What’s ‘unethical’ about Plan S?

In a recent blog post, my co-authors and I refer to Plan S as ‘unethical’. Doing so has upset Marc Schiltz, President of Science Europe.

Schiltz claims that disagreeing with some, or even many, aspects of Plan S does not in itself justify calling Plan S ‘unethical’. I completely agree. To justify calling Plan S ‘unethical’ would require more than simply disagreeing with some aspect of Plan S.

What more would be required? Calling Plan S ‘unethical’ would require an argument that shows that Plan S has violated some sort of ethical norm or crossed some sort of ethical line. Insofar as Plan S impinges on academic freedom, it has done just that.

Academic freedom is a contentious topic in and of itself, but particularly so when engaging in discussions about Open Access (OA). Part of the reason for the heightened tension surrounding academic freedom and OA is the perception that for-profit publishers have appealed to academic freedom to pummel OA advocates, portraying them as invaders of academics’ territory and themselves as defenders of academic freedom. As a result, anyone who appeals to academic freedom in an OA discussion runs the risk of being dismissed by OA advocates as an enemy in league with the publishers.

It’s also the case that academic freedom means different things in different contexts. In some countries, such as the UK and Germany, academic freedom is written into laws. In the US, the AAUP is the main source people use to define academic freedom. I’m a philosopher and an ethicist, not a lawyer. I’m also an American working at an American university, so my own conception of academic freedom is influenced by — but not exactly the same as — the AAUP definition. In short, I approach academic freedom as expressing an ethical norm of academia, rather than in terms of a legal framework. No doubt there are good reasons for such laws in different contexts; but academic freedom would be a thing — an ethical thing — even if there were no laws about it.

I won’t rehash the whole argument from our original post here. I direct interested parties to the sections of the blog under the sub-heading, “The problem of violating academic freedom.” If I had it to do over again, I would suggest to my coauthors altering some of the language in that section; but the bottom line remains the same — Plan S violates academic freedom. Insofar as Plan S violates academic freedom, it violates an ethical norm of academia. Hence, Plan S is unethical.

This is not to say that OA is unethical or necessarily violates academic freedom. I have argued in the past that OA need not violate academic freedom. In the recent flurry of discussion of Plan S on Twitter, Peter Suber pointed me to the carefully crafted Harvard OA policy’s answer to the academic freedom question. That policy meticulously avoids violating academic freedom (and would therefore count, for me, as an ethical OA policy).

To say that Plan S is unethical is simply to say that some aspects of it violate academic freedom. Some are an easy fix. Take, for instance, Principle #1.

Authors retain copyright of their publication with no
restrictions. All publications must be published under
an open license, preferably the Creative Commons
Attribution Licence CC BY. In all cases, the license
applied should fulfil the requirements defined by the
Berlin Declaration;

The violation of academic freedom in Principle #1 is contained in the last clause: “In all cases, the license applied should fulfil [sic] the requirements defined by the Berlin Declaration.” Because the Berlin Declaration actually requires an equivalent of the CC-BY license, that clause totally undermines the “preferably” in the previous clause. If Plan S merely expressed a strong preference for CC-BY or the equivalent, but allowed researchers to choose from among more restrictive licenses on a case by case basis, Principle #1 would not violate academic freedom. The simple fix is to remove the last clause of Principle #1.

Other issues are less easily fixed. In particular, I have in mind Schiltz’s Preamble to Plan S. There, Schiltz argues as follows.

We recognise that researchers need to be given a maximum
of freedom to choose the proper venue for publishing
their results and that in some jurisdictions this freedom
may be covered by a legal or constitutional protection.
However, our collective duty of care is for the science system
as a whole, and researchers must realise that they are
doing a gross disservice to the institution of science if they
continue to report their outcomes in publications that will
be locked behind paywalls.

I won’t rehash here the same argument my co-authors and I put forth in our initial blog post. Instead, I have a couple of other things to say here about Schiltz’s position, as expressed in this quote.

First, I have absolutely no objection on academic freedom grounds to making all of my research freely available (gratis) and removing paywalls. I agree that researchers have a duty to make their work freely available, if possible. Insofar as Plan S allows researchers to retain their copyrights and enables gratis OA, it’s a good thing, even an enhancer of academic freedom. The sticking point is mandating a CC-BY or equivalent license, which unethically limits the freedom of academics to choose from a broad range of possible licenses (libre is not a single license, but a range of possible ones). Fix Principle #1, and this particular violation of academic freedom disappears.

Second, there’s a trickier issue concerning individual freedom and group obligations. I discussed the issue in greater detail here. But the crux of the matter is that Schiltz here displays a marked preference for the rights of the group (or even of the impersonal “science system as a whole”) over the rights of individual members of the group. That position may be ethically defensible, but Schiltz here simply asserts that the duty to science overrides concerns for academic freedom. Simply asserting that one duty trumps another does a good job of communicating where someone stands on the issue. However, it provides absolutely no support for their position.

Insofar as Plan S is designed on the basis of an undefended assertion that our collective duty to the science system as a whole outweighs our right as individuals to academic freedom, Plan S impinges on academic freedom. In doing so, Plan S violates an ethical norm of academia. Therefore, Plan S, as written, is unethical.

Tools for Serendipity: SHERPA/RoMEO

I really want to post a pre-print of my recently published article in the Journal of Responsible Innovation: “Designing Responsible Research and Innovation as a tool to encourage serendipity could enhance the broader societal impacts of research.” Here’s a link to the published version. One thing about this article that would be obvious if one were to compare the pre-print to the final published version is just how much the latter was improved by peer review and input from the journal editor.

Since I still don’t have an institutional repository at NJIT, I could post it at Humanities Commons. Before I do that, I want to make sure I don’t get sideways with Taylor and Francis. So, the prudent thing to do is to check with SHERPA/RoMEO to see what the journal policies are. The problem, however, is that SHERPA/RoMEO hasn’t yet ‘graded’ JRI, so they don’t tell me what the policies are. This is all sort of understandable, since JRI is still a relatively new journal. Searching an older journal put out by the same publisher, Social Epistemology, tells me that I could post both pre-prints and post-prints — that is, my version, but not the actual publisher’s PDF, of the article after it went through peer review — of articles I published there. So, maybe I could go ahead, assuming that Taylor and Francis policy is consistent across all their journals. Instead, I requested that SHERPA/RoMEO grade JRI.

I can wait a while to post the pre-print, and I want to gauge how long it takes to get a grade. I’m also waiting to find out how long it takes for JRI to show up in Scopus (their main ‘about‘ page says they are indexed in Scopus, but it hasn’t shown up in Scopus, yet).  I’ve also been told that NJIT is getting bepress soon.

All of these — Humanities Commons, SHERPA/RoMEO, bepress — are tools for serendipity in the sense in which I outline the term in this article. As soon as I can let everyone see it, I will!

 

 

PLOS Biology: Expert Failure: Re-evaluating Research Assessment

Do what you can today; help disrupt and redesign the scientific norms around how we assess, search, and filter science.

via PLOS Biology: Expert Failure: Re-evaluating Research Assessment.

You know, I’m generally in favor of this idea — at least of the idea that we ought to redesign our assessment of research (science in the broad sense). But, as one might expect when speaking of design, the devil is in the details. It would be disastrous, for instance, to throw the baby of peer review out with the bathwater of bias.

I touch on the issue of bias in peer review in this article (coauthored with Steven Hrotic). I suggest that attacks on peer review are attacks on one of the biggest safeguards of academic autonomy here (coauthored with Robert Frodeman). On the relation between peer review and the values of autonomy and accountability, see: J. Britt Holbrook (2010). “Peer Review,” in The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity, Robert Frodeman, Julie Thompson Klein, Carl Mitcham, eds. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 321-32 and J. Britt Holbrook (2012). “Re-assessing the science – society relation: The case of the US National Science Foundation’s broader impacts merit review criterion (1997 – 2011),” in Peer Review, Research Integrity, and the Governance of Science – Practice, Theory, and Current Discussions. Robert Frodeman, J. Britt Holbrook, Carl Mitcham, and Hong Xiaonan. Beijing: People’s Publishing House: 328 – 62. 

Funny Stuff — but also Serious — from Michael Eisen on the Science OA Sting

This post really starts off well:

My sting exposed the seedy underside of “subscription-based” scholarly publishing, where some journals routinely lower their standards – in this case by sending the paper to reviewers they knew would be sympathetic – in order to pump up their impact factor and increase subscription revenue. Maybe there are journals out there who do subscription-based publishing right – but my experience should serve as a warning to people thinking about submitting their work to Science and other journals like it.  – See more at: http://www.michaeleisen.org/blog/?p=1439#sthash.7amnYjlK.dpuf

But I question what Eisen suggests is the take home lesson of the Science sting:

But the real story is that a fair number of journals who actually carried out peer review still accepted the paper, and the lesson people should take home from this story not that open access is bad, but that peer review is a joke. – See more at: http://www.michaeleisen.org/blog/?p=1439#sthash.7amnYjlK.dpuf

I think that message is even more dangerous than the claim that open access journals are inherently lower quality than traditional journals.

Open Access at Georgia Tech

As you may have heard, at Georgia Tech, we are doing that. ‘That’, for the purposes of this post, refers to Open Access (OA). Here’s what’s happening on campus during Open Access Week.

Stay tuned for even more activities. Professor Diana Hicks and I will both be interviewed for the Georgia Tech Libraries radio show, Lost in the Stacks. And if my students keep inspiring me, I’ll have even more to say about the matter.

Steal This Research Paper! (You Already Paid for It.) | Mother Jones

This is an interesting read on the Open Access movement. Here’s the conclusion, with a quote from Michael Eisen that provides some food for thought.

In the end, his disdain isn’t directed at the publishers who hoard scientific knowledge so much as at his colleagues who let them get away with it. “One of the reasons advances in publishing don’t happen is that people are willing to live with all sorts of crap from journals in order to get the imprimatur the journal title has as a measure of the impact of their work,” Eisen says. “It’s easy to blame Elsevier, right? To think that there’s some big corporation that’s preventing scientists from doing the right thing. It’s just bullshit. Elsevier doesn’t prevent anyone from doing anything. Scientists do this themselves!”

via Steal This Research Paper! (You Already Paid for It.) | Mother Jones.

Hope for the Open Access Movement: a Perspective from the Developing World

Fred Rascoe, Scholarly Communications at Georgia Tech, sent me this article. I think it’s well worth reading for those interested in Open Access.

Here’s an excerpt:

Seen in this background Open Access is indeed democratising. But only partially. Open Access only helps democratise the distribution of peer-reviewed research. It does not democratise research activity itself, nor does it transform the peer review system, which for different reasons appears weighted in favour of a self-selecting elite. The issue to be addressed is whether O.A. would rid the system of journal branding and journal hierarchies

Two Watersheds for Open Access?

This past week I taught “Two Watersheds,” a chapter from Ivan Illich’s Tools for Conviviality. I got some interesting reactions from my students, most of whom are budding engineers. But that’s not what this post is about.

I do want to talk a bit about Illich’s notion of the two watersheds, however. Illich illustrates the idea with reference to medicine. Illich claims that 1913 marks the first watershed in medicine. This is so because in 1913, one finally had a greater than 50% chance that someone educated in medical school (i.e., a doctor) would be able to prescribe an effective treatment for one’s ailment. At that point, modern medicine had caught up with shamans and witch doctors. It rapidly began to outperform them, however. And people became healthier as a result.

By the mid 1950s, however, something changed. Medicine had begun to treat people as patients, and more and more resources were devoted to extending unhealthy life than to helping keep people healthy or to restoring health. Medicine became an institutionalized bureaucracy rather than a calling. Illich picks (admittedly arbitrarily) 1955 to mark this second watershed.

Illich’s account of the two watersheds in medicine is applicable to other technological developments as well.

A couple of weeks ago, Richard Van Noorden published a piece in Nature the headline of which reads “Half of 2011 papers now free to read.” Van Noorden does a good job of laying out the complexities of this claim (‘free’ is not necessarily equivalent to ‘open access’, the robot used to gather the data may not be accurate, and so on), which was made in a report to the European Commission. But the most interesting question raised in the piece is whether the 50% figure represents a “tipping point” for open access.

The report, which was not peer reviewed, calls the 50% figure for 2011 a “tipping point”, a rhetorical flourish that [Peter] Suber is not sure is justified. “The real tipping point is not a number, but whether scientists make open access a habit,” he says.

I’m guessing that Illich might agree both with the report and with Suber’s criticism, but that he might also disagree with both. But let’s not kid ourselves, here. I’m talking more about myself than I am about Illich — just using his idea of the two watersheds to make a point.

The report simply defines the tipping point as more than 50% of papers available for free. This is close enough to the way Illich defines the first watershed in medicine. So, let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that what the report claims is true. Then we can say that 2011 marks the first watershed of open access publishing.

What should we expect? There’s a lot of hand wringing from traditional scholarly publishers about what open access will do to their business model (blow it up, basically). But many of the claims that the strongest advocates of open access are making in order to suggest that we ought to make open access a habit will likely come to pass. Research will become more efficient. Non-researchers will be able to read the research without restriction (no subscription required, no paywall encountered). If they can’t understand a piece of research, they’ll be able to sign up for a MOOC offered by Harvard or MIT or Stanford and figure it out. Openness in general will increase, along with scientific and technological (and maybe even artistic and philosophical) literacy.

Yes, for profit scholarly publishers and most colleges and universities will end up in the same boat as the shamans and witch doctors once medicine took over in 1913. But aren’t we better off now than when one had only folk remedies and faith to rely on when one got sick?

Perhaps during this time, after the first watershed and before the second, open access can become a habit for researchers, much like getting regular exercise and eating right became habits after medicine’s first watershed. Illich’s claim is that the good times following the first watershed really are good for most of us … for a while.

Of course, there are exceptions. Shamans and witch doctors had their business models disrupted. Open access is likely to do the same for scholarly publishers. MOOCs may do the same for many universities. But universities and publishers will not go away overnight. In fact, we still have witch doctors these days.

The real question is not whether a number or a behavior marks the tipping point — crossing the first watershed. Nor is the question what scholarly publishers and universities will do if 2011 indeed marks the first watershed of openness. The real question is whether we can design policies for openness that prevent us from reaching the second watershed, when openness goes beyond a healthy habit and becomes a bane. Because once openness becomes an institutionalized bureaucracy, we won’t be talking only about peer reviewed journal articles being openly, easily, and freely accessible to anyone for use and reuse.

Open Access and Its Enemies, Redux

I don’t have time to be doing this, but it’s important. Making time is a state of mind — as, claims Cameron Neylon, is ‘Open’:

Being open as opposed to making open resources (or making resources open) is about embracing a particular form of humility. For the creator it is about embracing the idea that – despite knowing more about what you have done than any other person –  the use and application of your work is something that you cannot predict.

There’s a lot to unpack, even in this short excerpt from Neylon’s post. Whether, for instance, the idea of ‘humility’ is captured by being open to unintended applications of ones work — surely that’s part, but only part, of being open — deserves further thought. But I really do think Cameron is on to something with the idea that being open entails a sort of humility.

To see how, it’s instructive to read through Robin Osborne’s post on ‘Why open access makes no sense‘:

For those who wish to have access, there is an admission cost: they must invest in the education prerequisite to enable them to understand the language used. Current publication practices work to ensure that the entry threshold for understanding my language is as low as possible. Open access will raise that entry threshold. Much more will be downloaded; much less will be understood.

There’s a lot to unpack here, as well.  There’s a sort of jiujitsu going on in this excerpt that requires that one is at least familiar with — if it is not one’s characteristic feeling — the feeling that no one will ever understand. What is obvious, however, is Osborne’s arrogance: there is a price to be paid to understand me, and open access will actually raise that price.

In my original talk on “Open Access and Its Enemies” I traced one source of disagreement about open access to different conceptions of freedom. Those with a negative concept of freedom are opposed to any sort of open access mandates, for instance, while those appealing to a positive concept of freedom might accept certain mandates as not necessarily opposed to their freedom. There may be exceptions, of course, but those with a positive concept of freedom tend to accept open access, while those with a negative view of freedom tend to oppose it. The two posts from Neylon and Osborne reveal another aspect of what divides academics on the question of open access — a different sense of self.

For advocates of humility, seeing our selves as individuals interferes with openness. In fact, it is only in contrast to those who view the self as an individual that the appeal to humility makes sense. The plea is that they temper their individualistic tendencies, to humble their individual selves in the service of our corporate self.   For advocates of openness, the self is something that really comes about only through interaction with others.

Advocates of elitism acknowledge that the social bond is important. But it is not, in itself, constitutive of the self. On the contrary, the self is what persists independently of others, whether anyone else understands us or not. Moreover, understanding me — qua individual — requires that you — qua individual — discipline yourself, learn something, be educated. Indeed, to become a self in good standing with the elite requires a certain self-abnegation — but only for a time, and only until one can re-assert oneself as an elite individual. Importantly, self-abnegation is a temporary stop on the way to full self-realization.

Self-sacrifice is foreign to both of the advocate of humility and the advocate of elitism, I fear. Yet it is only through self-sacrifice that communication is possible. Self-sacrifice doesn’t dissolve the individual self completely into the corporate self. Nor does self-sacrifice recognize temporary self-abnegation on the road to self-assertion as the path to communication. Self-sacrifice takes us beyond both, in that it requires that we admit that content is never what’s communicated. A self with a truly open mindset would have to be able to experience this.  Alas, no one will ever understand me!

 

A Reply to Schadt’s Rant on Strawberries, Open Access Licenses, and the Reuse of Published Papers

This rant has been lighting up the twittersphere — at least, the little corner of it inhabited by people I follow. And for good reason — it’s a good read, and the comments are also well worth reading!

A Rant on Strawberries, Open Access Licenses, and the Reuse of Published Papers | C.W. Schadt | ORNL-UTK Microbial Ecology Lab.

I’ve got something to add to the discussion that goes beyond a comment, which is why I’m replying here. In my reply, I’ll assume you have already clicked on the link and read the initial rant and comments. My basic point is this: this sort of reuse of published papers has little to do with open access (OA) or OA licenses.

It’s tempting to blame open access — publishers, licenses, and the whole OA movement be damned! To his credit, Schadt doesn’t do so. Instead, he expresses surprise mixed with a sort of indignation that someone could take his published, freely available paper, slap it into an anthology, and then sell it for profit — and all this without so much as a word to him or the other author of the paper. Schadt lists 5 reasons he’s really irked, which I won’t list here (all strike me as good reasons, and interestingly are reminiscent of many of the reasons humanists give in favor of CC-BY-NC licenses over CC-BY). But here is a more troubling paragraph:

Anyway, Im not sure who to be more upset with.  The “editor” and publisher that republished the article, or myself for not noticing the reuse clause in the open access license.  From now on I vow that I will pay closer attention to this, and it may influence where I end up submitting future papers.

Schadt admits that he should have paid more attention to the license under which the paper was published, and then suggests that he will have to consider whether he wants to publish future papers under the same license in the future. Ross Mounce (@rmounce) comments that Schadt shouldn’t blame the license, which is a good thing: CC-BY prevents authors from blocking reuse “for no good reason.” Of course, this leaves open the question of what would constitute a good reason for not wanting your paper republished without either your knowledge or your permission. It’s a good question, and one that is at the heart of the debate surrounding CC-BY. But the really good thing about CC-BY and cases like Schadt’s is that they draw our attention, or should, to the question of copyright.

In fact, it’s entirely possible for the same scenario to be played out anytime an author gives up her copyrights, whether to an open access publisher using CC-BY or not.

I know this because essentially the same thing happened to me. My co-author and I published this article in Issues in Science and Technology. You’ll notice that at the bottom of the page, it clearly states the terms of copyright:

Copyright © 2007. University of Texas at Dallas. All rights reserved. 800 W Campbell Road, Richardson, TX 75080-3021.

The hyperlink takes you to the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC), where it’s possible* to obtain permission to republish the article. Once permission has been purchased (yes, it costs money that varies with the venue and circulation of the intended reuse), it’s possible — and now legally permissible — to republish the article.

See, the California Science Teachers Association did it here for an issue on “Ethics in Science” that can be purchased for what appears to be $10 plus tax.

Of course, all this was done without contacting either my co-author or me. I was surprised to find it one day on Google when searching for the hyperlink to the original publication. I wrote a nice (I thought) email to the California Science Teachers Association asking them why they had republished our article without contacting us first. They wrote back that they’d obtained the required legal permissions through CCC and were under no obligation to contact us. And, legally speaking, they were right. I still think this move is a breach of etiquette and is ethically questionable, even if it’s perfectly legal.

Now, I don’t mind supporting science teachers. I hope they made their money back, and then some. But it would have been nice to receive an email telling us how happy they were to republish our article — or even asking us whether we might be happy about it and would care to add it to our CVs. I might even have appreciated a free copy of the issue. It looks pretty interesting. Instead, I got the legally correct answer, which came off as a double rudeness.  Needless to say, that left quite a bad taste in my mouth, and I do not include this republication on my CV.

But my hurt feelings (or Schadt’s) aren’t the point here. I signed over my copyrights, which means my feelings are irrelevant. Schadt signed over his, which means the same. But it has nothing to do with whether the license is CC-BY or all rights reserved by the entity to whom one has signed over one’s copyrights. Once an author gives up her copyrights, she has no legal right to reassert them (short of obtaining permission from the new holder of those copyrights). This isn’t about open access or the CC-BY license. It’s about copyrights. This is what makes resources like SPARC’s author addendum so important.

I’m not upset with Schadt, who hasn’t done anything wrong. I’m not upset with Ross Mounce, either. I think this is a discussion we need to be having. (Oh, and like Schadt, to be clear, I’m not upset at strawberries, either.) What would be upsetting to me, however, is if cases like Schadt’s were used uncritically to disparage open access.  What would please me is if authors would take some time to educate themselves about copyrights. I promise it’s interesting — and it may even affect you, one day.

_____________________________________________________________

* When I click on the copyright hyperlink, I get the CCC site and it asks me to search for the article. I can’t find it by searching the title. There is an additional hyperlink on the article page that takes one directly to the CCC site to purchase permissions for the article here: For more information regarding reproduction of this article, please click here. However, when I follow the link and try to get a quick price quote, for some reason I keep getting a ‘sorry, we cannot process orders for international customers’ notice.