Thursday, October 11, 2012

Clubs and cliques in STM publishing and the impact on Open Access (#openaccess)

I know that one the major reasons Open Access has had a hard time getting a foothold into the publishing world is because of the clubishness of science and scientists.  People often do not know about the social aspects of scientists and their work.  This is one of the reasons that associations, societies [like clubs] and conferences play such an important part of a scientist's career.

Everybody wants to feel that they belong by being a member of a variety of social groups [clubs].  Scientists are no different, and there are differences from one club to the next.  Some are more exclusive than others.  There are clubs of scientists who were educated at Ivy League schools [a pretty small club], and clubs of those who haven't been.  There are other kinds of clubs, such as the set of people who:
  • Work at an ivy league school
  • Are a tenured professor at an ivy league school
  • Got 1600 (or 2400) on the SAT
  • Published multiple times in Science/Nature/Cell/PRL/JACS
  • Were award winners in a society like the ACS or the American Physical Society
  • Received a grant of $1M plus from the NIH
  • Are members of the National Academy of Sciences
  • Carry a public library card 
  • Are short, slightly pudgy middle-aged balding men with two dogs
  • Make beer at home
Some of these clubs are more prestigious than others.  (Note, I am a member of two of the clubs noted above.)  Scientists generally try to join the clubs that are the most exclusive.  In other words, they want to be members of groups that exclude the most number of other people, so that they look good in comparison.  (Side note: Some science fields don't like whistleblowers, too.  They may not be seen as playing well with others within those clubs.)

So, what does this all have to do with Open Access?

Scientists like the clubs that are prestigious and are exclusive.  Some scientists like the fact that only relevant subscribers can read their articles in toll-access journals.   If you work for a rich institution that can afford a subscription to a journal like Tetrahedron Letters ($16,773 list price for an annual subscription, or if you or your institution can afford to buy articles as needed), then you must be at a place deemed good enough to read it.  These scientists may not even post green OA versions of their articles, even though the publisher allows it.

Administrators may use value judgments to say that if you published in a 4 star journal, then your work must be good because it is difficult to get articles accepted by that journal.  Hence, you may look good simply because you are a member of that particular club.  If you have great articles that are not published in four star journals, you may have a much harder time getting your work noticed by the administrators.  However, it has been shown that simply having an article in a prestigious journal (with a high impact factor) does not mean that any specific accepted article is any good. 

Some Open Access publishing sources are trying to break down this exclusivity mindset and thought process.  Journals like PLOS ONE have a different standard of acceptance. Even with the different standard, the journal still rejects about 30% of incoming papers.  Some scientists see this as a lower standard, and hence they may think that all of the articles in PLOS ONE must be of low quality.  Of course, that is not true. (Note: if you care, PLOS ONE has an impact factor of about 4.0 which is pretty good overall.)

Scientists are trying to figure out different ways to measure quality research, but the impact factor will probably used as a proxy for article quality for many years to come, partially because people may not know about alternative metrics.

PLOS ONE is just one example.  Most Open Access journals are trying to break the mold and change the mindset of some scientists and publishers who still want to limit access to scientific research to the exclusive members of certain clubs and groups.  Will you help me change the system?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Open Access books X 2: Crawford & Suber #openaccess

I finished these two Open Access books (One by Peter Suber, and the other by Walt Crawford) a while ago, but I haven't been able to blog about them until now.  I was thinking of comparing and contrasting the two books, but I think it will be easier to just pull out my favorite parts from each book separately.  

Here are the overviews.
Walt Crawford. Open Access: What You Need to Know Now, Chicago: American Library Association. 2011. (Some of the book is also on Google Books.)
This is a pretty quick read.  I usually take forever to read books, and I read this is just two days.  I am sure a fast reader could whip through this in an afternoon.

Walt begins with a section on Who Cares?  He clearly explains why librarians of all stripes and flavors should care about understanding the basic underpinnings of OA.

Here are some quotes and insights that struck me.

Les Carr, repository manager at the University of Southampton, noted that "Repositories are hard work because changing researchers' working practices is hard work and I guess there's no single magic solution that's going to make that efford disappear." (Page 32-33.)  In other words, it takes more work than just setting up a computer with some software on the Internet somewhere.  It takes work to get scholars to change their workflows and practices.

In the section on Why Change?  Walt said that in order to get scholars to change their practices, "They need to prefer OA journals for new papers when that makes sense.  They need to deposit existing papers and assure that they have (and use) the rights to deposit new papers when OA journals don't make sense.  Librarians need to have scholars change, but scholars need reasons to change.  That's an ongoing issue for librarians and libraries, one where you can't do it yourself but need to take part in moving things forward."  (Page 37) Yes, we need some good carrots to lead scholars to change their behavior.

Chapter 4 addressed controversies.  Walt noted in the section concerning "Researchers already have all the access they need" that Alan Adler claimed "there is no crisis in the world of scholarly publishing, or in the dissemination of scientific materials." (Page 49.)  Of course this is wrong.  Even the largest institutions in first world countries (Harvard, for example) do not provide access to all of the materials that are needed by their students and faculty.   Walt also did a good job addressing responses such as "The public can always get access to articles from the public libraries" and that "Scholarly articles are intended for other scholars and world just confuse laymen." (Page 50.)  Many other misunderstandings are addressed.

On pages 60-61, Walt lists some open questions that could be answered with research into scholarly communication practices.  Some of them are:
  • How much publishing is there in a particular discipline?  What are the ways to estimate the number of articles or pages publishing in that discipline?
  • What percentage of that corpus is available as OA, either green or gold?
  • What percentage of papers are CC-By, CC-By-NC or other?
  • What are the business models of various journals or publishers who do not have author-side fees?
  • How are researchers responding to funder and university policies?  Do these policies change where they submit their work?
In a way, I see Walt's book as the practical book of Open Access for librarians.  The next book covers more of the philosophical underpinnings.

Peter Suber. Open Access. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 2012. (The book will be Open Access as of June 2013, and a bunch of the book is available at Google Books.)
If you want see or hear more from the author, here are some good audio and video clips of Peter talking about the book.  Here are some good sections of the book.

Peter noted that scholars "don't do it [publish articles] to earn profits from the results.  They are all nonprofit.  They certainly don't do it to make scholarly writings into gifts to enrich publishers, especially when conventional publishers erect access barriers at the expense of research." (Page 14.)  Yes, scholars should not be working to provides profits to the commercial publishers.

On page 18, it was noted that Tim O'Reilly said that "OA doesn't threaten publishing; it only threatens existing publishers who do not adapt."

"OA isn't an attempt to punish or undermine conventional publishers.  OA is an attempt to advance the interests of research, researchers, and research institutions." (Page 24.) My comment to this would be that if conventional commercial publishers are undermined, I would not be heartbroken.

On page 25, Peter noted that the "publishing lobby sometimes argues that the primary beneficiaries of OA are lay readers, perhaps to avoid acknowledging how many professional researchers lack access, or perhaps to set up the patronizing counter-argument that lay people don’t care to read research literature and wouldn’t understand it if they tried."

A study from the UK-based Research Information Network reported that "60 percent [of researchers] said that access limitations hindered their research, and 18 percent said the hindrance was significant." (Page 30.)

"Conventional publishers regard easy online sharing as a problem while researchers and libraries regard it as a solution.  The internet is widening the gap between the interests of conventional publishers and the interests of researchers and research institutions." (Page 35.)

"OA is a kind of access, not a kind of editorial policy.  It's not intrinsically tied to any particular business model or method of digital preservation." (Page 103.)  Many scholars know about some of the larger OA journals that have author-side page charges, but they don't know that roughly 70% of all OA journals do not have author-side fees.

"As the late Jim Gray used to say, 'May all your problems be technical.'" (Page 112.)  Yes, the technical problems of publishing open access journals and articles have been solved, but we still have the social problems of getting more and more scholars to understand and support the OA ecosystem.

Also on page 112, Peter noted that OA could include "the whole shebang" of knowledge claims, proposals, hypotheses, conjectures, arguments, analysis, evidence, data, algorithms, methods evaluations, interpretations, discussion, criticism, dissent, summaries and reviews, and more.

On page 115-116, he covered who needs OA?  "It's easy to agree that not everyone needs it.  But in the case of OA, there's no easy way to identify those who do and those who don't. In addition, there's no easy way, and no reason, to deliver it only to those who need it, and deny it to everyone else."  He continued with "OA allows us to provide access to everyone who cares to have access, without patronizing guesswork about who really wants it, who really deserves it, and who would really benefit from it."  The rest of pages 116-117 continues to counter the argument about lay readers not needing access to research.

A Harris poll showed that "an overwhelming majority of Americans wanted OA for publicly funded research.  83 percent wanted it for their doctors and 82 percent wanted it for everyone." (Page 118.)

And finally--"Even if we acknowledge the need for cultural change in the transition to OA--far more critical than technological change--it's easy to underestimate the cultural barriers and the time required to work through them.  OA may be compatible with copyright, peer review, profit, print, prestige, and preservation.  But that doesn't quiet resistance when those facts about it are precisely the ones hidden by confident false assumptions." (Page 167.)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

On the need for social change in the #openaccess and scholarly communication system

I have written a little bit in the past about how the culture of information sharing and dissemination is different from one discipline or field of research to the next.

Barbara Fister recently wrote in Inside Higher Ed about how we need more than just technological change to create greater access [Open Access] to scholarship, we need to create a culture where scholars are encouraged to share their research using Open Access methods. This is true for those in the sciences, the social sciences and in the humanities. She noted:
Much harder is changing the cultural practices that surround publishing, the ones that assign value to certain prestigious journals and university presses, and then assign value to scholars by proxy, relying on publishers to curate our faculties (a task university presses didn’t sign on for, I should add).
Of course, researchers and faculty are concerned with the perceived prestige of the sources they publish in.  Harvard is trying to convince the faculty that they should move the prestige to Open Access. But, that tactic may not work at all institutions and fields.  Some fields like chemistry have strong ties to industry, and there is some reluctance for many chemists to share their knowledge widely (for financial reasons, patent reasons, etc.).  [See page 20 of this PDF report.]  Some in the humanities may have concerns with others sharing (tweeting, blogging, etc.) their work that the author thinks is inappropriate.  However, most scientists would be happy to know that their work is being discussed in non-traditional scholarly channels.

The policies of tenure and promotion committees vary from institution to institution, and from department to department.  If we are going to truly promote greater access to research and the literature (and data and everything else), we (OA advocates) need to provide greater incentives for the researchers with different tenure and promotion policies.  This starts with the premise that Open Access is the default mode of scholarship (PDF), and that if they want to hide their research in a closed toll-access journal (or a journal that does not allow for green OA versions, or in a low-circulation book), then they will need to jump through hoops to submit articles/chapters to such journals and books.

This opinion piece in Aljazeera also noted the culture of some academics to hide their research from the rest of the world, because some researchers want to only share their research with a small set of other researchers through toll-access journals or books--to only those with the correct keys to that set of knowledge. Sarah Kendzior wrote:
Academic publishing is structured on exclusivity. Originally, this exclusivity had to do with competition within journals. Acceptance rates at top journals are low, in some disciplines under 5 per cent, and publishing in prestigious venues was once an indication of one’s value as a scholar.
Today, it all but ensures that your writing will go unread. "The more difficult it is to get an article into a journal, the higher the perceived value of having done so," notes Katheen Fitzpatrick, the Director of Scholarly Communication at the Modern Language Association. "But this sense of prestige too easily shades over into a sense that the more exclusively a publication is distributed, the higher its value."
When we convince tenure and promotion committees of the value of sharing research through Open Access channels, and that OA has more benefit to the institution (and the department and the individual) than hiding the research in supposedly prestigious toll-access sources, then the value of OA will go up as more and more t&p committees and funders demand it.