Archive for 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?

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Chemists against Plan S..

Posted in Open Access, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on November 6, 2018 by telescoper

There’s an `Open Letter’ doing the rounds which rails against the European Plan S for open access to research papers . You can find it here on Google Docs. It is apparently initiated by some chemists, and there are very few signatories who are not chemists, though the language used in the letter suggests that the authors are talking for a much broader group.

My own thoughts on Plan S can be found here. I’m basically supportive of it. I suggest you read the letter for yourself and decide what you think. I think there are many rather inaccurate statements in it, including the idea that the journals run by Learned Societies are not profit-making. In my experience some of the most exploitative publishing practice comes from these organizations, though it takes something to beat the likes of Elsevier and Springer in that regard.

I share the concern about some researchers being driven to expensive `Gold’ Open Access modes of publication,  which is why I started the Open Journal of Astrophysics which I think offers a viable route to peer-reviewed publication that’s not only low-cost, but entirely free for authors and readers. Open Access publication is really not expensive to do. It’s just that some organizations see it as an opportunity to make enormous profits.

Incidentally, I just came across this summary of different routes to open access and their implications here:

In my opinion, Column H is the place to be!

I’ve given quite a few talks about Open Access recently and one of the things that struck me in the Q & A sessions after them is the extent to which attitudes differ in different disciplines. My own research area, astrophysics and cosmology, embraced open access over twenty-five years ago. Virtually every paper published in this discipline can be found for free on the arXiv, as is the case for particle physics. More recently, condensed matter physics and some branches of mathematics have joined in.

Chemistry, by contrast, is conspicuous by its absence from the arXiv. I don’t know why. Moreover, those who have expressed the most negative attitudes to Open Access whenever I’ve given talks about it have always been chemists. And now there’s this letter. It’s definitely part of a pattern. If any chemists out there are reading this, perhaps they could tell me why there’s such an enormous cultural difference between physics and chemistry when it comes to research publication?

The Letter states (paragraph 4):

Plan S has (probably) a much larger negative effect on chemistry than on some other fields.

Maybe so, but isn’t that just another way of saying that chemistry is more in need of cultural change than other disciplines?

P.S. I’d be happy to advise anyone interested in setting up an Open Journal of Chemistry, but if you want it to run like the Open Journal of Astrophysics you will have to set up a chemistry arXiv first – and that’s a much bigger job!

P.P.S. Thanks to a comment below I now know that there is a Chemistry archive, but it only has a small number (hundreds) of papers on it. Moreover, it does not host final refereed versions of papers. It is run by the American Chemical Society, German Chemical Society, and the Royal Society of Chemistry all learned societies who are opposed to Open Access no doubt because it threatens their funding models.

Another Day, Another Open Access Talk..

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth, Open Access with tags , , on October 26, 2018 by telescoper

So having exercised my franchise earlier this morning, I found myself in Maynooth University Library giving yet another talk about Open Access publishing as part of Open Access Week.

I’ve got a lecture at noon, which will be the last one I give before the half-term `Study Week’ which begins with a bank holiday on Monday 29th October (Lá Saoire i mí Dheireadh Fómhair). It’s very nice to have a break before Christmas like this. Also the University study week is timed to be the same as School half-term holidays, which is good for those members of staff who have kids of school age.

Well, that’s enough blogging. I need to get my vector calculus notes together. I’m doing line integrals today, by the way

The Open Journal Launch Event

Posted in Maynooth with tags , , , , on October 9, 2018 by telescoper

Tuesday afternoons are usually quite busy for me, with teaching sessions from 12-2 and 3-4 this term, but today turned into almost four consecutive hours of activity as I gave a talk on Open Science at a lunchtime event as part of Maynooth University’s Library `Publication Festival’ which, in turn, is part of `Research Week’. I talked about Open Science generally from the point of view of astrophysics for a bit, but the main purpose of the event was to launch the Open Journal of Astrophysics which also marks the debut of Maynooth Academic Publishing as an OA publisher. Fortunately I’d managed to get everything up and running before the talk so I was able to show the assembled throng the actual journal with actual papers.

Anyway, here are my slides if you’re interested.

P.S. The gentleman at the left of the picture is Professor Philip Nolan, the President of Maynooth University, who launched today’s event.

P.P.S. I’d like to point out that I did not mock the UK Prime Minister Theresa May by dancing at the podium prior to my presentation.

 

 

The Open Journal of Astrophysics – Update

Posted in Maynooth, Open Access, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on October 4, 2018 by telescoper

Well, it was a bit fiddly importing the legacy papers from the earlier version of the Open Journal of Astrophysics website to the new platform, but I managed to do it this afternoon as planned. The result looks rather nice, I think,

The only things left to do now are (a) to train the members of the Editorial Board on how to handle the workflow through the journal site and (b) to open up for submission of new papers. Both these steps should be trivial so we’re definitely entering the final stages of this project. There is  an event at Maynooth University Library next Tuesday afternoon at which I am doing a talk about Open Science. This will represent the official launch of the Open Journal of Astrophysics.

All we will need then is for people to submit some papers!

 

 

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 and NASA/ADS

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on September 18, 2018 by telescoper

As I’m working on the Open Journal of Astrophysics project quite a lot these days I’m probably going to be boring a lot of people with updates, but there you go.

First astro.theog.org is now transferred to the new platform here. It doesn’t look like much now but there is a lot sitting behind the front page and we will get the new site up and running when we’ve got various administrative things approved.

Another thing I forgot to mention in yesterday’s post concerns the SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System which (for the uninitiated) is a Digital Library portal for researchers in astronomy and physics, operated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) under a NASA grant. The ADS maintains three bibliographic databases containing more than 14.0 million records covering publications in Astronomy and Astrophysics, Physics, and (of course) the arXiv e-prints. In addition to maintaining its bibliographic corpus, the ADS tracks citations and other information, which means that it is an important tool for evaluating publication impact.

One of the issues that we’ve had with the handful of papers published so far by the Open Journal of Astrophysics is that, because it is an overlay journal, the primary location of the papers published is on the arXiv, alongside other content that has not been refereed. Up until recently searching ADS for `All bibliographic sources’ would return OJA papers, but `All refereed articles’ would not. I’m glad to say that with the help of the ADS team, this issue has now been resolved and OJA papers now show up as refereed articles, as demonstrated by this example:

I know that this was a particular worry for early career researchers who might have been deterred from submitting to the Open Journal of Astrophysics by the fear that their publications would not look like refereed publications. They need worry no longer!

Incidentally, that image also shows that citations are tracked through the CROSSREF system, in which OJA papers are registered when published and issued with a DOI. All this happens behind the scenes from the point of view of an author, but it involves a lot of interesting machinery! A discussion on facebook the other day led to an academic publisher stating that one of the greatest costs of running a journal was registering publications for citation tracking. In fact it costs a maximum of $1 per article (see here). The industry is relying on academics not understanding how cheap things actually are.