Open Access and Copyright Issues Related to Knowledge Translation and Transfer for the OMAFRA-UofG Partnership

This post notes some reflections from a recent meeting of the Community of Practice of the  Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) / University of Guelph’s Knowledge Translation and Transfer (KTT) group. My role in this group is that of open access consultant. The OMAFRA / KTT group is doing some very interesting work in the area of developing intellectual property practices to support innovation, including both open access and patenting. Researchers include academics and also grower groups.

One of the projects involves growing the Ontario vegetable crop research repository in the University of Guelph’s ATRIUM repository. The University of Guelph’s Ontario Agricultural College produces a lot of agricultural research, much of which has world level impact, particularly in the areas of corn, fusarium, and pesticides. Much of this knowledge is currently available only in unpublished research reports stuck in filing cabinets. If these reports were digitized and made available through ATRIUM, the research would be useful to many people – including Ministry staff for developing policy and local farmers and gardeners wondering whether to use black plastic on their strawberries.

One of the challenges to developing the repository is dealing with rights issues. Much of this research is owned by growers’ groups, who conducted the research for their own community. As agricultural entrepreneurs, the growers will want to retain an edge for competition and so are likely to want to retain commercial rights. Similarly, faculty members at Guelph own their own IP and may want to retain the rights for commercialization when applicable. Strategies to address these issues could include such tactics as defensive publishing.

My thoughts so far as shared in the meeting:

Engaging the growers’ groups in open access is a strategy that I would highly recommend in this situation. Don’t just ask for the license to their works, rather do some workshops or provide information to link people to some of the many open access resources that are already available to them. A message of people everywhere are sharing their work; won’t you join us? strikes me as a message that is a little bit easier to listen to than won’t you share your work? Include open access peer-reviewed journals on agriculture, of course – but don’t neglect to mention some of the high-quality magazines written largely by people similar to the growers’ groups, such as BC Grasslands. Focus on agriculture for sure, but not necessarily just agriculture – farmers and their families are people too, and are as likely as anyone to benefit from all the freely available health information or enjoy the many free texts, movies, and music available from the Internet Archive. Flickr can be a good resource for developing marketing materials, and open government resources can be useful, too.

One challenge for farmers in this area is that many still rely on dial-up access. This suggests to me another avenue for illustrating the benefits of open approaches. It can be difficult for people in rural communities to get the rest of us to pay attention to their issues (such as lack of broadband) and hence to gain political support. This is one area where the internet creates the possibility for a more level playing field; a rural newspaper can create an online presence with the same potential audience as an urban newspaper, and rural individuals, families and community groups can similarly create an online presence with the same potential impact as urban people.

Some potential venues for information sharing include practioners’ peer-reviewed journals using tools such as Open Journal Systems – although the growers’ groups might be more interested in using social networking tools like ning. 

Our Community of Practice is just getting started! Watch for further posts on this topic.

PLoS ONE News and Media Roundup

This month in PLoS ONE news: Taste genes, capturing dog thoughts, and more!

Genetics may help determine how your meal tastes, and whether or not you like pork. Scientific American, Wired and TIME covered this article

Scientists have trained dogs to sit and stay in an MRI tunnel long enough to take a brain scan.  These scans reveal information about the way dogs think, and what they might be thinking about.  Wired Scientific American Los Angeles Times covered this article

New research shows that ants affected by a parasite that causes zombie-like behavior may be protected by an anti-zombie fungus.  Read more about this article at The Guardian  NPR, and Discover Magazine

The fascinating case of Phineas Gage has motivated researchers to use CT (computed tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) brain scans, to investigate which regions of the brain were affected in Mr. Gage’s notorious accident, and led to such extreme behavioral changes.  Popular Science, The Huffington Post covered this PLoS ONE article.

For more in-depth coverage on news and blog articles about PLoS ONE papers, please visit our Media Tracking Project.

Wikimedia Endorses OA Petition and Next Steps

Just four days into the White House’s “We the People” Petition over 17,000 people have signed, calling on the Obama Administration to “require free access over the Internet to journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research.”
Now, the Open Access movement benefits from today’s powerful endorsement from the Wikimedia Foundation. The foundation is a nonprofit charitable organization dedicated to encouraging the growth, development and distribution of free, multilingual content, and to providing the full content of these wiki-based projects to the public free of charge.

Wikimedia Endorses OA Petition and Next Steps

Just four days into the White House’s “We the People” Petition over 17,000 people have signed, calling on the Obama Administration to “require free access over the Internet to journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research.”
Now, the Open Access movement benefits from today’s powerful endorsement from the Wikimedia Foundation. The foundation is a nonprofit charitable organization dedicated to encouraging the growth, development and distribution of free, multilingual content, and to providing the full content of these wiki-based projects to the public free of charge.

We meet in Berlin to prepare the #schoolofdata

I’m spending an exciting two days in Berlin helping the OKFN/P2PU prepare their School Of Data (SoD) course/s. I’m sure this will turn out to be a seminal event in both Internet education and advancement in “data wrangling”. Here’s the initial announcement – . “The School will be a joint venture between the Open Knowledge Foundation and Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU). ”

There’s a huge need for skilled and inventive data wrangling. This is a mixture of technical knowledge and knowhow and the “course” will cover both. We are working out the granularity of the “course” – almost certainly a collection of smaller units, generally self-paced but with some clear timelines. P2PU has had considerable experience in this – for example partnering with Mozilla on web skills.

Here’s Laura Newman – the course coordinator – getting our thoughts organized and photographed, and here’s Rufus Pollock and Stiivi Urbanek hard at work planning the details.

Stiivi has put together a great “architecture” for the technical side of the course which goes from acquiring data, to cleaning, filtering, repurposing and presentation. We have a strong sense of pipeline, where course participants take a problem from start to finish, using the appropriate skills are each stage. We are presenting this round “challenges” – we take a theme which everyone can relate to and go all the way from finding the data to drawing conclusions.

The course structure and participation is flexible and controlled – there is no hierarchical distinction between teachers and leaners – we are all a bit of both. We expect information to flow from and to the course.

The overall components (stages) – which have largely crystallized in our planning – are

  • Data sources
  • Discovery and acquisition
  • Extraction
  • Cleansing, transformation, and integration
  • Analytical modelling
  • Data mining
  • Presentation, Analysis, publishing and packaging

And an overarching subject of “data governance”

To analyse a particular subject a participant needs to go through the processes above, although not all will be needed for a given problem/challenge. We call this process a “journey”, where we visit the different stages on a planned itinerary. Many courses will be organized like this – and the first we have designed is “What is unique about my country?”

In this participants (perhaps working in teams) will find and extract information about their country, clean, fliter and integrate it and finally present answers to this very general question (which requires comparison with other countries).

In an orthogonal fashion, participants will also study a particular stage in depth. In the journey metaphor, this is like spending your time in one place, finding the different ways of tackling it. So one early topic will be “Crawling and scraping” – there are several different tools, approaches and problems.

There’s a real buzz! Over 300 people have signed up and we had an IRC meeting yesterday with 30 – who are very keen to be involved and contribute. Lots of great skills and ideas.

Much more later – on a regular basis – as this is an important part of my life.



Sign and Pass Along the White House Petition

Hello All!!

So we are doing well on the White House Petition:

Please sign and pass along- you don’t need to be in the United States. You only need to be 13 years of age with your own email address.

After you sign, forward the link on to friends, family, and colleagues. Think about Tweeting (hashtag #openaccess). Maybe write a blog, anything to get the word out.

Thank you all!


#scholpub should be regulated

I recently asked “What’s the difference between Elsevier and British Gas?” I didn’t get many answers (it would be nice to have a greater response so I could highlight ideas other than mine). The question could also have replaced “British Gas” by “Virgin Trains”, “Scottish Power”, “East Anglian Water” or even “Lloyds Bank”.

The answer is that the others are all, to a greater or lesser extent bound by regulation. They have a legal duty to:

  • Ensure the quality of service
  • Limit prices

Scholarly publishing is in a bizarre and completely unhealthy marker where there is no effective market regulation of price, there is no quality control (the quality of #scholpub is awful compared to other e-products on the web and hasn’t changed in 20 years. ) We have NO IDEA what the true costs of publishing a paper are, or what they could be if the market operated.

Acta Crystallographica E publishes the highest quality papers in science. It’s a data-only journal and doesn’t completely scale to other journals. It charges 150 GBP for Gold Open Access and makes a margin. They have built their own authoring system which every crystallographer uses and the papers are full of checked, semantic data and there is high-quality peer review. It’s difficult to extrapolate but I think a figure of 500 GBP would be the MAXIMUM cost of an efficient scholarly publisher. I’d like to see the high price publishers challenge this.

Yesterday I was asked by a journalist (I won’t spoil their story) to comment on the UK Finch report. This hasn’t formally reported but there are some open readable minutes at and I was asked to comment on what I thought of the pricing , market, etc. I don’t have a strong view on Finch, but it says:

The Working Group first considered the tables in the annex, which were founded on modelling undertaken for the Heading for the Open Road report. It was noted that the ‘central case’ was a starting point under which APCs were set at a cost-neutral level for the HE sector in the UK of c£1,450 per article, with an assumed take-up rate of 23.3% for OA publications. All the tables therefore use that as a starting point, and vary the costs according to a series of different assumptions – some of which are obviously more realistic than others. The variability is determined by four factors: (i) the level of APCs, (ii) the level of take-up of the gold option, (iii) the difference between levels of take up in UK and rest of the world, and (iv) the proportion of APCs to be met by authors outside and within the UK for jointly-authored papers. The Group observed also that the £18.7m saving from subscription charges does not take account of ‘stickiness’ in a transitional shift from subscription to APCs – which is liable to take a significant amount of time. Such a transition implies additional costs.

I haven’t read the annexe and I cannot see how they can actually assess the costs since almost no publishers analyse and publish them. Some publishers have argued that costs can approach 20,000 USD because of high rejection rates. This is a typical example of an unregulated market. It’s like saying “we don’t have enough capacity on our buses so we are going to throw most passengers off and charge the others a huge amount to make our profits”. It’s a sign of a broken market.

A typical example of how inefficient the industry is and how unresponsive to costs is that most publishers send the manuscripts off to be retyped – this is an appalling admission of lack of reaction to the 21st century. It’s like having to send Amazon a snail mail to order something. It’s because Amazon broke the model that we have efficient, price-competitive market of goods. If the academic sector wished to reduce costs of Gold OA they should create a system with author-side cost reduction. If I was given the option of paying 1450 GBP for APC or 500 GBP if I created it in NLM DTD XML I’d go for the latter. The NLM (which publishes Pubmed) is a world authority on publishing and far more efficient than publishers. It has been highly innovative and the only brake on progress has been the relentless destructive legalisation against it and restrictive practices imposed by major toll-access publishers. That’s why we cannot get access to content-based search, not because they can’t do it.

Anyway I wrote the following for the journalist. It echoes what I have written here:

“What I am concerned about [and what I intend to blog about as soon as I have time] is the lack of regulation in this market.  In almost all transactions, whether author->publisher or publisher->reader there is no price-sensitive market. There is little market pressure on publishers to bring down costs, nor to produce better products. (Scholarly publishing is one of the very few sectors to be completely unaffected by the web – the product is an electronic copy of what was done 20 years ago). There is even less market force in the hybrid Gold model where publishers can charge what they like with no regulation – it is simply up to the funders or authors to pay what is demanded. Moreover the products offered are often not significantly different from Green – there are no rights of re-use and in some cases not even of copying.

In areas such as transport, energy, banks, public services and many others the government regulates the market. Providers have to work within negotiated margins and provide an agreed level of service. None of this pressure is put on publishers. The market often resembles personal vanity products where only the brand matters and cost of production is irrelevant.

My view is that any Green/Gold model will be a seriously suboptimal model until all the current cost (10 billion USD/yr) can be brought funder/author-side. This desperately needs regulation and strong leadership from bodies – probably governments and major funders. I don’t think Finch has addressed this at all – you cannot be convincing unless you demand a change of control and do the budgeting properly.

I believe that even at 1500 GBP per paper this represents a seriously overpriced market. I think it might be brought down by bringing in public contractors / purchasers as is done in Brazil, I believe. Nothing could be more inefficient than leaving market forces to libraries in 10,000 scattered uncoordinated universities.

So I am not getting excited about Finch unless the government (Willetts) does. AFAICS Finch says “we want a mixed Green/Gold model with the emphasis on Gold. We aren’t putting money in. We aren’t imposing regulation. We are not controlling prices related to costs.” And of costs it’s only one country.

#scholpub is now, at its worst , a vanity market such as fragrance or mineral water. The price is vastly higher than the cost. You ask what you can get, not what it costs. There is large, wasteful marketing, there is large and wasteful investment in technology and lawyers to prevent access.

So what’s the difference between Elsevier and Chanel? Not much. They are both unregulated.

Oh, and stop thinking of publishers as collaborating partners. Alicia Wise on the GOAL Open Access mailing list asks “what can publishers do to help”. She asserts publicly that I don’t trust her. Actually I trust her completely. I trust her to behave like a middle manager public relations officer in “Customer Relations” for British Gas, or Scotrail or whomever. She is there to maximize profits for the company. And part of that is preserving the current pseudo-monopolies. I trust he to continue to try to defend that. And offering help is a well-used strategy.

And she can trust me to challenge almost everything that Elsevier does, says, and more importantly doesn’t do.

Stevan Harnad is dismayed that Elsevier has introduced a catch-22 int their Green regulations. It’s convoluted (well-designed Catch-22s are) and says something like “you can deposit Green, but if your institution mandates it then you cannot”. Stevan feels this is a breach of trust and that Elsevier should change it. I say that until this is regulated by a body with teeth we shall continue to have these games played by the publishers. If I travel to somewhere via London on British trains the price is higher. The cost is not higher.

Think of Elsevier, Nature, Wiley, Springer, etc as gas, transport, telecoms, etc. They have no more reason the be loved or hated than those.

The sick part is that the trains have to pay for their fuel (and a lot else). In #scholpub we GIVE the publishing industry the content.




Link to OpenDOAR entries using RESTful URLs

I has been always been possible to provide a link to the OpenDOAR entry for a given repository using its persistent numeric identifier. However, these link URLs have hitherto been rather long and cumbersome. Now we have implemented simpler and shorter links based on REST principles. For example: – OpenDOAR entry for ‘Nottingham eTheses’ (ID: 227).

OpenDOAR identifiers and the corresponding new link URLs can be found in the relevant entries in the database.

We think that this new feature is likely to be of particular interest to users of the OpenDOAR Application Programmers’ Interface –


Hungarian Government Drops FUD Campaign (Without Apology)

The Hungarian government has ended (without apology) its FUD campaign against philosophers that had been critical of the government (the “Heller Gang”). Investigation over, no evidence of wrong-doing, all charges dropped, case closed. Yet the FUD campaign succeeded in doing its intended damage. That’s what FUD is for…

And the Hungarian Academy of Sciences has suitably disgraced itself, for betraying its historic mandate and refusing to stand up for its members — as announced by it President, Joseph Palinkas (former minister in the present Hungarian government).

Latest Article Alert from Particle and Fibre Toxicology

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