@ccess is launched!

Today we have launched @ccess – a new site, and more importantly a new community – to make scholarly information REALLY LIBRE available. I’ll stress to start with that this means all disciplines and all types of information and means of communication. Because I’m a scientist I’m concentrating on STEM but it covers everything. By LIBRE we ean free to use, re-use, and redistribute for any purpose. It’s covered by the Open Knowledge Definitions and the actual text of the Budapest Declaration on Open Access 10 years ago.

I’ve blogged about this before. Any information is better visible than not, but simply “being on the web” isn’t good enough for many (I’d say most) modern uses. There are 101 reasons why information must be fully LIBRE and why GRATIS is not good enough. There are 10 million paragraphs on chemical reactions I want to read each year and I must use machines to do this. GRATIS does not work for machines. They can’t work out rights or protect me from being sued. And that’s the reality. If I use a scientific paper beyond what I am allowed to do I’ll be sued and the University of Cambridge will be cut off.

The only way to ensure this is to make sure all the information we want is LIBRE. Free to use, re-use, redistribute for any purpose, commercial as well.

Note that the term “Open Access” is operationally meaningless. The term “fully Open Access” is even worse because it is seriously misused. Some publishers offer “fully open access” and give the reader no rights at all.

The problem is that only about 3-5 percent of current scholarly information is LIBRE. It’s actually very difficult to get a figure, because information isn’t generally labelled with its rights. Print a typical scholarly pub and the print will often tell you very little about the rights. It may not even give the actual copyright owner – so you don’t know whether you can copy it and who will sue you. Some “open access” publishers DO label the material – here’s BMC:

All articles are immediately and permanently available online. Unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium is permitted, provided the article is properly cited. See our open access charter.

But almost all hybrid papers – where you pay substantial money (perhaps 2000 USD) to make the paper “Open Access” – are neither labelled nor LIBRE. Ross Mounce has shown that only 5% of publishers offer LIBRE “open access” – the rest still impose restrictions or severe restrictions on use. And in my simple study of avian malaria in Pubchem only about 3 papers out of 70 were LIBRE at first glance.

So let’s say 5% of the current published scholarly output can be reused without thinking and without worrying. Because that’s the only guide. If you have to think, then it’s effectively not re-usable on a large scale. Machines can’t understand lawyers. And they can’t interpret information this isn’t given.

What can you do with 5%?

More than you might think at first glance. Much more.

Academics often have a narrow mindset that the only reason for publishing a paper is so some other academic can read your paper. That if we don’t have access to the precise paper we cannot do anything. Sometimes that’s true. But sometimes we just need representative material in that area. Let’s say I want to know the conditions for making an ester (a type of chemical) and there are 500,000 esterifications published a year. 5% of that is 25,000 different reports. My machines will certainly find all the mainstream types of reaction. If I want to know how to grow a common cell type, or prepare a specimen, or find the methods using for recognising motifs in genes or … I’ll certainly find enough examples. If I want to find images of mosquitoes, or a graph of the average rainfall in W Africa the LIBRE literature is almost certainly good enough. If I want to analyse the type of language and terms used in malaria articles the LIBRE literature is more than enough. If I want to find which countries the work is done in the LIBRE literature is all I need.

So we need to label and liberate LIBRE scholarship. And then persuade people to label their articles properly. And hopefully to persuade them of the immense value of LIBRE over GRATIS.

So the recent heroes of our effort have been

  • Tom Olijhoek and Bart Knols. Here’s Tom’s report in Malaria World http://www.malariaworld.org/blog/how-easy-can-you-find-information-you-need . Malaria is a really good place to start as the concept is well contained and we can find everything through UK/PubMedCentral. They have also helped to create the site http://access.okfn.org/ . That’s a really good place to start
  • Mike Taylor, sauropodologist (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sauropoda ). Mike has campaigned tirelessly and burnt midnight oil to create the site http://whoneedsaccess.org/ which runs in parallel with the @ccess site. He’s collecting interviews, including one from me, on why we need LIBRE @ccess.
  • Mark MacGillivray who continues to add fantastic design and power to http://bibsoup.net . Mark’s Bibserver uses faceted search in an incredibly powerful manner. The technical details are completely hidden from the user. The technology can interact with the Semantic Web / Linked Open data and is a great community builder

Anyone can be a member of this effort – you just need passion and energy and a need to provide LIBRE resources. And if you have a story about how and why you need LIBRE material and can’t get it , then highlight it on the mailing list or help populate the questions on the wiki.