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.

A preference for gold open access over green is misguided and is due to multiple gaps in the evidence gathered for the Finch Report, MPs have said.

Times Higher Education (Paul Jump) on OA report by BIS committee

A reversal in strategy from the RCUK’s preferred Gold OA route to a Green OA dominant policy seemed inevitable. The RCUK’s policy was something of a bold gamble, an attempt to stake a leadership claim that would inspire other nations to follow suit. The RCUK was willing to significantly increase spending to pay article processing charges (APCs) for immediate Gold OA for articles under an assumption that this investment would pay off in eventual savings — that is, if other nations did the same, the UK would ultimately come out ahead and its outlay for OA articles would be returned in free access to articles funded by other countries, allowing savings by cutting subscription journal spending.

But things didn’t work out that way.

The Scholarly Kitchen on the BIS Committee Open Access Report

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.

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* 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.