Archive for Open Access

UNESCO and Open Science

Posted in Open Access, Politics with tags , , , , , on January 12, 2022 by telescoper

Time to pass on news of an interesting development from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) concerning Open Science. Here’s a little video to explain what it’s about:

A press release announcing the new recommendations begins thus:

The first international framework on open science was adopted by 193 countries attending UNESCO’s General Conference. By making science more transparent and more accessible, the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science will make science more equitable and inclusive. 

Through open science, scientists and engineers use open licenses to share their publications and data, software and even hardware more widely. Open science should, thus, enhance international scientific cooperation. 

Some 70% of scientific publications are locked behind paywalls. Over the past two years, however, this proportion has dropped to about 30% for publications on COVID-19 specifically. This shows that science can be more open. 

The framework document itself is here (21 pages). It’s a very general document, the strongest aspect of which is that it takes a broad view of open science. When I’ve talked and written about open access publishing I’ve always stressed that represents only one aspect of open science: there is a need to share data and analysis software too.

You can find an upbeat commentary on the new agreement by James Wilsdon here. Here’s a snippet:

At a time when ideologies opposed to universalism, multilateralism, and collaboration are gaining ground in many parts of the world—exacerbated by greed, corruption, and exploitation of common assets and resources—the scientific system is as vulnerable as it has always been to reflecting both the best and the worst of society’s wider tendencies.

Moves towards open research have gained significant ground over the past twenty years, but this progress remains fragile, under-resourced, and at times willfully or unintentionally blind to the fresh inequalities and pressures it can create—particularly for researchers and institutions in the global south.

For me, the greatest strengths of the UNESCO statement are its breadth and holism—unlike some declarations in this field, it speaks with an authentically international chorus of voices. It reasserts the need for cultural, linguistic, and disciplinary pluralism, and reminds us that openness is ultimately a means to more fundamental ends. The recommendation returns repeatedly to the importance of infrastructures and incentives, which need to be financed, sustained, and better aligned.

I couldn’t agree more!

Learned Societies, Equity, and Open Access

Posted in Open Access with tags , , , , , on November 8, 2021 by telescoper

I’m not getting much time these days to think about new ideas for blog posts so yet again I’m going to rehash an old one, but at least it is somewhat topical because of an interesting blog post I saw recently about the American Sociological Association. Referring to the inequity of the way this particular society is funded the author says

The greatest source of income for the association is publications, which is mostly subscriptions to journals paid by academic libraries, which are being bled dry by profit-making publishers that ASA organizes academic labor to subsidize with free content and editorial services. This is a wealth transfer from poorer, teaching-intensive libraries to richer, research-intensive libraries.

I tthink it’s relevant to raise some points about the extent that such 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 and why this is not in the best interests of their disciplines.

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 approaches to Open Access employed, for example, by the Open Journal of Astrophysics.

Some time ago I came across another blog post, pointing out that other learned societies around the world are also opposing anything other than the most expensive forms of 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  other forms of Open Access publishing. 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 other 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 reasonably 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?

New Publication at the Open Journal of Astrophysics

Posted in Open Access, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on November 5, 2021 by telescoper

Time to announce yet another publication in the Open Journal of Astrophysics. This one is the 14th paper in Volume 4 (2021) and the 45th in all.

The latest publication is entitled  Ultra Fast Astronomy: Optimized Detection of Multimessenger Transients, and is in the section marked Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics.  The authors are Mikhail Denissenya of Nazarbayev University (Kazakhstan) and Eric V. Linder of the University of California at Berkeley (USA).

Here is a screen grab of the overlay which includes the abstract:

You can find the paper on the Open Journal of Astrophysics site here and can also read it directly on the arXiv here.

New Publication at the Open Journal of Astrophysics

Posted in Open Access, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on October 20, 2021 by telescoper

Time to announce another publication in the Open Journal of Astrophysics. This one is the 13th paper in Volume 4 (2021) and the 44th in all.

The latest publication is entitled  The LSST-DESC 3x2pt Tomography Optimization Challengeand is in the folder marked Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics, and is especially relevant for cosmology. The paper is led by Joe Zuntz of the University of Edinburgh, and there are 27 authors altogether, scattered across the globe, representing the LSST Dark Energy Science Collaboration.

Here is a screen grab of the overlay which includes the abstract:

You can find the paper on the Open Journal of Astrophysics site here and can also read it directly on the arXiv here.

Open Access and the Open Journal of Astrophysics

Posted in Open Access, YouTube with tags , , on September 18, 2021 by telescoper

Here is the video recording of the Invited Colloquium at the International School Daniel Chalonge – Hector de Vega I gave via Zoom on15th September 2021, introduced by Prof. Norma Sanchez.

In the talk I give a review about the absurdity of the current system of academic publishing, about what Open Access publishing means, and give a short introduction to the Open Journal of Astrophysics, an arXiv overlay journal.

I’m sorry if the recording is a bit choppy but that’s an occupational hazard with Zoom recordings and rather limited broadband!

The talk itself lasts about an hour, but was followed by an interesting discussion session so although the full video is rather long (2 1/2 hours) I’ve put it all there on Youtube.

You can download the video here. A PDF of the slides may be found here. You can also view the slides on slideshare:

Reminder of talk today!

Posted in Open Access with tags , on September 14, 2021 by telescoper

The AAS goes for Gold

Posted in Open Access, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on September 2, 2021 by telescoper

Yesterday there was a big announcement from the American Astronomical Society (AAS) , namely that all its journals will switch to Open Access from 1st January 2022. This transition will affect the Astronomical Journal (AJ), the Astrophysical Journal (ApJ), Astrophysical Journal Letters (ApJL), and the Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series (ApJS). Previously authors were able to opt for Open Access but from next year it will apply to all papers.

The positive aspect to this change is that it makes articles published by the AAS freely available to the public and other scientists without requiring the payment of a subscription.

On the other hand, these journals will require authors to pay a hefty sum, equivalent to an Article Processing Charge (APC), that increases with the length and complexity of a paper. AAS journals have in the past levied “page charges” from authors for standard (non-OA) publications. In the new regime these are merged into a unified scheme. Here is a summary of the rates.

What’s on offer is therefore a form of Gold Open Access that switches the cost of publication from subscribers to authors. In my view this level of APC is excessive, which is why I call this Fool’s Gold Open Access. Although the AAS is a not-for-profit organization, its journals are published by the Institute of Physics Publishing which is a definitely-for-profit organization.

The Open Journal of Astrophysics charges neither subscribers nor authors; this form of Open Access is usually called Diamond or Platinum Open Access.

The terminology surrounding Open Access is confusing not least because its usage is evolving. In the current jargon, “Gold” Open Access refers to publication that is free to access at the journal. The principal alternative is “Green” Open Access, which means that free access is offered through depositing the paper in some form of repository separate from the journal. Some astronomical journals allow authors to deposit their articles on arXiv, for example, which is probably the main way in which astrophysicists achieve Green Open Access.

Nowadays “Gold” Open Access refers to anything that is made available freely by a journal regardless of whether an APC is charged or not. The Diamond Open Access provided by the Open Journal of Astrophysics is thus a special case of Gold Open Access. A classification in which Diamond and Platinum are subdivisions of Gold must confuse the heck out of chemists, but that’s where we are at the moment. At least it’s not as bad as in astrophysics where the only terms used to describe chemical elements are hydrogen, helium and “metals”…

While I am glad to see the AAS move its journals into Open Access configurations, I can’t agree with the level of APC. The Open Journal of Astrophysics may be relatively small but it has plenty of capacity for growth while remaining entirely free. The more people realize that it costs tens of dollars rather than thousands to publish a paper the more likely it is that they’ll see the moral case for Diamond Open Access.

Happy 30th Birthday to the arXiv!

Posted in Biographical, Open Access, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on August 14, 2021 by telescoper

I was reminded yesterday that today, 14th August, is the 30th anniversary of the start of the arXiv so I thought I’d send a quick birthday greeting to mark the occasion. In case you weren’t aware, arXiv is a free distribution service and an open-access archive containing (currently) 1,928,825 scholarly articles in the fields of physics, mathematics, computer science, quantitative biology, quantitative finance, statistics, electrical engineering and systems science, and economics.

There was a precursor to the arXiv in the form of an email distribution list for preprints, but arXiv proper started on 14th August 1991. It was based at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) with a mirror site in SISSA (Trieste) that was used by those of us in Europe. In the beginning, arXiv was quite a small-scale thing and it wasn’t that easy to upload full papers including figures. In fact the SISSA system was run from a single IBM 386 PC (called “Babbage”). As it expanded, the running of arXiv was taken over Cornell University. You can read more about the history here.

You have to remember that journals didn’t generally have electronic submission in those days: you had to send paper manuscripts in the post to the Editorial office. Likewise many of us carried on sending out paper preprints for some time after the arXiv was set up. Younger researchers should be grateful they don’t have to put up with the absolute chore of producing papers the old-fashioned way!

The astrophysics section of arXiv (“astro-ph”) started in April 1992. Although astrophysicists generally were quick to latch on to this new method of distributing preprints, it took me a little time to get onto arXiv: my first papers did not appear there until February 1993; my first publication was in 1986 so there are quite a few of my early papers that aren’t on arXiv at all. In 1993 I was working at Queen Mary & Westfield College (as it was then called). I was working a lot with collaborators based in Italy at the time and they decided to start posting our joint papers on arXiv. Without that impetus it would have taken me much longer to get to grips with it.

In case you’re interested, my first paper to appear on the arXiv was this one on 23rd February 1993 but it was followed a day later by two others, this one and that one. I don’t remember very well, but this was an exercise in catching up and all three of those papers were actually published in journals before we put them on arXiv. It was only later that we got into the habit of posting papers on arXiv at the same time as submitting to a journal, which I think is the best way to do it!

The Open Journal of Astrophysics would not have been possible without the arXiv but in a wider sense the astrophysics community has a very great deal to thank the arXiv for, but remember that it is funded by donations and is run on a shoestring. If you agree that it’s a tremendously useful asset for your research then please consider making a donation.

Open Science and Open Software

Posted in Open Access, Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on May 22, 2021 by telescoper

As the regular readers of this blog – both of them – will know, I’ve been banging on from time to time about Open Access to scientific publications. After posting a video featuring Volker Springel and the GADGET-4 code I thought I’d return to an issue that came up briefly in my recent talk about Open Access and the Open Journal of Astrophysics here which is the question whether open access to scientific results enough, or do we have to go a lot further?

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). Traditional journal publications don’t always allow this. In my own field of astrophysics/cosmology, for example, results in scientific papers are often based on very complicated analyses of large data sets. This is increasingly the case in other fields too. A basic problem obviously arises when data are not made public. Fortunately in astrophysics these days researchers are pretty good at sharing their data, although this hasn’t always been the case.

However, 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. There isn’t a uniform policy in astrophysics and cosmology, but I sense that quite a few people out there agree with me. Cosmological numerical simulations, for example, can be performed by anyone with a sufficiently big computer using GADGET the source codes of which are freely available. Likewise, for CMB analysis, there is the excellent CAMB code, which can be downloaded at will; this is in a long tradition of openly available numerical codes, including CMBFAST and HealPix. Researchers in these and other areas do tend to share their software on open-access repositories, especially GitHub.

I suspect some researchers might be reluctant to share the codes they have written because they feel they won’t get sufficient credit for work done using them. I don’t think this is true, as researchers are generally very appreciative of such openness and publications describing the corresponding codes are generously cited. In any case I don’t think it’s appropriate to withhold such programs from the wider community, which prevents them being either scrutinized or extended as well as being used to further scientific research. In other words excessively proprietorial attitudes to data analysis software are detrimental to the spirit of open science.

Anyway, my views are by no means guaranteed to be representative of the community, so I’d like to ask for a quick show of hands via a poll that I started about 8 years ago.

You are of course welcome to comment via the usual box, as long as you respect my comments policy…

Name Change Policy at the Open Journal of Astrophysics

Posted in LGBT, Open Access with tags , on April 27, 2021 by telescoper

This lunchtime I took a bit of time out to complete a task that has been on my to-do list for some time. It has been announced in a blog post at the Open Journal of Astrophysics.

The recent announcement by arXiv of a name change policy has enabled the Open Journal of Astrophysics to introduce a policy of its own concerning author name changes. The aim of such a policy is to reduce barriers to changing public records and online identity, thereby fostering diversity and promoting inclusivity. The changes announced follow recommendations by the Committee On Publication Ethics (COPE).

Since the Open Journal of Astrophysics is an arXiv overlay journal which is totally dependent on the arXiv platform we had to wait until arXiv announced its policy before following it with one of our own, which were recently able to do.

The arXiv now allows the following options:

  1. In full text works: the author name can be changed in the PDF and/or LaTeX source where it appears in the author list, acknowledgments, and email address.
  2. In metadata: the name and email address can be changed in the author list metadata and in the submission history metadata for all existing versions.
  3. In user accounts: the name, username, and email address can all be changed.

The arXiv policy notes, however, that

We are not currently able to support name changes in references and citations of works. Also, arXiv cannot make changes to other services, including third party search and discovery tools that may display author lists for papers on arXiv.

Since the Open Journal of Astrophysics deposits author metadata for all our papers with the Crossref system we can plug this gap by undertaking to redeposit all necessary information to reflect author name changes. Since author metadata is attached to the DOI we issue, this will ensure that citations and references tracked through this system are updated when an author changes their name.

If any author of a paper published in the Open Journal of Astrophysics wishes to make use of this policy the best procedure is to first contact the arXiv under their policy. Once any changes have been made to the arXiv submission the author should contact us with a request. We will then make any necessary changes to the overlay on the Open Journal of Astrophysics site and redeposit amended metadata to Crossref free of charge. We also undertake to ensure entries are updated at the NASA/ADS system.

Following the guidance from COPE the Open Journal of Astrophysics will neither seek permission from nor inform co-authors of any such change.

A list of other journals/publishers and their name change policies can be found here.