Archive for Green Open Access

Learned Societies and Open Access

Posted in Open Access with tags , , , , , on November 8, 2018 by telescoper

Tuesday’s quick post about a letter of opposition to Plan S generated some comments from academics about the role of “Learned Societies” in academic publishing.  I therefore think it’s relevant to raise some points about the extent that these organizations (including, in my field,  the Royal Astronomical Society and the Institute of Physics) rely for their financial security upon the revenues generated by publishing traditional journals.

Take IOP Publishing, for example. This is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Institute of Physics that has an annual turnover of around £60M generated from books and journals. This revenue is the largest contribution to the income that the IoP needs to run its numerous activities relating to the promotion of physics.  A similar situation pertains to the Royal Astronomical Society, although on a smaller scale, as it relies for much of its income from Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, in which as a matter of fact I have published quite a few papers.

Not surprisingly, these and other learned societies are keen to protect their main source of cash. When I criticized the exploitative behaviour of IoP Publishing some time ago in a recent blog post, I drew a stern response from the Chief Executive of the Institute of Physics, Paul Hardaker. That comment seems to admit that the high prices charged by IOP Publishing for access to  its journals is nothing to do with the real cost of disseminating scientific knowledge but is instead a means of generating income to allow the IoP to pursue its noble aim of  “promoting Physics”.

This is the case for other learned societies too, and it explains why such organizations have lobbied very hard for the “Gold” Open Access some authorities are attempting to foist on the research community, rather than the far more sensible and sustainable “Green” Open Access model and its variants.

Some time ago I came across another blog post, pointing out that other learned societies around the world are also opposing Green Open Access:

There is also great incentive for the people who manage and run these organisations to defend their cartel. For example, the American Chemical Society, a huge opponent to open access, pays many of its employees, as reported in their 990 tax return, over six figures. These salaries ranged from $304,528 to $1,084,417 in 2010.

The problem with the learned societies behaving this way is twofold.

First, I consider it to be inevitable that the traditional journal industry will very soon be completely bypassed in favour of some form of green (or at least not gold) Open Access. The internet has changed the entire landscape of scientific publication. It’s now so cheap and so easy to disseminate knowledge that traditional journals are already virtually redundant, especially in my field of astrophysics where we have been using the arXiv for so long that many of us hardly ever look at journals.

The comfortable income stream that has been used by the IoP to “promote Physics”, as well as to furnish its brand new building in King’s Cross, will dry up unless these organizations find a way of defending it. The “Gold” OA favoured by such organizations their attempt to stem the tide. I think this move into Gold `Open Access’, paid for by ruinously expensive Article Processing charges paid by authors (or their organizations) is unsustainable because the research community will see through it and refuse to pay.

The other problematic aspect of the approach of these learned societies is that I think it is fundamentally dishonest. University and institutional libraries are provided with funds to provide access to published research, not to provide a backdoor subsidy for a range of extraneous activities that have nothing to do with that purpose. The learned societies do many good things – and some are indeed outstandingly good – but that does not give them the right to siphon off funds from their constituents in this way.  Institutional affiliation, paid for by fee, would be a much fairer way of funding these activities.

I should point out that, as a FRAS and a FInstP, I pay annual subscriptions to both the RAS and the IoP. I am happy to do so, as I feel comfortable spending some of my own money supporting astronomy and physics. What I don’t agree with is my department having to fork out huge amounts of money from an ever-dwindling budget for access to scientific research that should be in the public domain because it has already been funded by the taxpayer.

Some time ago I had occasion to visit the London offices of a well-known charitable organization which shall remain nameless. The property they occupied was glitzy, palatial, and obviously very expensive. I couldn’t help wondering how they could square the opulence of their headquarters with the quoted desire to spend as much as possible on their good works. Being old and cynical, I came to the conclusion that, although charities might start out with the noblest intentions, there is a grave danger that they simply become self-serving, viewing their own existence in itself as more important than what they do for others.

The commercial academic publishing industry has definitely gone that way. It arose because of the need to review, edit, collate, publish and disseminate the fruits of academic labour. Then the ease with which profits could be made led it astray. It now fulfills little or no useful purpose, but simply consumes financial resources that could be put to much better effect actually doing science. Fortunately, I think the scientific community knows this and the parasite will die a natural death.

The question for learned societies is whether they can find a sustainable funding model that isn’t reliant upon effectively purloining funds from university library budgets. If their revenue from publishing does fall, can they replace it? And, if not, in what form can they survive?


Thoughts on `Plan S’, `cOAlition S’ and Open Access Publishing

Posted in Open Access with tags , , , , , , on September 22, 2018 by telescoper

Those of you who have been following my recent updates on progress with The Open Journal of Astrophysics may be interested to hear about `Plan S’, which is a proposal by 11 European Nations to give the public free access to publicly funded science. The 11 countries involved in this initiative are: France, Italy, Austria, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden, and the UK. Since the plan will not come into effect until 1st January 2020, which is after the UK leaves the EU it is by no means clear whether the UK will actually be involved in ERC initiatives after that. Norway is not in the EU but is associated to the ERC. It is unlikely that the UK will have a similar status after Brexit.

Anyway, these 11 countries have formed `cOAlition S’ – the `OA’ is for `Open Access’ – to carry out the plan, which can be found here.

Here is a summary:

You can read more about it here. I have not yet looked at the details of what will be regarded as `compliant’ in terms of Open Access but if the the Open Journal of Astrophysics is not fully compliant as it stands, I expect it can be made so (although we are a genuinely international journal not limited to the 11 countries involved in Plan S).

Anyway, although I support Plan S in general terms what I sincerely hope will not happen with this initiative is that researchers and their institutions get mugged into paying an extortionate `Gold’ Open Access Article Processing Charge (APC) which is simply a means for the academic publishing industry to maintain its inflated profit margins at the expense of actual research. The Open Journal of Astrophysics is Green rather than Gold. In fact the cost of maintaining and running the platform is about $1000 per annum, and the marginal cost for processing each paper is $10 or actually $11 if you count registering published articles with CrossRef (though we do not incur that cost if the article is rejected). In effect running the entire journal costs less than a typical APC for Gold Open Access for one physics paper. Those costs will be born by my institution, Maynooth University. The UK was conned into going down this route some years ago by the publishing lobby, and I hope the other cOAlition S partners do not fall for the same scam.

The Open Journal of Astrophysics – Call for Editors

Posted in Maynooth, Open Access with tags , , , on September 17, 2018 by telescoper

It’s nice to see that my recent post on the Open Journal of Astrophysics has been attracting some interest. The project is developing rather swiftly right now and it seems the main problems we have to deal with are administrative rather than technical. Fingers crossed anyway.

I thought I’d do a follow-up re-iterating a request in that recent post. As you will be aware, the Open Journal of Astrophysics is an arXiv overlay journal. We apply a simple criterion to decide whether a paper is on a suitable topic for publication, namely that if it it is suitable for the astro-ph section of the arXiv then it is suitable for the Open Journal of Astrophysics. This section of the arXiv, which is rather broad,is divided thuswise:

  1. astro-ph.GA – Astrophysics of Galaxies.
    Phenomena pertaining to galaxies or the Milky Way. Star clusters, HII regions and planetary nebulae, the interstellar medium, atomic and molecular clouds, dust. Stellar populations. Galactic structure, formation, dynamics. Galactic nuclei, bulges, disks, halo. Active Galactic Nuclei, supermassive black holes, quasars. Gravitational lens systems. The Milky Way and its contents
  2. astro-ph.CO – Cosmology and Nongalactic Astrophysics.
    Phenomenology of early universe, cosmic microwave background, cosmological parameters, primordial element abundances, extragalactic distance scale, large-scale structure of the universe. Groups, superclusters, voids, intergalactic medium. Particle astrophysics: dark energy, dark matter, baryogenesis, leptogenesis, inflationary models, reheating, monopoles, WIMPs, cosmic strings, primordial black holes, cosmological gravitational radiation
  3. astro-ph.EP – Earth and Planetary Astrophysics.
    Interplanetary medium, planetary physics, planetary astrobiology, extrasolar planets, comets, asteroids, meteorites. Structure and formation of the solar system
  4. astro-ph.HE – High Energy Astrophysical Phenomena.
    Cosmic ray production, acceleration, propagation, detection. Gamma ray astronomy and bursts, X-rays, charged particles, supernovae and other explosive phenomena, stellar remnants and accretion systems, jets, microquasars, neutron stars, pulsars, black holes
  5. astro-ph.IM – Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics.
    Detector and telescope design, experiment proposals. Laboratory Astrophysics. Methods for data analysis, statistical methods. Software, database design
  6. astro-ph.SR – Solar and Stellar Astrophysics.
    White dwarfs, brown dwarfs, cataclysmic variables. Star formation and protostellar systems, stellar astrobiology, binary and multiple systems of stars, stellar evolution and structure, coronas. Central stars of planetary nebulae. Helioseismology, solar neutrinos, production and detection of gravitational radiation from stellar systems.

The expertise of the current Editorial Board is concentrated in the area of (2), and a bit of (5), but we would really like to add some editors from different areas (i.e. 1, 3, 4 and 6).  We  would therefore really appreciate volunteers from other areas of astrophysics (especially stars/exoplanets, etc). If you’re interested please let me know. Please also circulate this call as widely as possible among your colleagues so we can recruit the necessary expertise. The journal is entirely free (both to publish in and to read) and we can’t afford to pay a fee, but there is of course the prestige of being in at the start of a publishing revolution of cosmic proportions!

If you join the Editorial Board we will invite you to an online training session to show you how the platform works.

Thank you in advance for your interest in this project, and I look forward to hearing from you.




The Open Journal of Astrophysics – Update

Posted in Maynooth, Open Access with tags , , , on September 13, 2018 by telescoper

The observant among you will have noticed that the website for the Open Journal of Astrophysics is currently offline. This emphatically does not mean that this project is dead so

In fact we’re in the process of moving the journal to a new platform (at the same web address) and the new site will be up and running as soon as we have completed the transfer, have tested the new configuration and done a few administrative things. All papers already published on the old site will be transferred to the new one and their DOI will remain unchanged. In fact the old site is still available, but at a secret location.

I’ll be blogging in a bit more detail about the new-look Open Journal of Astrophysics in due course, but in the mean time I’ll just make a few points.

First and foremost, if you don’t know what this project is about it is an idea I first floated over five years ago, shortly before I moved to Sussex. Although we got a website together and published a few papers, for one reason or another I didn’t have time to iron out some remaining bugs and the project stalled. However, after my move to Maynooth University I’ve been delighted to receive the support of the Maynooth University Library team and we’re now moving ahead. I know there have been a few false dawns on this project – for which I apologize – so I won’t announce the full re-opening until I’m absolutely sure everything works.

Second, and actually most importantly, the Editorial Board for the Open Journal of Astrophysics is looking for new members. We already have several distinguished editors, but the expertise we currently have is concentrated (not surprisingly) in cosmology, and we would really appreciate volunteers from other areas of astrophysics (especially stars/exoplanets, etc). If you’re interested please let me know.

Third, although the platform will look a little different (i.e. better) the overall philosophy of the Open Journal will remain as it always was, a fully `Green’ Open Access Journal, as defined by the following points:

  • There will be no charge for accessing or downloading OJA papers (i.e. no subscription fee).
  • There will be no charge for submitting, reviewing or publishing OJA papers (i.e. no `article processing charge’).
  • The OJA is a peer-reviewed journal; all papers accepted for publication will be assigned a DOI and registered with Crossref for citation tracking purposes.
  • The OJA is an arXiv overlay journal, so paper submitted to it must first be submitted to the arXiv.

Finally, I will mention that I was motivated to post this update by a piece by George Monbiot in todays’s Guardian. I don’t agree with everything Monbiot says, but he is dead right about this:

In the great majority of cases, the research reported has been funded by taxpayers. Most of the work involved in writing the papers, reviewing and editing them is carried out at public expense by people at universities. Yet this public asset has been captured, packaged and sold back to us for phenomenal fees. Those who pay most are publicly funded libraries. Taxpayers must shell out twice: first for the research, then to see the work they have sponsored. There might be legal justifications for this practice. There are no ethical justifications.

I’ve said as much myself on this blog. My point is that the academic publishing industry is not going to change of its own volition. If the Academic Journal Racket is to be rumbled, it is we (by which I mean academics and our institutions) who have to take control. Sitting on our hands while we get systematically fleeced is not an option. One way to do this is for institutions and organizations to themselves become Open Access publishers, which is precisely what my current institution is doing: Maynooth University will be the official publisher of the Open Journal of Astrophysics (and hopefully many more similar journals in the future).

Open Confusion

Posted in Open Access with tags , , , on March 18, 2013 by telescoper

Catching up yesterday evening with the Times Higher, I found yet another article about the confusion generated by RCUK‘s plans for Open Access publishing. Apparently pressured by the powerful Publishers Association, RCUK has adopted the following “decision tree” to explain how its proposal will work.

As you can see, this basically says that if you have any money from RCUK  for Open Access you have to spend it on the Gold Open Access which means you have to hand it all over to a publisher. Only when you’re skint can you go Green, and even then you have to tolerate a lengthy embargo.  This is as transparent a scam as you could ever hope to find. The Academic Publishing Industry is clearly out to fleece us for as much as it can get away with, bleeding our block grants dry before allowing us to do the right thing and publish our research the only sensible way, i.e. via Green OA repositories such as the arXiv.

There’s more:

An RCUK spokeswoman confirmed that even when funding for gold is still available via universities’ RCUK-provided block grants, researchers could still choose the green option with its shorter embargo periods.

But this reading of the decision tree was disputed by a spokeswoman for the Publishers Association. She insisted that if funds and gold options were available, researchers should choose gold.

It is obvious from this exchange that the agenda is not being generated by researchers or the research councils, but by the Publishers Association, who have hijacked the entire Open Access debate for their own ends.  Clearly the Academic Publishing Industry doesn’t live in the austere economy the rest of us inhabit – their profits are protected by generous dollops of cash from the taxpayer via RCUK.

And the government seems happy to go along with this hefty backdoor subsidy. I wonder why?

Missing the Point on Open Access

Posted in Open Access with tags , , , , , , on January 28, 2013 by telescoper

Blogging this week will be a bit patchy as I try to finish off a few Cardiff jobs before the big move to Sussex at the end of the week. However, I have got time today for a quick comment on an article I saw in yesterday’s Observer.

The piece tries argue  that the government’s plans for Open Access, stemming from the Finch Report, amount to an “attack on academic freedoms”, a stance apparently held by a number of eminent historians (and others). The argument is that the Gold Open Access model preferred by RCUK will require the payment of Article Processing Charges (APCs) which could in some cases amount to thousands of pounds per article. Departmental budget holders (possibly administrators rather than academics) will then have to be involved in decisions about which papers can be funded and which can’t. This, it is argued, will mean that researchers will have much less freedom to publish when, where and what they like – the people holding the purse strings will have the final say.

A similar point was made by Mike Cruise in a strange article that appeared in the latest Astronomy and Geophysics (house organ of the Royal Astronomical Society):

Even in the UK it is not clear how the flow of funding for APCs will work. Will universities limit an academic’s publication rate or where he or she can publish? How and by whom will this funding be controlled? Academic freedom may, perversely, be curtailed as a result of open access.

So does Open Access pose a real threat to academic freedom? The answer is “yes”, but only if the Research Councils persist in forcing academics to pay the extortionate APCs demanded by academic publishers, out of all proportion to the real cost of publishing a paper on the internet, which is (at the very most) a few tens of pounds per article. Publishers want a much higher fee than this because they want to maintain their eye-watering profit margins, despite the fact that the “service” they provide has been rendered entirely obsolete by digital technologies. Any protests against open access should be directed to the real enemy, i.e. the profiteers.

The Finch Report was hi-jacked by the publishing lobby, with the result that RCUK has been persuaded to pour  millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money down a gold-plated drain. The model it recommends is absurd and clearly unsustainable. Low-cost repositories and community-based refereeing can deliver Green Open Access at a tiny fraction of the cost of the Gold Option, by cutting out the middle men.

All that’s needed to defend academic freedoms  is to set up on-line subject-based repositories in much the same way as physicists and astronomers have set up the arXiv. In other words, the historians just need an archive.  They should be comfortable with that idea. And as for refereeing, they can do that the way it will shortly be done in astronomy…

P.S.  Astronomy & Geophysics have invited me to write a response to Mike Cruise’s article; my piece should appear in the April 2013 issue. Hopefully it won’t be behind a paywall.

Aaron Swartz and Open Access

Posted in Open Access with tags , , , on January 14, 2013 by telescoper

Just time for a very brief comment about the tragic death, apparently by his own hand,  of Aaron Swartz on Friday.  For those of you who haven’t followed the story, or perhaps don’t even know who he was, Aaron Swartz was an “internet activist” and leading champion of the open data movement. He was  a young man, only 26 when he died, who was prepared to fight for a cause he truly believed in. And to die for it.

Aaron Swartz was being prosecuted for alleged illegal downloads of scientific papers from the JSTOR system so he could make them available to the public. If convicted he would have faced a sentence of up to 35 years in prison.

Whether his prosecution was according to the letter of the law is a question I’ll leave for others to discuss. I’ll just say that it’s profoundly objectionable that the papers in the JSTOR are behind a paywall in the first place, just another example of how the academic publishing industry now actively stifles the free communication of scientific ideas and results that it purports to facilitate.

Aaron Swartz was a controversial character, but I know I’m not alone in thinking that his prosecution  was at the least heavy-handed and at the worst downright vindictive. Academics have been using the hashtag #PDFtribute on Twitter to pay tribute to his courage and to follow his example by posting their own research publicly free of charge.

Astronomers have making their results available in this way for years, through the arXiv.  We have also been paying through the nose for subscriptions to journals that do little more than duplicate the arXiv submission at such a prohibitive cost for access that the public can’t access them. In future we’re supposed to pay huge fees up front to academic publishing houses, to duplicate the arXiv in a different but equally pointless way. Pointless, that is, from any perspective other than their own profits.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I’ve suggested a way to bypass traditional journals and achieve a form of publication that is both open to all and run at a minimal cost to authors. That will be going on-line in the not-too-distant future. One thing remaining to be resolved is the name for the new system. I still haven’t decided on that, but at least I now know to whose name it will be dedicated.

R.I.P. Aaron Swartz (1986-2013).