Unbundling access and affordability?

Richard Poynder, Open Access: Who pays? How much?, Open and Shut? , November 26, 2009. Description:

Last month the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) launched a new guide called Who pays for Open Access? The guide, says SPARC, is intended to provide, “an overview of income models currently in use to support openaccess journals, including a description of each model along with examples of journals currently employing it.”

The guide is a useful and informative document penned by the well-regarded publishing consultant Raym Crow. On reading it, however, I found myself wondering whether it might not signal a change in SPARC’s mission, or at least its priorities — one of several issues I raised with SPARC Executive Director Heather Joseph.

While Joseph emphatically denies that the mission of SPARC has changed, she concedes that the guide could give the impression that it no longer expects Open Access (OA) to reduce the costs of scholarly publishing. Since SPARC was created to try and resolve the so-called serials crisis, this is perhaps unfortunate.

Joseph’s answers to my questions also left me wondering about the likely outcome of the transition to OA, and whether the OA movement is in danger of losing sight of the need not only to solve the access problem, but to also resolve the financial conundrum at the heart of the current crisis in scholarly communication: That is, how does one create a cost-effective system for disseminating research in a networked world. The promise of the OA movement was that it would lower the costs of scholarly communication. But will it?

New OA journals

OA journal announcements, launches, and conversions spotted in the past week or so:

Declaration on science and sharing

The University of Manchester, “Need not greed”, say Nobel Prize winners, press release, November 26, 2009.

Some of the world’s leading names in science and ethics – including two Nobel Prize winners – have challenged society to rethink attitudes to the commercialisation of scientific knowledge in a ‘Manifesto’ published today.

The renowned group of 50 signatories is led by moral philosopher Professor John Harris and Nobel Prize winning biologist Professor Sir John Sulston, both from the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation (iSEI) at The University of Manchester.

Nobel Laureate and Chair of the Brooks World Poverty Institute at The University of Manchester, Professor Joseph Stiglitz, is also among the signatories.

The ‘Manchester Manifesto’ calls for a reassessment of the current system of patents and intellectual property regulated by national and international laws.

According to Professors Harris and Sulston, the system is in desperate need of change because it excludes poorer people from access to essential medicines and expertise. …

Professor Harris, who is the Director of iSEI said: “The Manchester Manifesto is a first attempt to answer the question ‘Who Owns Science?’.

“And from our work, it is clear that the existing model, while serving some necessary purposes, also impedes achievement of core scientific goals.

“In many cases access to scientific knowledge and products has been cut off, stopping the benefits of science in its tracks.

“The system restricts the flow of information and it can hinder innovation through the costly and complicated nature of the system. …”

From the manifesto:

… There is a basic public interest in access to knowledge. …

Restrictions on access to information at any stage of the innovative process obstruct the flow of scientific information and thereby impede scientific progress. Such restrictions are also contrary to the needs of scientific inquiry and are inimical to openness and transparency. …

It is not only the intellectual property system that restricts participation in innovation; there is also all too often a lack of strategies to encourage openness of communication, participation in research, and sharing of information and products that result from science and innovation. …

Scientific information, freely and openly communicated, adds to the body of knowledge and understanding upon which the progress of humanity depends. Information must remain available to science and this depends on open communication and dissemination of information, including that used in innovation. …

It is clear that the dominant existing model of innovation, while serving some necessary purposes for the current operation of innovation, also impedes achievement of core scientific goals in a number of ways. In many cases it restricts access to scientific knowledge and products, thereby limiting the public benefits of science; it can restrict the flow of information, thereby inhibiting the progress of science; and it may hinder innovation through the costly and complicated nature of the system. Limited improvements may be achieved through modification of the current IP system, but consideration of alternative models is urgently required. …

See also our past post on the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation.

OA commitment at U. Guelph school

School of Environmental Sciences establishes open access policy, press release, November 26, 2009.

… Researchers in the [University of Guelph] School of Environmental Sciences commit to making the best possible effort to publish in venues providing unrestricted public access to their works. They will endeavour to secure the right to self-archive their published materials, and will deposit these works in the Atrium [IR].

The School of Environmental Sciences grants the University of Guelph Library the non-exclusive right to make their scholarly publications accessible through self-archiving in the Atrium institutional repository subject to copyright restrictions.

This policy applies to all appropriate scholarly and professional work produced as a member of the School of Environmental Sciences produced as of the date of the adoption of this policy. Retrospective deposit is encouraged. Co-authored works should be included with the permission of the other author(s). Examples of works include:

  • Scholarly and professional articles
  • Substantive presentations, including slides and text
  • Books/book chapters
  • Reports
  • Substantive pedagogical materials such as online tutorials

Works should be deposited in the Atrium as soon as is possible, recognizing that some publishers may impose an embargo period.

This policy is effective as of 11/05/2009 and will be assessed a year after implementation.

According to ROARMAP, this is the first non-library institutional or departmental OA commitment in Canada. (The libraries at Calgary and York have policies for their staff.)

La liberté libre…

« Dans tous les cas, il ne s?agira pas de gratuité, mais de libre accès. La nuance est d?importance, car la gratuité n?existe pas… »

Il y a non seulement deux voies vers la liberté d’accès — la voie dorée de l’édition ouverte et la voie verte de l’autoarchivage ouvert — mais il y a deux formes ou degrés de la liberté d’accès. (Leurs traductions — maladroites — seraient le libre accès « gratuit » [LAG] (“gratis open access”) et le libre accès « libre » [LAL] (“libre open access”).)

Le LAG est l’accès gratuit en ligne. Le LAL est le LAG plus certains droits de réutilisation, donc la « libération » d’un texte non seulement des barrières d’accès mais aussi des barrières de permission.

Mais la cible principale du mouvement pour le LA est la littérature lectorisée (contrôlée par les comités de lecture): les 2,5 millions d’articles publiés chaque année dans les 25,000 revues scientifiques qui se publient sur notre planète. Pour cette littérature-là, les auteurs/chercheurs ne souhaitent que ce que leurs textes soient accessibles gratuitement en ligne à tout utilisateur pour pouvoir les rechercher, télécharger, lire, imprimer, analyser, citer — bref, pour utiliser leurs contenus — mais pas pour réutiliser ou republier ou autrement tripoter avec leurs verbatims dans les sortes de « remixages » que souhaitent le mouvement pour les biens communs créatifs ( « creative commons » ) tels que dans le cas des dessins animés de Disney, remixés par les ados pour ensuite afficher sur youtube.

Donc vive la gratuité, le coeur du LA! Nous l’aurons dès que nos universités et nos subventionnaires de recherche adoptent des politiques obligatoires ( « mandats » ) tel qu’en font déja une centaine.

Reportons la recherche de la liberté « libre » au lendemain de l’arrivée éventuelle de la gratuité pour laquelle nous sommes déja si longtemps en attente…

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum

Collini on “Impact on humanities” in Times Literary Supplement

Commentary on:
Collini, S. (2009) Impact on humanities: Researchers must take a stand now or be judged and rewarded as salesmen. Times Literary Supplement. November 13 2009.

One can agree whole-heartedly with Professor Collini that much of the spirit and the letter of the RAE and the REF and their acronymous successors are wrong-headed and wasteful — while still holding that measures (“metrics”) of scholarly/scientific impact are not without some potential redeeming value, even in the Humanities. After all, even expert peer judgment, if expressed rather than merely silently mentalized, is measurable. (Bradley’s observation on the ineluctability of metaphysics applies just as aptly to metrics: “Show me someone who wishes to refute metaphysics and I’ll show you a metaphysician with a rival system.”)

The key is to gather as rich, diverse and comprehensive a spectrum of candidate metrics as possible, and then test and validate them jointly, discipline by discipline, against the existing criteria that each discipline already knows and trusts (such as expert peer judgment) so as to derive initial weights for those metrics that prove to be well enough correlated with the discipline’s trusted existing criteria to be useable for prediction on their own.

Prediction of what? Prediction of future “success” by whatever a discipline’s (or university’s or funder’s) criteria for success and value might be. There is room for putting a much greater weight on the kinds of writings that fellow-specialists within the discipline find useful, as Professor Collini has rightly singled out, rather than, say, success in promoting those writings to the general public. The general public may well derive more benefit indirectly, from the impact of specialised work on specialists, than from its direct impact on themselves. And of course industrial applications are an impact metric only for some disciplines, not others.

Ceterum censeo: A book-citation impact metric is long overdue, and would be an especially useful metric for the Humanities.

Harnad, S. (2001) Research access, impact and assessment. Times Higher Education Supplement 1487: p. 16.

Harnad, S., Carr, L., Brody, T. & Oppenheim, C. (2003) Mandated online RAE CVs Linked to University Eprint Archives: Improving the UK Research Assessment Exercise whilst making it cheaper and easier. Ariadne 35.

Brody, T., Carr, L., Harnad, S. and Swan, A. (2007) Time to Convert to Metrics. Research Fortnight pp. 17-18.

Harnad, S. (2008) Open Access Book-Impact and “Demotic” Metrics Open Access Archivangelism October 10, 2008.

Harnad, S. (2008) Validating Research Performance Metrics Against Peer Rankings. Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics 8 (11) doi:10.3354/esep00088 Special Issue on “The Use And Misuse Of Bibliometric Indices In Evaluating Scholarly Performance”

Harnad, S. (2009) Open Access Scientometrics and the UK Research Assessment Exercise. Scientometrics 79 (1)

The Elephant in the Room

Fred Friend, Honorary Director Scholarly Communication UCL, wrote in liblicense:

FF: “The phrase “the elephant in the room” was used by a librarian at a recent UK meeting to describe the big issues we were not allowed to discuss about how the current economic crisis is affecting scholarly communication. Representatives of all stakeholder groups present – including publishers – agreed that the economic crisis was hitting them badly, with cost-cutting happening across the board and hopes for growth put on hold. The curious feature of the conversation was that nobody present was able to discuss the one topic which could get us through the crisis and prevent the journals market collapsing, viz. the pricing structure for journal “big deals”. Pricing can only be discussed in one-to-one meetings between suppliers and purchasers. It would be easy to blame legislators for anti-trust legislation and the dominance of contract law, but the legal web within which publishing is entwined is of our own making – and I include the academic community in that statement.

“The importance of this failure to discuss structural and pricing issues is that the dominance of library budgets by “big deal” expenditure has the potential to bring the journal publishing industry to its knees in the same way as sub-prime mortgages did for the banking industry. It will only take a few cancellations of “big deals” by major institutions to make investors nervous about the future of companies heavily dependent upon such deals, and a domino effect could follow. We may be sure that there will be no government bail-out of the journal publishing industry. This scenario would not be good for any of the current stakeholders. The big journal publishing companies have failed to respond positively to the ICOLC initiative on the economic crisis, and the inability to discuss structural and pricing issues in a collaborative way is preventing solutions which have been of benefit in other sectors of the economy. For example, heavily-discounted pricing (by which I do not mean 1%) could ease the burden upon library budgets for one or two years until the overall economic situation improved. No publisher will want to be the first to discuss such solutions, but equallly no publisher will want to be the first to feel the effects of cancellations of its ‘big deals’.”

The elephant in the room is not the prospect of journal subscription cancellations, because as long as researchers need access to peer-reviewed journals, and as long as peer-reviewed journals are accessible only via subscriptions, subscriptions will remain viable, and institutions will just have to keep paying for whatever fraction they can afford of them.

The elephant in the room is Open Access (OA) self-archiving of journal articles by the “Slumbering Giant” — the universal provider of all the content of the planet’s 25,000 peer-reviewed journals: the planet’s 10,000 universities and research institutions.

As soon as the Slumbering Giant awakes to the fact that OA is fully within its reach — all it has to do is to mandate it — all the fuss about journal affordability, institutional serials crises, and publisher overpricing will fade, for researchers will have access to all refereed research, not just the fraction of it to which their institutions can afford to subscribe today.

And then, maybe, institutions will start canceling, their users’ needs no longer being inelastic, thanks to the OA mandates.

And then publishers will cut costs, lower prices, and eventually make a transition to OA publishing, recovering the costs of peer review from institutional publication fees, paid out of a fraction of institutions’ windfall subscription cancellation savings.

That’s the real elephant in the room, if you like. But as long as we persist in imagining instead that it’s something to do with journal pricing, “Big Deals,” and the need for pricing reform, we will not only fail to notice the elephant, we will fail to grasp its tail, which is fully within our reach. Instead, we will, like the drunk and the lamp-post, keep fumbling where the elephant isn’t (or, like the blind men and the elephant, fail to grasp what it is)!

Ganesh Loxodont