Archive for Open Access

LIGO and Open Science

Posted in Open Access, Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on August 8, 2017 by telescoper

I’ve just come from another meeting here at the Niels Bohr Institute between some members of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and the authors of the `Danish Paper‘. As with the other one I attended last week it was both interesting and informative. I’m not going to divulge any of the details of the discussion, but I anticipate further developments that will put some of them into the public domain fairly soon and will comment on them as and when that happens.

I think an important aspect of the way science works is that when a given individual or group publishes a result, it should be possible for others to reproduce it (or not as the case may be). In normal-sized laboratory physics it suffices to explain the experimental set-up in the published paper in sufficient detail for another individual or group to build an equivalent replica experiment if they want to check the results. In `Big Science’, e.g. with LIGO or the Large Hadron Collider, it is not practically possible for other groups to build their own copy, so the best that can be done is to release the data coming from the experiment. A basic problem with reproducibility obviously arises when this does not happen.

In astrophysics and cosmology, results in scientific papers are often based on very complicated analyses of large data sets. This is also the case for gravitational wave experiments. Fortunately in astrophysics these days researchers are generally pretty good at sharing their data, but there are a few exceptions in that field. Particle physicists, by contrast, generally treat all their data as proprietary.

Even allowing open access to data doesn’t always solve the reproducibility problem. Often extensive numerical codes are needed to process the measurements and extract meaningful output. Without access to these pipeline codes it is impossible for a third party to check the path from input to output without writing their own version, assuming that there is sufficient information to do that in the first place. That researchers should publish their software as well as their results is quite a controversial suggestion, but I think it’s the best practice for science. In any case there are often intermediate stages between `raw’ data and scientific results, as well as ancillary data products of various kinds. I think these should all be made public. Doing that could well entail a great deal of effort, but I think in the long run that it is worth it.

I’m not saying that scientific collaborations should not have a proprietary period, just that this period should end when a result is announced, and that any such announcement should be accompanied by a release of the data products and software needed to subject the analysis to independent verification.

Now, if you are interested in trying to reproduce the analysis of data from the first detection of gravitational waves by LIGO, you can go here, where you can not only download the data but also find a helpful tutorial on how to analyse it.

This seems at first sight to be fully in the spirit of open science, but if you visit that page you will find this disclaimer:


In other words, one can’t check the LIGO data analysis because not all the data and tools necessary to do that are not publicly available.  I know for a fact that this is the case because of the meetings going on here at NBI!

Given that the detection of gravitational waves is one of the most important breakthroughs ever made in physics, I think this is a matter of considerable regret. I also find it difficult to understand the reasoning that led the LIGO consortium to think it was a good plan only to go part of the way towards open science, by releasing only part of the information needed to reproduce the processing of the LIGO signals and their subsequent statistical analysis. There may be good reasons that I know nothing about, but at the moment it seems to me to me to represent a wasted opportunity.

I know I’m an extremist when it comes to open science, and there are probably many who disagree with me, so I thought I’d do a mini-poll on this issue:

Any other comments welcome through the box below!


Open Science in the European Union

Posted in Open Access, Science Politics with tags , on May 29, 2016 by telescoper

A few days ago I noticed a remarkable announcement about a meeting of European Ministers in Brussels relating to Open Access Publishing.This has subsequently been picked up by the Grauniad and has been creating quite a stir.

To summarise the report coming out of the meeting, here is a quotation from the draft communique, which states that they

…welcome open access to scientific publications as the option by default for publishing the results of publicly-funded research..

They also plan to

To remove financial and legal barriers, and to take the necessary steps for successful implementation in all scientific domains.

In a nutshell, the proposal is a move to abandon the traditional journal subscription model and embrace freely-available scientific research by 2020.

This is definitely a very good move. My only worry is that those involved seem not to have been able to make a decision on whether to go for the Green or Gold Open Access Model. The latter route has, in my opinion, been grossly abused by profiteering academic publishers who charge eye-watering “processing fees” for open access. I hope this initiative by the EU is not hijacked by vested interests as was the case with the UK’s Finch Report.

There’s clearly a lot more to be done before this proposal can be implemented, but it’s a very positive development the EU which will benefit science, both in the UK and across the continent, hugely. The European Union’s enthusiastic embrace of the principles of open access to scientific research is just one more to add to the list of reasons to remain.




Sinister Moves by Elsevier

Posted in Open Access with tags , , , , on May 18, 2016 by telescoper

I’ve been away at yet another Awayday today so only have time for a brief post before I go home and vegetate. I felt obliged, however, to draw the attention of my readership to the fact that there’s something sinister afoot in the world of academic publishing. It seems that the notoriously exploitative academic publishing company Elsevier has acquired the Social Science Research Network (SSRN), which is  the leading social science and humanities repository and online community. The SSRN currently allows readers free access more than 500,000 academic papers for free but that is highly likely to change under Elsevier whose previous practice has always been to squeeze the academic community for every penny it can get. In particular, Elsevier has a reputation for cracking down on academic papers for which it owns licences, so these recent acquisitions look like very bad news.

The Chairman of SSRN is  trying to present this as a positive move:

SSRN announced today that it has changed ownership. SSRN is joining Mendeley and Elsevier to coordinate our development and delivery of new products and services, and we look forward to our new access to data, products, and additional resources that this change facilitates.

Like SSRN, Mendeley and Elsevier are focused on creating tools that enhance researcher workflow and productivity. SSRN has been at the forefront of on-line sharing of working papers. We are committed to continue our innovation and this change will enable that to happen more quickly. SSRN will benefit from access to the vast new data and resources available, including Mendeley’s reference management and personal library management tools, their new researcher profile capabilities, and social networking features. Importantly, we will also have new access for SSRN members to authoritative performance measurement tools such as those powered by Scopus and Newsflo (a global media tracking tool). In addition, SSRN, Mendeley and Elsevier together can cooperatively build bridges to close the divide between the previously separate worlds and workflows of working papers and published papers.

We realize that this change may create some concerns about the intentions of a legacy publisher acquiring an open-access working paper repository. I shared this concern. But after much discussion about this matter and others in determining if Mendeley and Elsevier would be a good home for SSRN, I am convinced that they would be good stewards of our mission. And our copyright policies are not in conflict — our policy has always been to host only papers that do not infringe on copyrights. I expect we will have some conflicts as we align our interests, but I believe those will be surmountable.

Until recently I was convinced that the SSRN community was best served being a stand-alone entity. But in evaluating our future in the evolving landscape, I came to believe that SSRN would benefit from being more interconnected and with the resources available from a larger organization. For example, there is scale in systems administration and security, and SSRN can provide more value to users with access to more data and resources.

On a personal note, it has been an honor to be involved over the past 25 years in the founding and growth of the SSRN website and the incredible community of authors, researchers and institutions that has made this all possible. I consider it one of my great accomplishments in life. The community would not have been successful without the commitment of so many of you who have contributed in so many ways. I am proud of the community we have created, and I invite you to continue your involvement and support in this effort.

The staff at SSRN are all staying (including Gregg Gordon, CEO and myself), the Rochester office is still in place, it will still be free to upload and download papers, and we remain committed to “Tomorrow’s Research Today”. I look forward to and am committed to a successful transition and to another great 25 years for the SSRN community that rivals the first.

Michael C. Jensen
Founder & Chairman, SSRN

It sounds like they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse…

I don’t think Elsevier’s involvement in this is likely to prove beneficial to anything other than their own profits. Elsevier is one of the biggest problems in academic publishing and can  never be part of the solution.

My main concern, however,  is  that some day Elsevier might launch a hostile takeover bid for the arXiv, which would be a major setback to the physics community’s efforts to promote the free exchange of scientific papers. That must be resisted at all costs. How did the academic community allow its publishing culture to be hijacked by such companies?





Nature and the Open Journal of Astrophysics

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on January 4, 2016 by telescoper

As I prepare to return to Sussex for the new term, I find that Nature News & Comment has published a piece on a pet project I’ve blogged about on a number of occasions, The Open Journal of Astrophysics.

There are a couple of sceptical comments quoted in the piece, which is fair enough. Such views are not at all unexpected. This is a new venture and there are bound to be people who prefer to stick to the established publishing channels. I and the others involved in the Open Journal think traditional journals have long since had their day. We’ll just have to see how many others agree!

“Dutch universities start their Elsevier boycott plan”

Posted in Open Access with tags , on July 3, 2015 by telescoper

Good for them!

Bibliographic Wilderness

“We are entering a new era in publications”, said Koen Becking, chairman of the Executive Board of Tilburg University in October. On behalf of the Dutch universities, he and his colleague Gerard Meijer negotiate with scientific publishers about an open access policy. They managed to achieve agreements with some publishers, but not with the biggest one, Elsevier. Today, they start their plan to boycott Elsevier.

Dutch universities start their Elsevier boycott plan

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Elsevier in Australia

Posted in Open Access with tags , on May 23, 2014 by telescoper

More on open access, this time from the perspective of an Australian Mathematician, pointing out that the idea of Gold Open Access Hybrid Journals touted by some publishers is nothing but a scam. I won’t mention any names of course but Elsevier springs to mind.

Secret Blogging Seminar

I’ve just got back from talking to Roxanne Missingham, the University Librarian here at ANU, about Elsevier, and I want to quickly report on what I learnt.

I don’t yet have any of the juicy numbers revealing what libraries are paying for their Elsevier subscriptions (as Timothy Gowers has been doing in the UK; if you haven’t read his post do that first!). Nevertheless there are some interesting details.

Essentially all the Australian universities, excepting a few tiny private institutes, subscribe to the Freedom collection (this is the same bundle that nearly everyone is forced into subscribing to). The contracts are negotiated by CAUL (the Council of Australian University Librarians).

My librarian was very frank about Article Processing Charges (APCs) constituting double-dipping, whatever it is that Elsevier and the other publishers say. The pricing of journal bundles is so opaque, and to the extent we understand it primarily based…

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Elsevier Journals – The QMUL Figure

Posted in Open Access with tags , on May 18, 2014 by telescoper

More information on the scandalous cost of academic journals.

How would you feel if your institution paid over half a million pounds a year to Elsevier?

Edward F Hughes

A few weeks ago I reblogged Tim Gowers’ post about the cost of Elsevier journals. I noticed that my own institution (QMUL) had deflected his Freedom of Information request. Curious to learn more, I did some digging.

It turns out that QMUL paid a total of £545,306.93 to Elsevier for the academic year 2013/14. Interestingly this is more than other universities that joined the Russell Group recently. However it’s still much cheaper than the bill Cambridge, UCL, Imperial or Edinburgh face.

Unfortunately QMUL weren’t able to provide any further breakdown of the figures. Apparently this information isn’t available to the university, which seems like a very odd way of doing business. I think it likely that the vast majority of the cost is the subscription fee.

I should point out that QMUL and Cambridge certainly have differentiated access to Elsevier journals. For example QMUL Library does not have access to Science Direct…

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