The LSE Impact blog has a new post, Berlin 11 satellite conference encourages students and early stage researchers to influence shift towards Open Access. Thinking about this,  Jon Tennant (@Protohedgehog) just tweeted this important idea:

Would be nice to see a breakdown of OA vs non-OA publications based on career-stage of first author. Might be a wake-up call.

It would be very useful. It makes me think of Zen Faulkes’s important 2011 blog-post, What have you done lately that needed tenure?. We should be seeing the big push towards open access coming from senior academics who are established in their roles don’t need to scrabble around for jobs like early-career researchers. Yet my impression is that in fact early-career researchers are doing a lot of the pro-open heavy lifting.

Is that impression true?

We should find out.

Here’s one possible experimental design: take a random sample of 100 Ph.D students, 100 post-docs, 100 early-career researchers in tenure-track jobs and 100 tenured researchers. For each of them, analyse their last ten years of publications and determine what proportion are paywalled, what proportion are free to read (e,g, on arXiv or in an all-rights-reserved IR), and what proportion are true (BOAI-compliant) open access.

An alternative approach would be to randomly sample 1000 open-access papers (from PLOS and BMC journals, for example), and 1000 paywalled papers (from Elsevier and Springer, say) and find the career-stage of their authors. I’m not sure which approach would be better?

Who is going to do this?

I think it would be a nice, tractable first project for someone who wants to get into academic research but hasn’t previously published. It would be hugely useful, and I’m guessing widely cited. Does anyone fancy it?


Georg Walther has started a hackpad about this nascent project. Since Jon “Protohedgehog” Tennant has now tweeted about it, I assume it’s OK to publicise. If you’re interested, feel free to leap in!

I was very pleased, on checking my email this morning, to see that my and Matt’s new paper, The neck of Barosaurus was not only longer but also wider than those of Diplodocus and other diplodocines, is now up as a PeerJ preprint!


Taylor and Wedel (2013b: figure 6). Barosaurus lentus holotype YPM 429, Vertebra Q (C?13). Top row: left ventrolateral view. Middle row, from left to right: anterior view, with ventral to the right; ventral view; posterior view, with ventral to the left. Bottom row: right lateral view, inverted. Inset shows diapophyseal facet on right side of vertebra, indicating that the cervical ribs were unfused in this individual despite its great size. Note the broad, flat prezygapophyseal facet visible in anterior view.

I was pleased partly because of the very quick work on PeerJ’s part. I submitted the preprint at 1:22am last night, then went to bed. Almost immediately I got an automatic email from PeerJ saying:

Thank you for submitting your manuscript, “The neck of Barosaurus was not only longer but also wider than those of Diplodocus and other diplodocines” (#2013:09:838:0:0:CHECK:P) – it has now been received by PeerJ PrePrints.

Next, it will be checked by PeerJ staff, who will notify you if any alterations are required to the manuscript or accompanying files.

If the PrePrint successfully passes these checks, it will be made public.

You will receive notification by email at each stage of this process; you can also check the status of your manuscript at any time.

Lots to like here: the quickness of the response, the promise of automatic email updates, and the one-click link to check on progress (as opposed to the usual maze of Manuscript Central options to navigate).

Sure enough, a couple of hours later the next automatic email arrived, telling me that Matt had accepted PeerJ’s email invitation to be recognised as the co-author of the submission.

And one hour ago, just as I was crawling out of bed, I got the notification that the preprint is up. That simple.


Taylor and Wedel (2013b: Figure 9). Partial reconstruction of the Barosaurus lentus holotype YPM 429, cervical vertebra R, approximating its undamaged state by allowing for dorsoventral crushing, shearing and loss of some extremities. Anterior and posterior views scaled to 125% of uncorrected width and 80% of uncorrected height. Dorsal view scaled to 80% of uncorrected height; condyle moved forward and cotyle scaled to 50% of uncorrected width to allow for shearing. Lateral view scaled to 125% of uncorrected height, and sheared backwards 15 degrees. Metapophyses and postzygapophyses drawn in multiple views based on vertebrae Q and S and AMNH 6341 material.

I’m also pleased because we managed to get this baby written so quickly. It started life as our talk at SVPCA in Edinburgh (Taylor and Wedel 2013a), which we delivered 25 days ago having put it together mostly in a few days running up to the conference — so it’s zero to sixty in less than a month. Every year we promise ourselves that we’ll write up our talks, and we never seem to get around to it, but this year I started writing on the train back from Edinburgh. By the time I got home I had enough of a hunk of text to keep me working on it, and so we were able to push through in what, for us, is record time.

Now here’s what we’d like:

We want this paper’s time as a preprint to be time well spent — which means that we want to improve it. To do that, we need your reviews. Assuming we get some useful comments, we plan to release an updated version pretty soon; and after some number of iterations, we’ll submit the resulting paper as a full-fledged PeerJ paper.

So if you know anything about sauropods, about vertebra, about deformation, about ecology, or even about grammar or punctuation, please do us a favour: read the preprint, then get over to its PeerJ page and leave your feedback. You’ll be helping us to improve the scientific record. We’ll acknowledge substantial comments in the final paper, but even the pickiest comments are appreciated.

Because we want to encourage this approach to bringing papers to publication, we’d ask you please do not post comments about the paper here on SV-POW!. Please post them on the PeerJ preprint page. We’ve leaving comments here open for discussion of the preprinting processes, but not the scientific content.


  • Taylor, Michael P., and Mathew J. Wedel. 2013a. Barosaurus revisited: the concept of Barosaurus (Dinosauria: Sauropoda) is based on erroneously referred specimens. (Talk given as: Barosaurus revisited: the concept of Barosaurus (Dinosauria: Sauropoda) is not based on erroneously referred specimens.) pp. 37-38 in Stig Walsh, Nick Fraser, Stephen Brusatte, Jeff Liston and Vicen Carrió (eds.), Programme and Abstracts, 61st Symposium on Vertebrae Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy, Edinburgh, UK, 27th-30th August 2013. 33 pp.
  • Taylor, Michael P., and Mathew J. Wedel. 2013b. The neck of Barosaurus was not only longer but also wider than those of Diplodocus and other diplodocines. PeerJ PrePrints 1:e67v1
Brachiosaurus sp. BYU 12866 c5? in left lateral view with CT slices, some corrected for distortion.

Brachiosaurus sp. BYU 12866 c5? in left lateral view with CT slices, some corrected for distortion.

Last Tuesday Mike popped up in Gchat to ask me about sauropod neck masses.  We started throwing around some numbers, derived from volumetric estimates and some off-the-cuff guessing. Rather than tell you more about it, I should just paste our conversation, minimally edited for clarity and with a few hopefully helpful links thrown in.

Mike: Dud. Neck masses.
Matt: What about ’em?
Mike: Taylor (2009:803) measured the neck of Giraffatitan by GDI as 4117 liters.
Matt: k
Mike: I didn’t convert that to a mass, but I guess density of 0.5 is as good as any, which gives us (say) 2 tonnes.
Matt: That works for me.
Mike: That’s for an 8.5 m neck. So Supersaurus at 15 …
Matt: Yep. Almost twice as long, and not much more slender, and from what I’ve seen, ASP about the same.
Mike: Is 1.76 times as long. If it was isometric with the G. neck, it would be 5.5 times as heavy, which is 11 tonnes.
Matt: Oh.
Mike: So first: yeesh. Like, that is the mass of a whole freaking Diplo. Now we surely have to say isometry is unlikely.
Matt: Prolly.
Mike: But just multiplying out by length is unrealistic too. So maybe I should guess at mass =~ l^2? If I went with that, I’d get 6410 kg, which is elephant mass.
Matt: Something just occurred to me. Like, just now. For my 2006 poster, I calculated the mass of the cervical series in Giraffatitan, by summing over the CT slices from Brachiosaurus sp. BYU 12866 and multiplying by appropriate scale factors for the rest of the verts. We could “skin” that in muscle, and actually figure this out, for various muscle thicknesses, for one sauropod.
Mike: We should totally do that … if we had some idea how heavily muscled it was.
Matt: Well, obviously the thing to do is what Hutch et al. did for the tyrannosaurs, and put on several soft tissue envelopes. Crazy skinny, our best guess, markedly unfit, OMG, etc. It’s not that much more work. In fact, that could be my SVPCA talk this year.
Mike: Sure, but that’s just how to mitigate our ignorance. All we’d be doing at this point is taking n guesses instead of one. But, yeah, we should do it. Or you should if you prefer.
Matt: Let’s make it a Wedel and Taylor. I’ll crunch the numbers, but I want your input.
Mike: Works for me!
Matt: Good. Now let’s file it until April at least.
BYU 12613, a posterior cervical probably referable to Diplodocus, in dorsal (top), left lateral (left), and posterior (right) views. It compares most favourably with C14 of D. carnegii CM 84/94 (Hatcher 1901: plate 3) despite being less than half as large, with a centrum length of 270 mm compared to 642 mm for C14 of D. carnegii. From Wedel and Taylor (in press).

BYU 12613, a posterior cervical probably referable to Diplodocus, in dorsal (top), left lateral (left), and posterior (right) views. It most closely resembles C14 of D. carnegii CM 84/94 (Hatcher 1901: plate 3) despite being less than half as large, with a centrum length of 270 mm compared to 642 mm for C14 of D. carnegii. From Wedel and Taylor (in press).

Matt: Oh!
Matt: Also.
Matt: You know that little Diplo cervical from BYU that we figure in our in-press paper?
Mike: I think I know the one, yeah.
Matt: I am SUCH a moron. I have CT scans of the whole thing.
Mike: Good.
Matt: I forgot that Kent and I scanned it back in 2008. Even blogged about it, fer cryin’ out loud.  So I can do the sum-over-slices, scale-for-other-verts thing for Diplodocus, too. Which is at least closer to Supes than JANGO is.
Mike: Remind me, is it from a juvenile?
Matt: Maybe, maybe not. It IS tiny, but the neural spine is fused, the internal structure is crazy complex, and it doesn’t have any obvious juvenile characters other than just being small. The ASP is about as high as it gets in diplodocids. Which, as you may remember, is not nearly as high as it gets in titanosauriforms–that’s another paper that needs writing. Damn it. To know all this stuff and not have told it yet is killing me.
Mike: PeerJ!
Matt: I know!
Mike: Bottom line, it’s nuts that no-one has ever even tried to weigh a sauropod neck.* We should definitely do it, even if we do a really crappy job, if only so that others feel obliged to rebut.
Matt: Quite. Let’s do it. For reals.
Mike: In April. Done.

* R. McNeill Alexander (1985, 1989) did estimate the mass of the neck of Diplodocus, based on the old Invicta model and assuming a specific gravity of 1.0. Which was a start, and waaay better than no estimate at all. Still, let’s pretend that Mike meant “tried based on the actual fossils and what we know now about pneumaticity”.

The stuff about putting everything off until April is in there because we have a March 31 deadline to get a couple of major manuscripts submitted for an edited thingy. And we’ve made a pact to put off all other sciencing until we get those babies in. But I want to blog about this now, so I am.

Another thing Mike and I have been talking a lot about lately is the relation between blogging and paper-writing. The mode we’ve seen most often is to blog about something and then repurpose or rewrite the blog posts as a paper. Darren paved the way on this (at least in our scientific circle–people we don’t know probably did it earlier), with “Why azhdarchids were giant storks“, which became Witton and Naish (2008). Then last year our string of posts (starting here) on neural spine bifurcation in Morrison sauropods became the guts–and most of the muscles and skin, too–of our in-press paper on the same topic.

But there’s another way, which is to blog parts of the science as you’re doing them, which is what Mike was doing with Tutorial 20–that’s a piece of one of our papers due on March 31.

Along the way, we’ve talked about John Hawks’ model of using his blog as a place to keep his notes. We could, and should, do more of that, instead of mostly keeping our science out of the public eye until it’s ready to deploy (which I will always favor for certain projects, such as anything containing formal taxonomic acts).

And I’ve been thinking that maybe it’s time for me–for us–to take a step that others have already taken, and do the obvious thing. Which is not to write a series of blog posts and then decide later to turn it into a paper (I wasn’t certain that I’d be writing a paper on neural spine bifurcation until I had written the second post in that series), but to write the paper as a series of blog posts, deliberately and from the outset, and get community feedback along the way. And I think that the sauropod neck mass project is perfect for that.

Don’t expect this to become the most common topic of our posts, or even a frequent one. We still have to get those manuscripts done by the end of March, and we have no shortage of other projects waiting in the wings. And we’ll still post on goofy stuff, and on open access, and on sauropod stuff that has nothing to do with this–probably on that stuff a lot more often than on this. But every now and then there will be a post in this series, possibly written in my discretionary blogging time, that will hopefully move the paper along incrementally.


How disruptive is PeerJ?

February 21, 2013

Matt and I were discussing “portable peer-review” services like Rubriq, and the conversation quickly wandered to the subject of PeerJ. Then I realised that that seems to be happening with all our conversations lately. Here’s a partial transcript.

Mike: I don’t see portable peer-review catching on. Who’s going to pay for it unless journals give an equal discount from APCs? And what journal is going to do that when they get the peer-review done for free anyway? If I was Elsevier, I wouldn’t say “OK, we’ll accept your external review and give you a $700 discount”, I’d charge the full $3000 and get two more free reviews done.

Plus, you know, I can get all the peer-review I want, free of charge, at PeerJ.

Matt: Yeah, that was pretty much my take. Even as I was sending that I thought about adding, “I wonder if this is one more thing that PeerJ will kill.” Only ‘abort’ is more the verb I want, in that I don’t see this ever getting off the ground anyway.

Mike: I think the world at large has yet to realise what a black hole PeerJ is, in the sense that it’s warping all the space near it. Pretty much every time I have any thought at all about scholarly publishing now, that thought it swiftly followed by “… or, wait, I should just use PeerJ for that.”

Matt: Exactly. It makes me think that we may be discovering the contours of that space-warping effect for some time, in that we’re used to one model, and that, among all the other things PeerJ does, it quacks something like that old model so we tend to think of it as a very cool duck, and not the freakin’ tyrannosaur that is going to eat scholarly publishing.

Also makes me think of that Paul Graham thing about noticing that the door is open, and there being a lag between the freedom to do something and the adoption of that newly facilitated action or behavior.

Interesting times.

New thought: assuming PeerJ does not implode, will the established powers try to start PeerJ-alikes, and if so, what will they charge (amount), and what will they charge for (lifetime membership? decadal? annual? per 1000 pages published?).

Mike: Sweet metaphor. It’s true. It’s qualitatively different from other journals in two respects.

First, the APC is literally an order of magnitude less — and at that point, a quantitative difference becomes qualitative. Someone like [NAME REDACTED] would worry about paying $1350 to PLOS ONE, but didn’t even stop and think before saying, yeah, I’ll do that.

Second, the lifetime membership changes the game for all subsequent submissions. Now when you have a manuscript ready to go, your question isn’t going to be “where shall I send this?”, it’s going to be “is there are compelling reason not to send this to PeerJ?”

Legacy publishers won’t start PeerJ-alikes because they can’t. As noted in many SV-POW! posts, Elsevier takes about $5000 for each article they put behind a paywall. Slice away the 40% profit and you get $3000 which not coincidentally is what they charge as an APC. They have old, slow, encumbered systems and processes and top-heavy organisation. At $3000 they are only breaking even. They can’t compete at a PLOS-like $1350 level and they can’t even think about competing at PeerJ levels. If they offered a lifetime membership they’d have to ask $10k or something stupid.

I don’t think it’s that they don’t want to change. They can’t. They’ve ossified into 1990s companies running on 1990s software. It’s hard to steer a ship with a $2bn turnover, and impossible to replace the engines while still cruising.

Matt: I think it is probably a mistake to think that PeerJ will only encroach “upward”, onto the territory of more traditional journals (which is “all of them”). We’ve already talked about it taking business from arXiv (at least ours, although there is the large non-overlap in their respective subject domains–for now, anyway).

But my point is, the question, “Why wouldn’t I send this to PeerJ?” may not only kick in for papers that you might conceivably send elsewhere, but also for manuscripts that you might not conceivably send anywhere.

Mike: There are plenty of historical SV-POW! posts that could have been PeerJ articles on their own — for example, the shish-kebab post that ended up as part of Why Giraffes Have Short Necks.

Matt: Right. And if one is on the fence, shove it on the PeerJ preprint server and see what people have to say.

Mike: I think it’s the first megajournal to have an associated preprint server, and that may yet prove the most important of all its innovations.

Matt: It feels almost … struggling to find the right word, in part because it’s late and I need to go sleep. “Seditious” is not quite it, and neither is “seductive”.

At that point we started talking about something else, so I never did find out what word Matt was groping for. But what’s only gradually become clear to us is how much PeerJ is changing how we think about the academic publishing process. It’s shaking us out of mental ruts that we didn’t even know we were in. Exciting.


Wire skull

Big news yesterday. Identical bills were introduced into the US House of Representatives and Senate that, if passed, will make federally-funded research freely available within six months of publication. Here’s the exact wording, from the press release on Mike Doyle’s (D-PA) website:

The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR) would require federal agencies with annual extramural research budgets of $100 million or more to provide the public with online access to research manuscripts stemming from funded research no later than six months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

As Peter Suber explains here and here, FASTR is a stronger version of FRPAA, the Federal Research Public Access Act, which has been introduced in Congress three times before (2006, 2009, and 2012) but never come up for a vote. However, momentum for open access is gathering, both on the supply side with progressive new outlets like eLife and PeerJ, and on the demand side of, well, citizens demanding access to the research they’ve already paid for, and legislators increasingly agreeing with them. So FASTR  has a real shot at getting to a vote, and if voted on, could well pass. Which would be awesome, because we all need access.

Raptor skull in cardboard

I am especially happy that FASTR has bipartisan sponsorship in both houses of Congress. The sponsoring representatives in the House are Mike Doyle (D-PA), Kevin Yoder (R-KS), and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). The identical Senate bill was introduced by John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ron Wyden (D-OR). So we’ve got Democrats from deeply blue states and Republicans from deeply red states, which is awesome and totally appropriate, because this issue really does cut across party lines. And, hell, last year Elsevier managed to hire bipartisan sponsorship for their toxic–in more ways than one–and rapidly-killed Research Works Act, so it’s nicely symmetrical that politicians from both sides of the aisle have come together to sponsor that bill’s near-opposite.

What can you do? If you live in the US, contact your legislators and tell them to support FASTR! It takes almost no time at all and it makes a big difference. This afternoon I called all five of the sponsoring legislators to thank them, and I called my representative and both California senators to encourage them to support the bill, and all told it took just a little over half an hour. If you skipped the thank yous and just got in touch with the legislators who represent you, it could be done in 15 minutes, and you’ve probably wasted more time than that today daydreaming about dinosaurs. Here’s what you’ll need.

Encourage your legislators:

Thank the bills’ sponsors:

This is big. This matters. Send an email, pick up the phone, make a difference.

Rexy skeleton

I didn’t have any really motivational “contact your legislators!” artwork so the photos in this post are of papier mache dinosaurs–all stinkin’ theropods, I’m afraid–that I’m building with my son. More to come on that soon, but in the meantime, check this out and give it a whirl–after you contact your legislators!

The Three Machesketeers

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.


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. [Note added 18 May 2015: Eek! I only just noticed my error here: Horizon 2020 is a €80 billion program, so I dropped three orders of magnitude.] 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.


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.


1. PEER Project:

3. Statement on position in relation to open access:

4. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported:

6. 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.

Other response to this call:

Matt and I have been sniggering at the Lousy Book Covers tumblr (slogan: “Just because you CAN design your own book cover doesn’t mean you SHOULD”). A couple of evenings ago, he wondered whether we could do better. And whether we could do it in half an hour.

In no time at all, a competition was born. Here are the rules:

  1. You have 30 minutes total to create the cover from scratch.
  2. When the time starts, generate a batch of six random titles at the Random Book Title Generator.
  3. Choose the one you like most, and make a cover for it.
  4. Use your own name as the author.
  5. You may only use copyright-free or CC BY materials, and be prepared to demonstrate that you have done so.
  6. The cover must be in the correct aspect ratio for a “B Format” paperback (129 x 198 mm) and in a decent resolution — at least one megapixel.

There are probably better random title generators out there, but we just used the first one we found. It gave Matt these six titles: Silken Magic, The Missing Bridges, Theft of Abyss, The Sorceror’s Slaves, The Year of the Beginning and Cloud in the Petals. And it gave me these: Rough Eyes, The Trembling Spirits, Snow of Eye, The Wind’s Flames, The Names of the Name, and Mists in the Servants. Obviously some of these are completely unusable (“The Mists in the Servants” — I mean to say, what?) but you’re pretty much always going to get at least one that works.

Anyway, here’s what Matt came up with, interpreting his chosen title as non-fiction and sneakily inserting a subtitle:

Year of the Beginning

Pretty sweet work, I think — although Matt was unhappy with the vertical spacing, feeling that the author name was too close to the bottom. The baby-turtle image is by John Winkelman, from flickr, and it’s CC BY. (Matt cut the hand and turtle out so that he could drop the contrast a bit on the background, which accounts for the obvious ‘shoppage around the fingers visible at full res.)

I interpreted mine as a Fantasy novel, and I guess I sort of added a subtitle too, in a way. Here it is:


The background image is cropped and modified from Desert sky scene at dusk by Steve Hillebrand of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is public domain. The parts that work well, I think, are the different capitalisation, size and colour of the “the”s and “NAME”s; and the translucent star underneath the title. If I could do it again, I would swap the two dark reds, but there you go.

I ran out of time to do the author name nicely, so it’s pretty blunt. If I’d had more time, I would also have put a small but clear single artifact in the middle of the cover — perhaps a sword or lantern, or maybe something a bit more left-field like a scroll or a leather water bottle. But since I ran out of time, this is how it stays.

(One important lesson I learned is that I need to figure out how the get GIMP on my Mac to recognise more fonts — it has a tiny selection, and all the sans-serif ones look like they’re straight out of a PowerPoint presentation.)

So now we challenge you: what can you come up with thirty minutes total? If you have a go at this challenge, upload your images and post a link in a comment. (You can upload easily at sites like if you don’t have an account on flickr or similar.)

In the last couple of days, the House of Lords (the upper house of the UK government) has issued a call for evidence for a short inquiry into the Government’s open access policy and its implementation by the Research Councils UK (RCUK). The inquiry will cover four main areas:

  • Support for universities through funds to cover article processing charges;
  • Embargo periods for articles published under open access;
  • Engagement with publishers, universities learned societies and other stakeholders in developing the new open access policies
  • How the Government should address the concerns raised by the scientific and publishing communities about the policy.

So presumably comments on these areas are germane. Guidance on submissions has been provided. Anyone with concerns about open access in the UK (and indeed elsewhere) should feel free to send a comment.

The rest of this post is my submission.


Open access

Submission from Dr. Michael P. Taylor, Research Associate, University of Bristol, UK.


Twitter: @MikeTaylor

[Note that in this submission I represent only myself, not the University.]

12 January 2013


1. The Finch Report on open access to publicly funded research in the UK was an important step towards ubiquitous availability of publications to the citizens who paid for them. I and my colleagues welcome the emphasis on open access: a model in which publications are free at the point of access unquestionably achieves far greater exposure for, and exploitation of, research. There are many positive consequences for academia, industry and medicine in the UK and worldwide.

2. The new open-access policy of Research Councils UK (RCUK) interprets and implements the recommendations of the Finch Report in mostly very satisfactory ways. In particular, we welcome its insistence on the Creative Commons CC-BY license when the “Gold” route to open access is used. This licence 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. This licence is compatible with the original definition of the term “open access” by the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI), 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).


3. The Finch report was co-authored by a committee consisting of stake-holders from various roles in the academic publishing process: funders, researchers, university administrators, librarians and publishers – although with no representatives from industry or the health sector. As a result, and by design, its conclusions were compromises, balancing the interests of the various invited stake-holders though perhaps not fully taking into account those not at the table.

4. With one exception, the interests of all these groups are aligned. Funders, researchers, university administrators and librarians – and indeed industrialists and health-care professionals – all want the results of research to be available as quickly as possible, as widely as possible, and under terms that allow as much use as possible. Alone among the stake-holders, publishers wish to prevent access to research. This is because historical accidents in the evolution of scholarly publishing have given rise to a business model in which they must raise barriers in order to sell access to a privileged few.

5. I hold it as a key principle that the interests of one small group – publishers – must not be allowed to compromise decisions made on behalf of all other stake-holders. 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 industry.

6. In some situations, of course, there is no conflict: when the “Gold” route is taken to open access, publishing becomes a service industry rather than a product industry: publishers are paid by authors or their institutions for the service of publication. The resulting materials are then freely available to the world under a permissive licence. The problem arises when the “Green” route is taken: publishers assume ownership of published works as under the legacy model, but authors place copies of their manuscripts in publicly accessible repositories. Some publishers would prefer that this option not be available, for fear that subscription revenue will decrease if draft manuscripts are freely available.

Specific issues

Support for universities in the form of funds to cover article processing charges, and the response of universities and HEIs to these efforts

7. I support the redistribution of university funds to pay publication charges for Gold open access. Simple calculations suggest that the overall cost to the worldwide academic community of an average paywalled article is £3307 (£4.96 billion total paywall revenue each year for 1.5 million articles). Compared with this, the average Gold OA fee of £562 found by the broad survey of Solomon and Björk (2012) represents a saving of 83%. Even accepting the Finch Report’s inflated estimate of Gold OA fees in the range £1500–£2000, this would still be a saving of 40–55%. Evidently, a switch to open access will be financially beneficial for universities as well as opening up research outputs for many other purposes.

8. However, if universities blindly cover all Gold OA publication fees – as many researchers understandably wish – there will be no downward pressure on prices, and a true market in Gold OA publication will not emerge. The result will be over-spending. To prevent this, I recommend some form of fee-capping: for example, universities might pay the first £1000 of each Gold OA fee, and require authors who wish to use a more expensive venue to find the balance from departmental funds. Such a measure would undoubtedly be unpopular in the short term, but would yield long-term benefits.

Embargo periods for articles published under the Green model

9. This is the area in which the influence of publishers on the Finch committee, and indeed on the RCUK policy, has been most deleterious. The Finch Report barely mentions the Green route, being couched almost entirely in terms of Gold. And the otherwise excellent RCUK policy contains not one but two concessions that very significantly undermine the value of Green OA. From page 2:

Where a publisher does not offer [Gold OA], the journal must allow deposit of Accepted Manuscripts that include all changes resulting from peer review (but not necessarily incorporating the publisher’s formatting) in other repositories, without restrictions on non-commercial re-use and within a defined period. In this option no ‘Article Processing Charge’ will be payable to the publisher. Research Councils will accept a delay of no more than six months between on-line publication and a research paper becoming Open Access, except in the case of research papers arising from research funded by the AHRC and the ESRC where the maximum embargo period is 12 months.

10. Note that articles posted in this way must be “without restrictions on non-commercial re-use”. But this means that publishers are at liberty to (and certainly will) impose restriction on commercial re-use. This will prohibit many important uses of research that citizens have paid for. There is no justification for a ban on commercial use of research publications. This restriction benefits publishers at the expense of all the other stake-holder groups mentioned above, and should not be allowed to stand. Instead, the RCUK policy should be revised to require use of the permissive CC-BY licence for Green OA as it does for Gold OA.

Similarly, RCUK has accepted publishers’ desire for a six- or twelve-month embargo on publicly funded articles between their initial publication behind paywalls and their becoming available to the public in repositories. There is no justification for any embargo on Green-OA access to research publications. This clause should be removed from the RCUK policy and not adopted in any subsequent policies.

11. The net result of allowing both non-commercial licences and delays before Green-OA articles become available is that the Green route to open access is rightly seen as intrinsically inferior to the Gold route as mandated by the RCUK. This asymmetry has caused dissent: open-access activists who find that the Green route is more appropriate in their field have expressed opposition to the RCUK policy because of its perceived downgrading of Green OA. To avoid this and to deliver the best value to the country as whole, the policy should be revised to prohibit non-commercial clauses and embargoes when the Green route is taken.

12. It is true that some publishers will not like the changes proposed here. I refer back to the principle stated earlier: that the government must make decisions that promote the welfare of citizens in general rather than any one industry. 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 if they find these terms are too onerous. (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.)

Engagement with publishers, universities, learned societies and other stakeholders in the development of research council Open Access policies and guidance

13. Publishers must not be allowed to dictate policy that prioritises their own interests above those of universities, learned societies and citizens. Publishers are properly considered as service-providers, analogous to the vendors who provide the computers that researchers use for word-processing as they write their papers. They are important to the process but do not merit a place at the table when deciding on policy.

Challenges and concerns raised by the scientific and publishing communities, and how these have been addressed

14. The principle concern raised by the scientific community has been the difficulty of finding money for Gold-OA publication charges. This is a legitimate concern, though RCUK has gone some way towards meeting it with the provision of block grants. The perception of high publication charges is due in part to researchers’ assumption that they must continue to publish in the journals they have previously used, many of which are now levying exploitative charges. The solution to this is a re-education programme: new open-access journals offer better services than those produced by legacy publishers, and at lower costs. Researchers should be encouraged to invest some time in finding the best value and most appropriate Gold-OA venues for their work. In the long term, as libraries are able to cancel subscriptions and route the saved money into publication charges, universities will be better off.

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

Posting palaeo papers on arXiv

September 28, 2012

Over on Facebook, where Darren posted a note about our new paper, most of the discussion has not been about its content but about where it was published. We’re not too surprised by that, even though we’d love to be talking about the science. We did choose arXiv with our eyes open, knowing that there’s no tradition of palaeontology being published there, and wanting to start a new tradition of palaeontology being routinely published there. Having now made the step for the first time, I see no reason ever to not post a paper on arXiv, as soon as it’s ready, before — or maybe even instead of — submitting it to a journal.

(Instead of? Maybe. We’ll discuss that below.)

The key issue is this: science isn’t really science until it’s out there where it can be used. We wrote the bulk of the neck-anatomy paper back in 2008 — the year that we first submitted it to a journal. In the four years since then, all the observations and deductions that it contains have been unavailable to the world. And that is stupid. The work might just as well never have been done. Now that it’s on arXiv, that’s over. I was delighted to get an email less than 24 hours after the paper was published, from an author working on a related issue, thanking us for posting the paper, saying that he will now revise his own in-prep manucript in light of its findings, and cite our paper. Which of course is the whole point: to get our science out there where it can do some damage.

Because the alternative is horrible, really. Horribly wasteful, horribly dispiriting, horribly retarding for science. For example, a couple of weeks ago in his SVPCA talk, David Norman was lamenting again that he never got around to publishing the iguanodont systematic work that was in his dissertation, I-don’t-know-how-many-years-ago. The result of that interminable delay is that others have done other, conflicting iguanodont systematic work, and Norman is now trying belatedly to undo that and bring his own perspective. A terrible an unnecessary slowing of ornithopod science, and a waste of duplicated effort. (Thankfully it’s only ornithopods.)

And of course David Norman is very far from being alone. Pretty much any palaeontologist you talk to will tell you of a handful of papers — many more in some cases — that were finished many years previously but have never seen the light of day. (I still have a couple myself, but there is no point in resurrecting them now because progress has overtaken them.) I wonder what proportion of all Ph.D work ever sees the light of day? Half? Less? It’s crazy.

Figure 8. Sauropod cervical vertebrae showing anteriorly and posteriorly directed spurs projecting from neurapophyses. 1, cervical 5 of Sauroposeidon holotype OMNH 53062 in right lateral view, photograph by MJW. 2, cervical 9 of Mamenchisaurus hochuanensis holotype CCG V 20401 in left lateral view, reversed, from photograph by MPT. 3, cervical 7 or 8 of Omeisaurus junghsiensisYoung, 1939 holotype in right lateral view, after Young (1939, figure 2). (No specimen number was assigned to this material, which has since been lost. D. W. E. Hone personal communication, 2008.)

Publish now, publish later

So, please folks: we all need to be posting our work on preprint servers as soon as we consider it finished. It doesn’t mean that the posted versions can’t subsequently be obsoleted by improved versions that have gone through peer-review and been published in conventional journals. But it does mean that the world can know about the work, and build on it, and get the benefit of it, as soon as it’s done.

You see, we have a very fundamental problem in academia: publishing fulfils two completely separate roles. Its primary role (or at least the role that should be primary) is to make work available to the community; the secondary role is to provide a means of keeping score — something that can be used when making decisions about who to appoint to jobs, when to promote, who gets grants, who gets tenure and so on. I am not going to argue that the latter shouldn’t happen at all — clearly a functioning community needs some way to infer the standing of its participants. But I do think it’s ridiculous when the bean-counting function of publication trumps the actual publication role of publication. Yet we’ve all been in a position where we have essentially complete work that could easily go on a blog, or in the PalAss newsletter, or in a minor journal, or somewhere — but we hang onto it because we want to get it into a Big Journal.

Let me say again that I do realise how unusual and privileged my own position is: that a lot of my colleagues do need to play the Publication Prestige game for career reasons (though it terrifies my how much time some colleagues waste squeezing their papers into two-and-a-half-page format in the futile hope of rolling three sixes on the Science ‘n’ Nature 3D6). Let’s admit right now that most palaeontologists do need to try to get their work into Proc B, or Paleobiology, or what have you. Fair enough. They should feel free. But the crucial point is this: that is no reason not to post pre-prints so we can all get on with actually benefitting from your work in the mean time.

Actually, I feel pretty stupid that it’s taken me this long to realise that all my work should go up on arXiv.

Figure 11. Archosaur cervical vertebrae in posterior view, Showing muscle attachment points in phylogenetic context. Blue arrows indicate epaxial muscles attaching to neural spines, red arrows indicate epaxial muscles attaching to epipophyses, and green arrows indicate hypaxial muscles attaching to cervical ribs. While hypaxial musculature anchors consistently on the cervical ribs, the principle epaxial muscle migrate from the neural spine in crocodilians to the epipophyses in non-avial theropods and modern birds, with either or both sets of muscles being significant in sauropods. 1, fifth cervical vertebra of Alligator mississippiensis, MCZ 81457, traced from 3D scans by Leon Claessens, courtesy of MCZ. Epipophyses are absent. 2, eighth cervical vertebra ofGiraffatitan brancai paralectotype HMN SII, traced from Janensch (1950, figures 43 and 46). 3, eleventh cervical vertebra of Camarasaurus supremus, reconstruction within AMNH 5761/X, “cervical series I”, modified from Osborn and Mook (1921, plate LXVII). 4, fifth cervical vertebra of the abelisaurid theropod Majungasaurus crenatissimus,UA 8678, traced from O’Connor (2007, figures 8 and 20). 5, seventh cervical vertebra of a turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, traced from photographs by MPT.


So are there any special cases? Any kinds of papers that we should keep dry until they make it into actual journals? I can think of two classes that you could argue for — one of them convincingly, the other not.

First, the unconvincing one. When I discussed this with Matt (and half the fun of doing that is that usually neither of us really knows what we think about this stuff until we’re done arguing it through), he suggested to me that we couldn’t have put the Brontomerus paper on arXiv, because that would have leaked the name, creating a nomen nudum. My initial reaction was to agree with him that this is an exception. But when I thought about it a bit more, I realised there’s actually no compelling reason not to post such a paper on arXiv. So you create a nomen nudum? So what? Really: what is the negative consequence of that? I can’t think of one. OK, the name will appear on Wikipedia and mailing lists before the ICZN recognises it — but who does that hurt? No-one that I can think of. The only real argument against posting is that it could invite scooping. But is that a real threat? I doubt it. I can’t think of anyone who would be barefaced enough to scoop a taxon that had already been published on arXiv — and if they did, the whole world would know unambiguously exactly what had happened.

So what is the one real reason not to post a preprint? I think that might be a legitimate choice when publicity needs to be co-ordinated. So while nomenclatural issues should not have stopped us from arXiving the Brontomerus paper, publicity should. In preparation for that paper’s publication day, we did a lot of careful work with the UCL publicity team: writing non-specialist summaries, press-releases and FAQs, soliciting and preparing illustrations and videos, circulating materials under embargo, and so on. In general, mainsteam media are only interested in a story if it’s news, and that means you need to make sure it’s new when they first hear about it. Posting the article in advance on a publicly accessible archive would mess that up, and probably damage the work’s coverage in the press, TV and radio.

Publication venues are a continuum

It’s become apparent to us only gradually that there’s really no clear cut-off where a paper becomes “properly published”. There’s a continuum that runs from least to most formal and exclusive:

SV-POW! — arXiv — PLOS ONE — JVP — Nature

1. On SV-POW!, we write what we want and publish it when we want. We can promise you that it won’t go away, but you only have our word for it. But some of what we write here is still science, and has been cited in papers published in more formal venues — though, as far as I know, only by Matt and me so far.

2. On arXiv, there is a bit more of a barrier to clear: you have to get an existing arXiv user to endorse your membership application, and each article you submit is given a cursory check by staff to ensure that it really is a piece of scientific research rather than a diary entry, movie review or spam. Once it’s posted, the paper is guaranteed to remain at the same URL, unchanged, so long as arXiv endures (and it’s supported by Cornell). Crucially, the maths, physics and computer science communities that use arXiv uncontroversially consider this degree of filtering and permanence sufficient to constitute a published, citeable source.

3. At PLOS ONE, your paper only gets published if it’s been through peer-review — but the reviewing criteria pertain only to scientific soundness and do not attempt to evaluate likely impact or importance.

4. At JVP and other conventional journals, your paper has to make it through a two-pronged peer-review process: it has to be judged both sound scientifically (as at PLOS ONE) and also sufficiently on-topic and important to merit appearing in the journal.

5. Finally, at Nature and Science, your paper has to be sound and be judged sexy — someone has to guess that it’s going to prove important and popular.

Where along this continuum does the formal scientific record begin? We could make a case that all of it counts, provided that measures are taken to make the SV-POW! posts permanent and immutable. (This can be done submitting them to WebCite or to a service such as Nature Precedings used to provide.) But whether or not you accept that, it seems clear that arXiv and upwards is permanent, scientific and citeable.

This raises an interesting question: do we actually need to go ahead and publish our neck-anatomy paper in a more conventional venue? I’m honestly not sure at the moment, and I’d be interested to hear arguments in either direction. In terms of the progress of science, probably not: our actual work is out there, now, for the world to use as it sees fit. But from a career perspective, it’s probably still worth our while to get it into a journal, just so it can sit more neatly on our publication lists and help Matt’s tenure case more. And yet I don’t honestly expect any eventual journal-published version to be better in any meaningful way than the one on arXiv. After all, it’s already benefitted from two rounds of peer-review, three if you count the comments of my dissertation examiners. More likely, a journal will be less useful, as we have to cut length, eliminate illustrations, and so on.

So it seems to me that we have a hard choice ahead of us now. Call that paper done and more onto making more science? Or spend more time and effort on re-publishing it in exchange for prestige? I really don’t know.

For what it’s worth, it seems that standard practice in maths, physics and computer science is to republish arXiv articles in journals. But there are some scientists who routinely do not do this, instead allowing the arXiv version to stand as the only version of record. Perhaps that is a route best left to tenured greybeards rather than bright young things like Matt.

Figure 5. Simplified myology of that sauropod neck, in left lateral view, based primarily on homology with birds, modified from Wedel and Sanders (2002, figure 2). Dashed arrows indicate muscle passing medially behind bone. A, B. Muscles inserting on the epipophyses, shown in red. C, D, E. Muscles inserting on the cervical ribs, shown in green. F, G. Muscles inserting on the neural spine, shown in blue. H. Muscles inserting on the ansa costotransversaria (“cervical rib loop”), shown in brown. Specifically: A. M. longus colli dorsalis. B. M. cervicalis ascendens. C. M. flexor colli lateralis. D. M. flexor colli medialis. E. M. longus colli ventralis. In birds, this muscle originates from the processes carotici, which are absent in the vertebrae of sauropods. F. Mm. intercristales. G. Mm. interspinales. H. Mm. intertransversarii. Vertebrae modified from Gilmore (1936, plate 24).

Citing papers in arXiv

Finally, a practicality: since it’ll likely be a year or more before any journal-published version of our neck-anatomy paper comes out, people wanting to use it in their own work will need to know how to cite a paper in arXiv. Standard procedure seems to be just to use authors, year, title and arXiv ID. But in a conventional-journal citation, I like the way that the page-range gives you a sense of how long the paper is. So I think it’s worth appending page-count to the citations. And while you’re at it, you may as well throw in the figure and table counts, too, yielding the version that we’ve been using:

  • Taylor, Michael P., and Mathew J. Wedel. 2012. Why sauropods had long necks; and why giraffes have short necks. arXiv:1209.5439. 39 pages, 11 figures, 3 tables.

A couple of weeks ago we tried to work out what it costs the global academic community when you publish a paper behind an Elsevier paywall instead of making it open access. The tentative conclusion was that it’s somewhere between £3112 and £6224 (or about $4846-9692), which is about 3.6-7.2 times the cost of publishing in PLoS ONE.

That calculation was fraught with uncertainty, because it’s so difficult to get solid numbers out of Elsevier. So let’s try a simpler one.

In 2009, The STM report: an overview of scientific and scholarly journal publishing reported (page 5) that:

The annual revenues generated from English-language STM journal publishing are estimated at about $8 billion in 2008, up by 6-7% compared to 2007, within a broader STM publishing market worth some $16 billion.
There were about 25,400 active scholarly peer-reviewed journals in early 2009, collectively publishing about 1.5 million articles a year.

8 billion dollars divided by 1.5 million articles yields a per-article revenue to the STM industry of $5333. And since publisher revenue is the same as academia’s expenditure on publishing, that is the per-article cost to Academia.

(What about the articles currently published as gold open access? Don’t they cut down the number that are being bought through subscriptions, and so raise the average price of a paywalled article? Yes, but not by much: according to page 7 of the report, “about 2% of articles are published in full open access journals” — a small enough proportion that we can ignore it for the purposes of this calculation.)

What can we make of this $5333 figure? For a start, it’s towards the bottom of the $4846-9692 Elsevier range — only 10% of the way up that range. So the balance of probability strongly suggests that Elsevier’s prices are above the industry-wide average, but not hugely above — somewhere between 10% below and 80% above the average.

More importantly, each paywalled article costs the world as much as four PLoS ONE articles. In other worlds, if we all stopped submitted to paywalled journals today and sent all our work to PLoS ONE instead, the total scholarly publishing bill would fall by 75%, from $8 billion to $2 billion.

Why am I comparing with PLoS ONE’s $1350? There are other comparisons I could use — for example, the average cost of $906 calculated by of Solomon and Björk across 100,697 open-access articles in 1,370 journals. But that figure is probably propped up by journals that are deliberately being run at a loss in order to gain visibility or prestige. PLoS ONE is a more conservative comparison point because we know its $1350 is enough for it to run at a healthy operating profit. So we know that a switch to PLoS ONE and similar journals would be financially sustainable.

But there’s certainly no reason to think that PLoS ONE’s price of $1350 is as low as you can go and still have good-quality peer-reviewed gold open access. For example, PLoS ONE’s long-time Editor-in-Chief, Pete Binfield, thinks that it can be done, at a profit, for $99 — a staggering 92% price-cut from the $1350 figure we’ve been using. If he’s right — and he’s betting his mortgage that he is — then we could have 54 per-reviewed articles in PeerJ for every one that goes behind a paywall.

It’s too early to know whether PeerJ will work (and I’ll talk about that more another time). But the very fact that someone as experienced and wily as Binfield thinks it will — and was able to attract venture capital from a disinterested and insightful party — strongly indicates that this price-point is at least in the right ballpark.

Which is more than can be said for the Finch Report’s ludicrous over-estimate of £1500-£2000.