Archive for Open Access

Open Access USA

Posted in Open Access with tags , , on August 26, 2022 by telescoper

There was an important announcement yesterday about Open Access from the Office of Science & Technology Policy at the White House which I picked up from Twitter. Here is a summary:

More detailed documents can be found here and here.

The principle that research that is funded by the public should be available to the public is one of the foundations of Open Access publishing and it is laudable to see this enforced more strictly. Previously journals were able to keep articles behind a paywall for an embargo period, just withholding access for up to a year. The deadline for ending this practice is December 31st 2025. I would have made it sooner, but at least it has not been kicked into the very long grass.

The problem that I can see with the policy is that it will probably involve researchers having to pay thousands of dollars in article processing fees associated with the “Gold” Open Access of the form offered by commercial publishers. When the summary says “without cost” it means “without cost to the reader”. The way it will work is that these costs are transferred to the authors. The publishers will still gather their profits.

It will take stronger policies than this to break the stranglehold of the academic publishing cartels. It is more likely in my view that radical change will emerge from the grass roots, as researchers find novel ways of publishing their work without handing huge dollops of cash to profiteers.

The Wrong Sort of Open Access

Posted in Open Access with tags , , , , , on August 14, 2022 by telescoper

I came across two articles this week on the subject of Open Access and thought I’d share them here with a few comments of my own.

The first article was published in the LSE blog on 11th August with the title Article Processing Charges (APCs) and the new enclosure of research. For those of you not in the know, an Article Process Charge (APC) is a fee that authors are required to pay a publisher to allow Open Access to the paper on publication, i.e. without readers having to pay. The fees for some journals can many thousands of dollars. The lede for the LSE blog post reads:

Drawing on a recent analysis of APC pricing and movements within the commercial publishing sector, Gunnar Sivertsen and Lin Zhang argue that APCs have now firmly established themselves as the predominant business model for academic publishing. Highlighting the inequalities inherent to this model, they posit now is the time to consider alternatives.

In the text the authors reveal that in 2020 alone APCs contributed over $2Bn in revenue to academic journal publishers. I agree with the authors’ conclusion that the APC model is unfair and unsustainable. Indeed I would go further: it’s a complete con. The actual cost of processing an article for publication is a tiny fraction of the APC – the rest is just profit. The academic community is being fleeced. The right “time to consider alternatives” was many years ago, however, when we could have prevented this ridiculous model from being established in the first place. I still believe that the model will collapse under the weight of it’s own contradictions, however, so it’s not too late to change.

The second paper (which was published in January 2022) is entitled Open Science – For Whom? and is published in the Data Science Journal. It was drawn to my attention by the first author, Martin Dominik. Here is an excerpt:

So-called “Open-Access journals” lift the economic barrier to reading scholarly articles, but flipping the paywall from the reader to the author is not a viable solution and inhibits global participation in the scientific process. While article processing charges as well as read-and-publish deals currently on offer appear to be unaffordable to many institutions or individuals (not only in low- and middle-income countries), already the requirement of somebody else having to sign off for getting research published collides with the principles of academic freedom.

and later:

Flipping the paywall is not a solution for scholarly communication in a global Open Science ecosystem. Author-pays-charge models for disseminating research results are not viable in practice and simply absurd.

Simply absurd is right; see the above comments. How on Earth did we let the APC model take hold? I think the answer to that is inertia and lack of imagination within the academic community. It seems many researchers are willing to complain publicly about the absurdity of APCs but far fewer are willing to do something about the situation.

I pointed out the unfairness of APCs in a blog post ten years ago. I ended that post with this paragraph:

I for one have no intention of ever paying an Article Processing Charge. If the journals I publish in insist on levying one, I’ll just forget about the journals altogether and put my papers on the arXiv. I urge my colleagues to do the same.

I’m glad to say that I’ve kept that pledge and have never paid an APC. I recently completed a survey about Open Access which included a question about what level of APC I thought was reasonable; I put zero.

The way forward, I believe, is Diamond Open Access (i.e. free for both authors and readers), such as that offered by the Open Journal of Astrophysics. This is not the only model, of course, but we have at least demonstrated that it is viable (and indeed rather successful). And at least in setting up the Open Journal of Astrophysics I’ve done a bit more than whinge.

Overlay journals: a study of the current landscape

Posted in Open Access with tags , , on April 11, 2022 by telescoper

There’s a recent paper on the arXiv by Rousi & Laakso (both based in Finland) with the above title and the following abstract:

Overlay journals are characterised by their articles being archived on public open access repositories, often already starting in their initial preprint form as a prerequisite for submission to the journal prior to initiating the peer-review process. In this study we aimed to identify currently active overlay journals and examine their characteristics. We utilised an explorative web search and contacted key service providers for additional information. The final sample consisted of 35 active overlay journals. While the results show an increase in the number of overlay journals in recent years, the current presence of overlay journals is diminutive compared to the overall number of open access journals. The majority of overlay journals publish articles in the natural sciences, mathematics or computer sciences. Overlay journals are commonly published by groups of scientists rather than formal organisations and overlay journals may also rank highly within the traditional journal citation metrics. Nearly none of the investigated journals charge fees from authors, which is likely related to the cost-effectiveness of the overlay publishing model. Both the growth in adoption of open access preprint repositories, and researchers willingness to publish in overlay journals will determine the models wider impact on scholarly publishing.

You can find a discussion of overlay journals in general here, where I learnt that the term “overlay journal” was coined back in 1996 but it obviously took quite a long time to implement the idea in functioning platforms. The paper is well worth reading. It contains some analysis of journal citation metrics but because most of the journals are young this information is very sparse. The Open Journal of Astrophysics of course gets a mention. It doesn’t yet have a Journal Impact Factor. Some of the journals in the Rousi-Laakso paper have a JIF but this dates from a time before the journal flipped to overlay state. For your information, the JIF for year n is based on citations received in that year for papers published in years n-1 and n-2. The Open Journal of Astrophysics should qualify for a JIF for 2021 based on papers published in 2019 and 2020 but Clarivate (who control such things) doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to issue one.

I think Journal Impact Factors are a waste of time. Why use journal level metrics when there is plenty of information at the article level? On the other hand the bean-counters in charge of science funding in several countries (including Italy) insist that papers resulting from this funding should be published in papers with a high JIF so I’m aware that not having a JIF is a limiting factor for some.

Of course many fields do not use the arXiv, but there is no reason why the principle of the overlay journal could not be applied to other forms of repository. There has been a culture in physics and astronomy of circulating preprints for a very long time now, and it may take a while for this to permeate into other disciplines.

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.