A few years ago, we started the web-site Who Needs Access? to highlight some of the many ways that people outside academia want and need access to published scholarly works: fossil preparators, small businesses, parents of children with rare diseases, developing-world entrepreneursdisability rights campaigners and many more.

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Who Needs Access? is an anecdotal site, because often people will respond more to stories about individuals than to numbers. As has been said, “one death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic”.

But as scientists, we also want to be able to point to evidence for the wider importance of open access outside academia. To that end, I am delighted to announce that we now have a Who Needs Access? Bibliography, kindly contributed by ElHassan ElSabry. (ElHassan is doing his Ph.D on the wider impact of open access, at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo. Part of his work will involve analysing and synthesising the articles in this bibliography, so we can expect additional useful contributions from him.)

Check out the bibliography!

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Provoked by Mike Eisen’s post today, The inevitable failure of parasitic green open access, I want to briefly lay out the possible futures of scholarly publishing as I see them. There are two: one based on what we now think of as Gold OA, and one on what we think of as Green OA.

Eisen is of course quite right that the legacy publishers only ever gave their blessing to Green OA (self-archiving) so long as they didn’t see it as a threat, so the end of that blessing isn’t a surprise. (I think it’s this observation that Richard Poynder misread as “an OA advocate legitimising Elsevier’s action”!) It was inevitable that this blessing would be withdrawn as Green started to become more mainstream — and that’s exactly what we’ve seen, with Elsevier responding to the global growth in Green OA mandates with a regressive new policy that has rightly attracted the ire of everyone who’s looked closely at it.

So I agree with him that what he terms “parasitic Green OA” — self-archiving alongside the established journal system — is ultimately doomed. The bottom line is that while we as a community continue to give control of our work to the legacy publishers — follow closely here — legacy publishers will control our work. We know that these corporations’ interests are directly opposed to those of authors, science, customers, libraries, and indeed everyone but themselves. So leaving them in control of the scholarly record is unacceptable.

What are our possible futures?

Gold bars

We may find that in ten years’ time, all subscriptions journals are gone (perhaps except from a handful of boutique journals that a few people like, just as a few people prefer the sound of vinyl over CDs or MP3s).

We may find that essentially all new scholarship is published in open-access journals such as those of BioMed Central, PLOS, Frontiers and PeerJ. That is a financially sustainable path, in that publishers will be paid for the services they provide through APCs. (No doubt, volunteer-run and subsidised zero-APC journals will continue to thrive alongside them, as they do today.)

We may even find that some of the Gold OA journals of the future are run by organisations that are presently barrier-based publishers. I don’t think it’s impossible that some rump of Elsevier, Springer et al. will survive the coming subscription-journals crash, and go on to compete on the level playing-field of Gold OA publishing. (I think they will struggle to compete, and certainly won’t be able to make anything like the kind of money they do now, but that’s OK.)

This is the Gold-OA future that Mike Eisen is pinning his hopes on — and which he has done as much as anyone alive to bring into existence. I would be very happy with that outcome.

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While I agree with Eisen that what he terms “parasitic Green” can’t last — legacy publishers will stamp down on it as soon as it starts to be truly useful — I do think there is a possible Green-based future. It just doesn’t involve traditional journals.

One of the striking things about the Royal Society’s recent Future of Scholarly Scientific Communication meetings was that during the day-two breakout session, so many of the groups independently came up with more or less the same proposal. The system that Dorothy Bishop expounded in the Guardian after the second meeting is also pretty similar — and since she wasn’t at the first meeting, I have to conclude that she also came up with it independently, further corroborating the sense that it’s an approach whose time has come.

(In fact, I started drafting an SV-POW! myself at that meeting describing the system that our break-out group came up with. But that was before all the other groups revealed their proposals, and it became apparent that ours was part of a blizzard, rather than a unique snowflake.)

Here are the features characterising the various systems that people came up with. (Not all of these features were in all versions of the system, but they all cropped up more than once.)

  • It’s based around a preprint archive: as with arXiv, authors can publish manuscripts there after only basic editorial checks: is this a legitimate attempt at scholarship, rather than spam or a political opinion?
  • Authors solicit reviews, as we did for for Barosaurus preprint, and interested others can offer unsolicited reviews.
  • Reviewers assign numeric scores to manuscripts as well as giving opinions in prose.
  • The weight given to review scores is affected by the reputation of reviewers.
  • The reputation of reviewers is affected by other users’ judgements about their comments, and also by their reputation as authors.
  • A stable user reputation emerges using a pagerank-like feedback algorithm.
  • Users can acquire reputation by authoring, reviewing or both.
  • Manuscripts have a reputation based on their score.
  • There is no single moment of certification, when a manuscript is awarded a “this is now peer-reviewed” bit.

I think it’s very possible that, instead of the all-Gold future outlined above, we’ll land up with something like this. Not every detail will work out the way I suggested here, of course, but we may well get something along these lines, where the emphasis is on very rapid initial publication and continuously acquired reputation, and not on a mythical and misleading “this paper is peer-reviewed” stamp.

(There are a hundred questions to be asked and answered about such systems: do we want one big system, or a network of many? If the latter, how will they share reputation data? How will the page-rank-like reputation algorithm work? Will it need to be different in different fields of scholarship? I don’t want to get sidetracked by such issues at this point, but I do want to acknowledge that they exist.)

Is this “Green open access”? It’s not what we usually mean by the term; but in as much as it’s about scholars depositing their own work in archives, yes, it’s Green OA in a broader sense.

(I think some confusion arises because we’ve got into the habit of calling deposited manuscripts “preprints”. That’s a misnomer on two counts: they’re not printed, and they needn’t be pre-anything. Manuscripts in arXiv may go onto be published in journals, but that’s not necessary for them to be useful in advancing scholarship.)

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So where now? We have two possible open-access futures, one based on open-access publishing and one based on open-access self-archiving. For myself, I would be perfectly happy with either of these futures — I’m not particularly clear in my own mind which is best, but they’re both enormously better than what we have today.

A case can be made that the Green-based future is maybe a better place to arrive, but that the Gold-based future makes for an easier transition. It doesn’t require researchers to do anything fundamentally different from what they do today, only to do it in open-access journals; whereas the workflow in the Green-based approach outlined above would be a more radical departure. (Ironically, this is the opposite of what has often been said in the past: that the advantage of Green is that it offers a more painless upgrade path for researchers not sold on the importance of OA. That’s only true so long as Green is, in Eisen’s terms, “parasitic” — that is, so long as the repositories contain only second-class versions of papers that have been published conventionally behind paywalls.)

In my own open-access advocacy, then, I’m always unsure whether to push Gold or Green. In my Richard Poynder interview, when asked “What should be the respective roles of Green and Gold OA?” I replied:

This actually isn’t an issue that I get very excited about: Open is so much more important than Green or Gold. I suppose I slightly prefer Gold in that it’s better to have one single definitive version of each article; but then we could do that with Green as well if only we’d stop thinking of it as a stopgap solution while the “real” article remains behind paywalls.

Two and a half years on, I pretty much stand by that (and also by the caveats regarding the RCUK policy’s handing of Gold and Green that followed this quote in the interview.)

But I’m increasingly persuaded that the variety of Green OA that we only get by the grace and favour of the legacy publishers is not a viable long-term strategy. Elsevier’s new regressive policy was always going to come along eventually, and it won’t be the last shot fired in this war. If Green is going to win the world, it will be by pulling away from conventional journals and establishing itself as a valid mode of publication in its own right. (Again, much as arXiv has done.)

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Here’s my concern, though. Paul Royser’s response to Eisen’s post was “Distressing to see the tone and rancor of OA advocates in disagreement. My IR is a “parasite”? Really?” Now, I think that comment was based on a misunderstanding of Eisen’s post (and maybe only on reading the title) but the very fact that such a misunderstanding was possible should give us pause.

Richard Poynder’s reading later in the same thread was also cautionary: “Elsevier will hope that the push back will get side-tracked by in-fighting … I think it will take comfort if the OA movement starts in-fighting instead of pushing back.”

Folks, let’s not fall for that.

We all know that Stevan Harned, among many others, is committed to Green; and that Mike Eisen, among many others, has huge investment in Gold. We can, and should, have rigorous discussions about the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches. We should expect that OA advocates who share the same goal but have different backgrounds will differ over tactics, and sometimes differ robustly.

But there’s a world of difference between differing robustly and differing rancorously. Let’s all (me included) be sure we stay on the right side of that line. Let’s keep it clear in our minds who the enemy is: not people who want to use a different strategy to free scholarship, but those who want to keep it locked up.

And here ends my uncharacteristic attempt to position myself as The Nice, Reasonable One in this discussion — a role much better suited to Peter Suber or Stephen Curry, but it looks like I got mine written first :-)

Matt drew my attention to an old paper I’d not seen before: Riggs (1903) on the vertebral column of Brontosaurus. The page I linked there shows only the first page (which in fact is half a page, since Riggs’ work is only in the right column).

Why only the first page? As Matt put it, “It’s been 110 years, just give us the PDF already. And they wonder (do they wonder?) why people don’t rush to embrace their stumbling broken halting limping steps toward OA.”

That’s exactly right. AAAS allows anyone to read the old Science papers anyway (good for them, as far as it goes), so why all the poxing about with registration? Just make it actual open access, as if you were good guys.

So, two observations, as promised.

First, here’s Matt’s observation: even making users register betrays a way of thinking wrongly about the material. It says, “This is ours but you can see it if you’ll jump through our hoops. Because it is ours.” Whereas real OA outlets say, “Hey, this is yours now, do what you want.”

And here’s mine: I sometimes wonder whether we’re headed for a world where the meaningful scientific literature is going to be from 1660-1923 and from 2010 onwards, with a big gap from 1924 to 2009 that just gets ignored. Because it’s the literature not old enough to be out of copyright but not new enough to be OA.

Last night, I did a Twitter interview with Open Access Nigeria (@OpenAccessNG). To make it easy to follow in real time, I created a list whose only members were me and OA Nigeria. But because Twitter lists posts in reverse order, and because each individual tweet is encumbered with so much chrome, it’s rather an awkward way to read a sustained argument.

So here is a transcript of those tweets, only lightly edited. They are in bold; I am in regular font. Enjoy!

So @MikeTaylor Good evening and welcome. Twitterville wants to meet you briefly. Who is Mike Taylor?

In real life, I’m a computer programmer with Index Data, a tiny software house that does a lot of open-source programming. But I’m also a researching scientist — a vertebrate palaeontologist, working on sauropods: the biggest and best of the dinosaurs. Somehow I fit that second career into my evenings and weekends, thanks to a very understanding wife (Hi, Fiona!) …

As of a few years ago, I publish all my dinosaur research open access, and I regret ever having let any of my work go behind paywalls. You can find all my papers online, and read much more about them on the blog that I co-write with Matt Wedel. That blog is called Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week, or SV-POW! for short, and it is itself open access (CC By)

Sorry for the long answer, I will try to be more concise with the next question!

Ok @MikeTaylor That’s just great! There’s been so much noise around twitter, the orange colour featuring prominently. What’s that about?

Actually, to be honest, I’m not really up to speed with open-access week (which I think is what the orange is all about). I found a while back that I just can’t be properly on Twitter, otherwise it eats all my time. So these days, rather selfishly, I mostly only use Twitter to say things and get into conversations, rather than to monitor the zeitgeist.

That said, orange got established as the colour of open access a long time ago, and is enshrined in the logo:

OAlogo

In the end I suppose open-access week doesn’t hit my buttons too strongly because I am trying to lead a whole open-access life.

… uh, but thanks for inviting me to do this interview, anyway! :-)

You’re welcome @MikeTaylor. So what is open access?

Open Access, or OA, is the term describing a concept so simple and obvious and naturally right that you’d hardly think it needs a name. It just means making the results of research freely available on the Internet for anyone to read, remix and otherwise use.

You might reasonably ask, why is there any other kind of published research other than open access? And the only answer is, historical inertia. For reasons that seemed to make some kind of sense at the time, the whole research ecosystem has got itself locked into this crazy equilibrium where most published research is locked up where almost no-one can see it, and where even the tiny proportion of people who can read published works aren’t allowed to make much use of them.

So to answer the question: the open-access movement is an attempt to undo this damage, and to make the research world sane.

Are there factors perpetuating this inertia you talked about?

Oh, so many factors perpetuting the inertia. Let me list a few …

  1. Old-school researchers who grew up when it was hard to find papers, and don’t see why young whippersnappers should have it easier
  2. Old-school publishers who have got used to making profits of 30-40% turnover (they get content donated to them, then charge subscriptions)
  3. University administrators who make hiring/promotion/tenure decisions based on which old-school journals a researcher’s papers are in.
  4. Feeble politicians who think it’s important to keep the publishing sector profitable, even at the expense of crippling research.

I’m sure there are plenty of others who I’ve overlooked for the moment. I always say regarding this that there’s plenty of blame to go round.

(This, by the way, is why I called the current situation an equilibrium. It’s stable. Won’t fix itself, and needs to be disturbed.)

So these publishers who put scholarly articles behind paywalls online, do they pay the researchers for publishing their work?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Oh, sorry, please excuse me while I wipe the tears of mirth from my eyes. An academic publisher? Paying an author? Hahahahaha! No.

Not only do academic publishers never pay authors, in many cases they also levy page charges — that is, they charge the authors. So they get paid once by the author, in page-charges, then again by all the libraries that subscribe to read the paywalled papers. Which of course is why, even with their gross inefficiencies, they’re able to make these 30-40% profit margins.

So @MikeTaylor why do many researchers continue to take their work to these restricted access publishers and what can we do about it?

There are a few reasons that play into this together …

Part of it is just habit, especially among more senior researchers who’ve been using the same journals for 20 or 30 years.

But what’s more pernicious is the tendency of academics — and even worse, academic administrators — to evaluate research not by its inherent quality, but by the prestige of the journal that publishes it. It’s just horrifyingly easy for administrators to say “He got three papers out that year, but they were in journals with low Impact Factors.”

Which is wrong-headed on so many levels.

First of all, they should be looking at the work itself, and making an assessment of how well it was done: rigour, clarity, reproducibility. But it’s much easier just to count citations, and say “Oh, this has been cited 50 times, it must be good!” But of course papers are not always cited because they’re good. Sometimes they’re cited precisely because they’re so bad! For example, no doubt the profoundly flawed Arsenic Life paper has been cited many times — by people pointing out its numerous problems.

But wait, it’s much worse than that! Lazy or impatient administrators won’t count how many times a paper has been cited. Instead they will use a surrogate: the Impact Factor (IF), which is a measure not of papers but of journals.

Roughly, the IF measures the average number of citations received by papers that are published in the journal. So at best it’s a measure of journal quality (and a terrible measure of that, too, but let’s not get into that). The real damage is done when the IF is used to evaluate not journals, but the papers that appear in them.

And because that’s so widespread, researchers are often desperate to get their work into journals that have high IFs, even if they’re not OA. So we have an idiot situation where a selfish, rational researcher is best able to advance her career by doing the worst thing for science.

(And BTW, counter-intuitively, the number of citations an individual paper receives is NOT correlated significantly with the journal’s IF. Bjorn Brembs has discussed this extensively, and also shows that IF is correlated with retraction rate. So in many respects the high-IF journals are actually the worst ones you can possibly publish your work in. Yet people feel obliged to.)

*pant* *pant* *pant* OK, I had better stop answering this question, and move on to the next. Sorry to go on so long. (But really! :-) )

This is actually all so enlightening. You just criticised Citation Index along with Impact Factor but OA advocates tend to hold up a higher Citation Index as a reason to publish Open Access. What do you think regarding this?

I think that’s realpolitik. To be honest, I am also kind of pleased that the PLOS journals have pretty good Impact Factors: not because I think the IFs mean anything, but because they make those journals attractive to old-school researchers.

In the same way, it is a well-established fact that open-access articles tend to be cited more than paywalled ones — a lot more, in fact. So in trying to bring people across into the OA world, it makes sense to use helpful facts like these. But they’re not where the focus is.

But the last thing to say about this is that even though raw citation-count is a bad measure of a paper’s quality, it is at least badly measuring the right thing. Evaluating a paper by its journal’s IF is like judging someone by the label of their clothes

So @MikeTaylor Institutions need to stop evaluating research papers based on where they are published? Do you know of any doing it right?

I’m afraid I really don’t know. I’m not privy to how individual institution do things.

All I know is, in some countries (e.g. France) abuse of IF is much more strongly institutionalised. It’s tough for French researchers

What are the various ways researchers can make their work available for free online?

Brilliant, very practical question! There are three main answers. (Sorry, this might go on a bit …)

First, you can post your papers on preprint servers. The best known one is arXiv, which now accepts papers from quite a broad subject range. For example, a preprint of one of the papers I co-wrote with Matt Wedel is freely available on arXiv. There are various preprint servers, including arXiv for physical sciences, bioRxiv, PeerJ Preprints, and SSRN (Social Science Research Network).

You can put your work on a preprint server whatever your subsequent plans are for it — even if (for some reason) it’s going to a paywall. There are only a very few journals left that follow the “Ingelfinger rule” and refuse to publish papers that have been preprinted.

So preprints are option #1. Number 2 is Gold Open Access: publishing in an open-access journal such as PLOS ONE, a BMC journal or eLife. As a matter of principle, I now publish all my own work in open-access journals, and I know lots of other people who do the same — ranging from amateurs like me, via early-career researchers like Erin McKiernan, to lab-leading senior researchers like Michael Eisen.

There are two potential downsides to publishing in an OA journal. One, we already discussed: the OA journals in your field may not be be the most prestigious, so depending on how stupid your administrators are you could be penalised for using an OA journal, even though your work gets cited more than it would have done in a paywalled journal.

The other potential reason some people might want to avoid using an OA journal is because of Article Processing Charges (APC). Because OA publishers have no subscription revenue, one common business model is to charge authors an APC for publishing services instead. APCs can vary wildly, from $0 up to $5000 in the most extreme case (a not-very-open journal run by the AAAS), so they can be offputting.

There are three things to say about APCs.

First, remember that lots of paywalled journals demand page charges, which can cost more!

But second, please know that more than half of all OA journals actually charge no APC at all. They run on different models. For example in my own field, Acta Palaeontologica Polonica and Palaeontologia Electronica are well respected OA journals that charge no APC.

And the third thing is APC waivers. These are very common. Most OA publishers have it as a stated goal that no-one should be prevented from publishing with them by lack of funds for APCs. So for example PLOS will nearly always give a waiver when requested. Likewise Ubiquity, and others.

So there are lots of ways to have your work appear in an OA journal without paying for it to be there.

Anyway, all that was about the second way to make your work open access. #1 was preprints, #2 is “Gold OA” in OA journals …

And #3 is “Green OA”, which means publishing in a paywalled journal, but depositing a copy of the paper in an open repository. The details of how this works can be a bit complicated: different paywall-based publishers allow you to do different things, e.g. it’s common to say “you can deposit your peer-reviewed, accepted but unformatted manuscript, but only after 12 months“.

Opinions vary as to how fair or enforceable such rules are. Some OA advocates prefer Green. Others (including me) prefer Gold. Both are good.

See this SV-POW! post on the practicalities of negotiating Green OA if you’re publishing behind a paywall.

So to summarise:

  1. Deposit preprints
  2. Publish in an OA journal (getting a fee waiver if needed)
  3. Deposit postprints

I’ve written absolutely shedloads on these subjects over the last few years, including this introductory batch. If you only read one of my pieces about OA, make it this one: The parable of the farmers & the Teleporting Duplicator.

Last question – Do restricted access publishers pay remuneration to peer reviewers?

I know of no publisher that pays peer reviewers. But actually I am happy with that. Peer-review is a service to the community. As soon as you encumber it with direct financial incentives, things get more complicated and there’s more potential for Conflict of interest. What I do is, I only perform peer-reviews for open-access journals. And I am happy to put that time/effort in knowing the world will benefit.

And so we bring this edition to a close. We say a big thanks to our special guest @MikeTaylor who’s been totally awesome and instructive.

Thanks, it’s been a privilege.

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.

It is, truly, excellent news that the US budget passed by Congress on Thursday night includes open-access language that effectively extends the NIH open access policy to many other federal agencies. It’s a huge and important step forward. (See Peter Suber’s typically careful analysis of how it compares with the NIH policy, the proposed FASTR bill and the White House OSTP directive). In keeping with the Library Loon’s post on framing incremental gains, I am delighted by this very positive step.

On the other hand …

When I read the headline of the Washington Post piece that I linked above, “Half of taxpayer funded research will soon be available to the public”, it reminded me just how far we still have to go. Half of taxpayer-funded research? How disgraceful that we report that as a good thing.

“Hey, great news everybody! Half of all the food you buy will soon be available for you to eat!”

Or no, wait, it’s worse: “Half of all the food you buy will soon be available for you to eat after not more than 12 months!”

So yes, this is excellent news, when considered against the backdrop of the iniquitous historical situation. But we have a long, long way to go before we reach justice.

Let’s not ease up, folks: until everyone has immediate free access to read, use and redeploy the research that we all fund, we will still have a situation where publishers deliberately hobble progress, and are allowed to do so. And that should not be acceptable to anyone.

 

Yesterday I was at the Berlin 11 satellite conference for students and early-career researchers. It was a privilege to be part of a stellar line-up of speakers, including the likes of SPARC’s Heather Joseph, PLOS’s Cameron Neylon, and eLIFE’s Mark Patterson. But even more than these, there were two people who impressed me so much that I had to give in to my fannish tendencies and have photos taken with them. Here they are.

MikeTaylor-with-JackAndraka2

This is Jack Andraka, who at the age of fifteen invented a new test for pancreatic cancer that is 168 times faster, 1/26000 as expensive and 400 times more sensitive than the current diagnostic tests, and only takes five minutes to run.  Of course he’s grown up a bit since then — he’s sixteen now.

Right at the moment Jack’s not getting much science done because he’s sprinting from meeting to meeting. He came to us in Berlin literally straight from an audience with the Pope. He’s met Barack Obama in the oval office. And one of the main burdens of his talk is that he’s not such an outlier as he appears: there are lots of other brilliant kids out there who are capable of doing similarly groundbreaking work — if only they could get access to the published papers they need. (Jack was lucky: his parents are indulgent, and spent thousands of dollars on paywalled papers for him.)

Someone on Twitter noted that every single photo of Jack seems to show him, and the people he’s with, in thumbs-up pose. It’s true: and that is his infectious positivity at work. It’s energising as well as inspiring to be around him.

(Read Jack’s guest post at PLOS on Why Science Journal Paywalls Have to Go)

Here’s the other photo:

IMG_20131118_202834

This is Bernard Rentier, who is rector of the University of Liège. To put it bluntly, he is the boss of the whole darned university — an academic of the very senior variety that I never meet; and of the vintage that, to put it kindly, can have a tendency to be rather conservative in approach, and cautious about open access.

With Bernard, not a bit of it. He has instituted a superb open-access policy at Liège — one that is now being taken up as the model for the whole of Belgium. Whenever members of the Liège faculty apply for anything — office space, promotions, grants, tenure — their case is evaluated by taking into account only publications that have been deposited in the university’s open-access repository, ORBi.

Needless to say, the compliance rate is superb — essentially 100% since the policy came in. As a result, Liège’s work is more widely used, cited, reused, replicated, rebutted and generally put to work. The world benefits, and the university benefits.

Bernard is a spectacular example of someone in a position of great power using that power for good. Meanwhile, at the other end of scale, Jack is someone who — one would have thought — had no power at all. But in part because of work made available through the influence of people like Bernard, it turned out he had the power to make a medical breakthrough.

I came away from the satellite meeting very excited — in fact, by nearly all the presentations and discussions, but most especially by the range represented by Jack and Bernard. People at both ends of their careers; both of them not only promoting open access, but also doing wonderful things with it.

There’s no case against open access, and there never has been. But shifting the inertia of long-established traditions and protocols requires enormous activation energy. With advocates like Jack and Bernard, we’re generating that energy.

Onward and upward!

I’m gathering all six parts of last year’s Tutorial 19 in one place for easy reference. Here they are:

And see also this more recent post:

Enjoy!

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:

There are all sorts of reasons to mistrust hybrid journals, including the difficulty of finding the open articles; the very high APCs that they charge is only one.

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 comparing 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.

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.

Post Script

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.