24 June 2011

Is open access biting?

News that Elsevier is changing its policy on allowing authors to archive papers suggests that the publisher may be feeling the pinch of open access, as users turn to archives for copies rather than to the journal.  I don't know how many individual copies of papers Elsevier sells, in addition to its subscription list, but a copy obtained from an archive is a copy unsold.
The new policy requires institutions to have specific agreements with Elsevier:
...deposit in, or posting to, subject-oriented or centralised repositories (such as PubMed Central), or institutional repositories with systematic posting mandates is permitted only under specific agreements between Elsevier and the repository, agency or institution, and only consistent with the Publisher’s policies concerning such repositories.
 This policy applies to the manuscript version of an accepted paper.  For actual published papers, the policy is even more restrictive:
Elsevier does not permit the posting of PJAs (Elsevier-provided PDF or HTML files) on any open web sites.  This is to ensure that the final published version of an article, which has been edited and peer-reviewed according to the publishing standards of an Elsevier journal, is always recognized as such only via the journal itself, whether in print or electronic format.
Publishers behave this way because they believe that they are the owners of the research output and the answer to their stranglehold on the distribution of research findings lies in the hands of the institutions and the researchers.  It is only by refusing to transfer copyright and by insisting that the publisher only has the right to publish a specific version of a paper, that authors will be able to do what they wish with their research outputs.
The response of the Swedish open access programme to this change in Elsevier's terms is as follows:
•    We strongly object to Elsevier’s new policy which requires separate agreements for author’s rights and we urge Elsevier to withdraw the new clause.
•    We recommend Swedish universities with open access mandates to not conclude separate agreements with Elsevier. Instead, this issue should be transferred to the negotiations of the national license agreements with Elsevier.
It seems likely that institutions will be in conflict with the major publishers to an increasing extent as more and more adopt policies on open access to their research outputs. The SciComInfo newsletter reports, for example, that the Karolinska Institute, one of the world's leading medical research institutions, has adopted an open access policy, and many institutions are now using the deposit of papers in their institutional repository as one way of assessing research performance. Limiting open archiving in any way will run counter to these trends.

08 June 2011

No need for private universities in the UK

The current government's higher education strategy is now in a complete mess - although it must be said that previoius governments have contributed.  Two strategies were evolved by this governement: allow universities to charge up to £9000 a year for an undergraduate programme; and encourage the development of private universities.  Budgeting was done on the assumption that the average cost of a course would be £7,000 but now more than half of the universities will be charging the maximum - problem number one.

Problem number 2 is that very few organizations appear to be coming forward to create private universities and one that has is now under investigation in the USA for suspected fraud - welcome to the world of big business Mr. Cameron.  A bunch of presumably right-leaning academics, including Richard Dawkins - noted evolutionary biologist - have also proposed a new university college offering courses in the humanities but, hello!, what's this - it turns out that the published syllabuses have been ripped off from existing courses in the University of London - welcome to the world of the self-seeking academic, Mr. Cameron.

Further problems exist with the government seeking to adopt an 'American' approach to higher education - and why that dysfunctional system is of any interest at all to us, I do not know - which are outlined by Howard Hotson in an article in the London Review of Books for the 19th May.  He points out that the "72 US universities in the top 200 [world wide] represent fewer than 5 per cent of those offering four-year degrees" (there are 5,758 recognized HE insitutions in the US). By contrast, the 29 UK universities in the world's top 200 represent almost 20% of the 165 insitutions in the UK.  This means that the chance of a UK student attending a top university is much greater in the UK than it is in the USA - in other words, the UK system of publicly funded higher education works.  Hotson points out that it also works in terms of value for money and he notes that "If value for money is the most important consideration, especially in an age of austerity, the American model might well be the last one that Britain should be emulating".

Will Hotson's analysis make the slightest difference to government policy?  Of course not - the Tories are wedded to the notion of the market, come what may, they are ideologically incapable of rational analysis and, therefore, the decline of the higher education system in England and Wales will continue - the Scots need to be thankful that education is in their hands, not in those of the idiots in Westminster. 

02 June 2011

The problem of conference proceedings

I'm sure I'm not the only journal editor (or copy-editor, proof-reader, etc.) to have noticed that the bibliographic control of conference proceediings is now a complete mess.  This is mainly the result of the digital environment in which we now all operate.

What's the problem?  Well, it is this:  authors present papers at conferences and then cite those papers and other papers presented at the same conferences and very few authors are capable of providing a full reference entry for the paper.  APA, for example requires:

author-date-paper title-'In'-editors names-conference title-pages of the paper-place of publication-publisher

and what authors provide is generally something like:

author-paper title-conference title

Then, when you try to track down the actual paper, to provide a correct bibliographical entry, what do you find?  There are several possibilities:

1. The conference proceedings have indeed been published by one of the large number of recognised publishers, some of whom specialise in publishing conference proceedings. The papers are often accessible at the publisher's Website.
2. The conference proceedings have been published by the local organization, often a university or a scientific society, responsible for the conference organization. The papers may be accessible also at the publisher's Website, but often there is no such provision for electronic access.
3. The proceedings have been made openly available at the conference Website - run by either the organizing body, or by the organization hosting the conference.  There is no print version.
4. The proceedings were made available in print form to those attending the conference. There is no other form of publication, unless 3 applies and, hence, there is no 'publication' in the formal sense.
5.  The papers was presented at the conference, but there were no conference proceedings and the author has subsequently published in a journal.
6.  The paper was presented at the conference and the author(s) have made it available through their home page, an institutional repository, or a disciplinary repository.
7.  The paper was presented at the conference but not made more widely available by either the organizers or a publisher, or by the author(s).

The responsibility for indicating which of these applies to the conference papers cited by an author clearly lies with the author of the citing paper but, very often, all they have is a pdf file or associated paper copy and they have no idea as to the details of its provenance.  Telling the author what is missing from a reference entry is almost as time-consuming as actually doing the search for the item oneself.

I can only imagine the situation becoming worse: we already have audio and video files of conference presentations although, thankfully, I have not yet had to deal with any citations to such objects.  The only actors in this situation who can influence the situation for the better are the conference organizers: it is their responsibility to do something about this mish-mash of alternative modes of publication.  Many conferences do inlcude a note on how and by whom the papers will be published, but many more leave this to one's imagination.

There's another conference paper problem and that is the "salami slicing" of research outputs to get three conference papers where one would suffice, and even straightforward duplication - paper 1 at Conference A in 2009 and paper 2 (sometimes identically titled) at Conference B in 2010.  But perhaps I'd better leave that for another day.