line with leading open access publishers, so authors are able to comply with respective funding mandates;

  • Provides a transparent calculation of its APCs based on the publishing practices of the AAAS and explains how additional value created by the journal will measure against the significantly high prices paid by the authors;

  • Removes the surcharges associated with increased page number;

  • Releases all data files under CC0 (with CC BY optional), which has emerged as the community standard for data and is used by leading databases such as Figshare and DataDryad.

We hope that you will consider the points raised above, keeping in mind how best to serve the scientific community, and use Science Advances to add the AAAS to the group of progressive and innovative open access scholarly publishers. We hope AAAS will collaborate with the academic community to facilitate the dissemination of scientific knowledge through a journal committed to fully embracing the principles of Open Access.

We kindly request that you allow your response(s) to be made public along with this letter, and look forward to hearing your response soon.

Signatories (please note that we do not formally represent the institutions listed):

  1. Jonathan P. Tennant, PhD student, Imperial College London (jonathan.tennant10@imperial.ac.uk, @protohedgehog)
  2. Timothée Poisot, University of Canterbury (timothee.poisot@canterbury.ac.nz, @tpoi)
  3. Joseph R. Hancock, Montana State University-Bozeman (joseph.hancock1@msu.montana.edu, @Joe_R_Hancock)
  4. M Fabiana Kubke, University of Auckland, New Zealand (f.kubke@auckland.ac.nz, @kubke)
  5. François Michonneau, University of Florida (fmichon@flmnh.ufl.edu, @FrancoisInvert)
  6. Michael P. Taylor, University of Bristol (dino@miketaylor.org.uk, @MikeTaylor)
  7. Graham Steel, Open Science, Scotland (steelgraham7@gmail.com, @McDawg)
  8. Jérémy Anquetin, Section d’Archéologie et Paléontologie, Switzerland (j.anquetin@gmail.com, @FossilTurtles)
  9. Emily Coyte, University of Bristol (emily.coyte@bristol.ac.uk, @emilycoyte)
  10. Benjamin Schwessinger, UC Davis (bschwessinger@ucdavis.edu, @schwessinger)
  11. Erin C. McKiernan, independent scientist (emck31@gmail.com, @emckiernan13)
  12. Tom Pollard, PhD student, University College London (tom.pollard.11@ucl.ac.uk, @tompollard)
  13. Aimee Eckert, MRes student, Imperial College London (aee13@imperial.ac.uk, @aimee_e27)
  14. Liz Allen, ScienceOpen, San Francisco (liz.allen@scienceopen.com, @LizAllenSO)
  15. Dalmeet Singh Chawla, Imperial College London (dalmeets@gmail.com, @DalmeetS)
  16. Elizabeth Silva, San Francisco (elizabeth.silva@me.com, @lizatucsf)
  17. Nicholas Gardner, Marshall University (nick.gardner@gmail.com, @RomerianReptile)
  18. Nathan Cantley, Medical Student, Queens University Belfast (ncantley01@qub.ac.uk, @NathanWPCantley)
  19. John Dupuis, Librarian, York University, Toronto (jdupuis@yorku.ca, @dupuisj)
  20. Christina Pikas, Doctoral Candidate, University of Maryland (cpikas@gmail.com, @cpikas)
  21. Amy Buckland, Librarian, McGill University, Montreal (amy.buckland@mcgill.ca, @jambina)
  22. Lenny Teytelman, www.zappylab.com, Berkeley, CA (lenny@zappylab.com), @lteytelman)
  23. Peter Murray-Rust, University of Cambridge, UK (peter.murray.rust@googlemail.com), @petermurrayrust)
  24. Zen Faulkes, The University of Texas-Pan American, zfaulkes@utpa.edu, @DoctorZen)
  25. Robert J. Gay, The University of Arizona/Mission Heights Preparatory High School, AZ, USA (paleorob@gmail.com, @paleorob)
  26. Peter T.B. Brett, University of Surrey, UK (peter@peter-b.co.uk, @PeterTBBrett)
  27. Anders Eklund, Linköping University, Sweden (andek034@gmail.com, @wandedob)
  28. Johannes Björk, Institute of Marine Sciences, Barcelona, Spain (bjork.johannes@gmail.com, @AwfulDodger)
  29. William Gunn, Mendeley, London, UK, william.gunn@mendeley.com, @mrgunn)
  30. Nitika Pant Pai, McGill University, Montreal, Canada (nitika.pai@mcgill.ca) @nikkiannike
  31. Philippe Desjardins-Proulx, Ph.D. student (philippe.d.proulx@gmail.com, @phdpqc).
  32. Joshua M. Nicholson, PhD candidate Virginia Tech, VA and founder The Winnower, VA (jnicholson@thewinnower.com, @thewinnower)
  33. Scott Edmunds, GigaScience, BGI Hong Kong (scott@gigasciencejournal.com, @SCEdmunds)
  34. Steven Ray Wilson, University of Oslo (stevenw@kjemi.uio.no, @stevenRayOslo)
  35. Stuart Buck, Vice President of Research Integrity, Laura and John Arnold Foundation (sbuck@arnoldfoundation.org, @stuartbuck1)
  36. B. Arman Aksoy, Ph.D. student, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (arman@cbio.mskcc.org, @armish)
  37. Nazeefa Fatima, University of Huddersfield, UK (nazeefafatima@msn.com, @NazeefaFatima)
  38. Ross Mounce, University of Bath, UK (rcpm20@bath.ac.uk, @rmounce)
  39. Heather Piwowar, Impactstory, (heather@impactstory.org), @researchremix
  40. Avinash Thirumalai, Ph.D student, East Tennessee State University (thirumalai@goldmail.etsu.edu)
  41. Jason Priem, Impactstory (jason@impactstory.org), @jasonpriem
  42. Clayton Aldern, University of Oxford, UK (clayton.aldern@gmail.com, @compatibilism)
  43. Marcus D. Hanwell, Technical Leader, Kitware, Inc., (mhanwell@kitware.com, @mhanwell)
  44. Kristen L. Marhaver, NSF Postdoctoral Fellow, Carmabi Foundation (kristenmarhaver@gmail.com, @CoralSci)
  45. David Michael Roberts, ARC Research Associate, University of Adelaide (david.roberts@adelaide.edu.au)
  46. Brian Hole, Ubiquity Press, UK (brian.hole@ubiquitypress.com, @ubiquitypress)
  47. Alexander Grossmann, University of Applied Sciences Leipzig, Germany and co-founder of ScienceOpen, Berlin/Boston (alexander.grossmann@htwk-leipzig.de, @SciPubLab)
  48. David L.Vaux, Assistant Director, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Australia (vaux@wehi.edu.au)
  49. John Murtagh, Repository Manager, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine @LSHTMlibrary
  50. Alecia Carter, University of Cambridge, UK (ac854@cam.ac.uk, @alecia_carter)
  51. Alex O. Holcombe, University of Sydney (alex.holcombe@sydney.edu.au, @ceptional)
  52. Ignacio Torres Aleman, Cajal Institute, Madrid. Spain. (torres@cajal.csic.es)
  53. Sarah Molloy, Research Support Manager, Queen Mary University of London (s.h.molloy@qmul.ac.uk, @moragm23)
  54. John Lamp, Deakin University, Australia (john.lamp@deakin.edu.au, @johnwlamp)
  55. Matthew Todd, The University of Sydney and Open Source Malaria, matthew.todd@sydney.edu.au)
  56. Anusha Seneviratne, Imperial College London (anushans@hotmail.com, @anushans)
  57. Guido Guidotti, Harvard University (guidotti@fas.harvard.edu)
  58. Joseph McArthur, Assistant Director, Right to Research Coalition(Joe@RighttoResearch.org, @mcarthur_joe)
  59. Carlos H. Grohmann, University of São Paulo, Brazil (guano@usp.br)
  60. Jan de Leeuw, University of California Los Angeles, (deleeuw@stat.ucla.edu)
  61. Jung H. Choi, Associate Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology (jung.choi@biology.gatech.edu)
  62. Ernesto Priego, Centre for Information Science, City University London, UK (Ernesto.Priego.1@city.ac.uk)
  63. Brian Pasley, University of California, Berkeley (bpasley@berkeley.edu)
  64. Stacy Konkiel, Impactstory.org (stacy@impactstory.org), @skonkiel)
  65. Elizabeth HB Hellen, Rutgers University (hellen@dls.rutgers.edu)
  66. Raphael Levy, University of Liverpool (rapha@liverpool.ac.uk)
  67. Paul Coxon, University of Cambridge (prc39@cam.ac.uk)
  68. Nitika Pant Pai, McGill University, Montreal, Canada (nitika.pai@mcgill.ca)
  69. David Carroll, Queen’s University Belfast  (carroll.davide@gmail.com, @davidecarroll)
  70. Jacinto Dávila, Universidad de Los Andes (jacinto.davila@gmail.com, @jacintodavila)
  71. Marco Arieli Herrera-Valdez, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (mahv13@gmail.com, @brujonildo)
  72. Juan Pablo Alperin, Simon Fraser University, Canada (juan@alperin.ca)
  73. Jan P. de Ruiter, Bielefeld University (jan.deruiter@uni-bielefeld.de, @JPdeRuiter)
  74. Xianwen Chen, Norwegian University of Life Sciences (xianwen.chen@nmbu.no, @xianwen_chen)
  75. Jeanette Hatherill, Librarian, University of Ottawa, Canada (jeanette.hatherill@uottawa.ca, @jeanetteanneh)
  76. Katharine Mullen, University of California Los Angeles (katharine.mullen@stat.ucla.edu)
  77. Pedro Bekinschtein, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina (pbekinschtein@fmed.uba.ar; @pedrobek)
  78. Quentin Groom, Botanic Garden Meise, Belgium (quentin.groom@br.fgov.be, @cabbageleek)
  79. Karen Meijer-Kline, Librarian, Simon Fraser University, Canada (kmeijerk@sfu.ca, @kmeijerkline)
  80. Pietro Gatti-Lafranconi, Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge, UK (pg356@cam.ac.uk, @p_gl)
  81. Jeffrey Hollister, USEPA, Narragansett, RI (hollister.jeff@epa.gov, @jhollist)
  82. Lachlan Coin, University of Queensland and founder of Academic Karma (l.coin@academickarma.org @AcademicKarma )
  83. MooYoung Choi, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Seoul National University, Korea (mychoi@snu.ac.kr)
  84. Oscar Patterson-Lomba, Harvard School of Public Health (opatters@hsph.harvard.edu)
  85. Rowena Ball, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia (Rowena.Ball@anu.edu.au)
  86. Daniel Swan, Oxford Gene Technology, UK (Daniel.Swan@ogt.com @DrDanielSwan)
  87. Stephen Curry, Imperial College London, UK (s.curry@imperial.ac.uk, @Stephen_Curry)
  88. Abigail Noyce, Boston University (anoyce@bu.edu, @abbynoyce)
  89. Jordan Ward, UCSF, San Francisco, CA, USA (jordan.ward@ucsf.edu, @Jordan_D_Ward)
  90. Ben Meghreblian, criticalscience.com, London, UK (benmeg@benmeg.com, @benmeg)
  91. Ethan P. White, Utah State University, Logan, UT, USA (ethan.white@usu.edu, @ethanwhite)
  92. Sean R. Mulcahy, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA (mulcahy@berkeley.edu, @srmulcahy)
  93. Sibele Fausto, University of São Paulo, Brazil (sifausto@usp.br @sibelefausto)
  94. Lorena A. Barba, George Washington University (labarba@gwu.edu @LorenaABarba)
  95. Ed Trollope, Director, Things We Don’t Know CIC (contact@thingswedontknow.com, @TWeDK)
  96. Stephen Beckett, Ph.D. student, University of Exeter (S.J.Beckett@exeter.ac.uk, @BeckettStephen)
  97. Andrew D. Steen, Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, University of Tennessee, Knoxville (asteen1@utk.edu, @drdrewsteen)
  98. Mari Sarv, Estonian Literary Museum (mari@folklore.ee, @kaskekanke)
  99. Noam Ross, Ph.D. Candidate, Ecology, University of California-Davis (nmross@ucdavis.edu, @noamross)
  100. Erika Amir, Geologist, Massachusetts, USA (erika.amir@gmail.com, @geoflier)
  101. Martin Paul Eve, University of Lincoln (meve@lincoln.ac.uk, @martin_eve)
  102. Franco Cecchi, University of Florence (francocecchi337@gmail.com)
  103. Jason B. Colditz, University of Pittsburgh (colditzjb@gmail.com, @colditzjb)
  104. Philip Spear, postdoc, Northwestern University (philspear@northwestern.edu)
  105. Mythili Menon, University of Southern California (mythilim@usc.edu, @mythmenon)
  106. Matthew Clapham, University of California Santa Cruz (mclapham@ucsc.edu,@meclapham)
  107. Karl W. Broman, University of Wisconsin–Madison (kbroman@biostat.wisc.edu, @kwbroman)
  108. Graham Triggs, Symplectic (graham@symplectic.co.uk, @grahamtriggs)
  109. Tom Crick, Cardiff Metropolitan University (tcrick@cardiffmet.ac.uk, @DrTomCrick)
  110. Diano F. Marrone, Wilfrid Laurier University (dmarrone@wlu.ca)
  111. Joseph Kraus, Librarian, University of Denver (joseph.kraus@du.edu, @OAJoe)
  112. Steven Buyske, Rutgers University (buyske@stat.rutgers.edu)
  113. Gavin Simpson, University of Regina (gavin.simpson@uregina.ca)
  114. Colleen Morgan, University of York (colleen.morgan@york.ac.uk @clmorgan)
  115. Kara Woo, National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, UC Santa Barbara (woo@nceas.ucsb.edu, @kara_woo)
  116. Mathew Wedel, Western University of Health Sciences (mathew.wedel@gmail.com)

 

[Introduction from Mike. I'm on the OKFN's open-access mailing list, where we're currently embroiled in a rather tedious reiteration of the debate about the merits of the various open-access licences. On Monday, veteran of the OA wars Jan Velterop posted a message so perfect that I immediately asked him for permission to re-publish it as a guest post here on SV-POW!. He kindly agreed, so over to Jan for the rest of this post. The only changes I've made are to highlight what I consider the key passages.]

I’ve been following this discussion with increasing bemusement. Frankly, it’s getting ridiculous, at least in my humble opinion. A discussion such as this one about licensing and copyright only serves to demonstrate that copyright, once conceived as a way to stimulate and enable science and the arts, has degenerated into a way to frustrate, derange and debilitate knowledge exchange.

I’m not the first one to point out that absolutely anything, under any copyright licence or none, could be abused for evil purposes or, in more mild circumstances, lead to misunderstandings and accidental abuse. I agree with all those who said it.

The issue here is what science and scientific results stand for. Their purpose is emphatically not “to be copyrightable items”. Copyright, invented to combat commercial abuse, has become a means of commercial abuse. The purpose of science and scientific results is to enrich the world’s knowledge. Any commercial advantage – appropriate for industrially funded research – can be had by 1) keeping results secret (i.e. not publishing them), or 2) getting a patent. Science, particularly modern science, is nothing without a liberal exchange of ideas and information.

Ideally, scientific publications are not copyrightable at all, and community standards take care of proper acknowledgement. We don’t live in an ideal world, so we have to get as close as we can to that ideal, and that is by ameliorating the insidious pernicious effects of copyright with CC-Zero and CC-BY licences.

The existence of the NC rider or stipulation for CC licences is unfortunate and quite damaging. Mainly because of the vagueness and ambiguity of what ‘commercial use’ means. Ideas in published articles can be freely used for commercial purposes of any kind, as ideas are not copyrightable. Only “the way the ideas have been formulated” is covered by copyright, and thus by the NC clause in copyright licences. In my interpretation that means that most usage of published material that is not a straightforward selling of text or images can be freely done. But that’s my interpretation. And that’s exactly where it rubs, because all the NC clause does is introduce hypothetical difficulties and liabilities. As a result of which, NC practically means: “stay away from using this material, because you never know with all those predatory legal eagles around”. In other words, it’s virtually useless for modern, sophisticated scientific knowledge discovery, which doesn’t just consist of reading papers any longer, but increasingly relies on the ability to machine-process large amounts of relevant information, as human ocular reading of even a fraction of the information is not possible anymore. At least not in most fast-moving areas of the sciences. Read this article, or similar ones, if you want to be convinced: On the impossibility of being expert, BMJ 2010; 341  (Published 14 December 2010 – unfortunately behind a paywall).

The taxpayer angle (“must be open because the taxpayer paid for it”), leading to Kent Andersonian notions of knowledge protectionism (“results of research paid by US taxpayers should not be available to non-US citizens unless they pay for it”), is a most unfortunate, visceral and primitive reaction and a complete red herring. For many reasons, not least because the taxpayer, or vicariously the taxman, isn’t the party that pockets any money payed for paywalled information. Besides, how far do you go? Americans not being allowed to stay alive due to a cure that was developed with public money in Switzerland unless they pay through the nose for it to the Swiss tax authorities? The “as-long-as-I-am-well-the-rest-of-you-can-go-to-hell” personality disorder. The whole idea is so against the ethos of science that those even thinking in that direction must be taken to be utterly and entirely unsuitable to any role in the scientific community.

Access control and restriction via copyright was at best a necessary evil in the print era; the ‘necessary’, though, has disappeared in the web environment.

Have a nice day!

Jan Velterop

My thanks to Steve Wang for pointing out that The Paleontological Society (in the USA, not to be confused the UK’s Palaeontological Association) has a new open access policy. The highlights are:

The Journal of Paleontology and Paleobiology now offer two options for Open Access publishing [...]

Gold Open Access: authors or their institution may purchase Gold OA for their article by paying an Article Processing Fee (APC) of $2,500 ($1,500 for Society members). [...] Gold Open Access articles will be published under the terms of the CC-BY-NC 3.0 license by default or CC-BY 3.0 license upon request.

Green Open Access: Authors of all articles published in the Journal of Paleontology or Paleobiology may freely post (e.g., to personal and institutional web sites) and distribute freely the final accepted manuscript file (not the pdf of the published article) under Green Open Access, 12 months after its publication.

Positives

It’s good to see this real step forwards, and a lot of people are going to be particularly pleased that both Gold and Green are on offer.

The Gold APC, especially for members, is noticeably cheaper than at most of the legacy publishers. (It’s $2500 for non-members, but they can join the society for $55 to take advantage of the lower price.) Elsevier, Springer, Wiley and Taylor and Francis have all spontaneously arrived at APCs at or very close to $3000 (and I’m quite sure there was no illegal price-fixing involved.) Members pay half of that — which is in the same ball-park as PLOS ONE’s long-established benchmark of $1350.

It’s excellent that there is an option to make the Gold articles true, BOAI-compliant open access by using the CC By licence.

It’s good that the Green OA embargo is no longer than 12 months.

Negatives

While $1500 is half the price of legacy publishers’ OA offerings, it still feels like a previous-generation APC. PeerJ, Ubiquity and Magnolia Press among others have raised the bar (or do I mean lowered it?) by charging APCs an order of magnitude less. It’s a shame that the Paleontological Society haven’t opted to go with a next-gen publisher such as Ubiquity, who publish quite a few society journals at good prices.

The default to the CC By-NC licence is unfortunate, as it will prevent legitimate scholarly uses including re-use of figures in commercial journals, uses in teaching at universities that charge tuition, and use in Wikipedia. We can hope that most authors will choose CC By, which suffers from none of these drawbacks; but experience shows that most authors’s immediate reaction, before they’ve thought it through in detail, is to err towards imposing more rather than less restrictions. The Society could have set expectations differently by using CC By except where authors request CC By-NC.

It’s odd that the policy stipulates that version 3.0 of the CC licences is used, when the current version is 4.0, but it’s not a big deal.

The imposition of the Green OA embargo is unfortunate (All Green-OA embargoes are iniquitous). Not only that, but 12 months exceeds the 6 months suggested by the better, earlier version of the RCUK policy and some others.

Nothing at all is said about the licence under which Green OA manuscripts should be made available. This is a missed opportunity, since in the absence of a clear statement of what is allowed, potential users will err on the side of safety — so, for example, PaleoSoc Green papers are likely to be omitted from content-mining projects.

Summary

This policy represents a valuable step forward for the Society; but it’s not all it could have been.

Some of the limitations have been imposed by the Society for its own benefit, which one can understand: the highish APC, the embargo (though of course there is no evidence that embargo-less Green affects subscription revenue).

But other limitations could easily be fixed at no cost to the Society. In particular, I would like to see them reverse the CC By/By-NC option, so that the more open option is the default; and I’d like them to make it clear that Green OA papers may be (and should preferentially be) provided under CC By, too.

A while back, I submitted evidence to the House of Lords’ inquiry into Open Access — pointlessly, as it turns out, since they were too busy listening to the whining of publishers, and of misinformed traditionalist academics who hadn’t taken the trouble to learn about OA before making public statements about it.

Today the Lords’ report [PDF version] is out, summarised here. And it’s a crushing disappointment. As I’d feared, this inquiry didn’t represent an opportunity to forge ahead, but a retreat. The RCUK’s excellent OA policy is to be emasculated by a more gradual implementation, the acceptance of longer embargoes and a toning down of the preference for Gold over Green. (While there is case for Green in the abstract, the form of Green required by the RCUK policy is much weaker that its form of Gold, in that it doesn’t require a liberal licence such as would enable text-mining, use in education, etc.)

On top of that, RCUK have been criticised for “lack of clarity”: quite unfair since their policy is pretty explicit and in any case has twice been clarified on their blog. This is not a hard resource to find: anyone honestly concerned about a perceived lack of clarity could find it in ten seconds of googling. RCUK also caught criticism for lack of consultation — also unfairly, as they made a call for comments which I also responded to.

RCUK has responded apologetically to all this — “Lessons have been learned and we will continue to actively engage with the academic and publishing sectors” as though the publishing sector has any right to a say. I would much rather RCUK had shown the balls to stick with the leadership they initially provided, but I assume they’re under political pressures and were left with no choice. Instead, venality from publishers, ignorance from certain academics and cowardice from the Lords has conspired to strip the UK of its leadership in OA, and reduce it to being a follower.

As Nature News editor Richard Van Noorden said, “In other words, RCUK in response promises nothing it wasn’t doing already”. And the reason was rather diplomatically stated by ICL researcher Stephen Curry:  “Not 100% convinced their lordships have mastered topic”. You can say that again.

Taking a step back — and a deep breath — the weakened RCUK policy is still A Good Thing — just a much less good thing than it could have been, and was on track to be. At a time when radical new journals like eLife and PeerJ are showing just how much better our publishing ecosystem can be, it’s desperately disappointing to see the Lords backing an approach to OA that will mean we

What I would like to see from RCUK now is a statement that, if the public that funds our research is to face yet longer embargoes before it can see that work, it must at least be allowed to use it when it gets it. RCUK must insist on CC BY for the Green arm of its policy.

What is a viral licence?

February 8, 2013

Earlier today, Richard Van Noorden pointed out on Twitter that in this video, at about 5:40, the speaker says that “CC BY is essentially a viral licence”. I was surprised to say the least that the speaker — Sue Joshua, Director of Legal Affairs at John Wiley & Sons — would make such a basic mistake. I’d have expected a copyright lawyer to know what the term “viral licence” means.

Hence this post.

A viral licence is one that imposes the same terms on derived works. If you don’t believe me, here’s the Wikipedia entry, and if you don’t believe that here’s Princeton University’s definition.

This is the meaning of the term “viral licence”. It doesn’t mean “a licence that has suddenly become popular, i.e. ‘gone viral'”. It refers specifically to a licence that (by design) infects numerous works by transmitting itself to from one work to others.

The classic example of a viral licence is the GNU General Public Licence, which is used for much of the world’s most important free software including the Linux kernel. [Disclosure: in my day-job, some of the software we release is under the GPL: YAZ Proxy, Metaproxy, pazpar2, Zebra, IRSpy, MKDru.]

The other best-known viral licence is Creative Commons Attribute-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA). Specifically, this is differentiated from the more common non-viral CC BY licence by the addition of the ShareAlike clause, which says:

Share Alike — If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.

The reason that CC BY is the most widely used licence for open-access publications is precisely that it is not viral — its non-viral nature means that work licenced using it can be deployed in the widest possible range of circumstances, which is generally what funders want in exchange for their money.

Why am I making such a big deal about this? Because we need to communicate! The term “viral licence” has one meaning, which makes it very easy and unambiguous to talk about. But if we allow Sue Joshua’s confusion to spread, the term will soon become debased just as “open access” has. I was surprised to see in today’s Twitter stream that a couple of people who I expected to know this term seemed unclear on it, so it’s worth clearing up.

[In this post I am not interested in arguing about whether viral licences are a good or a bad thing; just in establishing what they are.]

Hot on the heels of the UK House of Lords’ inquiry into Open Access, the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee of the House of Commons has begun its own inquiry. This morning I submitted my own evidence. Here it is.

[It's not too late to make your own submission. It doesn't have to be as long as this: just let the government know your attitude regarding the parts of the question that concern you most. Again, details are here. Get writing!]

Business, Innovation and Skills Committee

Inquiry into the Government’s Open Access Policy

Dr. Michael P. Taylor

7th February 2013

I am an honorary research associate in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol. A computer programmer by profession, I completed a Ph.D in my spare time in 2009, and continue to publish research in vertebrate palaeontology. Although my Bristol affiliation gives me reasonable access to paywalled literature, the mechanics of access are cumbersome as I work exclusively off-campus. My unusual circumstances give me a perspective from both inside and outside academia.

I speak only for myself, not for the University of Bristol.

Executive summary

  1. The UK currently leads the world in Open Access, and as a result enjoys a significant citation advantage; the rest of the world is following.
  2. The purpose of funding research is to benefit society as a whole. When publishers’ interests conflict with those of broader society, the government must serve society.
  3. The inclusion of publishers on the Finch Committee represents a conflict of interest. Some recommendations of the Finch Report were compromised by this conflict of interest.
  4. Gold OA has a real advantages over Green OA in that it presents a single Version Of Record. But the Finch Report does not give proper weight to Green OA.
  5. The form of Green OA mandated by the RCUK policy is badly compromised in allowing restrictive licences and delayed access that reduce the value of the research.
  6. There is no evidence that Green OA negatively affects subscription revenue.
  7. CC BY allows commercial re-use by design, in order to obtain the best return on research investment. It explicitly prohibits plagiarism. It does not infringe author’s rights, in fact allowing authors to retain more rights than the prevailing copyright-transfer regime.
  8. The use of CC BY means that research does not merely allow us to know more, but to do more. It is not anti-commercial, it is anti-monopoly (and so facilitates an efficient market).
  9. Gold OA APCs vary greatly between publishers: traditional publishers are far more expensive than new OA-only publishers. Much lower APCs than the £1500–£2000 quoted by the Finch Report are achievable with no loss of publication quality. Government funding should cover only a base APC of perhaps £1000 to encourage downward pressure on prices.
  10. The government must make decisions on the basis of what benefits the UK as a whole, not what benefits any single industry. The government should allow both Gold and Green OA; should require the CC BY licence, whichever route is taken; should tolerate no embargo on Green OA; and should not fully fund exploitatively high APCs.

Principles

1. First, I enthusiastically welcome the government’s clearly stated commitment to Open Access (OA). There is no question that the free availability of research outputs will have a significant positive effect – not only by accelerating further research, but also in the form of practical improvements in health, education and industry.

2. I am also delighted to see the UK leading the world in Open Access. RCUK’s pre-Finch OA policy was one of the world’s earliest and most significant; the Finch Report established a clarity of vision not previously seen in any national OA policy; and BIS’s public commitment to OA in all government-funded work was a world first. As noted below, there are strong pragmatic reasons for the UK to maintain a position of leadership. But even leaving these aside, the symbolic value of leadership in open access can hardly be overstated.

3. Equally, it has been hugely encouraging to see the world following the UK’s lead. In the days after the announcement of the UK policy, similar declarations followed from several European countries; and most importantly, the €80M “Horizon 2020” programme of the European Commission also announced an Open Access policy. Global research is not a zero-sum game: the UK’s gain is not other countries’ loss or vice versa. As more countries open up their research outputs, the whole world benefits.

4. Against this backdrop, implementation issues must be discussed with a simple but important principle in mind: who is publicly-funded research for? When the question is stated explicitly, the answer is immediately obvious: it is for the public that funds it – for the citizens whose health, education and economic prospects are all improved by Open Access.

5. Unfortunately, the implementation strategies recommended by the Finch Report are not those that would most benefit the public, but are slanted towards the interests of academic publishers. This is because, as noted on page 113 of the Finch Report, three of the fourteen working members of the group represent publishers. The involvement of publishers in deciding the UK’s publishing policy is mystifying, as it represents a clear conflict of interest.

6. There is no question that in the process of research, publishers provide important services; but so do the providers of IT infrastructure and manufacturers of laboratory equipment, and their input was not sought in formulating policy. Neither should publishers have been consulted. The proper approach would have been for researchers, librarians, university administrators, funders, medics, educators and businesses to have worked out what policy and what strategy would best serve them in their goal of performing, disseminating and exploiting research; and then to negotiate with publishers (as with IT service providers and lab-equipment manufacturers) to obtain the necessary services at the best prices.

7. It is because of publisher involvement in the Finch Committee that the recommendations of the Report are skewed towards the interests of that one small group at the expense of citizens. All of the flaws in the recommendations in the report are directly attributable to this.

Specific issues

The Government’s acceptance of the recommendations of the Finch Group Report ‘Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications’, including its preference for the ‘gold’ over the ‘green’ open access model

8. There are good and legitimate reasons to prefer Gold over Green. Most importantly, there is no possibility of confusion over which is the version of record under the Gold model. However, the Finch Report goes much further than expressing a preference for Gold, by almost entirely omitting Green from its discussion. (The word “green” appears only three times in the 140 pages of the report and one of these is a reference to the HM Treasury Green Book.)

9. Perhaps as a result of this, the Green OA provisions of the revised RCUK policy are much weaker than its Gold OA provisions. In particular, while RCUK-funded work that is published as Gold OA must use the very permissive Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC BY), whereas work published as Green OA may have restrictive non-commercial clauses inserted. The inclusion of non-commercial clauses greatly diminishes the value of work, as discussed in the next section.

10. The Finch Report also allows embargoes – i.e. delays in availability – when research is published as Green OA, and the RCUK policy follows this (although it shortens the delays). Allowing such delays necessarily entails delaying all the benefits of Open Access, and thereby retards the progress of research, medicine, education and industry. There is no justification for these delays: even if they benefit publishers by enabling them to avoid subscription cancellations, the interests of publishers must be outweighed by those of all the other stakeholders.

11. In any case, counter-intuitively there is no evidence that Green OA hurts subscription revenue at all. The JISC/European-funded PEER project1, after nearly four years’ work, concluded that “there is no evidence that self-archiving has harmful effects on journal viability”. This is the only large-scale analysis of this issue to have been undertaken, and the only solid data we have to go on: publishers’ statements about effects of Green OA on subscription revenue are guesses, not informed by data.

12. In conclusion, the full benefit of Green OA will be realised only if Green articles are licenced using CC BY and if they are made available from the date of publication rather than after an embargo. If these changes have a negative effect on publishers (which all the evidence says they will not), then that is regrettable; but it would not be a reason to delay access to, and reduce the utility of, publicly funded research.

Rights of use and re-use in relation to open access research publications, including the implications of Creative Commons ‘CC-BY’ licences

13. The CC BY licence embodies the original definition of the term “Open Access” by the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI)2, and has been widely adopted as the open-access licence of choice by respected OA publishers such as BioMed Central (BMC) and the Public Library of Science (PLOS). It ensures that the published works can be used by the widest spectrum of organisations – not only to facilitate further pure research, but also to be used in education and to catalyse innovation in industry

14. Recently some regrettable misunderstandings of the CC BY licence have been promulgated, notably in an anti-Finch letter from editors of 21 history journals3. This claimed that the use of CC BY “means that commercial re-use, plagiarism, and republication of an author’s work will be possible, subject to the author being ‘credited’ (but it is not clear in what way they would be credited). We believe that this is a serious infringement of intellectual property rights and we do not want our authors to have to sign away their rights in order to publish with us.” I will address these misunderstandings in turn.

15. commercial re-use: yes, by design the CC BY licence makes this possible. Contrary to the assumption of the history-journal editors, this is not a bug but a feature. The goal of the UK government policy is to benefit the UK in general, including its many commercial concerns.

16. plagiarism: it is flatly wrong to say that CC BY encourages plagiarism. Plagiarism is the use of another person’s work without acknowledgement; but the CC BY licence explicitly does require acknowledgement. It is not possible to plagiarise and be within the terms of this licence.

17. republication of an author’s work: yes, the CC BY licence does allow this. So do the agreements currently in use by most publishers, which allow the publisher to anthologise and otherwise reuse author’s works with or without their consent. Again, this is a good thing: it enables the full value of the work to be realised, whether in an educational or commercial setting.

18. it is not clear in what way they would be credited: on the contrary, the text of the CC BY licence4 plainly states “You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work)”.

19. serious infringement of intellectual property rights: quite the reverse: the CC BY licence codifies the standard scholarly practice whereby authors’ works are used in various ways with full attribution but without further financial compensation. (After all, scholars have already been paid for their work.)

20. we do not want our authors to have to sign away their rights in order to publish with us: this statement betrays a surprising ignorance of standard journal requirements, including those of many of the journals whose editors signed the letter. These journals require the author to sign copyright over to the publisher, a far greater violation of intellectual property rights than in the open-access model.

21. The goal of the CC BY licence is to allow the full value of a work to be realised. By contrast, the non-commercial (NC) clause that the current RCUK policy allows in the case of Green OA outright prohibits use of the work in many important situations – e.g. in health, education and commercial enterprises. Worse still, the uncertainty introduced by a non-commercial clause has a chilling effect, stifling uses that might be allowed but which the innovator does not want to risk having to defend in court. There is no justification for a ban on commercial use of research publications. We fund research not only in order to know more, but in order to do more.

22. A particularly important application of Open Access articles is that massive numbers of articles can be “mined” by computer programs far more efficiently than any human can read them. Such techniques are already in use in a limited way and proving their value: for example, in discovering and synthesising new chemical formulae5. However, such work is greatly impeded by the difficulty of obtaining permission from publishers, and assurances that they will not claim ownership of the results. The use of a permissive licence such as CC BY disposes of such concerns and encourages innovative uses of research data that we cannot yet envisage.

23. Eric Kansa, of the University of California at Berkeley, summed up the misunderstandings and realities of fully open licences such as CC BY very efficiently: “While Open Access is not anti-commercial, it is anti-monopoly”. Monopolies lead to inefficient markets and poor economic utilisation. Permissive licences on publicly-funded work fix that.

24. In conclusion: for the benefit of the country as a whole, the government should renew its commitment to the use of the CC BY licence on all the Gold OA research that it funds, and extend this to Green OA publications as well.

The costs of article processing charges (APCs) and the implications for research funding and for the taxpayer

25. Simple calculations6 conservatively estimate the overall cost to the worldwide academic community of an average paywalled article at £3307 (£4.96 billion total paywall revenue each year for 1.5 million articles). Naively, an APC needs only be cheaper than this to achieve a net economic improvement. In practice, APCs need to be significantly cheaper because of the difficulty of making a transition to Gold OA while subscriptions are still being paid.

26. At present, APCs for Gold OA are under strong price pressure. I will review some key data points as they were one year ago, then consider recent developments.

  • Typical APCs from traditional publishers (Elsevier “sponsored article”, Springer Open Choice) are in the region of $3000 (about £1950)
  • The open-access megajournal PLOS ONE charges $1350 (about £862)
  • The broad survey of Solomon and Björk (2012) found an average Gold OA fee of $906 (about £579).

27. In the last year, significant developments have changed the landscape. In roughly chronological order:

  • The new high-impact journal eLife, sponsored by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society and the Wellcome Trust, is initially waiving all APCs.
  • The new for-profit open-access megajournal PeerJ introduces a new model where each author pays $99 (about £63) for a lifetime membership, which covers one publication each year at no further charge. (A $299 (~£189) lifetime membership covers unlimited publications.)
  • The new Forum of Mathematics journals will waive all APCs for the first three years, after which they may charge £500 or may find a different revenue stream and retain a zero APC.
  • The open-access humanities megajournal SAGE Open recently dropped its APC to $99.

28. Other new open-access ventures continue to emerge, including the Episciences initiative to create overlay journals for arXiv, and the Open Library of Humanities.

29. As low as these prices are, a surprising finding by Stuart Shieber of Harvard is that 70% of all open-access journals charge no APC at all7. Others have independently found similar results.

30. In the light of all this, it is surprising that the Finch Report suggests a typical APC of “£1500-£2000”. The only explanation for this is that the bulk of the APCs in the sample that this range was calculated from was biased by many high-priced papers in traditional publishers’ journals. If this is so, then a cultural change is required in researchers. There is no reason why the majority of papers should not be published in outlets with much lower APCs. (In most cases the new journals also offer other benefits, such as unlimited colour figures and supplementary information, and the ability to include audio and video in the published work.)

31. A shift away from traditional journals to newer “born open-access” journals is likely to be accelerated if there is some pressure on researchers to overcome their innate conservatism and choose venues accordingly. Researchers may find it more convenient to keep submitting to the same journals they have used previously, publishing their work as Gold OA with the APCs covered by funders. But this convenience, while attractive in the short term, will inhibit long-term change.

32. For this reason, I would support a cap on the APCs that will be paid by funders: for example, RCUK could elect to fund the first £1000 of each APC, leaving authors who insist on using more expensive journals to top up the fee from their own grants. The resulting downward pressure on prices would ensure that a true market in Gold OA provision emerges.

33. In some quarters, such a scheme might be described as a curtailment of academic freedom. It is not. The phrase “academic freedom” refers to the freedom to choose what to study and what opinions to express – not what venues to publish the results in. A researcher who freely elects what to work on is just as free, whatever journal his paper appears in.

34. In conclusion, government funding should cover the costs of modest APCs; but there is no need for them to continue to support very expensive journals as far cheaper alternatives are now becoming available at no loss of quality.

The level of ‘gold’ open access uptake in the rest of the world versus the UK, and the ability of UK higher education institutions to remain competitive.

35. Some critics of the Finch Report and RCUK’s updated OA policy have complained that by making British-funded research outputs Open Access, these policies will put the UK’s researchers at a competitive disadvantage with the rest of the world, because our research grants will have to bear the cost of APCs while those of others do not.

36. This complaint is true, but misleading. In the first place, all the signs are that the world as a whole is moving towards universal Open Access, so any period of Britain alone paying APCs will likely be short.

37. But more importantly, by making their work Open Access, British researchers place themselves at a huge advantage in terms of the visibility of their work. Numerous studies have now been performed on the Open-Access Citation Advantage. A good summary is found in the meta-analysis of Swan (2010)8. Swan surveyed 31 studies of the OACA, showing that 27 of them found an advantage of between 45% and 600%. I analysed the final table of that report, averaging the citation advantages given for each of ten academic fields (using the midpoints of ranges when given), and found that on average open-access articles are cited 2.76 times as often as non-open.

38. In conclusion, having made a bold beginning, the UK government should push vigorously on with its open-access plans, yielding benefits for medicine, education and industry, and giving its academics a competitive advantage over the rest of the world.

Conclusions

39. We must remember that what is best for the country as a whole will not necessarily be best for each group that is affected. In this case, it is clear that the UK will benefit from Open Access that is immediate and uses permissive licences, whether achieved by the Gold or Green route. It is likely that publishers will (rightly or wrongly) fear some damage to their business as this change is made. But the interests of one small group – publishers – must not be allowed to compromise decisions made on behalf of all other stakeholders. In particular, the government of the UK is beholden to its citizens, not to the publishing industry. The government must make decisions that promote the welfare of citizens rather than decisions that suit any one business.

40. Note that publishers who find the revised Green-OA terms unacceptable will be at liberty to decline offers of manuscripts resulting from Government-funded research. (In practice, this is unlikely to happen: rather than forego the opportunity to publish publicly funded research, publishers will simply accept the loss of their government-granted monopoly on the commercial exploitation of this research.)

41. It is not the job of government to concern itself with challenges faced by the publishing community at the expense of other stakeholders. This assertion does not arise from hostility to publishers, but from a simple recognition of who the government serves.

Footnotes

1. PEER Project: http://www.peerproject.eu/

3. Statement on position in relation to open access: http://www.history.ac.uk/news/2012-12-10/statement-position-relation-open-access

4. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

6. What does it cost to publish a paywalled paper with anyone?: http://svpow.com/2012/07/18/what-does-it-cost-to-publish-a-paywalled-paper-with-anyone/

8. Swan, Alma (2010) The Open Access citation advantage: Studies and results to date. http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/268516/2/Citation_advantage_paper.pdf

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