Policy Design and Implementation Monitoring for Open Access

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We know that those Open Access policies that work are the ones that have teeth. Both institutional and funder policies work better when tied to reporting requirements. The success of the University of Liege in filling its repository is in large part due to the fact that works not in the repository do not count for annual reviews. Both the NIH and Wellcome policies have seen substantial jumps in the proportion of articles reaching the repository when grantees final payments or ability to apply for new grants was withheld until issues were corrected.

The Liege, Wellcome and NIH policies all have something in common. They specify which repository content must go into to count. This makes it straightforward to determine if an article complies with the policy. For various reasons, other policies are less specific about where articles should go. This makes it harder to track policy implementation. The RCUK policy is particularly relevant with the call currently out for evidence to support the implementation review currently being undertaken. However the issues of implementation monitoring are equally relevant to the European Commission Horizon 2020 policy, Australian funder policies and the UK HEFCE policy as well as implementation of the US White House order.

The challenges of implementation monitoring

Monitoring Open Access policy implementation requires three main steps.  The steps are:

  1. Identify the set of outputs are to be audited for compliance
  2. Identify accessible copies of the outputs at publisher and/or repository sites
  3. Check whether the accessible copies are compliant with the policy

Each of these steps are difficult or impossible in our current data environment. Each of them could be radically improved with some small steps in policy design and metadata provision, alongside the wider release of data on funded outputs.

Identifying relevant outputs

It may seem strange but it remains the case that the hardest step in auditing policy implementation is the first. Identifying which outputs are subject to the policy. There is no comprehensive public database of research outputs. Crossref and Pubmed come closest to providing this information but both have substantial weaknesses. Pubmed only covers a subset of the literature, missing most of the social sciences and virtually all the humanities. Crossref does a better job of covering a wider range of disciplines.

Affiliation and funder are the two key signifiers of policy requirements. Pubmed only provides affiliation for corresponding authors, Crossref metadata currently has very entries with author affiliations. Crossref’s Fundref project is gradually adding funder information but is currently limited in coverage. Pubmed only has funder information for Pubmed partners. Private data sources such as Web of Knowledge and Scopus can provide some of this data but are also incomplete and can not be publicly audited.

Funders and institutions rarely provide any public-facing list of their outputs. RCUK is probably the leader in this space with Gateway to Research providing an API that allows querying via institution, funder, grant or person. GtR is a good system but is reliant on author reporting. It therefore takes some years for outputs to be registered. In principle the SHARE notification system could go some way to addressing this updating issue but to manage the process of keeping records updated at scale will require standards development. Pubmed and Europe PubMed Central provide the most up to date public information linking outputs to funding currently available but as noted above have disciplinary gaps and weaknesses in terms of affiliation information.

Identifiers for research outputs are crucial here. Pretty much any large scale tool for identifying and auditing the implementation of any scholarly communications policy will need to pull data from multiple sources. To do this at scale requires that we can cross-reference outputs and compare data across these sources. Unique identifiers such as DOIs, ISBNs and Handles make a huge difference to accuracy. Without them, many outputs will simply be missed or the data will be too messy to handle. Disciplines that have not adopted identifiers will therefore be systematically under represented and under reported.

Identifying accessible copies

Assuming we can create a list of relevant outputs it might seem simple to test whether it is possible to find accessible copies. A quick Google Scholar search should suffice. And this will work for one, or ten or perhaps a hundred outputs. But if we are to track implementation across a funder, a large institution or a country we will be dealing with tens or hundreds of thousands, or millions of outputs. Manual checks will be very labour intensive (as the poor souls preparing returns from UK universities for the RCUK review can currently attest).

Check the publisher copy

As noted above a substantial proportion of the scholarly literature does not have a unique ID. This means finding even the ‘official’ copy can be challenging. Where an ID is available it should be straightforward to reach the publisher copy but determining whether this is ‘accessible’ is not trivial. While many publishers will mark accessible outputs in some way this is done inconsistent across publishers. Currently this requires outputs to be checked manually, an approach that will not scale. Consistent metadata is required to make it possible to check accessibility status via machine. This is gradually improving for journal articles but books, with a wider range of mixed models for Open Access volumes will remain a challenge for some time.

Find a repository copy

If the publisher copy can’t be found or isn’t accessible then it is important to find a copy in a repository…somewhere. Google might be indexing the repository, but does not provide an API. This means each article needs to be checked by hand. Aggregators like CORE, BASE and OpenAIRE might be pulling from the repository in question providing a search mechanism that scales. But many repositories do not provide information in the right form for aggregation.

While there is a standard metadata format provided by repository systems, OAI-PMH, it is applied very differently by different repositories. Many repositories do not record publisher identifiers such as DOIs and titles are frequently different from the publisher version making it difficult to efficiently search the records. More importantly OAI-PMH is a harvesting protocol. It is not designed for querying a repository and identifying whether it holds resources relating to specific outputs.

Even if we do find a record in a repository it does not necessarily mean that a full text copy of the output has been deposited, nor that it is actually available. Institutional repositories are very inconsistent in the way they index articles and in the metadata they provide. CORE harvests files so if a file is available it is generally full text. OpenAIRE provides metadata on whether an output is available. Both have limitations in coverage and neither have appropriate infrastructure funding for the long term future.

Determining output compliance

Once accessible copies of outputs have been identified it remains to be determined whether all the policy requirements have been met. Requirements fall into two broad categories: the time of availability (i.e. any embargo on public access to the document) and licensing requirements. Neither of these can currently be tested at scale.

Embargos and availability

Most access policies require that outputs made available via repositories are made public within a specified period after publication. Precise wording of the policy often varies on this point. Most policies specify that the output must be available after some acceptable embargo period but differ on when the output should be deposited (on acceptance, on publication, before the embargo ends).

The metadata provided by most OAI-PMH feeds does not provide sufficient information to determine whether a full text copy is available. Where any information is provided on copies that are deposited but not accessible this is not provided in a consistent form. OpenAIRE specifies requirements for repository metadata that define whether a full text copy is currently embargoed but only a subset of repositories are currently OpenAIRE compliant.

Overall it is currently not possible to comprehensively survey repositories to determine whether a full text copy has been deposited, whether it is available to read, and if not when it will be. Confusion created by policy wording on when any acceptable embargo period commences is also not helpful. If it starts on the date of publication is that the date of release online or the formal date of publication (which can be months or years later)? If it is the date of acceptance where is this recorded? What does acceptance even mean if we are talking about a monograph?

The work on RIOXX metadata standards will address many aspects of this and illustrates the need for consistent metadata profiles to enable automated auditing. The challenges also illustrate the need for standardising policy language and for expressing policy requirements in measurable terms.

Publisher site licensing

If an output is made available via a journal then there are often requirements associated with this. For RCUK, Wellcome Trust and FWF where an APC has been paid the article must be published under a CC BY license. The experience of implementation has been patchy with many traditional publishers doing a fairly poor job of providing the correct licenses. This means that each and every output needs to be checked.

As with repository auditing this is a challenge. Different publishers, and different outputs from the same publisher, have differing and inconsistent ways of expressing license statements. Some journal publishers even manage to express licenses inconsistently on the same article.

To address this PLOS funded a tool, built by Cottage Labs which aims to check, for individual journal articles, what the license is. It does this by following the DOI to the article page, reading the HTML and checking for known licenses statements for that website. The tool provides an API that allows a user to query a thousand IDs at a time for available license information. This approach is limited. It only works when we have an identifier (DOI or PMID). It is focussed on journal articles. It breaks when publishers change their website design. It can only recognize known statements.

But worst of all it depends on publishers actually making the license clear. While some traditional publishers (NPG and Oxford University Press deserve credit here) do a good job of this many do not. Taylor and Francis place a license statement only in the PDF (and in a context which makes it hard to detect which license applies). Springer sometimes do and sometimes don’t make the license statement available on the abstract page, sometimes only on the article page. Elsevier’s API (which we have to use because they make article pages difficult to parse) is not always consistent with the human readable license on the article. And the American Chemical Society create a link on the article with the text “CC BY” which links to a page which isn’t really the Creative Commons Attribution license but an ‘enhanced’ version with more limitations.

The NISO Accessibility and Licensing Information Working Group (full disclosure: I am a co-chair of this group) has proposed a metadata framework which could address these issues by providing a standardised way of expressing licenses – while not restricting the ability of publishers to choose which license to apply. Crossref is already offering a means for publishers to bulk upload license references for existing DOIs. This needs to be expanded across all publishers if we are to effectively monitor implementation of policies.

Policy Design

As we move from the politics of policy development to the (social) engineering problem of policy implementation our needs are changing. It is no longer enough to simply state aspirations, we need to be able to test performance. At the moment this is being done via manual and ad hoc processes. This is both inefficient and not scalable. At the same time, with the right information environment it should be possible to not just monitor our implementation of Open Access but the continuously monitor it in real time.

The majority of public access policies to date have been designed as human readable documents. Little thought has gone into how the policy goals translate into auditable requirements. As a result the burden of monitoring implementation is going up. In many cases there are no mechanisms to monitor implementation at all.

As we move from aspirational policies to the details of implementation we need efficient means of generating data that help us to understand what works, and what does not. To do this we need to move towards requirements that are auditable at scale, that work from sustainably public datasets using consistent metadata formats.

Policies are necessarily political documents. The devil is in the details of implementation. For clarity and consistency it would be valuable to develop formal requirements documents, alongside policy expressions that provide explicit detail on how implementation will be monitored. None of the infrastructure required is terribly difficult to build and much of it is already in place. What is required is coordination and a commitment to standardising the flow of information between all the stakeholders involved.


Identification of Relevant Outputs: Policy design should include mechanisms for identifying and publicly listing outputs that are subject to the policy. The use of community standard persistable and unique identifiers should be strongly recommended. Further work is needed on creating community mechanisms that identify author affiliations and funding sources across the scholarly literature.

Discovery of Accessible Versions: Policy design should express compliance requirements for repositories and journals in terms of metadata standards that enable aggregation and consistent harvesting. The infrastructure to enable this harvesting should be seen as a core part of the public investment in scholarly communications.

Auditing Policy Implementation: Policy requirements should be expressed in terms of metadata requirements that allow for automated implementation monitoring. RIOXX and ALI proposals represent a step towards enabling automated auditing but further work, testing and refinement will be required to make this work at scale.

Category: Open Access, Open Access policy, RFI | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

#NoNewLicenses Update

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Since our coalition of over 50 signatories first released our letter to the STM Association calling on them to withdraw their new model licenses there has been overwhelming support. We’ve added new signatories daily to now reach 85. The most recent additions are publisher-oriented - GigaScience Journal and UC University Press - the latter notable as being a publisher with a strong history in the social sciences and humanities. See the letter itself for the full list of what is now a very wide ranging group of signatories

Many signatories have also blogged their own perspective. A full list of the posts and media coverage we know about is below but in this post I wanted to pick out one aspect that is particularly important. While PLOS (and many of those of us associated with it) are vociferous supporters of CC BY as the right license for scholarly work, many of the signatories to the letter choose to use other Creative Commons licenses, including some of the more restrictive variants. See for instance the ACRL Post on their use of CC BY-NC or the Wikimedia Foundation post that emphasises CC BY-SA.

This is important because it shows that even while we disagree on important issues of principle around which licenses to use, we all agree that we should work within a single framework. This means that we can have the important discussions on those principles and know that until we resolve them we are as compatible from a legal perspective as possible. And it means that if and when we do resolve those issues that it is possible to shift from one CC license to another with as few unexpected side effects as possible.

The thing that most disappointed me about the STM response to our letter is the way it mistakenly equates the use of Creative Commons licenses with the use of the CC BY license specifically. STM should be showing leadership through educating its members on the range of CC licenses.

What the growing list of signatories, coming from a wide range of perspectives and the coverage below shows is that there is plenty of space for a diversity of opinions on business models and user rights within a single interoperable framework of Creative Commons licenses.

Coverage by signatories, other bloggers and press


Wellcome Trust: http://blog.wellcome.ac.uk/2014/08/08/keeping-open-access-simple/


PLOS Opens Blog:

  1. http://blogs.plos.org/opens/2014/08/07/license-please/
  2. http://blogs.plos.org/opens/2014/08/08/wikimania-need-choose-main-stream-small-pool/
  3. http://blogs.plos.org/opens/2014/08/15/rise-rise-creative-commons-1-2m-cc-licensed-scholarly-articles/

Wikimedia: https://blog.wikimedia.org/2014/08/07/new-open-licenses-arent-so-open/


  1. http://blog.scienceopen.com/2014/08/scienceopen-joins-the-coalition-against-stm-licenses/
  2. http://blog.scienceopen.com/2014/08/if-it-aint-broke-nonewlicenses/

SAGE (Social Science Space blog): http://www.socialsciencespace.com/2014/08/do-scholarly-publishers-need-a-creative-un-commons/

Institutional and Library Groups

ACRL: http://www.acrl.ala.org/acrlinsider/archives/9060#.U-57nrA-rkw.twitter

ARL: http://www.arl.org/news/arl-news/3348-arl-opposes-stm-model-licenses-recommends-creative-commons-as-alternative

EIFL: http://www.eifl.net/news/eifl-supports-call-withdraw-new-stm-sample

LERU: http://www.leru.org/index.php/public/news/leru-joins-global-coalition-in-calling-on-stm-to-withdraw-their-new-model-licences/

LIBER: http://libereurope.eu/news/nonewlicences/

Max-Planck Digital Library: http://openaccess.mpg.de/2066551/Global_Coalition_calls_on_STM_publishers_to_withdraw_new_model_licences

RLUK: http://www.rluk.ac.uk/news/stmletter/

SPARC: http://sparc.arl.org/blog/don%E2%80%99t-muddy-%E2%80%9Copen%E2%80%9D-waters-sparc-joins-call-stm-association-rethink-new-licenses

SPARC EU: http://sparceurope.org/what-is-the-best-licensing-framework-for-scholarly-material/

Civil Society and Advocacy Organisations

Authors Alliance: http://www.authorsalliance.org/2014/08/11/authors-alliance-joins-call-for-stm-to-withdraw-licenses/

Kennisland: http://www.kennisland.nl/filter/nieuws/open-brief-geen-nieuwe-licenties-voor-open-access-publicaties

Creative Commons: http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/43450

C4C: http://copyright4creativity.eu/2014/08/08/licensing-abuses-strike-again/

Question Copyright: http://questioncopyright.org/letter_against_stm_license_proliferation

OpenForum Europe: http://www.openforumeurope.org/library/comments/OFE%20statement%20STM%20licenses%20final.pdf

New Media Rights: http://newmediarights.org/new_media_rights_joins_global_coalition_access_research_science_and_education_organizations_call_stm

Other Bloggers

Martin Weller: http://blog.edtechie.net/battle/infrared-instead-of-sun/

Glyn Moody: http://blogs.computerworlduk.com/open-enterprise/2014/08/the-gentle-art-of-muddying-the-licensing-waters/index.htm


Times Higher Education Supplement: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/publishers-copyright-move-could-limit-use-of-research/2015078

Nature: http://www.nature.com/news/seven-days-8-14-august-2014-1.15706

Category: Open Access policy | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

The rise and rise of Creative Commons: Over 1.2M CC Licensed Scholarly Articles

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In our call to the STM Association to withdraw their model licenses we drew attention to the fact that Creative Commons licenses are a de facto global standard. But sometimes it is claimed that (as the STM Association did in their response) that CC licenses are somehow “not designed” for scholarly communications, or “not proven” in our space.

We thought it might be useful to get some data on just how many CC licensed peer reviewed articles are out there. This turns out to be a non-trivial exercise but I think it’s feasible to come up with a reasonable lower bound. The too-long didn’t-read version: there are at least 1.2M CC licensed scholarly articles in the wild, with over 720,000 of them being licensed CC BY.

Our first call is the Directory of Open Access Journals. The DOAJ, alongside its listing of journals also has the opportunity for providing article metadata, including the default license for the journal. At the search page there is an option to limit the search to articles and if you then click on the licenses selector tab you can get the number of articles registered under different CC licenses. When I looked this gave around 547,138 CC BY licensed articles, 311,956 CC BY-NC articles and so on to give a total of just over one million CC licensed articles in total.

However this isn’t a complete representation of the picture. A number of large publishers (including [cough] PLOS) don’t deposit article level metadata with DOAJ. So 1M is undercounting. For some publishers of pure OA journals we have data from OASPA up to 2013 on CC BY licensed articles. The big contributors missing from the DOAJ dataset are Springer Open, PLOS, OUP and MDPI. These publishers contribute a further 144,203 articles up to the end of 2013, bringing our total to over 1.1M. I can add the 22k articles published by PLOS and 3,463 published by SpringerOpen in 2014 to this total (but not those from Biomed Central which are included in the DOAJ numbers).

There are some further gaps, NPG’s Scientific Reports uses CC licenses (5,793 articles according to Pubmed) and Nature Communications uses CC licenses for its free-to-read papers (I obtained a total of 1,026 free to read articles from this data set). Nature Communications illustrates a big gap in our knowledge. We know that there is substantial uptake of CC licenses by big publishers including Wiley, Taylor and Francis, Sage, OUP, and Elsevier for their hybrid offerings but we have limited information on the scale of that at the moment. The sources and quality of information are likely to improve substantially by the end of the year but at the moment the best I could do is guess that these might amount to a few tens of thousands but not yet hundreds. I’m therefore leaving them out of my current estimates.

Some caveats – clearly I’m missing a range of articles here, particularly from smaller publishers that have journals not registered with DOAJ. But if I’m going to claim this is a reasonable lower bound I also need to ensure I’m not double counting. A search for all the publishers for which I’ve added articles above and beyond those in DOAJ gives zero results except for a search for PLOS (650) and Springer (99). I’m also missing a substantial number of papers from Springer.  They recently announced reaching 200,000 OA papers with CC licenses from various imprints including Biomed Central and Springer Open. The totals in my numbers are 136,895 papers from Biomed Central (via DOAJ) and 18,375 for Springer Open (based on the OASPA data and a search for 2014). Therefore there are another ~45k papers I’m missing. Similarly for OUP I’m missing maybe another 10,000 papers in journals like Nucleic Acids Research that are now mostly CC licensed.

One criticism of these figures might be the fact that the DOAJ does contain some journals that are currently being removed as they do not meet the stricter quality conditions being imposed. Am I therefore including dodgy journals in my figures? The counter argument is that those publishers that think about licensing and provision of article metadata tend to be the most reliable. The fact that the data is there at all is a good indicator of a serious publisher. Overall I think the balance of clear undercounting above vs the risk of these potential issues contributing significant numbers of articles is approximately a wash.

Overall the total figures come out to slightly over 1.2M articles with CC licenses. Of these at least 724,000 use the CC BY license. You can of course take the links I’ve given and check my maths. The data can also be split out by year, and although that gets more messy with missing data it looks like around 200k CC licensed articles were released in 2012 and 2013 making them a substantial proportion of the whole literature.

As we (and the 80+ organizations that have now signed the letter) said before, and we’ll say again; Creative Commons is the established, adopted and proven standard for both wider content on the web as well as for scholarly communications.

Category: Open Access policy | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Momentum growing in support of Creative Commons framework

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Last Thursday we published a letter with 57 other organisations calling on the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers to withdraw their model licences and work within the Creative Commons framework.

Since last Thursday, another 15 19 organisations have added their names to the letter (main letter & list, & pdf of original signatories) including Universities UK, the International Coalition of Library Consortia and the UK HE International Unit.  The growing list and momentum shows that organisations from institutions to publishers, technology providers and civil society organisations are united in their desire for established, consistent and proven legal tools to enable the sharing and re-use of scholarly content.

In addition to the posts here on PLOS Opens (both about the letter and within the context of Wikimania2014), many of the signatories have individually posted about why they are opposing the STM licences, including Creative Commons, the Wikimedia FoundationSPARC, the Association of Research Libraries, Copyright4Creativity, OpenForum Europe,  EIFL, ScienceOpen, Kennisland, and Authors Alliance.

Opposition to the STM model licences is also coming from other sources, most notably the Wellcome Trust. Chris Bird (Senior Legal Counsel) and Robert Kiley (Head of Digital Services) outlined in a post on Friday why they think the STM licences are not helpful:

“Put simply, we see no value in these new licences, and believe that if a publisher wishes to restrict how content can be used (excluding Wellcome funded, OA papers which must always be published under the CC-BY licence), the existing Creative Commons licences (e.g. CC-BY-NC and CC-BY-NC-ND) are more than adequate.”

The STM Association have also published a response to our letter.

Category: Open Access policy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Wikimania: We need to choose the main stream over our small pool

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Wikimania 2014 Logo

The Wikimania meeting is the annual jamboree of the Wikimedia movement. The sessions cover museums, pop culture, politics, technology, communities and tools. Two thousand people have descended on the Barbican Centre in London to talk not just about Wikipedia (or more properly the Wikipedias in various languages) but a myriad of other projects that use the platforms or infrastructure the foundation stewards or take inspiration from the successes of this movement. The energy and the optimism here is infectious. The people around me are showing in session after session what happens when you give motivated people access to information resources and platforms to work with them.

From the perspective of academia, or of scholarly publishing it is easy, even traditional, to be dismissive of these efforts. There is perhaps no more pejorative term in the academic lexicon than ‘amateur’. This is a serious mistake. The community here are a knowledge creation and curation community – the most successful such community of the digital age.

There is much that they can teach us about managing information at scale and making it accessible and usable. The infrastructure they are building could be an important contribution to our own information platforms. There are tools and systems I have seen demonstrated here, many of them built by those ‘amateurs’, which far outstrip the capabilities we have in the academic information ecosystem. And we don’t come to the table empty handed – we have experience and knowledge of curation and validation at different scales, on how to manage review when appropriate experts are rare, on handling conflicts of interest and the ethical conduct of information gathering.

But we are just one contributor to a rich tapestry of resources, just one piece in a puzzle. One of the things I find most disappointing about the STM Association response to yesterday’s letter is the way it perpetuates the idea that it makes sense to keep scholarly publishing somehow separate from the rest of the web. The idea that “Creative Commons Licenses…are not specifically designed for academic and scholarly publishing” aside from being a misrepresentation (a subject for another post) makes very little sense unless you insist on the idea that scholarly work needs to be kept separate from the rest of the world’s knowledge.

Now don’t get me wrong – scholarly knowledge is special. It is special because of the validation and assessment processes it goes though. But the containers it sits in. They’re not special. The business models that provide those containers aren’t particularly special. But most importantly the ways in which that knowledge could be used by a motivated community aren’t any different from that of other knowledge resources. And if we don’t make it easy to use our content then it will simply be passed over for other more accessible, more easily useable materials.

This community, this massive, engaged and motivated community are our natural allies in knowledge creation, dissemination, research engagement and ultimately justifying public research funding. We disengage from them at our peril. And we don’t get to dictate the terms of that engagement because they are bigger and more important than us. But if we choose to engage then the benefits to both our communities could be enormous.

It is comfortable to be the big fish in the small pond – to put up barriers and say “but we are different, we’re special” – but if we want to make a difference we should choose to swim actively in the main stream. Because that’s what this community is. The main stream of information and knowledge dissemination in the digital age.

Category: Conferences, Open Access policy | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

A license to please

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Today PLOS joins with 58 other organizations in calling for the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical (STM) Publishers to withdraw their model licenses and work with the community within the Creative Commons framework to build a scholarly literature that is compatible with wider human knowledge on the web.

As the 10th Wikimania Conference in London this week bears witness, millions of people in different locations and jurisdictions are using open tools, open software and Open Access content to interact with different types of information. Wikipedia alone receives 21 billion hits and is being added to at a rate of 30,000,000 words each month. But it is not just Wikipedia that is being adopted enthusiastically, there are online educational resources becoming available all over the world. This thirst for knowledge – and for knowledge creation – comes from every sector of society and every corner of the globe and represents an unparalleled opportunity for the academic literature. It’s an opportunity to open up scholarly content to a much wider community, for it to reach audiences where those audiences are based and to tap into the cultures that will facilitate its reuse. It’s an opportunity to democratize the scholarly literature – to enable the many rather than the few.

But this is not something the scholarly community can do alone. Such a vision requires an infrastructure that enables people and computers to talk to each other wherever they are based. It requires platforms, services and communities that work together regardless of their geographic location or legal jurisdiction.  We can’t do this alone, but the academic community can make it easier. And ensuring that the licenses controlling scholarly content enable use and reuse is one part of that. The Creative Commons Licenses already provide a common legal framework to ensure that copyright owners can let others share and integrate their work with other human knowledge.  They are being used not just for Wikipedia and Wikimedia but for education and policy and for music and images. People are adopting them as a global standard because they are widely understood, straightforward to implement and machine readable. They are adopting them because they work.

The model open access licenses recently released by the STM are not a global standard. And unlike the more liberal Creative Commons licences, even the most liberal STM licences restrict some form of commercial or derivative reuse. No STM-licensed work can be used on Wikipedia.

But worse than that, they are incompatible. The STM licences are legally complex, with confusing and undefined terminology. They are claimed to interoperate with the Creative Commons licences, but the restrictions they impose mean that they are barely compatible with the most restrictive Creative Commons licence (which permits neither commercial nor derivative reuse). Consequently, authors who wish to create new works licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence (or indeed any other public licence) will not be able to use content from work published under any of the STM licences.

PLOS and other Open Access publishers such as Hindawi,  funders such as the Wellcome Trust and bodies such as the World Health Organization all favor a Creative Commons license that permits liberal reuse, including unrestricted text and data mining, while ensuring that an author’s work is properly attributed (CC BY). Signing the letter published today calling for the withdrawal of the STM model licenses is not an endorsement of the more restrictive Creative Commons licenses; it is an endorsement of the Creative Commons framework, of a global standard that is already established.

Collectively we have an opportunity to open up research content to the wider world. Some will not want to, or be able to move as fast, but we should at least adopt a common legal framework. The Creative Commons licenses are not perfect but they have been shown to work and have been applied to over a billion objects from hundreds of millions of creators. They provide the flexibility for a wide range of options from the restricted to the fully open. But above all they provide a framework that we can all work within that will make it easier to connect with the wider world of the web.

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PLOS Response to the HEFCE RFI on Metrics in Research Assessment

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The Higher Education Funding Council for England, the body that manages the UK’s Research Excellence Framework recently announced an enquiry on the use of metrics in research assessment. HEFCE’s views on research assessment matter a great deal to UK Universities because the REF distributes a substantial proportion of the UK’s research funding as block grants on the basis of that assessment. As part of this process the enquiry committee issued a call for evidence. The covering letter and summary of the PLOS submission are provided below, you can find the full PLOS RFI response at Figshare.

Dear Committee Members

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your call for evidence. PLOS has been at the forefront of experimenting with and advocating for new modes of research assessment for a decade. Recent developments such as DORA and your own enquiry suggest that the time is appropriate for a substantial consideration of our approaches and tools for research assessment.

Our ability to track the use of research through online interactions has increased at an unprecedented rate providing new forms of data that might be used to inform resource allocation. At the same time the research community has profound misgivings, as demonstrated by submissions to your enquiry by e.g. David Colquhoun or by Meera Sabaratnam and Paul Kirby with the “metrication” of research evaluation (although see also a response by Steve Fuller. These disparate strands do not however need to be in direct opposition.

As a research community we are experienced with working with imperfect and limited evidence. Neither extreme uncritical adoption of data, nor wholesale rejection of potentially useful evidence should be countenanced. Rather we should use all the critical faculties that we bring to research itself to gather and critique evidence that is relevant to the question at hand. We would argue that determining the usefulness of any given indicator or proxy, whether qualitative or quantitative depends on the question or decision at hand.

In establishing the value of any given indicator or proxy for assisting in answering a specific question we should therefore bring a critical scholarly perspective to the quality of data, the appropriateness of any analysis framework or model as well as to how the question is framed. Such considerations may draw on approaches from the quantitative sciences, social sciences or the humanities or ideally a combination of all of them. And in doing so they must adhere to scholarly standards of transparency and data availability.

In summary, therefore, we will argue in answers to the questions you pose that there are many new (and old) sources of data that will be valuable in providing quantitative and qualitative evidence in supporting evaluative and resource allocation decisions associated with research assessment. The application of this data and its analysis to date has been both naive and limited by issues of access to underlying data and proprietary control. To enable a rich critical analysis requires that we work to ensure that data is openly available, that its analysis is transparent and reproducible, and that its production and use is subject to full scholarly critique.

Yours truly,
Cameron Neylon
Advocacy Director

Summary of Submission

  1. The increasing availability of data on the use and impact of research outputs as a result of the movement of scholarship online offers an unprecedented opportunity to support evidence-based decision-making in research resource allocation decisions.
  2. The use of quantitative or metrics-based assessment across the whole research enterprise (e.g. in a future REF) is premature, because both our access to data and our understanding of its quality and the tools for its analysis are limited. In addition, it is unclear whether any unique quality of research influence or impact is sufficiently general to be measured.
  3. To support the improvement of data quality, sophisticated and appropriate analysis and scholarly critique of the analysis and application of data, it is crucial that the underlying usage data used to support decision making be open.
  4. To gain acceptance of the use of this evidence in resource allocation decisions, it is crucial that the various stakeholder communities be engaged in a discussion of the quality, analysis and application of such data. Such a discussion must be underpinned by transparent approaches and systems that support the community engagement that will lead to trust.
  5. HEFCE should take a global leadership position in supporting the creation of a future data and analysis environment in which a wide range of indicators acting as proxies for many diverse forms of research impact (in its broadest sense) are openly available for community analysis, use and critique. HEFCE is well placed, alongside other key stakeholders to support pilots and community development towards trusted community observatories of the research enterprise.
Category: RFI | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

From Open Buttons to OpenCon – Building a student community

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This is a guest post from Joe McArthur, one of the founders of the OA Button project and newly appointed Assistant Director of the Right to Research Coalition.

Seven months ago, after little sleep I boarded a plane to Berlin to attend a conference and launch a project I’d been working tirelessly on for five months. That project was the Open Access Button, a browser plug-in which visualises when paywalls stop people reading research. Since the launch, which was covered in the Guardian, Scientific American and got the attention of EU science ministers the project has continued to progress. As the co-founder normally I’d now go on to talk all about it.  Today is different though, I’m going to briefly tell the story of the conferences which launched, grew and gave birth to the Button and why we, as a community should support a new one, OpenCon 2014, which will do the same for many other ideas.

The Berlin 11 Satellite Conference for Students and Early Stage Researchers conference, which brought together more than 70 participants from 35 countries (and was webcast to many more around the world) to engage on Open Access was the stage for the Button’s launch. We launched the Button on stage with a timed-social media push (Thunderclap) which reached over 800,000 people. Without this platform we’d have never been able to obtain the level of publicity or move the project forward at the pace we have since.

The story of instrumental conferences goes back further though. Months before our launch we met with organisational leaders from across the globe at the Right to Research Coalition general assembly. This was the first time we truly were able to talk about the Button with our peers. We sought feedback, buyin and help moving the project forwards – all of which we got in spades. An afternoon training session then used the Button as a case study and the ideas from student leaders all then fed into what we did.

The final conference worth highlighting, is the one where it all began. While attending a conference of the International Federation of Medical Students I and my co-founder (David Carroll) got talking to Nick Shockey, Director of the Right to Research Coalition. Prior to that conversation, David and I knew no alternative to the system of publishing that frustrated us both. After it, well, the Open Access Button was born.

These three events provided us with a launching venue, a place to develop our ideas, raised our awareness and inspired us to act. In-between each is hundreds of hours of work, but these were each transformative points in our journey. We’re not alone in this experience though, at each event we were just one of many projects doing the same. I’m now, along with a student team from across the global working to make a conference which will do this for many others.

OpenCon 2014: is a unique Student and Early Career Researcher Conference on Open Access, Open Education and Open Data. On November 15-17 in Washington, DC, the event will bring together attendees from across the world to learn, develop critical skills, and return home ready to catalyze action toward a more open system for sharing the world’s information — from scholarly research, to educational materials, to digital data.

OpenCon 2014’s three day program will begin with two days of conference-style keynotes, panels, and interactive workshops, from leaders in the Open Access, Open Education and Open Data movements and participants who have led successful projects. The final day will be a half-day of advocacy training followed by the opportunity for in-person meetings with relevant policymakers, ranging from members of the U.S. Congress to representatives from national embassies and NGOs. Participants will arrive with plans of action or projects they’d like to take forwards and leave with a deeper understanding of the conference’s three issue areas, stronger skills in organizing projects, and connections with policymakers and prominent leaders.

Plans this ambitious though come with a price tag. To help support the travel of students from across the globe, feed them and provide them with the vital lifeblood of conferences (coffee) and put on the best conference possible we need the support of the Open Access, Open Education and Open Data movements. There are a huge variety of sponsorship opportunities, each with it’s own unique benefits which can be found here, but equally we appreciate to help of anyone in draw attention to the event or of course attending.

Joe McArthur
Assistant Director at the Right to Research Coalition
Co-founder of the Open Access Button

The content of guest posts is always the view of the authors and not the position of the PLOS Opens Blog or PLOS.

Category: Guest Posts, News | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Opens Roundup (May)

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To help navigate the content in this issue of the roundup, here’s an index of the topics covered with links to the items below:



and thanks to Adrian Aldcroft and Allison Hawxhurst for tips and links.


US: House Committee Amends FIRST ACT to reduce embargo length

May 22: The US FIRST ACT (which we discussed previously on PLOS OPENs) has been amended to reduce the embargo period for articles from 24 to 12 months. This is definitely an improvement over the draconian embargo periods the act initially stipulated (up to three years in some cases) but still falls short. SPARC (main link),  PLOS and EFF all support the stronger Open Access Language ( e.g. around reuse) in the White House Directive and the bipartisan, bicameral Fair Access to Science and Technology Research (FASTR) act. [Back]


UK: Connecting knowledge to power: the future of digital democracy in the UK

May 22:Wikimedia UK and Demos are encouraging participation in an attempt to crowdsource a submission to a call for evidence on digital democracy from the Speaker of the House of Commons.” What is digital democracy you might ask – see this article from Wired for context. [Back]

Mexico: Open access and repository legislation in Mexico

May 21: More landmark legislation (text in Spanish) in South America that mandates all research funded by the Mexican Government to be deposited into Open Access Repositories. This puts it in line with the national mandates of Peru and Argentina. [Back]

Chinese agencies announce open-access policies

May 19 : Two of the major Chinese research funders (the National Science Foundation and the National Science Library of the Chinese Academy of Sciences) have mandated that all their researchers deposit their papers into online repositories and make them publicly available within 12 months of publication. While largely a repository-based legislation, funds will also be made available to grantees to cover Article Processing Charges to make articles immediately available. Richard van Noorden outlines the implications of this important legislation in Nature (main link). [Back]

Europe: European Research Council signs deal with Elsevier

May: Elsevier has agreed to make all the ERC funded papers they publish immediately available in return for an Article Processing Fee (APC), paid for by the council. Unfortunately, however, the policy on the Elsevier websites stipulates that articles will only be deposited in a repository (Europe PubMedCentral) or made available to reuse with an attribution-only licence ( CC BY) if requested by the author. If the authors don’t make the requests, the articles will be archived within Elsevier’s own portal, Science Direct, under more restrictive licences that prohibit some or all reuse. [Back]

Global: Major International Associations Underscore Their Support for Immediate Open Access to Research Articles

May 14:  LIBER (the Association of European Research Libraries), COAR (Confederation of Open Access Repositories) and others including, interestingly, the National Science Library of the Chinese Academy of Sciences have co-signed a statement that makes a commitment to reduce and eliminate embargo periods: “We consider the use of embargo periods as an acceptable transitional mechanism to help facilitate a wholesale shift towards Open Access. However, embargo periods dilute the benefits of open access policies and we believe that, if they are adopted, they should be no more than 6 months for the life and physical sciences, 12 months for social sciences and humanities.  We further believe that mechanisms for reducing – or eliminating – embargo periods should be included in any Open Access policy.” [Back]


His life is Open Access and Open Data: meet Mark Thorley of RCUK

June 02: Wiley’s Fiona Murphy interviews Mark Thorley from the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (and chair of RCUK Research Outputs Network) about the shift to open access and the future of publishing. [Back]

USF Professor creates OA textbook for students

May 30: A University of South Florida Professor has created an open access textbook for the social sciences under the remit of the University’s textbook affordability project. [Back]

Dinosaurs go Open Access

May 30: Andy Farke, an Academic Editor for PLOS ONE shows that 42% of new Dinosaur species in 2013 were described in free-to-read journals & almost half of these were fully Open Access in PLOS ONE. [Back]

Frederick Friend, 1941-2014

May 30: Very sad news about the death of Fred Friend, a librarian and leading proponent of Open Access. Fred provided a huge amount of support and encouragement to the UK wing of PLOS in 2003 (Mark Patterson and me) when PLOS first got off the ground, helping to navigate some of the policy landscape. For more on Fred’s background and views, see the 2013  in-depth interview with Richard Poynder. [Back]

Copyright Clearance Center Launches RightsLink for Open Access

May  28: The copyright clearance centre now offers a service to handle processing fees (APCs) for open access articles between publishers and authors at institutions. The service will be integrated with Aries Systems’ Editorial Manager. Such 3rd party intermediaries are beginning to compete for the role of managing APCs. [Back]

Watchmen creator Alan Moore announces open-access indie comics app

May 28: A bit of an aside but is OA publishing spreading to mainstream comics (although Open Access to the scholarship about comics isn’t new – see The Comics Grid[Back]

EDP Open survey reveals Learned society attitudes towards Open Access

May 27: Depressing survey of 33 unnamed learned societies conducted by Publisher EDP about what societies think of open access – focusing only on what they might lose and the need to retain their existing revenue rather than the new opportunities that Open Access offers their members and the benefits to science and the wider public of opening up research. But, as Peter Suber notes, the survey doesn’t cite the Societies and Open Access Research (SOAR) project which is cataloguing the many societies that are actively publishing new OA journals. “..SOAR identifies 868 societies publishing 827 full (non-hybrid) OA journals. It names the societies, names the journals, and provides links to facilitate confirmation. Read the EDP report to see what 33 society publishers said about OA in a survey. But consult the SOAR catalog to see how 868 society publishers have already embraced OA in practice.” [Back]

The Dawn of Open Access to Phylogenetic Data

23 May: Preprint paper by Andrew F. Magee, Michael R. May, Brian R. Moore showing that ~60% of phylogenetic studies are effectively lost to science because the data are unavailable. These results support the conclusions of related studies (e.g. in PLOS Biology) but interestingly, they also show that “data are more likely to be deposited in online archives and/or shared upon request when: (1) the publishing journal has a strong data-sharing policy; (2) the publishing journal has a higher impact factor, and; (3) the data are requested from faculty rather than students.” [Back]

Institute of Physics launches ‘offsetting’ scheme to cut cost of open access

23 May: IOP Publishing has introduced a scheme whereby authors publishing in their hybrid journals can offset the cost of Article Processing Charges with their libraries subscription cost of the journal. The scheme has a ‘sliding scale’ such that an increasing proportion of savings will be passed onto subscribers as OA uptake increases. The first initiative of its kind, it came about after discussion between  IOP, Research Libraries UK (RLUK) and the UK’s Russell Group of universities (the 24 leading research institutes). [Back]

Royal Society Open Science now open

22 May: Over on the Guardian blog, Grrrlscientist plugs the new interdisciplinary open access journal launched by the Royal Society. This is not only another endorsement of open access by a significant learned society but also an endorsement of the PLOS ONE model it explicitly follows (e.g. ensuring that there is a place to publish negative results and that peer review is not based on subjective measures of importance or impact). [Back]

Growth of Fully OA Journals Using a CC-BY License

May 21: OASPA has released the number of articles published by some of its members that are fully CC BY and within fully OA journals. A total of 399,854 articles were published from 2000-20103, with 120,972 published in 2013 alone.  The growth of hybrid publishing and the fact that some of the larger members (e.g. Wiley) did not release their data means this is an underestimate. [Back]

Wellcome Trust – funding opportunities for (Open Access) researchers based outside of the UK

May 20: Two less well known facts about the Wellcome Trust pointed out by Witold Kieńć at OpenScience are 1) that they fund research not just in the sciences but also in the medical humanities and 2) that funds are available to researchers outside the UK (in North Africa, parts of Asia and Eastern Europe). But like their UK grantees, all the research outputs must be made Open Access either through a repository or via an OA journal. [Back]

The cost of scientific publishing: update and call for action

May 16: Stimulated by Tim Gower’s post (also covered by PLOS Opens), Tom Olijhoek from the Open Access Working Group summarises the flurry of activity and discussions around the cost of publishing on the open access list of the Open Knowledge Foundation. His aim is to encourage others to help fill out a google spreadsheet tracking the cost of publishing of many different publishers. He covers fair use – or the lack of it – for educational purposes, the cost of subscription versus OA publishing, and open Data. If you get hold of relevant data you can add it into a spreadsheet on GoogleDocs or report it on their WIKI. [Back]

A new model for Open Access in the Humanities and Social Sciences?

May 15: Jean Harris from UCL flags a white paper published in April by Rebecca Kennison (who was PLOS employee No. 1 way back then!) and Lisa Norberg. Disclaimer: I haven’t read the 69 page report in full. Quoting from the report, Harris notes that the model “encourages partnerships among scholarly societies, research libraries, and other institutional partners (e.g.,collaborative e-archives and university presses) who share a common mission to support the creation and distribution of research and scholarship to improve society and to help solve the world’s most challenging problems”. Carl Straumsheim provides much more background on the report at Inside Higher Ed. [Back]

Global-level data sets may be more highly cited than most journal articles

May 15: Chris Belter on the LSE blog about his analysis (in PLOS ONE) of the impact of data sets curated by the US National Oceanographic Data Center, showing that the data sets are cited more often than most journal articles. “One data set in particular, the World Ocean Atlas and World Ocean Database, has been cited or referenced in over 8,500 journal articles since it was first released in 1982. To put that into perspective, this data set has a citation count over six times higher than any single journal article in oceanography from 1982 to the present.” [Back]

The Embargoes Don’t Work: The British Academy provides the best evidence yet

May 14: For those that missed it, Cameron pulls apart the evidence from the British Academy report on Open Access to come to the opposite conclusion from the report itself. “To my mind the British Academy report shows pretty strongly that embargoes don’t help. They offer essentially no business benefit while reducing the focus on the one thing that matters – creating the value that should differentiate scholarly communications from just slapping something up on the web.” See also the response to the BA report on Open Access by HEFCE’s Ben Johnston (HEFCE commissioned the report): “the very idea of the open academy challenges the assumptions and motivations of some scholars, and open access is perhaps resisted so vociferously precisely because it is seen as disruptive to these. In my view, academics must move beyond this resistance: they have so much to gain from greater openness, and so much to lose by staying closed off from the world.” [Back]

Category: APCs, News, Open Access, Open Access policy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Embargoes Don’t Work: The British Academy provides the best evidence yet

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The debates today on implementing Open Access pivot around two key points. The first is the perceived cost of a transition to a fully funded Open Access publishing environment. The second is the question of delaying access to copies of research outputs made available through repositories – how long should embargoes be? In both cases the question of what data and evidence is reliable has been contentious but information is accumulating.

Given the obsession with embargoes from everyone interested in Open Access it would be easy to think that they logically sit at the core of the debate. Traditional publishers and their lobbyists spend a lot of time and money lobbying for policy statements and legislation that include longer embargoes. And in the interest of full disclosure PLOS and others spend quite a bit of time (although not so much money) advocating for shorter, preferably zero, embargoes. They must surely be important!

But in actual fact they are the residue of a messy compromise. The assumption that lies at the heart of the embargo argument was that if some version of a peer reviewed article is made available through a repository then a subscription publisher needs some period of exclusivity to recover their costs. The evidence that this is the best way to protect publishers while widening access is thin to say the least.

The basic assumption is that having an author manuscript freely available online poses a risk to the subscription business of the publisher. This is a matter of  controversy and I am on the record (and oral comments) as saying that I see substantial evidence that no damage is done and no credible evidence of any damage – a conclusion endorsed by a UK Parliamentary report. But it is the flip side of the argument that is perhaps more important. That is the idea that embargoes help traditional publishers maintain their business while sustainably allowing wider access through repositories.

When the NIH Public Access Policy was implemented the idea of a 12 month embargo on access to the content in Pubmed Central was a compromise. The figure of 12 months wasn’t really evidence based but was seen as ‘safe’. But it was always a messy compromise. For advocates of public access it was a high water mark, a figure to be reduced over time, eventually to zero. For traditional publishers the narrative was built of “well its ok for biomedicine – it’s a fast moving field”. You can draw a straight line from that narrative to the bizarre situation we have today in which many access policies allow embargoes to differ from discipline to discipline.

The latest salvo in this debate comes from a report commissioned by the UK’s HEFCE from the British Academy, the UK’s National Academy body for the Humanities and Social Sciences scholars. The first thing to say is that the report brings a valuable set of information on the landscape of scholarly publishing in H&SS to the table – in particular the data reported in Chapters 2 and 3 are going to be very helpful. In this post I want to focus on the conclusions the report comes to on embargoes and the work reported in Chapters 4 and 5.

The report sought to provide new data on potential risks to the sustainability of the H&SS journals business. This data comes in two forms, the first (Chapter 4) is an analysis of the online usage patterns of a set of H&SS journals – which is intended to inform a discussion of the business risks to  journals of their articles appearing in repositories. The second (Chapter 5) is survey data on UK collections librarians asking what the most important factors are in cancelling journal subscriptions.

The usage data is problematic for two reasons. Firstly while much data has been presented on the way article usage declines over time, with claims that it is relevant to discussions of embargoes, no link has ever been established between usage patterns, free online access and damage to the business of a journal. Second, there are some serious issues with the maths at the heart of the analysis. For example while the mean half lives (putting aside a curve shape for which the term ‘half life’ is meaningless) differ between disciplines the 95% confidence intervals are huge (Table 5). No testing of whether these differences are statistically significant is reported but a line in the report suggests using this data to support the report’s conclusion is untenable: ‘…the main differences are within disciplines, not between them’ [p59]. I will dissect those issues in detail at a later date but for the purpose of this discussion I’m going to take the usage conclusions of the report at face value. On the basis of reported mean half lives the report states that H&SS, along with physics and maths, form one cluster with biomedical sciences being different.

The survey data from Chapter 5 is also useful.  While all surveys have their limitations the results confirm the anecdotal evidence that librarians regard availability of non-version of record article copies and the timing of availability as amongst the least important information in deciding on journal cancellations. Usage by their institution, the requirements of research staff to access the version of record and cost are rated as more important. As an aside there is an oft-referred to ALPSP survey that is cited as coming to the opposite conclusion to the BA results. That survey was deeply flawed (see my Commons testimony for details) but even putting aside those issues it asked a different question: essentially ‘all other things being equal…would shorter embargos lead to cancellations’. The BA survey shows that in the real world, where things are never equal, that this is an unimportant factor.

The conclusion I draw from these two sets of data is that there is no value in longer embargoes for H&SS – indeed that there is no need for embargoes at all. H&SS cluster with physics and maths, disciplines where substantial, and importantly concentrated, portions of the literature have been available prior to publication for over 20 years and where there is no evidence of a systemic failure in the running of sustainable publishing businesses. A recent report from the London Mathematical Society (LMS) stated that they saw no risk to their business from the availability of author manuscripts online and that online availability of author manuscripts had no significant effect on traffic to their journal sites (they note that the situation might be different if the version of record is online but no public access policy requires this).

This runs counter to the standard narrative to justify embargoes. Why do institutions continue to subscribe to journals when the ‘same’ content is available online for free? This would only be the case if factors others than online availability of manuscripts drove subscription decisions. This might be the case if other factors, such as overall cost, scholar demand or access to the version of record were more important factors. This is exactly what the survey data in the BA report shows supporting the view that short embargoes are not a risk to the sustainability of subscription journals in H&SS.

The report itself however comes to the opposite conclusion. It does this by creating a narrative of increasing risk based on potential loss, that things might change in the future, particularly if the degree of access rises, that the survey can only ask about the current environment and hypothetical decisions. We can, and no doubt will, continue to argue about the degree of this risk and what evidence can be brought to bear. For me decades of the ArXiv and Astronomy Data Service and seven years of mandated deposit to Pubmed Central with no evidence of linked subscription cancellations seem like strong evidence. Remember that the report states that physics and maths are similar to H&SS. But increasingly I’m feeling this whole argument is rather sterile.

The more productive approach is to ask question from a positive perspective. Do embargoes help a traditional publisher or journal to navigate the rapidly changing environment? If so what embargo is optimal? Many publishers are choosing to offer an APC based Open Access publishing offering. We know this works in many (well funded) STM disciplines. However we also know that in H&SS there is less free cash and a transition to a directly funded system will be more challenging. Different approaches may well be required. A real alternative for a publisher is to take a strong stance on the additional value they offer in the version of record by supporting author archiving.

If the final published product is easier to read, easier to find, better formatted or better integrated with a scholar’s workflow and they find the value add sufficient then they or the institution will be willing to pay for it. The survey data, the LMS report and in a different way the SCOAP3 program all show that where customers see added value created by a publisher over the manuscript they are willing to pay for it. Any publisher, if they want to survive, has to compete with the free circulation of scholarly documents – both ‘grey’ literature and the circulation of copies of the version of record. That competition just got a bit tougher with the advent of the internet.

Embargoes are an artificial monopoly created to make the competition a bit less fierce. But truly, if a publisher believes that they add value and wants to be competitive then why should they fear a Word doc sitting on the web? Indeed if they do it suggests a lack of confidence in the additional value that they offer in the version of record. The best way to give yourself that confidence is to be tough on yourself and take a good look at how and where you add value. And the best way to do that is to compete successfully with “free”.

The best way to stay competitive is to be prepared and ready to adapt when the competition gets tougher, not to collude on retaining monopolies that make that competition less intense. (As an aside I wonder from time to time whether the push from large publishers for longer embargoes is in part a strategy to make smaller publishers more complacent on this issue and easier to pick off as margins shrink and scale comes to matters even more than it already does)

No doubt we will continue to argue for some time yet whether short embargoes cause harm. But for those traditional publishers with a subscription business seeking to navigate our rapidly changing world I think it’s precisely the wrong question. Ask whether longer embargoes actually help your business over the short, medium and longer term. Really ask that question, because if the answer is yes, you have a problem with your own confidence in your own value creation.

To my mind the British Academy report shows pretty strongly that embargoes don’t help. They offer essentially no business benefit while reducing the focus on the one thing that matters – creating the value that should differentiate scholarly communications from just slapping something up on the web. Clearly the authors of the report differ.

But rather than just take my summary, or that of the report, at face value my suggestion would be to do what any scholar should do: read the report in full, critique the evidence and come to your own conclusion. What this report does bring is new data and in particular data focussed on the questions of managing a transition to wider access for the H&SS literature. We need more of this data and we need to focus all of our critical faculties, and all of our various disciplinary approaches, to understanding how to use that data to effectively plan and manage a transition to the Open Access future.

Category: Open Access, Open Access policy | 1 Comment