Over the long Memorial Day weekend, member states of the European Union agreed on a resolution that all scientific research papers produced in EU would be Open Access by the year 2020. This is obviously welcome news for both OA advocates and for scientific researchers the world over, as they can ostensibly look forward to broader access to research. It bears a bit of further scrutiny, though, especially since write-ups from The Guardian and Science Magazine get quite a bit wrong about OA. I also want to quickly say that, though the rest of this post is critical of the resolution, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I’m happy to see awareness of OA being raised abroad, and I hope to see scholarship in the US follow suit. Instead, I just hope to explore what this resolution does and does not mean for OA.
There is some skepticism as to whether or not achieving this goal is possible, and that skepticism is justified. As reported in the Science Magazine article, even The Netherlands, considered by many to be the EU’s OA frontrunner, had targeted 2024 for its own attempt at going 100% OA for scientific articles. The EU’s League of European Research Universities, while enthusiastically supportive of the 2020 goal, says that it will not be easy to achieve; the EU’s Competitiveness Council, the group of science, trade, and industry ministers responsible for the resolution, provided little concrete information on moving towards this goal.
On the surface, it does seem as though this has potential to be impactful for scientific researchers all over the world, not just in Europe. Stevan Hanard of the University of Québec, an advocate for OA, told Science Magazine that he sees Green OA methods, such as deposit in institutional repositories (IRs) like our own DigitalCommons@WayneState, as the best way for the EU to achieve their goal. Green OA has long been the preferred method for many libraries, including here at WSU, as it does not require the authors or institutions to pay fees in order to make the work OA. If the EU pushes for IR deposit to be the primary means of achieving this OA resolution, that will certainly spell significant change for much of the scholarly publishing world. Why? Well, that requires a quick aside to talk about how IR deposits and copyright interact.
In brief, an author can only deposit their work in an IR (or other repositories) if the copyright holder permits it. Many (though not all) academic publishers require authors to sign over copyright (or at least to give the publisher an exclusive license to distribute), and hence it is often the publisher who gets to decide if an author can deposit their work in an IR. There is currently no standard among publishers, and it can in fact be quite a chore to determine the specifics of a publisher’s policies with regards to IR deposits. Were all EU researchers required to publish in journals that permitted IR deposit, this would cause a significant shift in the practices of these academic publishers. They would be forced to re-evaluate their policies regarding IR deposits (and possibly copyright), or risk missing out on submissions coming from the EU.
There are, of course, some very important caveats:
Most importantly, Green OA is not currently the preferred OA method for much of the research emanating from the EU. As pointed out in the Science Magazine article, the resolution did not express any preference as to OA method, and governments such as that of The Netherlands have long been supporting Gold OA methods instead. Putting things simplistically, Gold OA is a system whereby the author or authors of an article pay an article processing charge (APC) to the publisher to offset the percieved loss of subscription revenue on the publisher’s part. In the EU (and in the US), these APCs can be quite expensive and are often written into grant proposals. It is hard to know what the scholarly publishing landscape would look like were the EU to push Gold OA, but it would likely put an increased financial strain on any researchers unable to secure grant funding for their research.
Possibly just as important is the fact that the Competitiveness Council has been very vague about this resolution. Anyone who has some familiarity with the ins and outs of OA knows that many publishers who do allow authors to deposit works in IRs require that they be embargoed for a certain amount of time, anywhere from several months to several years. The council’s statement, as reported in Science Magazine, specified that scientific research should be published “without embargoes or with as short as possible embargoes.” This sadly leaves a lot of wiggle room, and it will remain to be seen if the Council specifies something more concrete in the future. It is perhaps a bit telling that a representative of the Council said specifically that the resolution “[…] is not a law, but it’s a political orientation for the 28 governments.”
Finally, as a bit of a post-script, this resolution seems to be concerned solely with scientific research and does not apply to research outside of the STEM fields. This is not entirely surprising, since the Competitiveness Council is comprised of ministers of science and industry, and drafting resolutions on research in the arts and humanities may be outside of the council’s purview. Still, it is unfortunate that no similar resolution has been released for research in non-STEM fields.
Over the holiday weekend, some interesting news broke via the twitter of Rik Smith-Unna, a PhD student at Cambridge University in the UK. In a GoogleDoc shared by Smith-Unna, he described a situation whereby his entire institution was blocked from access to all of Wiley’s materials under the assumption that a legitimate, academic information mining crawl was, in fact, a botnet or some similar sinister process. He goes on to describe the university being contacted by Wiley to determine the source of this “data breach”. At the root of all this confusion? Several DOIs, or Digital Object Identifiers, assigned to resources associated with Wiley products.
A brief aside for any unfamiliar with DOIs: a DOI is sequence of letters and numbers meant to uniquely identify a particular digital object (hence the name), and are widely used for scholarly articles published online. They allow any user to quickly and easily navigate to the primary online home of any such article, regardless of whether or not platforms, URLs, or journal names have changed since the item’s publication; this is an invaluable service for researchers and librarians, among others. CrossRef, a not-for-profit association of publishers, handles much of the assignment of DOIs for scholarly materials.
So what was the problem with the Wiley DOIs accessed by Smith-Unna? In short, they were fake: dummy DOIs meant to catch anyone attempting to crawl through, and harvest information on, materials hosted by Wiley online. On the surface, this doesn’t seem like poor practice on behalf of the publisher. However, in addition to blocking access because of legitimate scholarly inquiry (as was Smith-Unna’s above), there are some serious issues with this approach.
First, as mentioned by Geoffrey Bilder (CrossRef’s Director of Strategic Initiatives) in a reply to Smith-Unna’s tweet, CrossRef discourages publishers and content platforms from using fake DOIs or DOI-related things in this way. As Smith-Unna points out, the value of DOIs is that they are both unique and stable; a DOI remains the same regardless of any platform or URL changes, and each DOI is associated with one, and only one, digital item. Muddling this up with “fake” DOIs that are not stable and are not unique compromises the whole system. Can you imagine a researcher trying to access a legitimate article through its DOI and getting rerouted to one of these dummy DOI pages? Not only would this be very problematic for the researcher, it may also cause a situation like Smith-Unna and Cambridge found themselves in. Independent researchers and researchers at smaller institutions may not have as much of an ability to convince a large publisher that their accessing that DOI was legitimate, too.
Second, there are likely better ways of combating unauthorized crawling. Many other sites have do this just fine without relying on dummy DOIs. According to Bilder, in conversation with Smith-Unna on Twitter, this is not the first time CrossRef has encountered this behavior, but other platforms have stopped after CrossRef contacted them. If other platforms in the scholarly publishing realm are able to adequately cope with the threat of unauthorized crawling without resorting to setting up dummy DOIs, then why use them? The obvious answer is that it is easy, but I expect that, not that Bilder is aware of the situation, Wiley and its platforms will cease using this method.
Ideologically, though, this is of concern because it demonstrates a lack of understanding or respect for researchers on the part of Wiley and other publishers. As Bilder tweeted, this is not the first time CrossRef has had to deal with this issue, meaning that Wiley is not the first academic publisher to use dummy DOIs or “DOI-like things”. DOIs have become an important part of maintaining the scholarly record; as I’ve said a few times above, they are unique and stable identifiers for (among other things) journal articles, and most citation styles now recommend including them in lists of references in order to simplify the process of tracking cited articles down. They may not be entirely essential to research, but you’d be hard-pressed to come up with an argument that they are not extremely helpful to research. By setting up fake DOIs, Wiley and other publishers are demonstrating that saving money is more important to them than maintaining the integrity of the DOI system. Preventing unauthorized crawling is something these platforms should be doing, yes, but setting up fake DOIs is only one way of doing this. It is a cheap and easy way of doing it, but that shouldn’t matter more to these publishers than the integrity of a system that is so beneficial to their consumers.
That is why we should find this kind of behavior concerning, because it demonstrates that supporting research is not the chief priority of these publishers.
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.