Young Researcher Cleared by Colombian Court for Sharing an Academic Paper Online

Unprecedented Case Points to Need to Make Open the Default for Communicating Research

For Immediate Release
Contact: Ranit Schmelzer, 202.538.1065, media@sparcopen.org 

 
Washington, DC (May 24, 2017) – In 2014, Diego Gomez, then a biology master’s student at the University of Quindio in Colombia, learned he was under investigation for posting an academic paper to Scribd, a service that hosts millions of documents on its online platform. The author of the paper started criminal proceedings against Gomez under Colombia’s strict copyright laws for the “violation of [his] economic and related rights.” He faced up to eight years in prison and significant monetary fines.
 
Today, after more than three years of hearings and delay, a Colombian court acquitted Gomez of all charges. However, those leading Diego’s defense expect that today’s ruling will be appealed to the Tribunal de Bogota.
 
“Today’s innocent verdict comes as a relief to thousands of Open Access supporters who have been following Diego Gomez’s case for over three years,” said Nick Shockey, Director, The Right to Research Coalition. “But it in no way diminishes the need to make open the default for communicating research. The closed system of academic publishing continues to put researchers in a perilous position by forcing them to use workarounds to read paywalled research. Diego is the only known student to face criminal charges for posting an academic paper online, which he did to share the work with those in his field who may have also been interested in its findings. His case echoes that of Aaron Swartz, and should serve as a clarion call for the support of Open Access, which must become the global default in academic publishing.”
 
Open Access is the free, immediate, online availability of research articles combined with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment. Open Access is the needed modern update for the communication of research that fully utilizes the Internet for what it was originally built to do—accelerate research.
 
Even the best ideas remain just that until they are shared and can be utilized by others. The more people that can access and build upon the latest research, the more valuable that research becomes and the more likely we are to benefit as a society.
 
Even with today’s action, the drawn-out situation for Gomez is not over. With the expected appeal, Diego will have to return to his research fieldwork facing the possibility of imprisonment for sharing an academic research article online. Diego’s defense team plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign to support the cost of defending the appeal. Those who wish to help Diego can sign the following petition and will be notified when the crowdfunding campaign launches: http://www.sharingisnotacrime.org
 
Learn more about Diego Gomez’s case here and about open access here.
 
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The Right to Research Coalition is an international alliance of graduate and undergraduate student organizations, which collectively represent millions of students in over 100 countries around the world, that advocate for and educate students about open research practices.  The Right to Research Coalition is a project of SPARC.
 

The State of Open Access: An Interview with Peter Suber of Harvard University

The State of Open Access: An Interview with Peter Suber of Harvard University

This is an edited transcript of a webcast featuring Dr. Peter Suber, Director of the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication and Senior Researcher at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. The webcast occurred live on October 18, 2016, and would not have been possible without generous sponsorship from the Public Library of Science.

SPARC and the Right to Research Coalition are grateful to Dr. Suber for his time, energy, and expertise.

Interviewer: Joe McArthur (Right to Research Coalition). Transcriber and Editor: Scott St. Louis (Grand Valley State University)


 

Next February, the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) will turn fifteen. What do you see as the greatest obstacles to Open Access that the movement has overcome, and the greatest obstacles that it has yet to overcome?

Thanks, Joe; I’ll be happy to dive into that. First, let me just say how happy I am to be here, with one qualification: I wish I were not doing it remotely! I wish I were live in front of the audiences that are tuning in. OpenCon is the biggest of the conferences I’ve never been able to attend in person, so I wish I could be there.

But you’re asking a good question: not just what are the obstacles today, but what are the obstacles we’ve overcome in the past fifteen years? You have to remember that in 2002, when we issued the first statement from the BOAI, Open Access was at least a fringe movement. It was not mainstream, and so one of the first obstacles we overcame – gradually, not quickly – was to make it mainstream. Open Access is clearly now mainstream. Roughly thirty percent of peer-reviewed journals are Open Access. Roughly half of all new research articles become Open Access one way or another within the first two years of their publication. Major universities and major funding agencies require it; major bills requiring Open Access have been introduced in the U.S. Congress and have been adopted in other countries. It’s moved from the periphery to the mainstream. That was big. If you want to go back to how it moved from the periphery to the mainstream, that’s interesting. We can get into that, but it helped that major institutions, and not just fringe activists, endorsed the idea.

At the time, the people brought into Budapest to draft the Initiative were all working on what we now call Open Access, but the question for us was, are we all working on the same thing? Are our efforts convergent? Could we all cooperate? Could we amplify each other’s efforts? Could we unify? Could we make some kind of movement out of this? At the time, the answer was unclear, which is why we had to raise the question. Now, I think the answer is clear. It [became] clear at the meeting: the answer is yes … By the way, Open Access didn’t have a name at that time! I was writing about it, but I called it free online scholarship. We agreed to call it Open Access, so we introduced the term. We introduced what I still think are the two primary strategies for Open Access, namely Green and Gold, or Open Access through repositories and Open Access through journals; those remain the primary channels for Open Access to journal articles, and we got the first significant funding for Open Access from the Open Society Institute, now called Open Society Foundations.

We overcame these obstacles in part because our ideas were good. It was an important moment in the middle of the period between the launch of BOAI and today when publishers hired a very aggressive lobbyist to counter our efforts in Congress, and he was notorious for his aggression, even for his deceptive tactics. But he had to tell his clients – which we know from leaked papers – that the problem of fighting against the Open Access movement is that our arguments are better than the publisher arguments! So, part of what enabled us to become mainstream was that we had good arguments, and even though we were just individuals who didn’t represent important institutions, the arguments persuaded important institutions. We didn’t need institutional buy-in if we got wide enough individual buy-in, but we got the institutional buy-in, which in turn helped persuade individuals … and all of that helped. We have good arguments because Open Access, in my humble opinion, is unambiguously good. I can’t think of a single downside to Open Access, even after all this time.

At the BOAI, those two strategies [Green and Gold Open Access] were really enshrined as the way forward … Was there a third in mind then, or others that didn’t make the cut, so to speak?

No, but the cynical way to read what we did is that there were people in the room who favored Green over Gold, and other people in the room who favored Gold over Green, and we ended up endorsing both because it was the best way to reach consensus.

I don’t take that cynical reading. I endorse both because I endorse both. I actually think they’re compatible and even synergistic, and I’ve been arguing that ever since, but not everybody in the room thought that. So, it was a big-tent kind of document that embraced what at the time were the different factions of a very, very small movement.

But since then, we’ve discovered other channels that could be used, and sometimes are used, for distributing Open Access research. Some of them are very familiar: blogs, wikis, listservs, peer-to-peer networks. They’re all valid channels; that is, what they contain could well be Open Access, and sometimes is Open Access by default. They may not be the best containers for Open Access research, and by the way, journals may not be, either. Repositories can host arbitrary file formats, and so they’re more adaptable. Journals are evolving – maybe we’re already in an era of post-journals – but we should acknowledge that there are far more than two channels.

It’s just that even today, after all this experimentation, most of the OA literature is in one or both of those two channels – repositories and journals – and most of the discussion is about those two. But every now and then there was a serious experiment with some additional channel. There was an attempt to share very large datasets through BitTorrent, because the files were too large to share any other way. There were experiments to post journal articles to wikis, so the version published by the journal froze at the moment of peer review approval – you could call it a quality ratchet – but another version went to a wiki, where the public could revise it, enhance it; and no matter what they did to it – whether they improved it or degraded it – the journal version remained unaltered. That was a nice experiment. It didn’t last; I don’t know of any journal that still does that, but I’d like to encourage more of that experimentation. I think one of the exciting, uncharted frontiers for Open Access is to think about new containers, or structures for containing research, other than the journal article, other than the dataset, other than the conference presentation, other than the dissertation. The digital world gives us the flexibility to try new formats, and even if we came up with one that was very good, we’d have the usual problems of inertia in getting people to adopt it, but we now have a chance to experiment that we didn’t have before.

I think you’ve started with a really excellent overview of what the past fifteen years have looked like, and the strategies that we’ve adopted, and some of the big wins we’ve had as a community, as a movement. Looking back, is there anything you wish had gone differently, or that the movement could have tried to do differently to be more effective?

We’ve made nothing but progress since then. The progress has not been fast as we wanted. It’s not been as fast as we hoped. In my opinion, it’s not been as fast as the opportunities allowed. There were chances to make faster progress that we just for some reason couldn’t seize, but I don’t think we took any seriously wrong turns.

The Open Access movement has grown large, and as it grows large, it contains more internal disagreement. Everybody acknowledges that, and by the way, it goes back to the beginning. The Budapest meeting, which was very small – about a dozen people – contained some of this disagreement already. But the fact that individual Open Access proponents, or even some cultures within the Open Access movement disagree with one another is not a failing; it’s not a mistake. It’s not something we could have avoided, even if we had wanted to avoid it. I think it’s the price to pay for scaling up, and including many people of many different kinds.

You have to remember that Open Access is proceeding at different rates in different disciplines, because the disciplines are themselves different in relevant ways. They have different funding mechanisms, different levels of levels of wealth, different sizes, different customs and practices for distributing research. So, even if we all agreed on the principles of Open Access, we would still have differences arising from our fields, from our disciplinary perspectives. So, I don’t see those internal differences as a mistake that we could have avoided. I think it might have helped if we had anticipated them more, but are there any mistakes? Can anybody allege a mistake that was made? It’s very hard to say, in part because there was no top-down leadership of the Open Access movement, so we can’t point to a history of decisionmaking by them. I include myself there. Obviously, I made my own decisions, but I didn’t speak for everybody.

I think we could have moved faster. I still think we can move faster, but when I think about the reasons why we’re not moving faster, they all seem to be deeply entrenched in institutional practices which are very, very hard to change. I think one thing we could have appreciated at the beginning was that that’s what we’re up against. It looked to most of us at the time as if Open Access were a matter of taking advantage of this cool new technology … and nothing more. We had the Internet. We had authors who were fortunately situated, so they didn’t have to be paid for their work. It looked like if you put the two together, suddenly you had Open Access, and it’s true that in a sense you did, but only when you have willing authors. How do you get willing authors? Authors follow the incentives that exist in their time and place, in their institutions, and those incentives are based on long practices that antedate the Internet. So, it’s cultural change; it’s institutional inertia, much more than technology and economics, that dictates the rate of progress. I don’t think we appreciated that at the time.

If we had known that the long-term prospect was to change the culture of academic publishing, then I think we would have been less surprised by the slow rate of growth. But in light of the fact that it is cultural change that we’re talking about – making deep changes to institutional practices – I think it’s actually gone faster than other kinds of deep institutional change. So, I’ve learned to live with our slow rate of progress, but I still see lots of allies and colleagues who mistake the slowly rising curve of progress for a flat curve – as if we were making no progress – and sometimes even for a regress. The progress has been steadily up. The slope of the curve is up. It always has been up, ever since we started. It’s just not up as steeply as we would all like.

So many questions have been submitted about research evaluation, it’s actually hard to know which specific one to pick! Do you have any reactions about the topic of research evaluation and how we should be focusing on it now?

Promotion and tenure committees are a major obstacle. They are a bottleneck. They are in a position to create good incentives or bad incentives; mostly, until now, they’ve created bad incentives. They are staffed by us! That is, they are staffed by academics, and these are academics who’ve published research. Some of them support Open Access. They see themselves – correctly, I think – as the gatekeepers of quality. They want to hire good people who have written good work, but if you look at the customs that guide their practices, how do they judge whether someone has written good work? They look at the impact factor of the journals in which they’ve published, which is a very bad metric for that, and it’s a scandal that PhDs don’t understand that. It only takes a few minutes to explain it, and when they get past that and say, “Okay, let’s not use impact factor. What other metrics can we use?” The short answer is, read the darn articles! If you’re experts in the field, if you’re evaluating people from your own field, read them! Now, your judgment about them will not necessarily be objective. It will be your judgment, and there will be other judgments by other members of the committee, and all of our disciplines contain internal disagreements, so even people who have read these articles carefully, firsthand, might disagree with each other, but that comes much closer to an actual evaluation of quality than to pretend that an impact metric is a quality metric. Again, that’s a fundamental mistake that smart people should not make.

In the very beginning; that is, when Open Access was brand new – in fact, when digital anything was brand new – promotion and tenure committees didn’t give credit for digital journals of any kind, whether they were Open Access or not. The idea seemed to be that real scholarship isn’t digital; real scholarship is ink on paper, which, of course, is silly! In this case, it’s easy to tell that it’s silly because we have overcome that. We don’t think that way anymore; it only took us a few years, but the idea that it took years instead of minutes is a scandal! It’s like saying that real scholarship is inscribed on sheepskin. It obviously has nothing to do with the quality of research. But it held us back, because smart people were being very conservative about the traditions of their institutions. That’s what I mean by a cultural barrier.

So, sometimes, good people – namely, ourselves – are on these committees enforcing old criteria. But sometimes, they are people who aren’t even clued into the controversies, or aren’t sensitive to the incentives and disincentives that they’re creating. One of the worst incentives which accompanies the impact factor, but isn’t the same thing, is to give career points to people who publish in venerable, old, well-established, high-prestige journals, and either no career points or negative career points for publishing in anything else. Again, taking the prestige of the journal as the metric for quality of articles is a simple mistake; it has nothing to do with the quality of the articles. It’s a way of outsourcing judgments of quality to publishers, which is a mistake. Academics serving on these committees ought to be the judges of quality themselves.

Impact factors, or getting your work accepted into a high-prestige journal, is a kind of endorsement from an important source. But that’s all it is, and it might be that the article that you’re looking at from a candidate might be the worst one in the journal that year, dragging the average down; it might be the best one in the journal that year, dragging the average up. You won’t know unless you read it and apply your own expert standards to the piece. So, I think promotion and tenure committees have to stop using publisher prestige as a surrogate for author quality.

The Public Library of Science was pioneering in looking at article-level metrics as opposed to journal-level metrics; that’s good. At the beginning, most article-level metrics were citation-based (or, they were impact-based). That’s understandable, because we don’t have quality metrics! But we can get closer and closer to quality metrics – and further and further from crude, oversimplifying citation metrics – as we add altmetrics, as we add other measurements to the mix. So, I support the altmetrics movement, but so far I don’t see any of them coming very close to judgments of quality … and to evaluate somebody for hiring, promotion, or tenure, we really have to judge quality, not just impact.

Now, after they have read them, and have some estimate of the quality of the article, and some estimate of the quality of the person, they can supplement that with citation metrics. I had a colleague who came up for tenure in the early days of the Open Access movement, when Google was new, and he was trying to give his committee some idea of the influence of his work, so he gave the Google rank of some of his papers. Committees didn’t ask for that then; they still don’t ask for that … He wasn’t pretending that it replaced anybody’s evaluation of his quality, but it was supplementary. So, as long as committees are trying to look at quality, let them also look at all kinds of supplementary impact measurements.

One thing I didn’t add before is that one disincentive created by these committees – especially when they ask for their authors to publish in high-prestige, venerable journals – is that they are steering them away from Open Access journals, regardless of the quality of the Open Access journal. The reason is that, on average, Open Access journals are much younger than non-Open Access journals, and the younger they are, the less time they’ve had to develop prestige in proportion to their quality. So, they could be born excellent, but they take time to acquire a reputation for excellence … [When you ignore evaluations of] quality and jump to prestige, you automatically favor the older journals, regardless of their access policies. That’s a disincentive to publish in Open Access journals. It still exists, and many young scholars feel that they cannot publish in (at least most) Open Access journals, because they don’t meet the standards set by their promotion and tenure committees. That’s not a problem with the journals; it’s a problem with the committees.

For people who are trying to change the tenure and promotion system, do you have any strong feelings about how that could be done, about what the strategies are to do that? It seems like a hard problem to solve, but one that has really come into its time.

It’s a very hard problem. I’ve tried to do it at more than one institution. One reason it’s hard is that promotion and tenure committees tend not to be governed from the top, because the members would resent that; faculty would resent that. The committees make their own decisions, and then those decisions might be advisory to somebody above them, like a president – and that’s when the presidential criteria come into play – but the committee gets to use its own criteria, so they don’t want anybody to tell them what their criteria should be. There’s also a pull-up-the-ladder sense, that “I got my job because I complied with the old standards, and I’m not going to let anybody in who doesn’t comply with the same standards I did.” But at most schools, including the school where I am now, every promotion and tenure committee runs itself. For example, I’m at Harvard, and every department has its own promotion and tenure committee, and they all do it their own way. There’s no uniform set of guidelines for promotion and tenure committees, so even if you could persuade one to change, it’s not the same as persuading them all to change. This might be different at some institutions that are more uniform across their departments and schools – Harvard is notoriously disunified that way – but you can’t change them from the top down, and if you can’t do that, you have to persuade them one at a time, and their membership keeps turning over.

So, practically the only recommendation I have is that if you’re a faculty member, and you’re asked to serve on the committee, or you ever have a chance to volunteer to serve on a committee, take it! Say yes, and be one of those people who can help change it from the inside.

Institutional repositories have always struggled to get researcher buy-in, and now many subject repositories, or preprint repositories, are popping up. What do you think is the future of institutional repositories, and how can we take our experience with institutional repositories into the realm of preprints as we make big pushes for those?

I’m a strong proponent of institutional repositories, and unlike some of my allies, I also support disciplinary repositories … I support them both … They both support Green Open Access, and I support Green Open Access. I don’t support it to the exclusion of Gold, but I support Green as well, and I support any platform, and any policy, and any practice that gives us more Green that we used to have.

Institutional repositories are growing. There are four thousand Open Access repositories around the world, according to the Registry of Open Access Repositories. I don’t know how many of them belong to universities as opposed to other kinds of institutions. It’s a large number. I wouldn’t be surprised if a large fraction of them were experiments that died off and are not active, but the active ones are providing a very good service. At every school that has one, at every school that has an ongoing effort to fill it, they’ll find that some faculty would rather deposit in a disciplinary repository, especially the popular ones, like the physics arXiv at Cornell, PubMed Central, and SSRN. I see no problem with that. Again, the work is being made Open Access. If the institution has its own reasons to want a copy in the institutional repository, they can try to get one. They can either get it from the author, or they can harvest it back from the [disciplinary] repository.

One way that we could make further progress is if all Open Access repositories were better than they are today at permitting this sort of mutual harvesting. Believe it or not, they don’t all cooperate with this. Some do, some don’t. But there are reasons why institutions might want their own copy. All those reasons, in my view, are less weighty than the reason to make the work open in the first place. So, if a work is open through the arXiv, and not through the Harvard repository, and it happens to be by a Harvard author, I feel that the pressure is off; at least it’s Open Access. If we can also get a copy for the Harvard repository, good for us. We can do good things with it, including preserve it in the Harvard Library, which is something the arXiv cannot do. But I’d rather have the work be open through the arXiv than not be open at all.

The question seemed to assume that disciplinary repositories grew up after institutional repositories, but they didn’t. The earliest Open Access repositories were disciplinary, not institutional. I’m thinking primarily of the arXiv, which was originally at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. That was launched in 1991, which is ancient in Internet time! There’s also the Department of Education’s Open Access repository for educational work. Both of these were pre-Web. Institutional repositories came later. They are proliferating in numbers, and so are the disciplinary repositories, but if we have to say which came first, I think we’d have to say it was the disciplinary repositories.

It seems like there’s been an increase in the number of preprint repositories, especially in the fallout from SSRN being acquired by Elsevier and things like that. Do you have any opinions on that trend?

I apologize for leaving that out of my previous answer, because it was part of the question. First, institutional repositories – at least, like ours here [at Harvard] – accept preprints. So, it’s not as if you have to go somewhere else to provide Open Access to your preprint. There may be institutional repositories that don’t. We focus on post-prints, like most of them, but we accept preprints. I hope that’s a common practice, and if it is a practice at your institution, I hope the institution tells people about it. We tell our faculty about it.

On the other hand, if you’re in a field like physics, mathematics, or computer science, and you want to share your preprint, I understand perfectly why you’d rather do that through the arXiv than through the Harvard repository. The eyeballs for that content go to the arXiv; they don’t come here. By the way, to find stuff in the Harvard repository, you don’t have to come to Harvard and run a local search. You can run a search on practically any search engine, including Google and Google Scholar, and that’s true with every well-configured repository. But many repositories do receive visitors who run local searches, and the biggest ones – like the arXiv, SSRN, and PubMed Central – do that. I can understand why you’d want to put your work there, where people go to look for it. No problem with that.

I completely support Open Access to preprints, just as I support Open Access to post-prints. There’s a lot of value in it. One interesting question for cultural historians one day will be, why did preprint Open Access take off faster in physics, mathematics, and computer science than it did in other fields? Not just other natural science fields, like chemistry, but also fields in the humanities? The benefits they bring to the researchers are roughly the same in every field, so it’s a nice question.

But one of the benefits is the early timestamp on your work – and this might apply more in the natural sciences than in the humanities – but if you put something in the arXiv, which you can do just a few minutes after you’re ready to do it, you get a public timestamp that minute … [acknowledging] that you made this discovery, or you came up with these findings, perhaps earlier than someone else working on the same problem. For the sake of your career – hiring, promotion, and tenure – that timestamp is more important than the name of the journal in which you eventually publish.

So, preprint archives give the earliest possible timestamp. That’s valuable. They also give the author feedback on their work before they submit a version to a journal for formal publication. That can be valuable. So, you’ve got a draft of an idea, or you’ve got findings from an experiment: you write them up in some preliminary version, post them for comment, that allows you to submit a better version for publication, and that value, that benefit, should apply to the humanities as well as the sciences.

When talking to researchers, they often will only be aware of making their work Open Access by way of paying article processing charges (APCs), and generally consider Open Access to be too expensive for them, unless they work at a very well-resourced institution. Do you have any insights or thoughts on why that route gets so much more attention from researchers than self-archiving and preprints?

It’s not only getting more attention than Green Open Access; it’s getting more attention than no-fee Gold Open Access. Fee-based Gold – the APC-based Gold – is one business model for publishing an Open Access journal. It’s a valid business model. I support it. I administer a fund here at Harvard to pay the fees of journals like that. I don’t think it’s a failure of openness, as some people say. On the other hand, it’s a minority model. Most people think it’s the only way to support an Open Access journal, the only way to get a revenue stream to pay the bills. It’s not true! It’s not even true that it’s the dominant way.

Every estimate for the past ten years or so has shown that the fee-based model only covers about thirty percent of peer-reviewed Open Access journals. Every study shows that a vast majority – roughly seventy percent – charge no fees at all. Some people call these Platinum or Diamond Open Access. I don’t, just because I don’t want to get into terminology wars, and I want the term Gold Open Access to refer to journal-based Open Access, regardless of the journal’s business model. But apart from terminology, we just have to recognize the substance. Most Open Access journals – most peer-reviewed Open Access journals – don’t charge any fees at all.

So, it’s one thing to be deterred by fees, and say “I can’t afford that,” “My institution has no fund for that,” “My grant doesn’t let me pay for that,” or “I have no grant.” But it’s another thing to mistake fee-based Gold Open Access for all Gold Open Access. Again, that’s a failure of information. We can help illuminate that by informing people that the fee-based model is not only just one among many, but it’s the minority model.

Then there’s the fallacy that says Gold Open Access is the only kind, or all Open Access is Gold, and there isn’t even such a thing as Green. That’s also a lack of information. Call it unfamiliarity, call it ignorance. It’s our fault because we have to do better to inform people who are not closely following this movement that we follow very closely. But we do have to inform people that if you publish in a traditional (that is, non-open) journal, much more often than not, you have permission – standing permission from the contract – to put a version of the article in an Open Access repository. Most people don’t know that. People who know it have been saying it, endlessly, for years and years. We’ve been doing our best to spread the word about it. The word has not gotten out very far. Going back to the obstacles that remain even fifteen years from Budapest, we still haven’t taught people that there is this Green alternative next to Gold. I think people who have not been following closely understand journal-based Open Access because they understand journals, or at least they understand them more or less. They don’t understand repository-based Open Access because that’s something new in the landscape. They didn’t exist before the Internet. It wasn’t a serious alternative, and the idea of publishing an article, and then doing something else with it to improve its access, was unknown.

So, we have an education job to do. It’s not as if these options don’t exist. It’s not as if people who don’t have money to pay the fees have no choices, and they just have to suffer. They do have choices. It’s just that the choices are not well known, and our job is to help publicize those options, make them known to everybody.

A lot of the questions that we received were about APCs and corporate publishing models. Are there less traditional corporate publishing models that we should be adopting or moving toward? How can libraries better fit into these new models for Open Access? How do these questions connect to your earlier remarks about containers for Open Access research?

There are several questions in there; let me disentangle them. You asked how libraries could involve themselves. When an Open Access resource comes along, whether we call it a journal or something else, it needs some funding. Its work is not altogether provided by volunteers, even if quite a bit of it is (and by the way, the labor behind a conventional subscription-based journal is also largely provided by volunteers). But it needs some revenue, so many of them turn to libraries, and they say, “You’ve been paying for conventional, peer-reviewed research through journal subscriptions. Why not pay for peer-reviewed research this other way? The advantage of paying for what we do is that the result is Open Access to everybody.”

That’s a pretty good pitch, and many libraries pay for it. I’m inside a library now, and I know that many libraries are not used to paying for this; that is, they know what it’s like to pay a subscription or to buy a book, but they don’t know what it’s like to buy a membership fee, or to provide start-up funding for some good idea. So, they don’t have standing policies for this. They may have the money, but they don’t have a decisionmaking procedure. This is something that we’ll get over. The world is changing; libraries are changing, too. Some libraries are ready to do this, and already do it on a large scale. Some don’t. But it’s a good alternative for journals that don’t have subscribers to give them revenue to try libraries.

By the way, one of the pioneers here … the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It’s not a journal; it’s an encyclopedia, but it was Open Access. It’s very large; it’s very successful; it’s very high in quality, but it had a funding problem, and after a while, it realized it needed a new source of funding, and it went to libraries and said, “Our encyclopedia is so good that if it were toll-access, you would have paid for it. You would have bought a subscription because your people use it, and by the way, we know that because we track our traffic. So, instead of changing to a subscription model, what if we just said to you that we can keep this Open Access if you paid us the equivalent of three years’ worth of subscriptions, and then after those three years – or even before, if you make this commitment – the work can be Open Access?” Enough libraries saw the deal there, saw the bargain, that they committed. What those libraries committed was matched by the National Endowment for the Humanities in this country, and the result was an endowment for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. So, libraries are willing to chip in to support an Open Access resource – even to chip in to the endowment to support one in perpetuity – because it saves them money on the other end, that they don’t have to pay out through subscription. I hope our libraries have become more flexible in their willingness to consider models like that.

The libraries that are willing to do this are willing to give money to Open Access resources that they could have given to subscription journals, or to non-Open Access books. In other words, all library budgets are tight – that’s notoriously true – but a growing number of libraries are willing to [offer] money from their collections budgets to invest in what they see as a superior alternative. I think we can take this as a vote of confidence in the superiority of this alternative, because the money is very tight. It’d be very easy for these libraries to say “No, simply because we’re strapped.” If they said they were completely strapped, everybody would know that’s true; it’s not an excuse. But despite being strapped, they’re finding the money – sometimes within severe limits – to pay for these alternatives, because they want to pay for that better future.

Do you have any advice for younger librarians in talking to senior faculty and staff in their institutions who think they know a lot about Open Access, but may have adopted a few of the widespread fallacies we discussed earlier? 

That’s a good one. It’s been true since the beginning – I think it’s still true – that as a class, librarians know more about Open Access than faculty. I’m not saying that’s a shame. It’s good that librarians know so much, but it’s a shame that faculty don’t. They’re the authors and the readers, for the most part, of this research. They ought to know at least as much as any other category, but they don’t. Sometimes, I try to be charitable in understanding why they don’t. When I’m trying to be charitable, I think it’s because they’re good at what they do. That is, they’re good at keeping their head down and focusing on whatever their research topic is and excluding everything else. That is what they do, in general, and it does make them good at what they do, which means that most of them still don’t know a lot about Open Access. They may think they do, partly because they might think it’s very simple, or that there’s just one or two options open to them, when in fact there are many. So, they have to be enlightened, gradually and delicately.

One fallacy that most publishing scholars have is that by publishing in a journal – especially an eminent journal that’s widely subscribed – they reach all the readers who care to read their work. That’s not true. One of the things I really enjoy doing here is showing faculty authors the traffic numbers on the articles in our repository. They’re always astonished. That is, they’re astonished because they didn’t expect it. They thought there would be zero downloads, because the work has already been published in an important journal. Why would anybody go to the Harvard repository when they can go to the journal? Again, they’re a little oblivious to the fact that not everybody has access to the journal.

So, it helps if the young librarian can go to the senior faculty member with some data and say, “By the way, your article was downloaded four hundred times just last month, and by the way, it was downloaded from sixty different countries!” Now, you only have those data when the article is already on deposit in the repository – so, there’s kind of a chicken-and-egg problem here – but when you can get something in the repository, then you can get a foothold in making this argument with faculty.

When you don’t have that foothold, you can try other things. You can say, “Do you know that we have a repository?” or “Congratulations on your latest publication. Can I help you put a copy of it in our repository?” Then, they might ask, “Why should we do that? What’s the point? It’s already been published. It’s already out there. Everybody who wants it can find it.” And that’s when you can gently say, “Yes, it’s out there – and, again, congratulations – but you can reach more people through the repository, people who don’t have access to the journal. Even if you think they’re few in number and unimportant, let me give it a try.” By the way, they’re not few in a number, and they’re not unimportant, but you don’t have to tell them that at the time. Just get the work into the repository, and let the results speak for themselves.

Many schools adopt Open Access policies by faculty vote because the librarians educated the faculty about the benefits of that. By the way, if your school doesn’t have a policy, and you want one, and you’re a librarian, try this. Eventually, you’ll want to pass the leadership onto faculty. Faculty should take the lead in proposing the policy, and getting it adopted, but librarians can take the step prior to that by educating faculty about the problem to be solved and about the elegance of the solution. You’d be surprised by how many schools have followed exactly that recipe. Librarians deserve a lot of credit for the policies that already exist at institutions.

What do you think the role of the next generation is in advancing Open Access to research, and openness in education generally? If there was one action that people could take this Open Access Week, what would you suggest it be?

I argued in my book, and I’ve argued elsewhere, that generational change is on the side of Open Access. We have everything to gain from it. People who were born and raised with the Internet – digital natives – expect to find everything they need online, and they expect to put all of their own valuable work online. Those two expectations will change the world. They will create an Open Access universe. They will make Open Access the default. They will push against any disincentives to do that, or any obstacles in the way of doing that.

A couple of years ago, it was ironic but true that senior faculty supported Open Access more than junior faculty. Again, it wasn’t because this generational change had no impact; it was because junior faculty felt constrained to avoid it, because they were looking for promotion and tenure. By the way, they still feel constrained to avoid it. Nevertheless, they support it, and when they’re surveyed, they say that they support it. They wish that they were not constrained.

Follow your thoughtful preferences. If you see the point of making your work open, then make it open. If you want to argue with your promotion and tenure committee, or with your department chair, or your dean, do that. If you want to persuade your colleagues to make their work open, do that. These constraints are themselves temporary. These constraints are customs. They don’t have to last forever, and they are made by people, like you, who will be in a position to change them once they have careers. So, one of my pieces of advice for junior faculty and early-career researchers is, first of all, if you have to publish in a non-Open Access journal to get tenure, then do it, because I want you to get tenure. I want you to be in a position to help change some of these customs from the inside. By the way, if you do publish in a subscription-based journal, you can still make a copy of your work Open Access through a repository, and you’d better do that!

You can tell I’m drifting into the second question. What can people do? Or, if I had to give a short list of what they should do, what would be on the list? The first thing is, make your own work Open Access, even if you don’t have time to be an advocate, a crusader. If you don’t have time to write extensively about Open Access itself, at least make your own work open. Again, you can do that through Open Access journals; you can do it through Open Access repositories. Do it one way or the other. Don’t feel that you’re being impure if you publish in a subscription journal and make your work Green Open Access. You’re still making it open. You’re only slowing things down if you don’t make it open at all.

One of the other things you can do is refuse to peer review for journals that are not Open Access. This subtracts your free or donated labor from journals that are working against our interests. Or, conversely – as a rhetorical question – why should you donate your labor to a journal that’s working against you and your colleagues? You can explain this politely. I have a boilerplate letter that I use when I’m asked to referee an article in a non-open journal. You’d be surprised how often you get a friendly response from the journal. The reason you get friendly responses is that the person receiving the letter is an editor, not a publisher. They didn’t set the business model for the journal. They’re a fellow scholar and academic like you, and sometimes they’re unaware that people feel this way, but sometimes they’re sympathetic, and they say “I too support Open Access, but I’m an editor at an important journal, so I’m keeping my job.” But even if you don’t get a friendly response, you can avoid donating your labor to journals and publishers that work against you. It’s kind of painless to withhold your labor. It actually helps you by giving you time that you can devote to other good causes, so do that. By the way, when you do it, if you have a letter that you send to the journal in cases like that, blog it! Spread the word that this is a possibility for other scholars.

Application process to attend OpenCon 2016 in Washington, DC now open!

This blog was originally posted on the OpenCon Website here

The application period for OpenCon 2016 on November 12-14 in Washington, DC is now open! The application is available at http://www.opencon2016.org/apply and includes the opportunity to apply for a travel scholarship. Applications will close on July 11th at 11:59pm U.S. Pacific Time.

OpenCon seeks to bring together effective, engaged students and early career academic professionals from around the world to advance Open Access, Open Education, and Open Data—regardless of their ability to pay for travel costs. In OpenCon’s first two years, most attendees received full or partial scholarships to attend the conference. For this reason, attendance at OpenCon is by application only.

The benefits of applying for OpenCon 2016 extend far beyond attending the Washington, DC meeting. It’s an opportunity to find new collaborators, get connected with scholarships to attend related conferences, and be recognized by the community for the work you do to promote openness in research and education! Applications are reviewed by alumni from the OpenCon community, and those applicants whom community members identify as doing key work to advance Open Access, Open Education, or Open Data will receive public recognition.

Students and early career academic professionals of all experience levels are encouraged to apply. We want to support those who have ideas for new projects and initiatives in addition to those who are already leading them. The most important criteria is an interest in advancing Open Access, Open Education, and Open Data and a commitment to taking action.

Speakers at the first two OpenCon conferences have included Jimmy Wales (Co-founder of Wikipedia), Amy Rosenbaum (Director of Legislative Affairs to the President of the United States), Mike Eisen and Pat Brown (Co-founders of PLOS), Julia Reda (Member of the European Parliament), and Phil Bourne (Associate Director for Data Science of the U.S. National Institutes of Health), and more than 15 students and early career academic professionals leading successful initiatives.

While attendance at the main conference in Washington, DC is by application only, everyone is invited to participate freely in the interactive webcast, OpenCon Live. OpenCon is also looking for partners to host local satellite events that combine some of the programming from the main conference with local presentations to advance the conversation around opening up research and education in your community. To express your interest in hosting a satellite event and get more information, visit http://www.opencon2016.org/satellite.

The meeting in Washington, DC serves as the centerpiece of a much larger network to foster initiatives and collaboration among the next generation across OpenCon’s issue areas. Become an active part of the community by joining our discussion list, tuning in for our monthly community calls and webcasts, or hosting an OpenCon satellite event in your community.

Apply now, and join the OpenCon community today!

What is Europe planning for Open Science?

On Monday, June 23rd the European Commissioner of Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas hosted a conference titled “Opening up to a new ERA of Innovation” in Brussels. The first day focused on Open Science; needless to say, we carefully listened to what the EU has on its mind.

Commissioner Moedas

 Commissioner Moedas Copyrights Michael Chia/European Commission CC BY-ND 2.2

To open the conference, Commissioner Moedas revealed his aims for the European Commission’s Agenda. The three major agendas are Open Science, Open Innovation and Open to the World.

The European Commission looks to support Open Science with the introduction of an “EU-Open-Science-Cloud” for researchers to store their data using a central infrastructure. The precise definition of such a cloud remained elusive during the discussions. It was made clear that it should be service-oriented, discipline-specific and respect patients’ rights. Surprisingly, the whole discussion about institutional repositories’ potential and how the Horizon 2020 program could incentivize their establishment was completely set aside. There were also many calls for the need for different metrics in science and about a lack of incentives to conduct Open Science.

Open Innovation is mostly about involving many actors in the innovation process and creating the right ecosystem. Bringing researchers, entrepreneurs, users, governments and civil society together leads “further and faster towards open innovation” Moedas said.  

 

A European Innovation Council has been suggested as a big plan for the Horizon 2020 midterm review, similar to the already existing European Research Council

“Open to the World”: The European commission plans to engage more in Science diplomacy partnerships. 

Author: Peter Grabitz, Joe McArthur

Bio: Peter is a medical student from Berlin tackling the last years of his degree. When he doesn’t spend his days in the hospital he tries to address issues revolving the current research system. Peter served as  project coordinator of the 25. European Students’ Conference in 2014 in Berlin featuring the topic “Rethinking Medical Research”.

 “This article reflects the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Right to Research Coalition or SPARC.”

OpenCon 2015 Applications are Open!

This was originally posted at: http://opencon2015.org/blog/opencon-2015-applications-are-open

Applications to attend OpenCon 2015 on November 14-16 in Brussels, Belgium are now open! The application is available on the OpenCon website at opencon2015.org/attend and includes the opportunity to apply for a travel scholarship to cover the cost of travel and accommodations. Applications will close on June 22nd at 11:59pm PDT.

OpenCon seeks to bring together the most capable, motivated students and early career academic professionals from around the world to advance Open Access, Open Education, and Open Data—regardless of their ability to cover travel costs.  In 2014, more than 80% of attendees received support.  Due to this, attendance at OpenCon is by application only.

Students and early career academic professionals of all experience levels are encouraged to apply.  We want to support those who have ideas for new projects and initiatives in addition to those who are already leading them.  The most important thing is an interest in advancing Open Access, Open Education, and Open Data and a commitment to taking action. We also hope to use applications to connect applicants with opportunities for collaboration, local events in your area, and scholarship opportunities to attend other relevant conferences.

OpenCon is equal parts conference and community.  The meeting in Brussels serves as the centerpiece of a much larger network to foster initiatives and collaboration among the next generation across OpenCon’s issue areas.  Become an active part of the community by joining our discussion list, tuning in for our monthly community calls and webcasts, or hosting an OpenCon satellite event in your community.

Apply now, and join the OpenCon community today!

About OpenCon:

Hosted by the Right to Research Coalition and SPARC, OpenCon 2015 will bring together students and early career academic professionals from across the world to learn about the issues, develop critical skills, and return home ready to catalyze action toward a more open system for sharing the world’s information — from scholarly and scientific research, to educational materials, to digital data.  OpenCon 2015 will be held on November 14-16 in Brussels, Belgium.

OpenCon 2015’s three day program will begin with two days of conference-style keynotes, panels, and interactive workshops, drawing both on the expertise of leaders in the Open Access, Open Education and Open Data movements and the experience of participants who have already led successful projects.

The third day will take advantage of the location in Brussels by providing a half-day of advocacy training followed by the opportunity for in-person meetings with relevant policy makers, ranging from the European Parliament, European Commission, embassies, and key NGOs. Participants will leave with a deeper understanding of the conference’s three issue areas, stronger skills in organizing local and national projects, and connections with policymakers and prominent leaders across the three issue areas.

OpenCon 2015 builds on the success of the first-ever OpenCon meeting last year which convened 115 students and early career academic professionals from 39 countries in Washington, DC.  

Speakers at OpenCon 2014 included the Deputy Assistant to the President of the United States for Legislative Affairs, the Chief Commons Officer of Sage Bionetworks, the Associate Director for Data Science for the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and more than 15 students and early career academic professionals leading successful initiatives. OpenCon 2015 will again feature leading experts, and the program will be announced in the coming months.

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Open Data,

Open Education,

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RECODE 2015

 Find yourself wanting more after the workshop? Here you can the slides, resources and more! 

How you can help

 

More Information and Contact details

If you’d like to get in touch and discuss anything please feel free. Just email me at Joe [AT] RightToResearch [DOT] org

Want to stay up to date? 

Do it quickly and simply by signing up the the Student Statement on the Right to Research! This lets us know you believe in Open Access, and we’ll keep you up to date with big news and important actions. 

Also, follow us on twitterlike us on Facebook, check us out on LinkedinYoutube and yes, even Google+

Give us some feedback!

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Year Conference 2015

 Find yourself wanting more after the workshop? Here you can the slides, resources and more! 

How you can help

 

More Information and Contact details

If you’d like to get in touch and discuss anything please feel free. Just email me at Joe [AT] RightToResearch [DOT] org

Want to stay up to date? 

Do it quickly and simply by signing up the the Student Statement on the Right to Research! This lets us know you believe in Open Access, and we’ll keep you up to date with big news and important actions. 

Also, follow us on twitterlike us on Facebook, check us out on LinkedinYoutube and yes, even Google+

Give us some feedback!

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May OpenCon Webcast: The facts behind OER

Open Educational Resources have always held the promise of saving students millions – if not billions – of dollars each year. But is cost savings the only advantage of OER?  A growing body of evidence suggests that OER produce learning outcomes that are as good or, in many cases, better than those of proprietary learning materials.

Our next OpenCon Community Webcast will delve into current research on the efficacy of Open Educational Resources and how they compare with traditional textbooks. John Hilton III, an Assistant Professor at Brigham Young University and leading expert on OER efficacy, will be joining us to address this issue. In his presentation, John will answer critical questions including if students using OER get better grades, how students and teachers perceive Open Educational Resources and what it takes for a professor to adopt an Open Textbook.

The webcast will be held on Tuesday, May 5th, at 1pm EDT / 6pm BST / 7pm CEST and last approximately 45 minutes. You can view the webcast at opencon2015.org/community/webcasts or by bookmarking the embedded YouTube link below. You can join the discussion and ask questions on Twitter with the hashtag #opencon. A recording of the presentation will be available online immediately following the webcast at the same URL.

This was originally posted at http://opencon2015.org/blog/may-opencon-webcast-facts-behind-oer# 

OpenCon 2015 Details Announced

For immediate release: April 7, 2015
Press Contact: Ranit Schmelzer: +1 202 538 1065, sparcmedia@arl.org

Broad Coalition Announces 2nd Conference for Students & Early Career Academic Professionals on Open Access, Open Education and Open Data 

OpenCon 2015 to Take Place November 14-16 in Brussels, Belgium

WASHINGTON, DC — Today 11 organizations representing the next generation of scholars, researchers, and academic professionals announced OpenCon 2015: Empowering the Next Generation to Advance Open Access, Open Education and Open Data. Slated for November 14-16 in Brussels, Belgium, the event will bring together students and early career academic professionals from across the world to learn about the issues, develop critical skills, and return home ready to catalyze action toward a more open system for sharing the world’s information — from scholarly and scientific research, to educational materials, to digital data.

Hosted by the Right to Research Coalition and SPARC, OpenCon 2015 builds on the success of the first-ever OpenCon meeting last year which convened 115 students and early career academic professionals from 39 countries in Washington, DC.  More than 80% of these participants received full travel scholarships, provided by sponsorships from leading organizations, including the Max Planck Society, eLife, PLOS, and more than 20 universities.

“OpenCon 2015 will expand on a proven formula of bringing together the brightest young leaders across the Open Access, Open Education, and Open Data movements and connecting them with established leaders in each community,” said Nick Shockey, founding Director of the Right to Research Coalition. “OpenCon is equal parts conference and community.  The meeting in Brussels will serve as the centerpiece of a much larger network to foster initiatives and collaboration among the next generation across OpenCon’s three issue areas.”

OpenCon 2015’s three day program will begin with two days of conference-style keynotes, panels, and interactive workshops, drawing both on the expertise of leaders in the Open Access, Open Education and Open Data movements and the experience of participants who have already led successful projects.  

The third day will take advantage of the location in Brussels by providing a half-day of advocacy training followed by the opportunity for in-person meetings with relevant policy makers, ranging from the European Parliament, European Commission, embassies, and key NGOs. Participants will leave with a deeper understanding of the conference’s three issue areas, stronger skills in organizing local and national projects, and connections with policymakers and prominent leaders across the three issue areas.

Speakers at OpenCon 2014 included the Deputy Assistant to the President of the United States for Legislative Affairs, the Chief Commons Officer of Sage Bionetworks, the Associate Director for Data Science for the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and more than 15 students and early career academic professionals leading successful initiatives. OpenCon 2015 will again feature leading experts.  Patrick Brown and Michael Eisen, two of the co-founders of PLOS, are confirmed for a joint keynote at the 2015 meeting.

“For the ‘open’ movements to succeed, we must invest in capacity building for the next generation of librarians, researchers, scholars, and educators,” said Heather Joseph, Executive Director of SPARC (The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition). “OpenCon is dedicated to creating and empowering a global network of young leaders across these issues, and we are eager to partner with others in the community to support and catalyze these efforts.”

OpenCon seeks to convene the most effective student and early career academic professional advocates—regardless of their ability to pay for travel costs. The majority of participants will receive full travel scholarships. Because of this, attendance is by application only, though limited sponsorship opportunities are available to guarantee a fully funded place at the conference.  Applications will open on June 1, 2015.

In 2014, more than 1,700 individuals from 125 countries applied to attend the inaugural OpenCon.

“As an organization that represents more than 11 million students across 39 European countries, the European Students’ Union is committed to advancing openness in research and education,” said Erin Nordal, Vice-Chairperson of the European Students’ Union (ESU). “ESU is excited to help organize OpenCon 2015 and ensure the next generation is at the forefront of the conversation around Open Access, Open Education and Open Data—in Europe and beyond.”  

This year, an expanded emphasis will be placed on building the community around OpenCon and on satellite events. OpenCon satellite events are independently hosted meetings that mix content from the main conference with live presenters to localize the discussion and bring the energy of an in-person OpenCon event to a larger audience.  In 2014, OpenCon satellite events reached hundreds of students and early career academic professionals in nine countries across five continents.  A call for partners to host satellite events has now opened and is available at http://www.opencon2015.org/satellite.

OpenCon 2015 is organized by the Right to Research Coalition, SPARC, and a committee of student and early career researcher organizations from around the world. A variety of sponsorship opportunities are available and will be critical to ensuring that dedicated students and early career academic professionals across the globe are able to attend. For more information, see www.opencon2015.org/sponsor.

Applications for OpenCon 2015 will open on June 1st. For more information about the conference and to sign up for updates, visit www.opencon2015.org/updates.  You can follow OpenCon on Twitter at @Open_Con or using the hashtag #opencon.

###

The Right to Research Coalition is an international alliance of graduate and undergraduate student organizations, which collectively represent nearly 7 million students in over 100 countries around the world, that advocate for and educate students about open methods of scholarly publishing.  The Right to Research Coalition is a project of SPARC.

SPARC®, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, is an international alliance of academic and research libraries working to correct imbalances in the scholarly publishing system.  Developed by the Association of Research Libraries, SPARC has become a catalyst for change.  Its pragmatic focus is to stimulate the emergence of new scholarly communication models that expand the dissemination of scholarly research and reduce financial pressures on libraries.  More information can be found at www.sparc.arl.org and on Twitter @SPARC_NA.


Contact Information for Organizing Committee Members

Belgian Medical Students’ Association
Koen Demaegd, National Officer on Research Exchange
nore [at] belgianmsa [dot] com

EuroScience
Slobodan Radicev, governing board member
slobodan.radicev [at] euroscience [dot] org

The European Students’ Union
Erin Nordal, Vice-Chairperson
Erin [at] esu-online [dot] org

The International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA)
Ivana Di Salvo, Liaison officer for
Research and Medical Associations [at] ifmsa [dot] org

IFMSA-Pakistan
Arslan Inayat, National President IFMSA Pakistan*
arslan201 [at] hotmail [dot] com

Max Planck PhDnet
Prateek Mahalwar, Spokesperson
prateek.mahalwar [at] tuebingen.mpg.de

The Open Access Button
Joseph McArthur, Co-lead
Joe [at] righttoresearch [dot] com

Open Knowledge
Jonathan Gray, Director of Policy and Research
jonathan [dot] gray [at] okfn [dot] org

Open Library of Humanities
Martin Paul Eve, Co-Director
martin [dot] eve [at] openlibhums [dot] org

National Association of Graduate-Professional Students (NAGPS)
Kristofferson Culmer, President & CEO
president [at] nagps [dot] org

Siyavula Education
Megan Beckett, Instructional Designer and Open Education Advocate
megan [at] siyavula [dot] com

Meredith Niles
Post-doctoral research fellow, Harvard University*
Assistant Professor, University of Vermont (August 2015)*
meredith_niles [at] hks [dot] harvard [edu]

Iara Vidal Pereira de Souza
PhD student, Brazilian Institute of Information in Science and Technology / Federal University of Rio de Janeiro*
iaravidalps [at] gmail [dot] com

Erin McKiernan
Postdoctoral fellow, Wilfrid Laurier University*
emck31 [at] gmail [dot] com

* Institutions are for affiliation purposes only

Open Access and the Humanities: An Interview with Dr. Martin Paul Eve

Interviewer: Scott Richard St. Louis

Interviewer’s Note: Dr. Eve’s responses represent his own opinion; he is not speaking on behalf of his employer. Visitors to this page are encouraged to consult Dr. Eve’s newest book, Open Access and the Humanities: Contexts, Controversies and the Future (Cambridge University Press, 2014), which may be read freely online.

1. Tell us about yourself. Where, when, and how did you first learn about open-access publishing and the Open Access movement? How did your talents, passions, educational experience, and professional interests lead you to a lasting interest in Open Access? What do you consider to be the most important experiences of yours with regard to open-access scholarship and Open Access advocacy?

I am a Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Lincoln in the UK. Within my own discipline, I specialize in contemporary American fiction, with a particular emphasis on the legacies of postmodern literature. As you note, though, I also have an enduring interest in scholarly communication and, within that field, in open access. Finally, before and during my undergraduate and postgraduate studies I worked as a computer programmer, so I also have a degree of technical competence.

When I learned that academics gave their work to publishers for free but then it was locked away behind paywalls, with the consequence that we can’t afford all the work we need to effectively teach and research, I was perplexed.

I first became aware of open access during my Ph.D. research. A group of colleagues wanted to establish an interdisciplinary postgraduate journal and, as I had previously worked as a programmer and wanted to be involved, I ended up sorting out the technology. In the course of my research into journal software, I encountered PKP’s Open Journal Systems software. I was already familiar with the free and open software paradigms but it didn’t take me long to realize that the “open” here referred to openness in more than one way. It wasn’t just the computer code but also the content that was designed to be “open.” This was an eye-opener in some respects. Although I knew it at a fundamental level, the fact that research work was paid for by libraries was not something that had ever troubled me. When I learned that academics gave their work to publishers for free but then it was locked away behind paywalls, with the consequence that we can’t afford all the work we need to effectively teach and research, I was perplexed. A combination of technological and economic thinking led me to the conclusion that something was radically wrong with the way in which we disseminate work that I felt should be for the public good. Indeed, I think it’s important to stress that OA isn’t applicable everywhere – cultural producers who need to sell their outputs are not so well placed to give work away – but academics employed at universities are usually different; they are paid a salary and can afford to give their work away and the incentive is to be read, not to sell.

In terms of my most important OA experience, I think that I most enjoyed being called to give evidence to the UK government’s Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Inquiry into Open Access in 2013. While, if I was asked again, I would have now a different and better answer to the question about alternative business models for open access, I was particularly pleased to bring the issue of non-disclosure agreements as a potentially anti-competitive practice to the committee’s attention.

As a closing remark for this first question, though, I’ll just add a little on my orientation. I am vigorously in favor of open access, but I remain pessimistic. Changing elements of academic social practice can take decades to achieve and although we have reached various tipping points of awareness, the future is not set. To this end, I work tirelessly to push OA but also recognize that pragmatic compromise is often more likely to secure the goal and incrementally bring the research community on board. Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

2. Would you mind sharing some information on the Open Library of Humanities (OLH)? Specifically, when and how did you and Dr. Caroline Edwards decide to launch the project? How does the OLH model differ from open-access publishing initiatives in other disciplines, such as the Public Library of Science? How does the OLH model reflect the unique concerns of humanists regarding open-access publishing? What are these concerns? What are your biggest hopes for the future of the OLH?

The OLH project was first proposed at the beginning of 2013 after a Twitter conversation involving many people. I put up a website called “PLOHSS” – a clear and perhaps cheeky reference to the Public Library of Science – in which I called for those who wanted to build a Public Library of Humanities and Social Sciences to get in touch. Within a few hours I had received several hundred email replies from interested parties.

It’s important to stress that our initial thinking over those first few months was naïve. We wanted to operate on an article-processing-charge basis. We had only plans for a new megajournal. We didn’t know what the economics would look like. We radically underestimated timescales. This didn’t matter, though. We went ahead with planning an idea that wasn’t fully formulated and people became excited. We gathered prominent academics and librarians onto our committees and posed them a series of questionnaires. Over the next year, we reformulated the idea and came to what we have now.

The OLH as it exists today, and which should fully launch this summer, is a gold open access, peer-reviewed, internationally-supported, academic-led, not-for-profit, mega-journal, multi-journal and books platform for the humanities. It is funded by an international library consortium and so has no author-facing charges.

As I’m sure your readers are aware, open access refers to peer-reviewed academic research that is available freely to read and re-use online. Gold open access, in particular, means that this service is provided by publishers. This usually means that a new business model is needed as if the material is free to read, it cannot be sold as a subscription. Many publishers are implementing this through article and book processing charges (APCs and BPCs). These, though, are often unaffordable in humanities disciplines. This is because research work in our disciplines is far less often supported by grant funding and because APCs concentrate costs.

To understand this, consider the subscription model. In this mode of operation, many libraries pay a relatively modest amount (per publication) so that the publisher has enough revenue to cover the labor of publishing and to create a surplus (or, often, profit). This is, in other words, a cost pool. APCs are different. APCs concentrate costs, making single institutions bear the total cost of publication. If we were able to switch to this system tomorrow, it might be OK. After all, there is enough money in circulation for publishers to exist and for some to do very well indeed. In transition, though, this model creates problems that are more acutely felt in disciplines with less funding.

Open Access and the Humanities

Martin Eve’s new book, Open Access and the Humanities, is free to read online but a paper edition can be purchased.

The OLH works differently, with a small contribution from a large number of libraries covering the costs of publication, essentially re-creating a cost pool. The OLH thereby offers an extremely cost-effective solution for open access that means that no single institution bears a disproportionate cost. Participating libraries not only invest in a community-shared service that would not otherwise be feasible, but are also given a governance stake in the project.

So, that’s the first important difference: we have an innovative economic model that is better suited to the humanities disciplines. The second difference is that we are not just launching new journals. The “multi-journal” component of the description that I gave above refers to the fact that existing publications can come on board our model if they pass the scrutiny of our academic and library committees. In this way, we have the potential to convert existing journals to gold open access, with no APCs. This is perhaps my largest display of pessimistic-optimism. I do not believe there will be enough goodwill from the academic community to publish solely in new OA venues. The counter-incentives are too strong. I also do not believe that hybrid options from existing publishers on APC models will do the trick. If we want OA, then, we need to do it pragmatically. If we can convert existing venues that are believed to be prestigious in the eyes of researchers and simply make them OA, then we don’t need to wait on researchers to change their practices (the decade-long cultural shift that I referred to above). In this way I can be pessimistic about changing the minds of every researcher while being optimistic that we can still achieve open access.

3. In your book, you discuss some of the major differences that exist in research publication between the humanities and the natural sciences. Would you care to highlight some of these briefly? Is it feasible for scholars of these two disciplinary groups to work together on certain issues related to scholarly communication, whether this would lead to greater support for open-access publishing or not? If so, where does the capability for collaboration exist? What concerns are better left to the practitioners of each discipline exclusively?

I think the division between the natural sciences and the humanities is, in general, a false one that is encouraged as though it were healthy competition by those who hold the purse strings. It is not. It fosters division where none need exist. After all, historically, much scientific practice derived from an empirical turn in philosophy. The humanities today provide routes to understanding histories, phenomena, artifacts and cultures. The sciences do likewise. These disciplines have respectively different paradigms within which they conduct their practices and often very different methodologies. I am strongly opposed, though, to the idea that we should celebrate science while merely justifying the humanities, but also, conversely, to the often false claims that the humanities hold some key, privileged insight into life. It is only through a collaboration of the diverse practices that thrive in the contemporary university that we will achieve the maximum potential of the institution.

I have yet to see any compelling argument, aside from pragmatic economics (an argument made frequently by learned societies with vested interests), for why the humanities should not follow the sciences with respect to OA.

Scholarly communication is one of the areas, though, where I think the differences in practice are distinctly overemphasized. Yes, the humanities publish more slowly and the publications remain relevant for a far longer period. Likewise, the humanities often publish research at book (monograph) length. Both of these factors alter the economics of research publication.

However, fundamentally, academic humanists and scientists share the same goal: to be read by the widest audience of peers and the public. Across both spheres, this predominantly takes the form of the dissemination of words, images, tables, graphs, equations and, in some cases, data. The internet is the obvious candidate medium through which to achieve this goal in the twenty-first century. I see no reason why, in some cases, collaboration on this shouldn’t be possible between the humanities and the sciences.

Where I think there may be more ground for caution, however, is when a specific discipline tries to take the moral high ground and tells another how to do its thing. For instance, I think that Patrick Dunleavy presents an overly simplistic vision for how research should look across all disciplines, without consideration of what the communication is supposed to achieve in each area. Let’s not pretend that the humanities always work on the same methodological hypothesis-driven basis as the sciences. But just because the measurement systems for science don’t then value the cultural knowledge that the humanities bestow, often in niche areas, let’s also not pretend that this is the fault of the humanities, rather than the measurement.

Likewise, though, I do find myself in a state of frustration when this type of argument (“don’t tell us how to do our job”) is thrust back against open access from the humanities. Many say: “it’s suited for science, but not for us”. I have yet to see any compelling argument, aside from pragmatic economics (an argument made frequently by learned societies with vested interests), for why the humanities should not follow the sciences with respect to OA.

4. You write that “as more researchers produce material in the ever more competitive quest for jobs, the need and desire to publish in top journals is increased. Because these journals will then have a continual supply of high-quality material, it is imperative that libraries subscribe to them. As this material overflows through rejection and cascades down to the next level of ‘mid-range’ publications, libraries find that there are also far more venues to which they must subscribe” (page 15). You also mention that the “print runs for academic monographs in the humanities … are extremely low: around 200-250 is the figure that is usually cited. This means that presses often have returns on volumes and the margins are far lower than in scientific journal publishing” (page 15). What are the consequences of these facts for the relationship between libraries and humanistic researchers in the academy? If libraries are indeed compelled to hold onto influential scientific journals, no matter their expense, won’t academic monographs in the humanities become increasingly vulnerable to cutbacks as journal subscription expenses increase far above the rate of growth in library budgets? In short, do academic humanists stand to lose influence – both in the public sphere and within the broader academy itself – if traditional publishing models dominate the humanities research landscape?

Open access seems to me to be a logical way out of the extinction that the humanities face in an era of austerity and financial cuts, as well as potentially contributing so much to the public good.

The short answer to these questions is: yes. Library budgets at institutions are holistic and expenditure in the humanities is conditioned by the total environment, including serials purchasing that has risen at hyperinflationary rates for several decades now.

That said, opinions on what constitute the “crisis” for the monograph, if there is one, vary from person to person. Geoff Crossick recently wrote a report for the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), which I would recommend that everyone read; it is a judicious, cautious but future-oriented approach to OA for books. More interestingly, perhaps, though, is the fact that Crossick questioned the rhetoric of crisis far more than many before him. Consider, for instance, the following question: when we say there is a “crisis” of the monograph, do we mean that we can’t read them? Or do we mean that researchers, who need them for their jobs, can’t publish them? Or maybe, we mean that they are not financially sustainable for for-profit publishers in their current form? In any case, this is not a single crisis. One form is a demand-side economic crisis of access, the other is a supply-side crisis of accreditation (hiring/tenure etc.). Both are economic problems, but they can be fixed with the book enduring in between. It’s when we try to fix the dissemination problem and the accreditation problem at the same time that transition becomes hard.

Martin Eve

Martin Eve regularly speaks internationally on Open Access. Image licensed CC-BY by Martin Eve

With respect to a final answer on the question of influence, this depends upon whom you ask. Many defend the prestige of conventional presses on the grounds that they are trusted and read by the peers that they value. Fair enough. I think, though, that the crisis of the humanities is a crisis of public exposure; I think the humanities must be public and visible. This isn’t to say that it has to dumb down. It just needs to be clear what value it can add and make that visible. Open access seems to me to be a logical way out of the extinction that the humanities face in an era of austerity and financial cuts, as well as potentially contributing so much to the public good.

5. Having earned your doctorate in 2012, what would you consider the role of early-career researchers to be in creating a more sustainable – and, perhaps, more open – system of scholarly communication?

First off, and with no disrespect to the question, I don’t much like the term “early-career researcher” (ECR). It’s often a nominative falsehood used to justify contingent labor, as careers are so hard to come by in the academy and job competition is so fierce. It’s then used, internally, to delineate more senior staff from their junior colleagues and works against a collegiate atmosphere. That said, I know what you mean.
ECRs have both the most to gain and the most to lose from being at the forefront of changes to scholarly communications. They have the most to gain because they have their entire careers ahead of them and will have to work within any new paradigm. It’s an exciting time to be thinking about how we communicate our ideas. Sometimes, but not always, ECRs can be more idealistic than those who have climbed the full length of the academic ladder. Again, this is a positive area in which active engagement can bring about real, tangible change. At the same time, though, ECRs are at the sharp end of the accreditation spectrum, often being judged by senior staff who are sometimes, but again, not always, more conservative. The pressure to publish in conventional, recognized (and non-OA) venues, therefore, can be debilitating. My advice is: do both. Be radical and idealistic but pragmatic and conservative. Work to change things. At the same time, of course, don’t compromise yourself. The basis of all freedom in our society comes from the underlying economic security of work. If you need an academic job, as I did, then do what the hiring panel will want. Just remember, when you’ve made it and have that security, not to pull up the ladder and lose the desire to change things for the better.

Dr. Martin Paul Eve is a lecturer in English at the University of Lincoln. He is the author of two books, Pynchon and Philosophy (2014) and Open Access and the Humanities (2014), and editor of the open-access journal of Pynchon scholarship, Orbit. Dr. Eve has appeared as an expert witness before the UK House of Commons Select Committee BIS Inquiry into Open Access, and has also served as a steering-group member of the OAPEN-UK project and as a member of the HEFCE Open Access Monographs Expert Reference Panel. Alongside Dr. Caroline Edwards, he is Co-Founder of the Open Library of Humanities.

Scott Richard St. Louis is a member of the North American Coordinating Committee of the Right to Research Coalition and is an intern for SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition. He also serves on the Early-Career Researchers’ Forum of the Open Library of Humanities. 

This article reflects the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Right to Research Coalition or SPARC.

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