It was announced yesterday that publishing giant Elsevier has purchased the popular open repository Social Science Research Network (SSRN) for an as-yet undisclosed sum, according to an article in Nature. SSRN is well-known as a leading repository for economics, law, the social sciences, and the humanities. Elsevier was quite to provide assurances that it still plans to offer free submissions and downloads through SSRN, though it is unclear if it will retain the policy of offering email subscriptions for a small fee. As reported in Nature, Elsevier is only one of several for-profit publishers that have tried (without much success) to start up their own preprint repositories in the past; it is not a huge surprise that they have now opted to acquire an established repository instead.
This move fits in with Elsevier’s recent attempts to develop interests in nontraditional markets related to scholarly communication and research. It was only a few short years ago that Elsevier purchased the citation management tool/academic social network Mendeley, likely in hopes of competing with sites like ResearchGate and Academia.edu. Joe Esposito, a publishing consultant who has long been critical of academic libraries’ attempts to move into the world of scholarly publishing, viewed the move favorably:
“Elsevier is now getting closer and closer to researchers with business models that don’t involve libraries. The positioning is well thought out: lock up revenues to the legacy publishing business, move into areas where piracy is not much of an issue, create deeper relationships with researchers and become more and more essential to researchers even as librarians become less so.”
This is, it would seem, a comment on the institutional repositories operated by many academic libraries. He also seems to be of the opinion that researchers should be more reliant on large, for-profit publishers instead of libraries and librarians. Never mind the fact that Elsevier has long been regarded as one of the worst offenders when it comes to restrictive publishing policies and price increases for its products. Should we not be worried, then, that they are seeking to control even more of the scholarly publishing market? Libraries in general have been working harder and harder to provide free and open access to scholarly materials, a policy taken up under the broad philosophy that:
- Free and open access to scholarship promotes further scholarship and is good for both academia and humanity as a whole
- Scholarly authors should have copyright control over their own works
We here at the WSU Library System are no exception to this. Elsevier’s actions are a bit concerning because they have no such philosophy and, in fact, many of their practices are antithetical to the philosophies underpinning free and open access. Their business model relies on acquiring the scholarship produced by researchers, primarily those working at academic institutions, securing the copyright to these works, and then reselling them back to the institutions that have, through their faculty, produced them. It’s not unreasonable to be wary of a large, for-profit publisher taking over an open repository like SSRN, especially when Elsevier has historically (it would seem) made it as hard as possible for authors to deposit to such repositories.
It will be interesting to see if and how the SSRN’s policies change under its new owner, especially with regards to any copyright arrangements that may be put in place. Other large repositories, like arXiv.org, do not require authors to sign over copyright and are dedicated to allowing authors to publish finished articles wherever they wish. According to Paul Ginsparg, one of arXiv’s co-founders:
“I always felt that it was an advantage that arXiv was not aligned with any particular publisher (or any academic ideology for that matter), making it more natural to ingest preprints that could simultaneously go to any publisher.”
An interesting court case came to my attention recently, one which is perhaps not immediately applicable to the scholarly world but still may hold some interest. The lawsuit involves Paramount Pictures and CBS filing suit against Axanar Productions, Inc., a production company involved in the creation of a crowdfunded Star Trek fan film. Included among the many pieces of intellectual property that Paramount and CBS claim are being utilized by Axanar illegally is the fictitious language of Klingon, spoken by a race of the same name in the Star Trek universe. Before getting into that, though, a brief history of the production and ensuing lawsuit:
In 2014, Axanar Productions, Inc. released a 21-minute short film titled Prelude to Axanar. It was crowdfunded, and served as a sort of proof-of-concept and as a pitch to justify future donations in support of more productions. Another crowdfunding drive raised money for the construction of a studio and sound stage, and finally a third was started in order to support the filming of Axanar itself, envisioned as a feature-length, professional-quality film. The project was funded in August of 2015, and more information can be found in the production’s IndieGoGo page and its related pitch video.
In December of 2015, Paramount and CBS filed suit, claiming that Axanar planned to use a slew of copyrighted material. This initial complaint, which can be found here, was bounced back by Axanar‘s lawyers, claiming it was not specific enough. In March of 2016, an amended complaint was filed which included a list of specific instances of copyright infringement. Included on this list were things like the pointed ears sported by Vulcan characters, the uniforms and logos associated with Starfleet and the Federation, and, as mentioned above, the spoken Klingon language.
After a bit more back-and-forth, a third party entered the scene; the Language Creation Society filed a brief in order to support the notion that Klingon as a language is ineligible for copyright. The Klingon language was invented by Marc Okrand in 1984 for the film Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and it is upon this basis that Paramount and CBS claim to own copyright on it. However, the Language Creation Society’s brief notes that the language has developed far beyond what it was at its creation, and that this development has mostly been at the hands of Star Trek fans. It argues that Klingon has surpassed its roots and become a full-fledged language and, as such, is not entitled to copyright protection. The amicus brief filed by the Language Creation Society can be found in full here.
Why might this be important? Well, first and foremost, the United States court system has yet to address the eligibility of constructed spoken languages for copyright. Beyond that, the ruling may hold some significance for all constructed languages; an article in The Hollywood Reporter notes that coding languages, which are certainly artificially constructed, could be affected by this ruling were the judge to rule in favor of Paramount and CBS. In that case, it is not a huge leap to imagine the inventors of a coding language controlling its use with licenses if they are able to copyright the language itself.
A new article on entomophagy (i.e., eating insects) in North America was recently published by Dr. Maria Pontes Ferreira (Department of Food and Nutrition Science) and colleagues in the Journal of Insects as Food and Feed published by Wageningen Academic Publishers. This review article describes the history of entomophagy as practiced by native North Americans and early American colonists, detailing the species of insects that were mostly commonly consumed and their methods of preparation. Given the growing interest in re-introducing insects into the modern North American diet, this article helps pave the way for future studies on the nutritional value of insect-based foods. The article can be read for free here.
The Wayne State University Library System is pleased to have supported the open access publication of this article through the 2016 Open Access Fund, which underwrites publication charges for materials published in fee-based, peer-reviewed venues that are openly accessible.
If you’ve been following the news in the world of scholarly publishing lately, you’ve probably heard quite a bit about the website Sci-Hub. In brief, Sci-Hub was founded by Kazakhstani researcher Alexandra Elbakyan with the mission of circumventing copyright in order to provide free access to articles appearing in scholarly journals. Despite the fact that Elbakyan has been operating the site since September of 2011 (well over 4 years), it is only recently that we have seen widespread coverage of the site. Buzz has grown to such a point in fact, that a recent Op-Ed piece published in the New York Times has compared Elbakyan to Edward Snowden.
Considering that this NYT piece, titled Should All Research Papers be Free?, is the only exposure that much of the non-academia world will have to this situation, it is a shame then that the author draws so direct a line between Sci-Hub and the open access (OA) movement. Even more so, it is unfortunate that some OA activists have seemed to come out in unreserved support for Elbakyan and her mission, a fact which outlets such as Scholarly Kitchen were quick to point out. It is unfortunate because, according to Peter Suber (as quoted in the NYT article), “Unlawful access gives open access a bad name.”
Suber is director of the office of scholarly communication at Harvard, and is one of the OA movement’s pioneers. In a follow-up piece posted to his Google+ page, Suber expanded on his comments cautioning OA activists from getting too excited in their support of Elbakyan and Sci-Hub:
Giving support to the false impression that OA requires infringement misleads people about these facts, especially newcomers not familiar with the many kinds of lawful OA. Moreover, it gives anti-OA publishers a propaganda gift. […] The risk of unlawful OA services is that they could trigger a new wave of false assumptions about (1) the lawfulness of OA, (2) the wide range of lawful options for researchers to make their work OA, and (3) the importance of persuading researchers to make one of those lawful choices.
His post and the ensuing comments present an excellent case as to why OA activists should not be backing Sci-Hub, and of the dangers of linking the OA movement with Elbakyan’s activities.
In early November, we posted on the formation of the journal Discrete Analysis, an Open Access mathematics journal that planned to leverage arXiv.org, a widely-used repository for pre-prints in the sciences, in order to operate on a very small budget. Another arXiv overlay journal, as Discrete Analysis has been called, has been announced; the Open Journal (originally the Open Journal in Astrophysics) plans to begin publishing content in the field of Astrophysics early in this year. Though the two journals will utilize different peer review process, the Open Journal and Discrete Analysis seem to be operating on near-identical publishing models.
Authors interested in submitting to the Open Journal will upload their articles to the astro-ph section of arXiv.org (as many already do) and then submit the article to the journal through its website, which utilizes ORCID in order to assign articles to an editor. The peer review process ensues and, upon its completion, the article is assigned a DOI and the article is collected into the journal via a link to its location on the arXiv. Just as with Discrete Analysis, the Open Journal plans to reject articles that require extensive rewriting or copyediting in order to keep costs down and encourage authors to perform these duties on their own.
A second journal was also announced with a more unique publishing and peer review model. Also an Open Access publication, ReScience is a Computational Science journal that operates almost entirely on GitHub.com. This is a bit surprising as GitHub is most commonly known as a site for sharing and collaborating on open source software and code. The journal is focused specifically on the reproduction and replicability of research, and leverages GitHub’s existing commenting system for its peer review process. In fact, the entire publishing process lives on GitHub, in which each article is submitted as a “pull request”. This is essentially a request to add a piece of code to the larger project which is, in this case, the journal as a whole. The editors will assign reviewers to test that piece of code and, after that peer review process, it will be added to the journal as an article.
As with Discrete Analysis, these two journals represent innovations that take advantage of existing practices or qualities of particular subject areas. The arXiv was originally developed as a repository for physics research, and so is just as widely used in that subject area as it is in mathematics. This allows the Open Journal to take advantage of the fact that many researchers in physics are using TeX/LaTeX to produce pre-prints that look as good or nearly as good as professionally published journal articles. Similarly, GitHub would not be an appropriate publishing platform for research in most subject areas. ReScience, though, publishes in an area for which its practitioners recognize code as a valuable scholarly output.
Though both of these models may not be widely applicable, they also give clues as to how innovation can take place in the realm of scholarly publishing. By matching extant aspects of the publishing process with extant online services, these publications have found a way to produce high-quality, peer-review, open scholarly content.
Last week we posted on the inherent differences between open access repositories, such as DigitalCommons@WayneState, and scholarly-minded social media sites such as ResearchGate and Academia.edu. This issue seems to be on the mind of many recently; G. Geltner, Professor of Medieval History at the Universiteit van Amsterdam and editorial board member for the Open Library of the Humanities, posted recently about his decision to leave Academia.edu. He cited a wide range of concerns, chief among them the growing number of metrics on the site and his impression that the service is moving towards a model that will ask users to pay for more and more services.
The post in its entirety can be read here: http://mittelalter.hypotheses.org/7123
Late last month the scholarly publishing world was shaken up when the entire editorial board for Lingua, a high-profile linguistics journal published by Elsevier, resigned over the publisher’s refusal to change several of the journal’s policies. The editors had three primary requests: That the journal be shifted to an Open Access publishing model, that the article processing charge (APC) for the journal be reduced, and that copyright for the content published in Lingua be assigned to the editorial board instead of the publisher. Cries of support have been heard from across the scholarly publishing landscape, along with calls to boycott Lingua in favor of Glossa, an Open Access linguistics which the Lingua editors plan to develop once their term with Elsevier expires at the end of the year.
Elsevier has not remained silent in all of this, of course. Many, such as the Open Library of the Humanities’ Dr. Martin Paul Eve, have expressed dissatisfaction with the publisher’s response to the resignation. Elsevier seems confident, though, that this will not affect the popularity or influence of Lingua, and they may be correct. So long as those in charge of the promotion and tenure of academics continue to favor traditional journal metrics and publication in prestigious, well-known titles, it seems hard to believe that Lingua will fade into obscurity. Indeed, a 2013 Scholarly Kitchen article by Todd Carpenter concluded that most journals which have seen a mass resignation of their editorial board more or less maintained their impact factor post-resignation.
A few caveats, though: First, Carpenter worked from a list prepared by Peter Suber of such resignations between 1989 and 2004. The explosion of social media since that time frame may have an appreciable effect on the situation at hand. Second, and perhaps more importantly, Carpenter observed that, in cases where the editors left to start a new title, the new title’s current Impact Factor is on average 50% better than the title that was subject to revolt. If nothing else, this is a promising sign for Glossa.
One positive takeaway from all of this is the amount of “good press” currently being received by Open Access. That the editors of a prominent journal in any subject area feel that Open Access is important enough to be the (or at least a part of the) reason to resign from their position signifies a change in the way Open Access is viewed by academics. This was not a mandate passed down by an academic senate or the lobbying of librarians, this was an unsolicited act by academics in support of Open Access. That, along with the support the resigning editors have received, signifies what could be a fundamental change in the way scholarly publishing is viewed.
This news is a bit old, but the recent announcement by Timothy Gowers on the formation of the journal Discrete Analysis provides an interesting glimpse into what the future of academic publishing might look like. Aside from one key feature, it seems to be a perfectly ordinary academic journal; it will have an ISSN, its articles will have DOIs, it will feature a fairly traditional refereeing process, and already has a (very prestigious) list of editors. The difference? The journal will be an arXiv overlay journal, meaning that all of the journal’s content will be hosted on the popular Open Access pre-print archive arXiv.org.
This means that costs for the journal are kept exceptionally low. Gowers predicts that each article will cost the journal about $10 to produce, most of which will go towards the management of the peer review process via Scholastica. The typesetting, copy editing, and hosting, though, will all be out of the journal’s hands, resulting in a very minimalist operation. As Gowers says in the journal’s announcement:
…if you trust authors to do their own typesetting and copy-editing to a satisfactory standard, with the help of suggestions from referees, then the cost of running a mathematics journal can be at least two orders of magnitude lower than the cost incurred by traditional publishers.
Discrete Analysis seeks then to address one of the issues at the core of the Open Access movement: how can OA publishing be made sustainable? No matter what, it has seemed, either authors or libraries are going to have to pay for OA somehow. If Discrete Analysis is successful, it may prove to be a new model for sustainable scholarly publishing, albeit on a smaller scale.
It is important not to get too worked up over this, though. The uniqueness of the scholarly publishing process in mathematics plays into the suitability of this model quite a bit. Content on arXiv is largely formatted using TeX or LaTeX, a markup language designed specifically for (among other things) typesetting mathematics. Many established mathematics journals, in fact, provide authors with TeX/LaTeX templates for article submission. A natural result of this is that pre-prints prepared using this method often look fairly close to published journal articles.
It also feels that researchers in mathematics are less phased by issues that would be fixed by a traditional copyediting process. Their mentality has always seemed to be that, if the logic behind an argument is sound, the reader should be able to fill in the gaps and dissect any leaps of logic that may occur. For these reasons, the model that Discrete Analysis plans to follow is one that may not be suitable for other subject areas. It will be very interesting, though, to keep an eye on this journal and to see if any others pop up based on this model or if any existing journals begin to shift towards this sort of model in the future.
As a scientist, is it your responsibility to communicate your science? If you lock up your results, shouldn’t that be considered a failure of communication and therefore unscientific? http://emckiernan.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/activism-or-science-a-debate-on-open-access/
Erin McKiernan wrestles with the implications of open access activism publicly on her blog, http://emckiernan.wordpress.com. Last week, McKiernan delivered a standout presentation at the biannual SPARC (The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition ) Open Access Meeting. Her mandate: a public pledge from a non-tenured researcher to confine her scholarly communication activity to the open access sphere.
McKiernan takes the surprising (some say radical, some say naive) position that publishing in toll-access scholarly journals amounts to an abdication of the scientist’s responsibility to make the results of research available as broadly as possible. She publicly promises not to publish in a toll-access journal, not to serve as an editor or reviewer for a toll-access journal, not to co-author an article that doesn’t end up disseminated open access (a step she hasn’t yet had to take, she admits). She commits to Creative Commons licenses, enabling reuse rights for all her work. In the post linked above, McKiernan eschews including paywalled literature in a systematic review, arguing that her exclusion of 5 toll-access articles is justifiable on grounds compatable with the concerns of science.
McKiernan is bullish on her prospects for tenure. But more affecting in her argument was the appeal to emotion: she clearly detailed the impact of paywalled literature on biomedical researchers at Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health, where she works. The institute subscribes to 150-some journals. Of those, 60 are print-only, taking up one bookshelf. “The subscription fees are simply too expensive… The majority of the research literature is hidden to us.” She closed her presentation with photographs of her research teams, putting a human face on scientists largely shut out of the general debate due to the economic structures of the major scholarly organs.
Although McKiernan’s pledge is radical now, it may not be so in the future. SPARC’s accomplishments this year, including advocacy in DC that resulted in the OSTP Directive, FASTR, and the Omnibus Spending Bill’s open access provisions, could conceivably constitute a tipping point for OA in the States; the scholarly enterprise is inexorably moving toward more and more open dissemination of research. At Wayne State, you have the opportunity to participate in freeing your research for open use by depositing your post-prints in our institutional repository, digitalcommons.wayne.edu; by partnering with your liaison librarian to bring the Scholars Cooperative’s educational workshops to your department; or by preferring publication in an open access journal when choosing an outlet for your own research. Don’t prefer the best at the expense of the achievable; small steps advance open scholarship as surely as large ones. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to explore your options.