30 September 2007

NOT the British library?

A certain amount of publicity has surrounded the British Library's announcement that it is to make available in digital form some 100,000 old titles - mainly from the 19th century. It is good news that the collection will be open to staff and students of UK universities, but bad news that it will not be open access to all. The British Library Act of 1972 gives the Board the right to impose charges, with the approval of the relevant Secretary of State, but it seems to be entirely against the intent of the major provision of the Act. The Library is defined as consisting of "a comprehensive collection of books, manuscripts, periodicals, films and other recorded matter, whether printed or otherwise." and when reasons of preservation, or otherwise, require the provision of digital versions of documents, they surely become part of the 'collections' referred to, and have no special status, and, therefore, no special reason for charging. With the likelihood that the provision of digital resources will become more and more the norm for the British Library, can we expect more charged-for services? The costs of running the Library and the costs of digitisation are derived from tax - with the exception that relationships with such as Microsoft may provide additional resources - and we have the usual situation in the UK of the citizen being required to pay twice for anything connected in any way with government information and data. Write to your MP today! The British Library needs more money to preserve its present services, and is going to need more to enable it to fulfil the role of national library more effectively and more openly.

28 September 2007

Thoughts on the Berlin 5 OA conference

The presentations from the Berlin 5 conference on open access (held not in Berlin but in Padua, Italy) are now online.

I haven't read all of them yet, and probably won't, since, as far as I can tell they are all Powerpoint presentations without the accompanying paper. As a result, some elements of practically all of the presentations are unintelligible without the context and in one or two cases the presentation as a whole seems to bear little resemblance to the title of the paper or to the abstract.

By and large, it looks to have been a pretty humdrum affair, with the same old issues being debated, wheels being reinvented and nothing new emerging.

Repositories and the 'author pays' models seems to be the only models discussed and mention of the collaborative, no-money-changes-hands model of Information Research (and of other journals covered in our Case Studies series) is non-existent.

Fred Friend of UCL and JISC tells the audience that JISC (the UK's Joint Information Systems Comittee of the Higher Education Funding Councils) "is now working with other organizations on models which fund gold OA publication charges as part of the research process and budget" having experimented with spending £384,000 to persuade publishers to adopt author-charges and finding that it 'did not scale' - i.e., it would cost to much to continue.

I wonder if JISC has any idea of how many OA journals, operating on a subsidy and collaboration basis, that amount of money could have funded? With a £10,000 start-up subsidy, JISC could have got 38 OA journals under way - or 15 journals could have been given a £5,000 a year for five years with the same amount of money (or, rather, a little less). That could have made a very significant impact on the development of open access in the UK and could have persuaded a number of small-circulation, scholarly journals to have converted to the OA route. As it is, £384,000 has gone into the pockets of shareholders. Great thinking, JISC!

25 September 2007

Migrating to the e-world

It seems that Harvard's top economists are looking more to electronic dissemination of their work than they are to publication in the top journals. The explanation from Dani Rodrik's Weblog:

Several pieces of evidence bolster the view that one factor contributing to these trends is that the role of journals in disseminating research has been reduced. One is that the citation benefit to publishing in a top general-interest journal now appears to be fairly small for top-department authors. Another is that Harvard authors appear to be quite successful in garnering citations to papers that are not published in top journals. The fact that the publication declines appear to be a top-department phenomenon (as opposed to a prolific-author phenomenon) suggests that a top-department affiliation may be an important determinant of an author’s ability to sidestep the traditional journal system.

Rodrik is Editor of The Review of Economics and Statistics and he notes that his own experience as an editor of a prestigious journal supports this conclusion.

24 September 2007

Popular papers in Information Research

It's been a while since I last checked on the 'hits' on papers published in Information Research, so here's an update. It's a pretty crude measure of popularity, but the best we can do at the moment. Here we have the most hit papers in each of the published volumes of the journal from 1 to 11:

The data reveal that it takes an average of 2,884 hits to generate 1 citation in Google Scholar. I shall have to get round to checking out that number with more of the papers.

23 September 2007

The advice to PRISM

The advice of the lobbyist retained by the publishers has been revealed on the Web (Peter Suber has more of the story). The first paragraph of that advice is very telling:

The Coalition faces the daunting task of trying to win support for an issue in which publishers are not sympathetic - continuing to charge fees for access to scientific journals. It's hard to fight an adversary that manages to be both elusive and in possession of a better message: Free information. There's no magical sound bit that will cure this issue, however, at the present time there is little or no "pushback" from the publishing industry. To inject the industry's position into the debate, we recommend bypassing mass "consumer" audiences in favor of reaching a more elite group of decision makers employing strategies that emphasize "high-concept" rhetoric and in-the-trenches political-style communications.

Mmmm, interesting, eh? There's an even more interesting set of Rhetorical campaign points:

  • Develop simple messages (e.g., Public access equals government censorship; Scientific journals preserve the quality/pedigree of science; government seeking to nationalize science and be a publisher) for use by Coalition members

  • Develop analogies that put the public access issue into a context whereby target audiences will understand its pitfalls and perilous implications not to mention the hypocrisy of science leaders getting salaries and honoraria but declaring the publishing industry's need for capital as being somehow immoral

    • Paint a picture of what the world would look like without peer-reviewed articles.

    • In theory this may provide free taxpayer access to research that they fund, but they will pay eventually with substandard articles and their money being used to develop and maintain an electronic article depot rather than to fund new research.

Enough said, I think. It's beginning to dawn on the PRISM Coalition that they have shot themselves in the foot by adopting some of what was proposed and, clearly, for them to adopt some of the other ideas would be even more disastrous. For example, how much of the industry's profits go to investment in capital developments? Well, these companies' reports are on the Web and Reed Elsevier, for example, report that out of an operating profit of £1,210 million in 2006 (up 9% on 2005), capital expenditure was £196 million, while dividends paid to shareholders amounted to £371 million (up 10% on 2005), with a further £271 million being spent on share repurchases. So, 16% on capital developments and a total of 53% on dividends and share repurchasing. I think we can see where the company's priorities lie.

Not that this is a bad thing - companies are in business to pay dividends to shareholders, but I wonder what the profits would be if the publishers had to pay for their raw material and for the peer-review? I suspect that we would see many fewer journals and an even more rapid increase in true OA publishing.

22 September 2007

Good news for Open Access

Good news on the Open Access front. The Canadian Journal of Sociology/Cahiers canadiens de sociologie is moving from toll access (i.e., subscription based) to open access. Keven Haggerty, the editor of CJS/CCS, writes in his editorial:

The financial implications of this move remain somewhat opaque, and I have agonized over this issue. The situation of independent scholarly publishing in Canadian has always been precarious. This is particularly true with the CJS/CCS which does not receive any association funds. Retiring the hard copy version of the journal eliminates subscription revenue, which is one of our major sources of funding. That said, mimicking wider publishing trends, the journal’s subscriptions have been substantially declining at the same time that our electronic readership (through Project MUSE and other venues) has increased dramatically. Moreover, it was always the case that most of our subscription revenues went to cover the costs associated with producing a hard copy volume, such as printing, subscription management and postage.

He goes on to note that CJS/CCS has been subsidised by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, but he expects to continue to receive these funds, since the SSHRC is an advocate of open access.

Many scholarly journals, published by universities and university presses must be in very similar situations - living off subsidy and subscriptions, the latter paying for most of the paper-associated costs (as well as those of maintaining the record of subscribers). With the move to OA, such costs are wiped out at an instant and what is then need to live on is a very much smaller amount of money. In the case of Information Research it is a zero amount of money, since there is no income and no monetary subsidy. Perhaps with this example, and the example of new scholarly journals taking the free OA track from the beginning, universities will begin to realise the advantages of OA. True OA - not the author-charge model - what I have called the Platinum Route.

This news picked up from Heather Morrison, via Peter Suber

18 September 2007

PRISM - a language change

The publishers' lobby organization has changed the language of its top page - no doubt the result of the wave of opposition it aroused by attempting to mislead researchers, funders and, most importantly, the policy makers.

However, no one should imagine that this means that the organization's ideas have changed, nor its way of putting a spin on just about everything it says. For example, we are directed from the top page to:

Learn more about government intervention and the risks and unintended consequences of proposed legislation;"

and, clicking on the link, we find:

Various initiatives and proposals have been put forth by special interest groups and some legislators that would force private sector publishers to surrender to the federal government all peer-reviewed articles that report on research supported by federal research grants.

Such undue government intervention in scholarly publishing poses inherent risks and problems, including:

  • Threats to the economic viability of journals and the independent system of peer review

  • The potential for introducing selective bias into the scientific record

  • Government data repositories being subject to budget uncertainties

  • Unwarranted increases in government spending to compete with private sector publishing

  • Expropriation of publishers' investments in copyrighted articles

  • Undermining the reasonable protections of copyright holders"
Let's look at these in turn: the first links the economic viability of journals with the independent system of peer review, as though if the former is threatened, as it is, the latter will also be detrimentally affected. However, this is not the case: the system of peer review exists because of the willingness of academics to give their time freely to ensure the integrity of published research work. True, it is not perfect, but it works and it would continue to work in an open access world: there is no reason whatsoever to assume that if the academic community wished peer-review to continue, it would not do so. However, the academic community could do the established commercial publishers considerable damage if they withdrew their voluntary labour. How, then, would the publishers ensure the integrity of the research record? Presumably, if the subscriptions continued to flow, they would be quite happy. Methinks they do protest too much on this point!

The second point on the introduction of 'selective bias' is presumably related to the first: they are suggesting that if peer review did not exist in an open access world, and continued in the commercial publishing world, the quality of what is published would be lowered and 'bias' would result. But this is nonsense: the answer is to repeat the points above. There is no necessary connection between commercial publishing and peer review. Indeed some publishers are quite happy to publish journals with no scholarly review, or with editorial review only - are they leaping to the barricades to prevent the rise of open access? Of course not.

The notion that somehow the existence of commercial publishing is some kind of fall-back system if government-funded data repositories were to be underfunded to the extent of ceasing to exist is also nonsense. Publishers do not maintain alternative data repositories, nor do they contribute to them. Organizations such as the ESRC Data Archive in the UK collect raw data from the researchers who collect it, along with the research instruments, coding manuals, etc. No publisher does any of this work, so to link their publishing activities to the existence of data archives is simply silly.

'Unwarranted increases in government spending' - oh my, that's really a beauty! Here is an industry that obtains its raw material free of charge as a result of government, charitable foundation and industry spending on research, and then benefits from the subscriptions of the institutions that employ those same researchers, complaining that the government might cut their profits by encouraging open access publishing. That's very rich. In effect the publishers are saying: "Look government, you spend all this money to give us raw material from which we can make a profit, so please don't encourage anything that might limit those profits!" And I love the idea of 'private sector publishing'! If only! Let us imagine what 'private sector publishing' would actually involve: first, the publishers would have to pay authors to write for them, as they pay novelists and the authors of travel books, biographies, etc., etc. Then, they would have to pay academics to review the papers they had paid for to determine whether they were appropriate to publish (of course, under this system, they would rapidly forget about peer-review, since it would eat into their profits), and then they would have to market vigorously to persuade institutions to buy their products. And, at the same time they would have to compete with a public sector open access system. Can you guess what would happen? I leave it to your imaginations.

So there's a danger of government expropriating industry's investment in copyrighted articles and, final point, of undermining the rights of copyright holders. Well now, what are we to make of this? First, the industry has invested nothing in the copyrighted articles - the investment has been made by government, etc. They have an investment in the published article, but not in the original copyrighted source. And it is a moot point, I understand, from lawyer friends as to whether an author can actually sign away his or her copyright. I believe there is no case law in the UK on this point and publishers are unwilling to take a case to court in case they lose. If this is so, then the copyright holder is the author of the text and/or his or her institution, depending upon the practice of the institution and all that can be granted to the publisher is a licence to publish under negotiated terms. Perhaps those threatened copyright holders (the authors) should bear this in mind and, instead of signing away their rights - which may not actually be lawful - they should negotiate. After all, they are now in a strong position, given the existence of open access, and free, journals in so many fields.

Take all this stuff with a pinch of salt and make sure your representative in Congress or Parliament understands that lobby talk is not necessarily reporting with integrity.