The tide is turning on Open Access

April 11, 2012

These have been a crazy few days for open access.

Yesterday, the Guardian — one of Britain’s most respected newspapers, and certainly the one with the best online presence –published two article within ten minutes of each other on Open Access:

Both have attracted a lot of interest, with (so far) 205 and 64 comments respectively.  That was followed today by an opinion piece by Stephen Curry, which has attracted another 116 comments:

And tonight, they have followed up with two more pieces:

It’s fantastic that the Guardian has taken on this important issue — a newspaper doing what newspapers are meant to do, campaigning for the betterment of the society they serve rather than digging through the trash for exclusives about X-Factor contestants’ love-lives.  But if it was only the Guardian, I’d worry that it’s not enough.

That’s why I was delighted that BBC Radio 4, in a move that goes some way to atoning for their dreadful recent piece on lakebound dinosaurs, tonight broadcast a piece on Open Access in their PM show.  You can listen to it on the BBC iPlayer — skip to 24:20, finishing at 29:40.  Stephen Curry of the blog Reciprocal Space did a fine job of explaining the problem and the solution, and Graham Taylor of the Publishers Association (previously no friend to Open Access) was also cautiously positive.  At the end of the segment, the presenter invited listeners to send their own thoughts to, so I did:

From: Mike Taylor
Date: 11 April 2012 01:09
Subject: Open Access to research

Dear BBC Radio 4,

It was good to hear your segment on Open Access to research on PM this evening (Tuesday 10th April).

The change to universal Open Access really can’t come quickly enough: at present, even researchers at major UK universities do not have access to the research they need — e.g. Bath University can’t access the Royal Society’s “Biology Letters”.

Open access makes sense financially — I recently calculated that it typically costs about one eighth as much as the subscription model for a better product:

But it’s also a moral issue. Scientists make progress by standing on each other’s shoulders: when they are prevented from doing this, progress is slowed or stopped. Among the results are avoidable deaths, at home and especially in the developing world. It’s wrong for our government to fund research into a life-threatening condition, only to have the results of that research locked up for profit.

Dr. Michael P. Taylor
Research Associate
Department of Earth Sciences
University of Bristol
Bristol BS8 1RJ

I encourage you to send your own observations as well.  It helps all of us to keep this issue alive, and to move it out of the academic ghetto into the public eye.

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

— Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224


19 Responses to “The tide is turning on Open Access”

  1. Andrew Miller Says:

    Hi Mike

    I’m a journals publisher with Elsever based in Oxford. I’ve been reading your blogs and articles with interest these past few weeks. Thanks for sharing.

    Your role as a researcher at Uni of Bristol is clear but I wonder please if you could comment, for clarity, on your role at Index Data? No mention of it was made in your ‘enemies of science’ piece for the Guardian back in January.

    Thanks and regards


  2. Mike Taylor Says:

    Hi, Andrew, thanks for chipping in. I did my palaeontology Ph.D in my spare time, and continue to work on palaeo in my own time. It’s in that capacity that I have my Honorary Research Associate affiliation with the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol. In the mean time, my actual job is in computer programming: I’m fortunate to work for Index Data, a fantastic small company of about fifteen people in ten locations of eight nationalities in four countries. There is no direct connection between those two parts of my life, though needless to say we at Index Data would love the opportunity to work on open-access platforms!

  3. Now I want a surfboard to ride the open-access-tide! :D

  4. Andrew Miller Says:

    Thanks Mike for info on your roles. (‘Honorary’ was missing from the Guardian piece.) I can see how Index Data might relish the prospect of working on OA platforms. May I ask, at the risk of impertinence, how they recompense you for your time?

    Thanks again


  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    How Index Data recompense me? Like any other employer — with a salary! There’s nothing at all unusual about my relationship with Index Data. If anything, it’s my palaeo-related “second life” that’s unusual.

  6. Andrew Miller Says:

    Thanks for clarifying. Nothing wrong of course with your role at Index Data and that it is paid. Aspect I find interesting is choice was made to identify you in almost all your popular press pieces (bar one for Discover magazine’ in February) as a researcher at Bristol Uni, a role you call secondary. Perhaps this is a sign of the drop in editorial standards you so often lament.

    In spirit of openness and understanding on individuals’ positions, perhaps full disclosure of roles is way to go?

    Best wishes,

  7. Mike Taylor Says:

    I’m not quite sure where you’re going with this, Andrew. Surely it’s obvious that when I am writing about open access to academic research, my competence to speak on that subject is better represented by my role as an academic researcher than by my role as a computer programmer? Likewise, in my actual academic research papers, I give my academic affiliation. When I write about programming, my programming role is given. This seems obvious to me. (For that matter, I have other roles as a husband and father — they don’t get listed in my published work either.)

    If your intention is to discredit my academic credentials by pointing out that I do other things outside of academia, then I can only refer you to my palaeontology publications and my Ph.D dissertation — available in hardback with a beautiful full-colour cover at the low, low price of £12.02 plus shipping.

  8. Andrew Says:

    Hi Mike
    If I was a salaried employee of a company whose stated business is “metasearching and large-scale content indexing and searching”, and I wanted to take a prominent position in a debate about open-access publishing, yes, I would absolutely want to disclose it so readers were not under any misapprehension.
    Thanks for engaging on this point.

  9. Mike Taylor Says:

    I don’t get it. Are you suggesting a conflict of interest? If anything, it’s the other way: we get a lot of our work building authentication systems that give the poor user a (legitimate!) way through paywalls, removing some of the inconvenience that they impose. When the paywalls go away, that source of revenue will probably dry up. (Not something I worry about too much, as hopefully we’ll then be able to work on building stuff that actually achieves something rather than mitigating damage.)

  10. Mike Taylor Says:

    Still, for avoidance of doubt, I will ask newspapers and the like to include my dual affiliation in the byline of any future articles I might write on these subjects.

  11. Andrew Says:

    Thanks Mike. Agree is a good idea to state your role with Index Data in future pieces, as you say, for avoidance of doubt.

  12. Matt Wedel Says:

    I have to say, it IS highly suspicious, and probably even a bit sinister, how Mike has concealed his employment at Index Data by putting it on his online CV, one link away from his homepage–just like his academic affiliation.

    No, that was facetious (obviously). I don’t see the play here at all. How is there a conflict of interest if someone who works for a company that makes and services open source software also advocates for open access publication? You are aware that ‘open source’ and ‘open access’ don’t mean the same thing, and derive from separate fields? And that–as Mike pointed out–he feels that his OA-related writing is part of his paleontology career, not his programming career?

    Mike is too polite to say so, but if this level half-snide not-quite-innuendo is Elsevier’s strategy for winning the OA Wars, you guys must be getting pretty damned desperate. I regret that I have but one signature to give to the boycott.

  13. dmaas Says:

    Makes me want to apologize in Mike’s general direction. Or shower. Or both.
    (Don’t worry, Mike – not at the same time.)

  14. […] wrote yesterday that Open Access had been the front-page story in the Guardian.  Thanks to Mark Wainwright of the Open Knowledge Foundation, I now have photos of […]

  15. Mark Robinson Says:

    That sneaky Dr Taylor…

    I’m surprised that none of your articles on OA mention your love of sushi or which football team you support either (altho’ if it’s Portsmouth, I can understand why!).

  16. Mike Taylor Says:

    “… or which football team you support either (altho’ if it’s Portsmouth, I can understand why!)”

    It’s Liverpool. Which at the moment is even more shameful :-)

  17. Mark Robinson Says:

    “It’s Liverpool. Which at the moment is even more shameful”

    At least you’re in the top division. *cough* West *cough* Ham *cough*

  18. Chuck McGuire Says:

    Mike, it’s not particularly relevant to scientific open access, but the World Bank has decided to make its works more accessible. This may not be news in the real world, but by the time it trickles down to the Highland Mountains of SW Montana, it seems pretty significant.

  19. Mike Taylor Says:

    Yes, it’s great news about the World Bank — the timing is important, too, as it feels like part of a wave rather than an isolated declaration.

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