Saturday, February 25, 2012

The clash of two cultures: Scientists, academics, scholars vs commercial publishing and Elsevier #RWA

I am not sure if this is the main root of the problem between scientists and some commercial journal publishers, but it seems to be a problem between the non-profit altruistic mindset vs the profit motive mindset.

For the most part, scientists and scholars want to publish articles to gain scholarly recognition, academic rewards such as promotion and tenure, and for the prestige of publishing in a high impact factor journal because they only accept 10-15% of papers, etc.  They are researching and writing for altruistic reasons such as advancing science, make the world a better place, helping others learn how the world works, etc.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, scientists started using many more commercial publishers because there was a lot more research being done and they needed outlets since society presses were not able to absorb the large increase of article submissions.  The commercial presses learned that libraries generally didn't cancel journal subscriptions because of institutional momentum, and an inelastic market for the articles existed.  (Academic libraries keep subscribing because the patrons keep on demanding access.  Patrons demand access even though they are not the ones paying for the content.)  So, publishers such as Elsevier learned that scholars publish and review articles and edit the journals for next to nothing because they want recognition, not money.  So, the publisher takes advantage of the situation, raises subscription rates because libraries want to please their patrons, so they don't cancel very often.

20-30-40 years ago, publishing information to hundreds or thousands of others was hard, printing and mailing was difficult, laying out articles was tough--particularly scientific content.

Then the Internet happened.

Scientists are smart and have figured out that global publishing is easier than commercial publishers let on.  They are starting to take advantage of new OA outlets such as PLoS and others.

But, the culture of scientific publication had been ingrained in scientists over hundreds of years, and it takes a while for some scientists to change their perspective.  They still want to get noticed, get scholarly rewards, get tenure, and get cited by others.  So, they have lists of journals that junior scholars are supposed to publish in.  However, some of the more forward thinking scientists understand that publishing in OA sources will increase their reach, increase their citations, and increase their standing in the academic community.  (The Wellcome Trust says “it is the intrinsic merit of the work, and not the title of the journal in which an author’s work is published, that should be considered...") They do not need to submit their articles to closed-access (toll-access) journals.  There is a reason that PLoS One is the largest journal in the world with a solid impact.

The profit motive of some scientific publishers has skewed their perspective.  They do not really care about maximizing the reach of scientific knowledge.  They want to hide the articles and the research, because they are used to an age of information scarcity, but we no longer live in that time.  They are trying their best to hold on, and it shows.  They may claim that they support universal access or something like that with a sustainable business model, but that is code for--"We want to keep on sucking more and more money from libraries and subscribers for as long as possible. We like our 36% and 42% profit margins, thank you very much. We will provide access to a small segment of the developing world because it makes us look good, and we don't get much of an increase to our server load--all we have to do is turn on some software switches to some IP addresses."

I know that there are other variables and opinions, but this seems to be the crux of the problem.  Most scientists don't care about making a profit off the research, and they want to be cited and read by as many people as possible.  The commercial publishers that used to be seen as supporting the scholarly communication interests of scholars have diverged too much.  They want to lock away research and knowledge.  The two groups are diverging, and the scientists no longer need to support the aims of the for-profit commercial publishers.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Yet another great review of Reinventing Discovery

The book, Reinventing Discovery, is amazing!  Go out and buy yourself a copy RIGHT NOW!  Really, it is that good.

Considering how much this book covers the issues and problems of the modern scholarly communication industry, I was surprised to see that the term libraries only shows up once in the index of the book.  Even then, libraries are only mentioned in the notes section of the book.  He notes that academic libraries and publishers are not institutions that will be developing the new tools for the construction of knowledge in the future.  He says that "the right place for such tools to originate is with scientists themselves." He also noted that "libraries and scientific publishers are not, for the most part, set up to work on such risky and radical innovations."  For the most part, I agree with the statement that many librarians and library systems are risk averse, but there are many librarians (and some publishers) who have great ideas, insights and will provide innovative solutions for the long term advancement of scientific communication.

I know that Michael received a lot of advice and communication from members of the library and open science community, so I am a little surprised that libraries were not mentioned more often in the book.

The best chapter for me was Chapter 9: The Open Science Imperative.  Much of the book and much of the chapter is available online at Google Books, so go read some of it there.

I wish Michael would have talked a little more about some of the cultural issues that are holding scientists back from doing more open science. There are some positive financial and social incentives to encourage more scientists to do open science, but academic department administrators and deans still tell junior faculty that they have to publish in the closed access Journal of X, the limited access Journal of Y and/or the Transactions of Z in order to get tenure.  The academic bean counters may find it easier to evaluate a researcher based on the supposed quality of journal title containers, than it is to evaluate the quality of specific articles within those journals.  Mike Taylor noted that:
Because of the stupid way researchers are usually evaluated (and this is another whole issue), the intrinsic quality of our work matters less than the brand name of the journal it’s published in. So we have strong selfish reasons for wanting to get our work into the “best” journals, even if it is at the cost of effective communication.
Happily, there are signs of movement in this direction: for example, The Wellcome Trust says “it is the intrinsic merit of the work, and not the title of the journal in which an author’s work is published, that should be considered in making funding decisions.” We need more funding and hiring bodies to make such declarations. Only then will researchers will be free of the need (real or apparent) to prop up parasitic publishers by sending their best work to big-name, barrier-based journals.
More change needs to take place within the hundreds of academic departments.  But, if the major funders such as the NIH and the Wellcome Trust (and many other funding organizations) can continue to provide money as the carrot for positive open science innovation, then we have a bright future ahead.  This is why I support the Federal Research Public Access Act. When this passes, this will encourage more scientists to do science in the open.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Encouraging more discussion about open science #rwa

I posed this question to people in an internal Elsevier forum. I wonder what kinds of responses I will get?
Concerning the recent Elsevier boycott from a number of scientists, a representative from Elsevier Science noted that they "need to do a better job of communicating" with their readers, subscribers, authors, librarians and other interested parties.
Michael Nielsen, author of Reinventing Discovery [Note, I will finish the book tonight], recently said that "we need positive actions as well, not just an agreement about what not to do! But what’s good about the boycott is that it has engaged lots of new people in serious discussion about better ways of doing and communicating science, and some of those people are taking action. That’s exactly what’s needed for open science to thrive." Open Science is coming. When Elsevier supports legislation like the RWA, that is not going to endear many researchers. My question is, what do you recommend Elsevier read to understand the cultural shift that is happening in open science?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

My #libday8 post

Here is my LibDay8 post.

My day started with a 9am once-a-month PIRLS meeting.  (PIRLS is short for the Professional Information and Reference Library Services Team).  Some of the stuff we went over was: Brainstorm programs to accompany the October 3, 2012 Presidential Debate; in the renovated building, what should we call the "Access Services Desk" [Not that]; look at new mockup of ILL webpages and GIST; Law catalog merger issues and fixes; Genre now listed in the catalog; Policy Council and other team reports.

The meeting broke at about 10:15am, and then I was able to attack my email.  I only had about 30 emails that had come in over the last 16 hours.  (I usually don't check my email at home, since I want to deal with work problems while I am actually at work.)
Some of the things that I dealt with were:
I still have 34 minutes left to my day here, so I will try to spend a little time working on my article concerning OA resources that are used in Africa, maybe clean up my desk a little.
We are going to have a major snow storm tomorrow, so I think I will take my laptop home with me in case tomorrow is a work-from-home day. I am supposed to come in for a monthly Penrose Library Faculty Meeting, but that might be cancelled.  We will see.

Another #RWA response from me. More to come, I am sure.

This is a comment I left at another blog.  Thought it was worth its own blog post.

Nobody is telling Elsevier that they have to accept manuscripts that had been done with NIH or other US Federal funding. They could just say, “Dude, take your article elsewhere.” It isn’t like they don’t know that the author final manuscript is going to the PMC 12 months later.

Let me be clear — the versions of articles that are deposited with PubMed Central are manuscripts that have not been peer-reviewed. Here is a list of journals that do/do not accept the publishers “work product.”
If anything, the actions and public letters from Elsevier, Wiley, AAA, etc. (See at will drive more scientist manuscripts to OA publishers. This way, the public will get to easily read the final published peer-reviewed version instead of only having free access to the author manuscript.

The scientists are catching on, the publishers are afraid of losing their cash cow.