Preview of a new OA publisher

The founders of Pronetos, the academic networking site, are offering a pre-launch preview of their Open Academic Press.

From the short announcement at the Pronetos site (May 30):

Seeking to fill a void in the scholarly publications realm, the founders of Pronetos are this week issuing a sneak preview of Open Access Press. Open Access Press helps scholars and learned societies in the humanities and social sciences bring print journals on line. Using the world’s most ubiquitous journal management platform, the Open Journal System, Open Access Press works with publishers to convert existing journals to an online, Open Access format, or create a new digital Open Access Journal. More details will follow next week.

Impact of OA preprints in economics

Tove Faber Frandsen, The effects of open access on un-published documents: A case study of economics working papers, forthcoming from the Journal of Informetrics.

Abstract:   The use of scholarly publications that have not been formally published in e.g. journals is widespread in some fields. In the past they have been disseminated through various channels of informal communication. However, the Internet has enabled dissemination of these unpublished and often unrefereed publications to a much wider audience. This is particularly interesting seen in relation to the highly disputed open access advantage as the potential advantage for low visibility publications has not been given much attention in the literature. The present study examines the role of working papers in economics during a ten-year period (1996 to 2005). It shows that working papers are increasingly becoming visible in the field specific databases. The impact of working papers is relatively low; however, high impact working paper series have citation rate levels similar to the low impact journals in the field. There is no tendency to an increase in impact during the ten years which is the case for the high impact journals. Consequently, the result of this study does not provide evidence of an open access advantage for working papers in economics.

Case study in converting a journal to OA

Alexandra-Emilia Fortis, Indexing Research Papers in Open Access Databases, a preprint self-archived in arXiv May 28, 2009.

Abstract:   This paper synthesizes the actions performed in order to transform a classic scientific research journal – ‘Annals. Computer Science Series’ – available only in printed form until 2008, into a modern e-journal with free access to the full text of the articles. For achieving this goal, the research papers have been included in various article databases, portals and library catalogs which offered a high visibility to the journal.

Google searches on public data

Google launched its search service for public data in late April.  It didn’t get much attention before it was overshadowed by the publicity surrounding the mid-May launch of Wolfram|Alpha.  But it’s definitely worth a look.   Here’s a quick comparison of the two.

Like Alpha, Google’s public data search returns graphs displaying data in response to a search query.  Like Alpha, it cites the sources for its data.  Like Alpha, it only knows what it knows.  While Alpha will return a polite error message when you ask about data it doesn’t have ("Wolfram|Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input"), Google defaults to the results of an ordinary Google search on your searchstring. 

Unlike Alpha, when Google returns a graph, the graph is interactive, giving you the option to add or subtract lines of relevant data.  For example, if you search for "unemployment rate USA", you’ll get a chart as the first hit on the return list, and an ordinary hit list below it.  If you click on the chart, you’ll have options to superimpose on the US curve the unemployment curves for any state or combination of states.  If you expand the outline under a state’s name in the left sidebar, you’ll have the same options to view the unemployment curves for any county or combination of counties. 

Like Alpha, when Google public data has answers, it’s very useful.  When it doesn’t, we can only hope that it doesn’t stop adding new datasets.

Also see Google’s help page on public data search, and its page on how to add new open datasets to the service.

Don’t confuse the public data search service with other recent data-related Google innovations such as Google Squared, Rich Snippets, Wonder Wheel, and Timeline (which shouldn’t be confused with Google’s News Timeline).  For a good review of the latter cluster of innovations, see Laura Gordon-Murnane’s article in the the new Information Today.

Comment.  Wolfram|Alpha and Google are both proving that making datasets OA enables third parties to amplify their utility.  Wolfram and Google are certainly not the first to do so, but they’re among the most conspicuous and influential.  The lesson:  If you have a dataset you’re willing to make OA, then make it OA.  If you don’t know of free online tools to make the data queryable, interactive, or visual, don’t wait for someone to develop them.  Just make the file OA and let other people work on that side of things.  For years now we’ve had this situation with texts:  if you make a text freely available online, others will find it, use it, crawl it, and at the very least improve its discoverability.  One reason to be excited:  We’re entering that age for data files.  Another reason:  the enhancements possible for data files are much richer than those possible for text files.

Google Wave and open science

Cameron Neylon is one of the first to see the implications of Google Wave for open science.  From his reflections (today):

Yes, I’m afraid it’s yet another over the top response to yesterday’s big announcement of Google Wave, the latest paradigm shifting gob-smackingly brilliant piece of technology (or PR depending on your viewpoint) out of Google. My interest, however is pretty specific, how can we leverage it to help us capture, communicate, and publish research? And my opinion is that this is absolutely game changing – it makes a whole series of problems simply go away, and potentially provides a route to solving many of the problems that I was struggling to see how to manage.

Firstly, lets look at the grab bag of generic issues that I’ve been thinking about. Most recently I wrote about how I thought “real time” wasn’t the big deal but giving the user control back over the timeframe in which streams came into them. I had some vague ideas about how this might look but Wave has working code. When the people who you are in conversation with are online and looking at the same wave they will see modifications in real time. If they are not in the same document they will see the comments or changes later, but can also “re-play” changes….

Another issue that has frustrated me is the divide between wikis and blogs. Wikis have generally better editing functionality, but blogs have workable RSS feeds, Wikis have more plugins, blogs map better onto the diary style of a lab notebook. None of these were ever fundamental philosophical differences but just historical differences of implementations and developer priorities. Wave makes most of these differences irrelevant by creating a collaborative document framework that easily incorporates much of the best of all of these tools within a high quality rich text and media authoring platform….The Waves themselves are XML which should enable straightforward parsing and tweaking with existing tools as well.

One thing I haven’t written much about but have been thinking about is the process of converting lab records into reports and onto papers.  While there wasn’t much on display about complex documents a lot of just nice functionality, drag and drop links, options for incorporating and embedding content was at least touched on. Looking a little closer into the documentation there seems to be quite a strong provenance model, built on a code repository style framework for handling document versioning and forking….

Finally the big issue for me has for some time been bridging the gap between unstructured capture of streams of events and making it easy to convert those to structured descriptions of the intepretation of experiments.  The audience was clearly wowed by the demonstration of inline real time contextual spell checking and translation. My first thought was – I want to see that real-time engine attached to an ontology browser or DbPedia and automatically generating links back to the URIs for concepts and objects. What really struck me most was the use of Waves with a few additional tools to provide authoring tools that help us to build the semantic web, the web of data, and the web of things….

Google don’t necessarily do semantic web but they do links and they do embedding, and they’ve provided a framework that should make it easy to add meaning to the links. Google just blew the door off the ELN [Electronic Laboratory Notebook] market, and they probably didn’t even notice.

Those of us interested in web-based and electronic recording and communication of science have spent a lot of the last few years trying to describe how we need to glue the existing tools together, mailing lists, wikis, blogs, documents, databases, papers….That problem, as far as I can see has now ceased to exist. The challenge now is in building the right plugins and making sure the architecture is compatible with existing tools. But fundamentally the framework seems to be there. It seems like it’s time to build.

New issue of Research Information

The June/July issue of Research Information is now online.  Here are the OA-related articles.

Excerpt from Murphy’s article on Co-Action:

Just over two years ago, in the heart of the Nordic countryside, three women embarked on a new venture: to launch a journal publisher and consultancy service. As well as its all-female founding team and base away from any established commercial or publishing hub, the new publisher, Co-Action Publishing, has bucked tradition by opting for the openaccess (OA) publishing model.

The three founders, Anne Bindslev, Caroline Sutton and Lena Wistrand, are all former executives of the Nordic division of Taylor and Francis. In their old jobs they had noticed a growing interest in OA from the large publisher’s society clients and they concluded that this was the most promising approach for a new, small publisher.

Sutton said: ‘2007 was an interesting time. BioMed Central and PLoS been around for some time and Hindawi had converted its last two subscription titles to OA. Such publishers had shown that it really was a viable model, but at the same time there were not too many people doing it – few of the established publishing houses were entertaining the idea of OA publishing – so we could still be early into the market.’

Sutton does not think that it would be possible today to launch a new publishing house based on subscription journals. ‘It takes five or six years for a journal to really become established enough to generate a profit. With OA and a publication fee model you are earning revenue at the same time as you are incurring costs,’ she explained.

‘We used our own savings rather than having an external investor and have tried to make everything as virtual as possible. It surprises me that more small OA publishing companies haven’t been formed already.’ …

Another project the company has embarked on is to provide services to other groups which want to create their own open access venture. They can, of course, hand a whole venture over but otherwise they can buy ‘pieces of help’ in packages put together in partnership with its suppliers.

Sutton believes there will be a lot of growth in independent projects from groups that can run a publication themselves but might need help in setting up their systems. Co-Action Publishing has a new tool to help with this, called….

As a small company with a base outside of the world’s publishing centres, Sutton believes that it is critical to talk with others in the industry. The company is a member of STM. It has also been involved with other OA publishers such as PLoS, Hindawi and BioMed Central in setting up a new trade organisation to specifically address the interests of OA publishers – the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA)….

[Quoting Sutton:] ‘Given that Co-Action Publishing ended its first year with a small deficit and this year we expect to break even, I have to say that our formula for OA publishing is working for us.’

The benefits go beyond business issues though: ‘Working as an OA publisher is professionally stimulating,’ said Sutton. ‘On the one hand, the ties we have to the research community, to libraries, research councils, and academia in general are much stronger – there is a sense that we are working from the same side of the fence.

On the other hand, active contributors to OA publishing discussions are talented people who dare to envision where scientific communications may be heading. This combination offers a fantastic platform from which to design innovative solutions and create new opportunities that are beneficial to the research community,’ she concluded.

Podcast on OA to government data

Transforming Government Data, a 52 minute podcast interview with Clay Johnson first broadcast on NPR, May 26, 2009.  (Thanks to ResourceShelf.)  From the blurb:

Sunlight Lab’s Director Clay Johnson was a guest on the nationally-syndicated The Kojo Nnamdi Show, a program produced by National Public Radio-affiliated WAMU FM, where he joined a panel discussion on how non-profits and cities like Washington, D.C., are enlisting help from civic-minded developers to help make government data more open and usable.

Taking innovation and access seriously

Kaitlin Thaney, $120m – will it help, and a look at the greater issues, Sniffing the beaker, May 29, 2009.  Thaney is the project manager at Science Commons.  Excerpt:

…[I support the] NIH’s recent commitment of $120 million over five years for drugs and therapies for rare and neglected diseases….But the real question…[is] will that make a difference?

One of [the] meetings I attended over the last 3+ months of travel was a recent summit on innovation and access by the National Organization of Rare Diseases (apparently "neglected" is implied? 🙂 ) …It was their annual meeting, and as somewhat expected, included an initial 1.5 hour "congratulations" and offering of thanks to one another for their "contributions to rare disease research" as a kickoff to the meeting.

Excuse me here for being cynical and a bit brash, but were they congratulating one another for a drug pipeline that a) is insanely costly, b) takes approx. 17 years to get a drug to market IF it succeeds, c) doesn’t work in favor of the community they’re serving? …

[I]n the midst of all of the congratulating for thousands of people in their "network" not having any sort of drug or treatment, these two words ["innovation" or "access"] – the themes of the event – went unmentioned.

I raised my hand to have a turn, puzzled by all of this and made a comment, which was later backed and echoed by Janet Woodcock of the FDA and Francis Collins, the famous geneticist (thanks to both). I talked about the reasons we were all there – to talk about "innovation" and "access" in terms of access to research, accelerating scientific discovery, new "innovative" models to help fix this broken pipeline we all were dancing around, and get therapeutics and results to patients faster, cheaper and more successfully. It was astonishing a) how many people were nodding and smiling when I brought this to the forum and b) the fact that if not said, it may have gone unmentioned for the rest of the meeting. All of a sudden, the tone changed – with Francis Collins emphasizing the importance of Open Access and Janet Woodcock even saying "Put information into the public domain".

Small wins in an area that still needs a bit of coaching (like others, certainly) on making better use of a poorly funded wing of disease research.

Will $120 million over 5 years make a difference? Certainly, in some respect. How large of a difference depends on what model is constructed to hopefully better share the scientific knowledge we’re pumping tens of hundreds of thousands of dollars into, the funding model, etc. Perpetuating the "walled garden" approach does not "fix" the system….

PS:  Note that Francis Collins may soon be the next Director of the NIH.