In support of open infrastructures: A statement from OPERAS in response to the ‘Open Research Library’, a new initiative from Knowledge Unlatched – OPERAS

On May 16, Knowledge Unlatched (KU) launched a new hosting platform for Open Access monographs, the Open Research Library (ORL). Notwithstanding its name, we do not consider the Open Research Library to qualify as an open infrastructure.

The statement from KU opens as follows:

“Free access to scientific content is often limited due to the fragile technical infrastructure around it: content is stored in a variety of versions at various locations and without any uniform search functionalities. The Open Access initiative Knowledge Unlatched has addressed this growing problem and is now launching the Open Research Library together with several international partners. Its goal is to unite all Open Access (OA) book content over the coming months. To this end the Open Research Library is working with publishers and libraries worldwide and is open to all providers and users of quality-assured research content.”

While we can agree with the observation that ‘free access to scientific content is often limited due to the fragile infrastructure around it’, we do not think this initiative is helpful in strengthening the Open Access infrastructure for monographs.

OPERAS, the European Research Infrastructure dedicated to open scholarly communication in the Social Sciences and Humanities, supports the Principles for Open Scholarly Infrastructures: infrastructures should be open, transparent, sustainable, and community-governed. OPERAS is dedicated to develop a distributed research infrastructure in close collaboration with the scholarly community, in accordance with these principles. OPERAS has demonstrated its support of these principles in various projects:

  • the HIRMEOS project, a collaborative project of five European book publishing platforms to develop a shared set of added value services, in order to make these available to the scholarly community and enable integration with the open science ecosystem;
  • the development of the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) as a central platform to improve transparency and quality assurance around Open Access monographs;
  • the upcoming, recently funded project TRIPLE, an innovative discovery service aimed at increasing the discovery, access, reuse and societal impact of Social Sciences and Humanities artefacts (data, publications and projects).

In our opinion, the ORL does not meet the criteria for open infrastructures. On the contrary, based on the statement from KU and the early release of the ORL, the approach of this platform closely resembles well-known internet strategies to quickly achieve a dominant position by aggregating all available content and offering a free service to the community, while aiming for a lock-in of users and stakeholders. The ORL is neither open nor transparent, in particular regarding its governance.

While we are not against commercial ventures or market competition, we strongly believe that vital infrastructures supporting Open Science should not fall in the hands of commercial operators. These infrastructures should be a collective responsibility of stakeholders in scholarly communication. We see SCOSS and the recent launch of the IOI initiative as positive signs that this collective responsibility can become a reality. With this in mind, we think that the ORL is not helpful, and could well be harmful, on the road to establishing a distributed, open and sustainable infrastructure for Open Access monographs.


This statement is the outcome of an open consultation with the OPERAS Core Group. 20 May 2019.

Ten Hot Topics around Scholarly Publishing

Abstract:  The changing world of scholarly communication and the emerging new wave of ‘Open Science’ or ‘Open Research’ has brought to light a number of controversial and hotly debated topics. Evidence-based rational debate is regularly drowned out by misinformed or exaggerated rhetoric, which does not benefit the evolving system of scholarly communication. This article aims to provide a baseline evidence framework for ten of the most contested topics, in order to help frame and move forward discussions, practices, and policies. We address issues around preprints and scooping, the practice of copyright transfer, the function of peer review, predatory publishers, and the legitimacy of ‘global’ databases. These arguments and data will be a powerful tool against misinformation across wider academic research, policy and practice, and will inform changes within the rapidly evolving scholarly publishing system.

Springer Nature are not a friend to Open Access – Green Tea and Velociraptors

“So, if we look at history, Springer Nature (SN) are the definition of bandwagon jumpers. Things like arXiv (1991), SciELO (1997) and PLOS (2000) were leaders on OA from around. SN acquired BMC (2008) and Frontiers (2013, via merger with Nature Publishing Group) to essentially neutralise them as a competitive threat. And also make it look like they cared about OA That does not mean they lead the way. This is like Microsoft saying they lead the way on Open Source because they purchased GitHub. It is propaganda.

In reality, Springer Nature have been dragged kicking and screaming into the OA space. They are part of a multi-billion dollar empire that has thrived based on a business model of preventing access to knowledge. OA was obviously a threat to that, so historically they fought hard against it until the could find a way to subvert it into a new revenue stream. Hence, their love of hybrid and high-APC OA. Even now, SN are launching new Nature-branded journals that are subscription only! That is not leadership. It is showing that they are using their brand strength to continue to pervert the scholarly communication process. Nature Communications costs $5000 (+VAT) for authors to publish their own work. No other industry operates this backwards. I refuse to believe that for an efficient, quality publishing system it costs more to publish a paper than it does to live in Bali for a year. (And I know how much this costs). It is daylight robbery, pure and simple, and the taxpayers and researchers are the ones who suffer. And again, statistically, if you look at the proportional figures, if SN are a “leader” in OA publishing, using the exact same numbers they are also still one of the largest barrier-based publishers out there.”

*Here, all of the statements that are made are demonstrably false based on how SN conduct their business in public (one example here).”

WHY ARE UNIVERSITIES OPEN ACCESS LAGGARDS?

“In all this, where are the big university research libraries and their core clientele, the professoriate? Absent from the vanguard and oft en fi ghting rearguard battles against open access, is the dispiriting answer. As a caste, the professoriate has ignored and at times resisted their universities’ attempts to make them deposit at least prepublication versions of works in open access repositories. Even though the average academic monograph now sells but sixty copies, and even though professors happily collect that part of their salaries intended to cover the research eff ort, they insist on being counted among the independent creators, entitled to publish their works as they please and collect royalties as best they can.26 The worst off enders are those who are vested in copyright as authors of textbooks which they hope will sell widely and make them wealthy. Scholarly societies in the humanities oft en live off the subscriptions to their journals. These were usually sold at reasonable prices, but many have now thrown in their lot with the big presses, becoming bundled as part of packages that are off ered to university libraries in take-it-or-leave-it deals….

Digitality has fundamentally undermined copyright. We are mostly salaried content producers now who do not need its protections. Dissemination has become signifi cantly costless, removing the other main argument for copyright. The university world is that part of content production which least needs or deserves traditional copyright. It is that part which should be most interested in universal access and the extraordinary promise it holds out for the world outside the academic bubble. But despite that, it is barely a follower and often a hindrance. For shame!”

Should I publish in an open access journal? | The BMJ

An “author pays” publishing model is the only fair way to make biomedical research findings accessible to all, say Matthew Kurien and David S Sanders, but James J Ashton and R Mark Beattie worry that it can lead to bias in the evidence base towards commercially driven results….”

Researcher to Reader (R2R) Debate: Is Sci-Hub Good or Bad for Scholarly Communication? – The Scholarly Kitchen

One plenary session of the 2019 Researcher to Reader (R2R) Conference was a debate on the proposition “Resolved: Sci-Hub is doing more good than harm to scholarly communication.” Arguing in favor of the resolution was Daniel Himmelstein, a postdoctoral fellow in genomics at the University of Pennsylvania. Arguing against it was Justin Spence, partner and co-founder of PSI Ltd., and the IP Registry. 

At the beginning of the program, the audience was polled as to its agreement with the resolution. Of the 100 attendees who voted, 60 were opposed and 40 were in favor. Each debater then opened with a ten-minute statement, following which each offered a three-minute response. There was then a period of discussion with the audience, and then the poll was repeated. The second poll found that 55 were opposed to the resolution and 45 in favor. Though the overall verdict was anti-Sci-Hub, the shift in five votes meant that Daniel was accordingly declared the winner of the debate….”

Plan S and the Global South – What do countries in the Global South stand to gain from signing up to Europe’s open access strategy? | Impact of Social Sciences

“Plan S raises challenging questions for the Global South. Even if Plan S fails to achieve its objectives the growing determination in Europe to trigger a “global flip” to open access suggests developing countries will have to develop an alternative strategy. In this post Richard Poynder asks: what might that strategy be?…”

Open access, at what costs? | SpringerLink

“The publishing model that most politicians and funders now seem to embrace, is called ‘Open Access’. Access to the manuscript is free, but the researchers (yes, you) foot the bill; in which case, it could be argued that the cost of open access publication should be included in the research budget….

Danger! …

If an individual researcher pays then, maybe, the quality of a study or manuscript is no longer necessarily the concern of the publisher. So-called ‘predatory’ journals discovered this hole in the market, and accept whatever paper of whatever quality as long as it is being paid for. Alternatively, articles are now being deposited in open access repositories, without any peer review or formatting requirements….”

Time to plan for Plan S – Watson – 2019 – Nursing Open – Wiley Online Library

Heard of “Plan S”? You will. Plan S arose from the work of an international group called Coalition S. Their aim is to have all published research available open access immediately on publication. The coalition has some powerful membership organizations, mainly across Europe but in some other countries too. Coverage is not yet universal, and some key organizations have not signed up. However, the coalition has one powerful financial backer in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and, given the widespread—and sometimes misplaced—enthusiasm for open access, this is likely to gather momentum. On the face of it “Plan S” seems entirely laudable and altruistic, however, it raises a number of issues for both researchers and publishers….”

Data and Open Access Parasites: NEJM is at it again

In 2016, the New England Journal of Medicine published an editorial against data sharing in research, calling those who re-analyze published data, “parasites”. Yesterday, the journal published another editorial in a similar vein, but this time against open access. I don’t have time to rebut each pernicious editorial attacking open access, but this one is high profile and is currently gleefully being shared by opponents of open access (for example, here is a VP from Elsevier promoting it)….”