Reading the ground tremors

Michael Nielsen, Is scientific publishing about to be disrupted?  Michael Nielsen, June 29, 2009.  Excerpt:

…Today, scientific publishers are production companies, specializing in services like editorial, copyediting, and, in some cases, sales and marketing. My claim is that in ten to twenty years, scientific publishers will be technology companies….That is, their foundation will be technological innovation, and most key decision-makers will be people with deep technological expertise. Those publishers that don’t become technology driven will die off.

Predictions that scientific publishing is about to be disrupted are not new….

[Let me] draw your attention to a striking difference between today’s scientific publishing landscape, and the landscape of ten years ago. What’s new today is the flourishing of an ecosystem of startups that are experimenting with new ways of communicating research, some radically different to conventional journals. Consider Chemspider, the excellent online database of more than 20 million molecules, recently acquired by the Royal Society of Chemistry. Consider Mendeley, a platform for managing, filtering and searching scientific papers, with backing from some of the people involved in and Skype. Or consider startups like SciVee (YouTube for scientists), thePublic Library of Science, the Journal of Visualized Experiments, vibrant community sites like OpenWetWare and the Alzheimer Research Forum, and dozens more. And then there are companies like WordPress, Friendfeed, and Wikimedia, that weren’t started with science in mind, but which are increasingly helping scientists communicate their research. This flourishing ecosystem is not too dissimilar from the sudden flourishing of online news services we saw over the period 2000 to 2005….

Scientific publishers should be terrified that some of the world’s best scientists, people at or near their research peak, people whose time is at a premium, are spending hundreds of hours each year creating original research content for their blogs, content that in many cases would be difficult or impossible to publish in a conventional journal. What we’re seeing here is a spectacular expansion in the range of the blog medium. By comparison, the journals are standing still.

This flourishing ecosystem of startups is just one sign that scientific publishing is moving from being a production industry to a technology industry. A second sign of this move is that the nature of information is changing. Until the late 20th century, information was a static entity. The natural way for publishers in all media to add value was through production and distribution, and so they employed people skilled in those tasks, and in supporting tasks like sales and marketing. But the cost of distributing information has now dropped almost to zero, and production and content costs have also dropped radically. At the same time, the world’s information is now rapidly being put into a single, active network, where it can wake up and come alive. The result is that the people who add the most value to information are no longer the people who do production and distribution. Instead, it’s the technology people, the programmers….

How many scientific publishers are run by people who know the difference between an INNER JOIN and an OUTER JOIN? Or who know what an A/B test is? Or who know how to set up a Hadoop cluster? Without technical knowledge of this type it’s impossible to run a technology-driven organization. How many scientific publishers are as knowledgeable about technology as Steve Jobs, Sergey Brin, or Larry Page?

I expect few scientific publishers will believe and act on predictions of disruption. One common response to such predictions is the appealing game of comparison: “but we’re better than blogs / wikis / PLoS One / …!” These statements are currently true, at least when judged according to the conventional values of scientific publishing. But they’re as irrelevant as the equally true analogous statements were for newspapers. It’s also easy to vent standard immune responses: “but what about peer review”, “what about quality control”, “how will scientists know what to read”. These questions express important values, but to get hung up on them suggests a lack of imagination much like Andrew Rosenthal’s defense of the New York Times editorial page. (I sometimes wonder how many journal editors still use Yahoo!’s human curated topic directory instead of Google?) In conversations with editors I repeatedly encounter the same pattern: “But idea X won’t work / shouldn’t be allowed / is bad because of Y.” Well, okay. So what? If you’re right, you’ll be intellectually vindicated, and can take a bow. If you’re wrong, your company may not exist in ten years. Whether you’re right or not is not the point. When new technologies are being developed, the organizations that win are those that aggressively take risks, put visionary technologists in key decision-making positions, attain a deep organizational mastery of the relevant technologies, and, in most cases, make a lot of mistakes. Being wrong is a feature, not a bug, if it helps you evolve a model that works: you start out with an idea that’s just plain wrong, but that contains the seed of a better idea. You improve it, and you’re only somewhat wrong. You improve it again, and you end up the only game in town. Unfortunately, few scientific publishers are attempting to become technology-driven in this way. The only major examples I know of are Nature Publishing Group (with and the Public Library of Science. Many other publishers are experimenting with technology, but those experiments remain under the control of people whose core expertise is in others areas….

Here’s a list of services I expect to see developed over the next few years….

Harvesting ProQuest metadata for an ETD repository

Shawn Averkamp and Joanna Lee, Repurposing ProQuest Metadata for Batch Ingesting ETDs into an Institutional Repository, code{4}lib, June 26, 2009.  (Thanks to Charles Bailey.) 

Abstract:   This article describes the workflow used by the University of Iowa Libraries to populate their institutional repository and their catalog with the data collected by ProQuest UMI Dissertation Publishing during the submission of students’ theses and dissertations. Re-purposing the metadata from ProQuest allowed the University of Iowa Libraries to streamline the process for ingesting theses and dissertations into their institutional repository. The article includes a discussion of the benefits and limitations of the workflow described.

Another new OA publisher

Open Access Publications (OAP) is a new OA journal publisher.  (Thanks to Jim Till.) 

OAP will allow authors to retain copyright.  Though it doesn’t indicate what license it will use, it will offer libre OA, allowing "any third party the right to download, print out, extract, archive, and distribute the article as long as its integrity is maintained and its original authors, citation details and publisher are identified."  It will charge a publication fee of £499.

OAP’s first journal is Single Cell Analysis, whose inaugural issue is still forthcoming.

More on the U. Kansas OA policy

A Web version of the text of the University of Kansas’ new OA policy confirms what I’d suspected in my last post: that the policy as passed doesn’t contain an OA mandate. It commits the university to OA, gives the university permission to provide OA to its faculty’s research via the IR, and establishes a task force to work out the details — including the details of how the manuscripts will get into the IR.

See also: Chad Lawhorn, KU plans to be first public university library to allow free online access to researchers’ work, KTKA, June 26, 2009.

… Members of the KU faculty proposed the “open access” policy, and believe that it will put KU on the leading edge of emerging trend in how scholarly research is disseminated. …

And once the system is fully functioning, KU leaders hope it will provide some interesting reading for the general public.

“We think one of the benefits is that this won’t just be for the research community, but even for lay people,” [Dean of Libraries Lorraine] Haricombe said.

Updates on FRPAA

What’s new with the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) since our last post:

  • The text of the bill is now online.
  • At first blush, I only spot two changes in the bill, both fairly minor:
    • The new bill adds a specific exception for “research progress reports presented at professional meetings or conferences”
    • The new bill specifies additional committees to receive oversight reports
  • See the Alliance for Taxpayer Access’s call to action to support the bill.
  • Sen. Cornyn’s statement at the bill’s introduction is now available in the Congressional Record:

    … I am proud to report that the NIH’s public access policy has been a
    success over the past few years. By the NIH implementing a
    groundbreaking public access policy, there has been strong progress in
    making the NIH’s federally funded research available to the public, and
    has helped to energize this debate.

    Although this has surely been an encouraging and important step
    forward, Senator Lieberman and I believe there is more that can and
    must be done, as this is just a small part of the research funded by
    the Federal Government.

    With that in mind, Senator Lieberman and I find it necessary to
    reintroduce the Federal Research Public Access Act that will build on
    and refine the work done by the NIH and require that the Federal
    Government’s leading underwriters of research adopt meaningful public
    access policies. …

    This simple legislation will provide our government with an
    opportunity to better leverage our investment in research and in turn
    ensure a greater return on that investment. All Americans stand to
    benefit from this bill, including patients diagnosed with a disease who
    will have the ability to use the Internet to read the latest articles
    in their entirety concerning their prognosis, students who will be able
    to find full abundant research as they further their education, or
    researchers who will have their findings more broadly evaluated which
    will lead to further discovery and innovation. …

Things to watch:

U.S. Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) re-introduced

In the U.S., Senators Cornyn and Lieberman have teamed up to re-introduce the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA). This is huge; FRPAA would require all U.S. federal funding agencies with significant research spending portfolios to develop public access acts, similar to NIH.

Stay tuned to Open Access News for a summary and comments as well as updates like this one.

OA to government statistics

Siu-Ming Tam, Informing The Nation – Open Access To Statistical Information In Australia, March 18, 2009.  A presentation at the UNECE Work Session on the Communication and Dissemination of Statistics (Warsaw, May 13-15, 2009).  (Thanks to Anne Fitzgerald.)  Excerpt:

…3. In 2005, the Australian Government released cost recovery guidelines…[requiring] fees and charges set by Government agencies to reflect the costs of producing and providing the products and services….

5. In…June 2005 the [Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)] sought and obtained additional funding from the Australian Government for free access to ABS publications on its website. In December 2005, the Minister made the announcement, in an event to mark the centenary for the establishment of the ABS, that as a centenary tribute to the people of Australia, all ABS statistical output on the web site would be made free of charge.

6. The recent advent of Web 2.0 technologies increases the potential to use, share and ‘mix and match’ ABS data sets to add value to ABS information. ‘Mash ups’ are an excellent example of how the value of a product may be significantly enhanced by including different layers of information with statistical information. To facilitate this, and other innovative uses of ABS data, the ABS needs to have an internationally recognised licensing framework for accessing, using and reusing its statistical information.

7. In December 2008, ABS introduced Creative Commons licensing by adopting the Attribution 2.5 Australia licence for its materials contained in the ABS website.” …

Also see Marc Debusschere, Dissemination Policies in the ESS, from the proceedings of the same conference.  Excerpt:

…27. The results of the survey show that all countries have well-established practices for disseminating statistical data, which for the larger part are disseminated for free; the most common exceptions are tailor-made data sets, microdata and paper publications….

29. …[A] single policy document which coherently spells out dissemination principles is still absent in many countries. Specific dissemination conditions and procedures can, as a rule, be found on an ad hoc basis in many different places, but not bundled together in one place, on the web site or in a document.

30. The overview shows very markedly that policies, some times implicit ones, are quite similar across the [European Statistical system (ESS)]. The summary of current principles and practices of [National Statistical Institutes] could constitute a first outline of a basic ‘Dissemination Policy Charter’ for the European Statistical System:

  • Statistical data and metadata are disseminated free of charge for all users, with few or even no exceptions.
  • All users can obtain custom-made data extractions at no more than production cost or even for free.
  • Use, re-use and redistribution of statistical data and metadata are allowed on two conditions only: respect for the integrity of data and mention of the source.
  • Microdata are available free of charge for all eligible users providing sufficient guarantees, especially on the respect of confidentiality….

New OA publisher

PAGEPress is an apparently new publisher of OA journals in biomedicine.  It’s based in Italy, a brand of MeditGroup.

The PP journals charge a publication fee, which for 2009 is 500 Euros/article.  However, PP explains that "the ability of authors to pay publication charges will never be a consideration in the decision as to whether to publish."

PP says its uses CC-BY licenses.  But when it spells out what it means, it describes a CC-BY-NC license and links to one.  However, the sample article I looked at used a CC-BY license.

The site lists 17 journals in medicine and biology.  When I clicked through on each one, I found that 8 were operational, with published content (most still on their inaugural issue), and 9 were still on the drawing boards.

No OA impact advantage seen in ophthalmology

V.C. Lansingh and M.J. Carter, Does Open Access in Ophthalmology Affect How Articles are Subsequently Cited in Research? Ophthalmology, June 20, 2009.  The article doesn’t yet appear at the journal site, so I’ve linked to the abstract in PubMed.  Abstract:

OBJECTIVE: To determine whether the concept of open access affects how articles are cited in the field of ophthalmology.

DESIGN: Type of meta-analysis.

PARTICIPANTS: Examination of 480 articles in ophthalmology in the experimental protocol and 415 articles in the control protocol.

METHODS: Four subject areas were chosen to search the ophthalmology literature in the PubMed database using the terms "cataract," "diabetic retinopathy," "glaucoma," and "refractive errors." Searching started in December of 2003 and worked back in time to the beginning of the year. The number of subsequent citations for equal numbers of both open access (OA) and closed access (CA) (by subscription) articles was quantified using the Scopus database and Google search engine. Number of authors, article type, country/region in which the article was published, language, and funding data were also collected for each article. A control protocol was also carried out to ascertain that the sampling method was not systematically biased by matching 6 ophthalmology journals (3 OA, 3 CA) using their impact factors, and employing the same search methodology to sample OA and CA articles.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Number of citations.

RESULTS: The total number of citations was significantly higher for open access articles compared to closed access articles for Scopus (mean 15.2 versus 11.5, P < .0005, Mann-Whitney U = 20029, and Google (mean 6.4 versus 4.0, P < .0005, Mann-Whitney U = 21281). However, univariate general linear model (GLM) analysis showed that access was not a significant factor that explained the citation data. Author number, country/region of publication, subject area, language, and funding were the variables that had the most effect and were statistically significant. Control protocol results showed no significant difference between open and closed access articles in regard to number of citations found by Scopus: open access: mean = 17.8; SD (standard deviation) = 23.70; closed access: mean = 19.1; SD = 20.31; Mann-Whitney test, P = 0.730, Mann-Whitney U = 20584.

CONCLUSIONS: Unlike other fields of science, open access thus far has not affected how ophthalmology articles are cited in the literature.