Monday, April 30, 2007

Peer Review: Its Present and Future States

A report, “Peer Review: Its Present and Future States” published by the European Science Foundation (ESF) considers various shortcomings of the peer review system while outlining some possible measures to cope with them. The report, which draws on ideas from an international conference in Prague in October 2006, also details a number of options that could lead to a greater openness to innovative research. From the Press Release:
A central theme of the report is that the current peer review system might not adequately assess the most pioneering research proposals, as they may be viewed as too risky. John O’Reilly, former Chief Executive of the U.K.’s engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), now Vice Chancellor of Cranfield University, said traditional peer review might be too risk averse. He suggested the need to encourage pioneering research that is high risk in the proposal, but high impact if successful.

The conference called for new approaches, enabling the assessment of innovative research, to be embedded in the peer review system. An example of a new approach to overcome the perceived risk-averse funding culture was given by Dr. He Minghong from the National Natural Science Foundation China. His Foundation encourages reviewers and programme managers to spot risky project proposals which are then funded under stricter conditions. Their duration is shorter, their budget smaller and they are more closely monitored.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

In Media Res

In Media Res is an experiment from the Institute for the Future of the Book's Media Commons project that uses short video clips and comments about them to "promote an online dialogue amongst media scholars and the public about contemporary media scholarship."

A fuller description of the experiment is quoted below. You can view the posted videos and commentary on them on the In Media Res site.

Each day, a different media scholar will present a 30-second to 3-minute clip accompanied by a 100-150-word impressionistic response. The goal is to promote an online dialogue amongst media scholars and the public about contemporary media scholarship through clips chosen for either their typicality or atypicality in demonstrating narrative strategies, genre formulations, aesthetic choices, representational practices, institutional approaches, fan engagements, etc.

In Media Res is envisioned as an experiment in just one sort of collaborative, multi-modal scholarship that MediaCommons will aim to foster. Its primary goal is to provide a forum for more immediate critical engagement with media at a pace closer to how we typically experience mediated texts. In Media Res hopefully will:

• Give scholars the opprtunity to critically engage with the media in a more immediate and timely way.
• Promote discussion within the media studies community through virtual interactions around contemporary media artifacts.
• Enable a lively debate in which the sum total of the conversation will be more valuable than any one particular voice.
• Bridge the divide between academic and non-academic communities, inviting a critically-engaged and/or curious public to join in.
• Lead to the emergence of new scholarly and pedagogical ideas about studying and teaching media.
• Work toward reinvigorating the academic’s role as public intellectual by presenting media scholars no just as informed experts with valuable ideas to impart about critical media literacy, but as fellow citizens in a mediated society.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

How Web 2.0 Will Transform the Humanities

Source: open culture weblog

Recently, the open culture weblog posted information about a biweekly podcast called, Digital Campus. As open culture describes, the series features a panel of new media scholars at George Mason University discussing how Web 2.0 techonologies will change humanities teaching and research. For more information, please click on the links above or go to the specific open culture posting.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Open Access Journals Create New Opportunities

In the April/May issue of Research Information Matthew Cockerill, publisher of BioMed Central, argues that the open access publishing model facilitates the creation of new types of journals that could not be published under the traditional subscription model:
For many years, publishers, scientists, academics, librarians, funders and government officials have debated the value of greater public access to the results of scientific research. The internet has fundamentally changed the economics of distributing scientific research results, and has made the idea of universal access to research a realistic prospect. The number of open-access journals continues to increase rapidly, as does the proportion of scientific research that is freely available online. . . .

Scepticism and debate are healthy, especially if the debate is informed by evidence. In the case of open-access publishing, the track record of existing open-access journals now demonstrates that the open-access model can succeed in the real world. In particular, open-access journals have demonstrated their ability to operate as a sustainable business, and to publish research of high quality – validated by the industry’s leading metrics. . . .

Perhaps more importantly, the success of open-access publications is also stimulating the research community to rethink the parameters of scientific publication, and to consider how the open-access model can provide a channel for the rapid publication of more research results in formats that allow their effective compilation and reuse. . . .

This evolution of the scientific literature promises to allow the findings of researchers and practitioners all over the world to be made available like never before. . . .

Lastly, open access, by making the underlying research articles freely available and reusable, opens up myriad possibilities for enhancing and extending that research. This includes the use of computational techniques to mine research articles for information, and the use of Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, tagging and wikis to allow the research community itself to enrich articles with additional content and connections. . . .

By providing an optimal combination of quality and quantity, open access delivers a new model of publishing that can meet the challenges of 21st century science.. . . MORE

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Joint Electronic Publishing Task Force Report

The American Philological Association (APA) and the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) Joint Task Force on Electronic Publishing has issued its report. It is an interesting document that reveals keen awareness of the dynamic landscape of both the production and the dissemination of scholarship. The Executive Summary and Recommendations are below:

The Task Force was charged the analysis of particular issues associated with the burgeoning area of electronic publishing, including peer refereeing, freedom of information, intellectual property protection, storage and retrieval of data and whatever other concerns it may identify. Having prepared a policy statement in summer 2006, the Task Force turned to the final report of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) released in 2006 (see sections D “Key Principles” and E “General Desiderata”). After discussion (see section F “Discussion”) and comments, the Task Force has formulated the following recommendations:

R1. Continue with the efforts, supported by the Capital Campaign and Board of Directors, to plan, design, and sustain a portal to digital content.

R2: Form a group dedicated to assessing classical websites with significant instructional or research tools and content through a peer-review process. Consider creating a more extensive optional peer-review process for sites that request it. Provide access to websites via portal, either directly or through linking.

R3. Explore the cost of providing portal access to important by-subscription collections to all members through the societies, or alternatively try to arrange for reasonable individual rates to be offered to members.

R4. Appoint two or three editors and institute a section for postprints (and perhaps other material) in the CDL's eScholarship Repository, or like platform.

R5. Explore a new digitally-distributed series of APA monographs. Appoint a small "development" editorial board of senior scholars to formulate precise guidelines for the series. Present proposal to OUP-USA so that it may exercise its contract right to collaborate in this venture or decline; if OUP-USA declines, the board will evaluate other potential partners. Study funding models, and apply for a startup grant.

R6. Appoint a small group to explore the feasibility of digitizing the APA microfiches to make them freely available in an open-access archive.

R7. Issue a statement encouraging development of a high-quality non-commercial digital library of Latin texts. . . . MORE

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

PhysMathCentral to publish new open access journal in physics

PhysMathCentral ( has announced the publication of three new peer-reviewed, immediately open access journals, PMC Physics A, PMC Physics B, and PMC Physics C. PMC Physics A, now accepting manuscripts at, is edited by Ken Peach, University of Oxford and Royal Holloway (University of London), and focuses on high-energy and nuclear physics, cosmology, gravity and astroparticle physics, along with instrumentation and data analysis in these same areas. The other two journals will be launched shortly. PhysMathCentral is a new publishing platform operated by BioMedCentral, a pioneer in publishing peer-reviewed, open access journals in the life sciences.

Serial Wars

Lee C. Van Orsdel and Kathleen Born published "Serial Wars" in Library Journal (April 15, 2007). This is an overview of the present state of periodicals in the US: "As open access gains ground, STM publishers change tactics, and librarians ask hard questions." At the end of the article is the annual Library Journal periodical price survey.

In a year filled with drama and hyperbole, the serials marketplace churned toward a future whose shape is the subject of fierce debate. Forecasts from commercial publishers touting collapse and disaster seemed oddly out of sync with the profits they enjoyed—around 25 percent on average. Nevertheless, in a market where prices continued to rise and bundled content continued to sell, some of the very publishers whose fortunes are made in scientific, technical, and medical (STM) journals all but declared that the open access (OA) movement is apocalyptic in scope and will lead to the end of journals as we know them.

Open access is no longer a subtext in the annals of the journals industry. It stands alone as an alternative to the existing system of journal publication, which most say is unsustainable in its current form. It can mean different things to different proponents—a shared path to many ends. Libraries want relief from journal prices that are patently outrageous and defy cost-benefit justification. Authors want impact, and OA articles get cited much more often. Scientists want faster and easier access to others’ research, but a recent paper, “UK Scholarly Journals: 2006 Baseline Report,” found that half of all researchers in Britain have problems securing access to needed articles. Universities want a better return on their investment in intellectual capital, authors, peer reviewers, and editors. Taxpayers want to be able to read the research they sponsor. . . .

Tough questions
The relationship between journal prices and the OA movement remains unclear since a relatively small percentage of journals so far offer free content. Also unclear is the relationship between the practice of self-archiving and its effect on subscription cancellations. If many peer-reviewed articles are free on the web after a short waiting period, will a library cancel its subscription to the journal that initially publishes the articles? Is it a problem that the free version isn’t the final publisher’s version? These are critical questions for publishers, librarians, and scholars, but studies designed to answer them come up with conflicting data. At this point, evidence tilts toward libraries keeping the subscriptions, but it is easy to see how that might change as more content makes its way into repositories and onto author web sites.

What to expect in 2008
In 2007, academic libraries saw overall journal price increases just under eight percent for the second year in a row. U.S. titles rose nine percent on average; non-U.S., 7.3 percent. The dollar is expected to strengthen against the pound and fall against the euro as renewal season approaches, but no significant currency effect on journal prices is anticipated. Expect overall price increases to be in the seven percent to nine percent range for 2008 subscriptions. . . . MORE

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Use of Academic Libraries and Services: A UK Report

The report, Researchers’ Use of Academic Libraries and their Services, commissioned by the UK’s Research Information Network and the Consortium of Research Libraries has just been published.
From the Executive Summary:
This study was designed to provide an up-to-date and forward-looking view of how researchers interact with academic libraries in the UK. Harnessing empirical data and qualitative insights from over 2250 researchers and 300 librarians, the sponsors of the survey hope that the results will be useful in informing the debate about the future development of academic libraries and the services they provide to researchers. . . .
There has been a sharp fall over the past five years in the number of researchers who visit their institution’s library regularly. This is most pronounced in the sciences, but in all disciplines there is clear evidence of declining attendance. Researchers are choosing to access digital information from their desktops, primarily from their office but also from their homes. Only in the arts and humanities do a significant majority of researchers put a high value on the services provided in library buildings. . . .
Most researchers use digital finding aids to locate both digital and print-based resources. Print finding aids are used by very few researchers, and these are mainly in the arts and humanities. This highlights the need for libraries to ensure that they provide online high-quality metadata for their holdings, and that they address cataloguing backlogs. Information resources that cannot be found electronically may well be overlooked, since few researchers will invest the time required to track down items that cannot be quickly be identified using digital finding aids. . . .
For librarians, liaison with the research community presents a number of problems, arising from the transience of many of the individual relationships that can be formed, the increasing tendency for researchers to use library services remotely, and researcher independence. There are significant differences between researchers and librarians in attitudes, perceptions and awareness of key issues. Many believe that communication channels need to be improved but achieving this is not easy. There is a danger that the role of libraries may be diluted as researchers, particularly younger ones, turn to the social networking space to share research-based information. This potential divergence of paths is not inevitable; but libraries need to proclaim their value so that researchers properly understand and acknowledge what the library is bringing to their working lives, and most particularly to their desktops. At present, many do not, perceiving only that these resources are delivered by the institution in some general guise. The successful research library of the future needs to forge a stronger brand identity within the institution. . . . MORE

MediaCommons: Scholarly Publishing in the Age of the Internet

This "paper in progress" from Kathleen Fitzpatrick of Pomona College is presented in a format that allows and encourages reader comments. The screenshot below shows a page with a section of the paper and the comments on that section in a separate window on the page.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Google and Hans Rosling's Trendalyzer Software

Google has acquired Hans Rosling's Trendalyzer software, which the Swedish demographer and his team at Gapminder
have developed since 2005 to generate more useful visualizations of facts and figures.
... See TEDBLOG entry with links to videos of Rosling speaking

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Designing a Research Library of the Future for New York University

New York University has just released a report, 21st Century Library Project: Designing a Research Library of the Future for New York University -- Report of a Study of Faculty and Graduate Student Needs for Research and Teaching. The report is the result of "a study to determine how the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library could improve its physical spaces and services to best address the current needs of scholars, as well as to create an environment that could be adapted to the needs of the future of scholarly research." It's a fascinating document that should be of interest to librarians, faculty, and students in institutions other than NYU. It also makes cogent observations about many aspects of the research production and dissemination process. From the report:
When it comes to disseminating the results of research, scholars can feel frustrated by aspects of academic publishing – long lead times between submission and publication, limited venues, high subscription fees, and copyright regulations – compelling scholars to pursue, or at least wish for, alternative forms of dissemination (pre-print services, online journals, new standards for peer review, and more). A professor in the social sciences says, “Publishing in my discipline is very slow – it has taken about eight years for me to get a paper published, starting from the day I began writing. I have started using online tools to post articles and find other colleague’s articles…I use to get feedback on early versions of my papers.” A scientist comments, “I feel long-term resentment toward publishers – academics are the most lucrative arm of publishing. Physicists are…starting to establish new, free, online journals.” A graduate student in the sciences says, “An open publishing process, where papers are successful or not based on voluntary peer feedback, would better support my needs.” Even administrators weigh in: “It’s much easier to create new online journals given the dependence of scholars on the Internet. All you need to do is convince your community to serve as peer reviewers.”

Sunday, April 8, 2007

New Journal: Digital Humanities Quarterly

The free, open access journal Digital Humanities Quarterly has just published its first issue. An excerpt from the editorial:
It is tempting, in the first issue of a journal by this name, to pose the question, “What is digital humanities?” and perhaps to attempt an answer. Instead, we defer this question to the future, with the expectation that it will be answered, or at least addressed, in the annals that are to be written and published here. Not the first issue, nor even the tenth, will give a sense of the emerging shape: it will take time for the range of submissions to represent the real contours of the field. And there will be a further dialectical process of reading and authorship, provocation and response, through which we can expect the field to evolve. The question for this journal is thus not “What is digital humanities?” but “How can we shape the digital humanities?”, and we hope the process will reward your attention. . . . MORE

Stanford's Copyright Renewal Database

Stanford has released their Copyright Renewal Database. An initial release, this database:
makes searchable the copyright renewal records received by the US Copyright Office between 1950 and 1993 for books published in the US between 1923 and 1963. Note that the database includes ONLY US Class A (book) renewals.

More about the scope of the project and to search database.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Open Access and the Progress of Science

Alma Swan has published "Open Access and the Progress of Science: The Power to Transform Research Communication may be at each Scientist's Fingertips" in the May/June, 2007 issue of American Scientist. It's a persuasive article that argues cogently for open access to the results of scientific research and scholarship and for taking full advantage of publishing agreements that enable the posting of postprints in institutional and disciplinary repositories.
For the past decade or so, a number of scientists have argued that the World Wide Web offers a way to unlock the gates that was not possible when scientific results were conveyed solely by print-on-paper. Advocates of "open access" argue that research results must be made available such that all scientists can see them and use them, for free, via the Web. . . .

Open access can advance science in another way, by accelerating the speed at which science moves. In most fields, open access is still a rarity rather than the norm, but in some fields of physics (high-energy, condensed matter and astrophysics) it has been commonplace for more than a decade. The arXiv, an open-access archive now maintained at Cornell University, contains copies of almost every article published in these disciplines, deposited by the authors for all to use. Tim Brody of Southampton University has measured the time between when articles are deposited in arXiv and when citations to those articles begin to appear. Over the years, this interval has been shrinking as the arXiv has come into near-universal use as a repository and as physicists have taken advantage of the fact that early posting of preprints allows them immediate access to others' results. In other words, a system built on open access is shortening the research cycle in these disciplines, accelerating progress and increasing efficiency in physics. . . .

So yes, open access can advance science and will do so more and more effectively as more scientists make their work freely available. Moreover, science will not benefit in a vacuum: New work by economist John Houghton and colleagues at the University of Victoria in Melbourne shows that enhanced access to research findings is likely to result in an enhanced return on investment in research and development, something that can benefit every economy in the world. Research is expensive enough that the world can scarcely afford an antiquated, inefficient and high-cost system of information dissemination. . . .

A mechanism may eventually be found to transfer the money currently spent on journal subscriptions into the hands of authors to pay for publication; this question is at the center of current debates on open-access legislation before the U.S. Congress. But such a mechanism is not yet properly in place, and value has still not been driven into the system. There is a simple alternative that rests in the hands of the scientific community itself. Institutions around the world have been building robust research repositories; many of these institutions and their scientists have taken advantage of publishing agreements that enable the posting of postprints in repositories. To provide open access, all that is needed is for each scientist to place a copy of each article, as soon as it has been peer-reviewed, into an open repository at his institution. Known as self-archiving, this act takes a few minutes and costs a scientist nothing. . . .

At a stroke, by self-archiving, a scientist can banish the threat of that bane of scientific life—obscurity. A few minutes at the keyboard today makes one's work visible to any scientist who might build on it tomorrow. While commercial publishers, scientific societies and librarians struggle over business models and tough longer-term issues such as who will maintain the record of science in a digital age, it remains the individual investigator who has the tools at hand to speed science along. . . . .MORE

A Publisher's View on E-Journals

It's a year old already, but I just came across a commentary in the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television in which Christine Appel, Publisher for Arts and Humanities at Routledge Journals, writes about what it means when a scholarly journal goes online.

Appel comments extensively, with examples, on the different ways that publishers and librarians can assess the usage of a journal once it goes electronic. But she also notes other ways that e-journals change the scholarly publishing process. Some excerpts:

Of course, knowing that one's journal article is going to be online adds a different dimension to its construction. As publishers, we recommend that the title should contain words that are easily found by keyword searches and that the whole phrase should be as descriptive as possible. Abstracts have become more important than ever as readers can also search for their required content by this means alone.


Online availability should also make authors think about 'adding value' to the electronic versions of their articles for maximum impact. Bearing in mind the usual technical provisos such as copyright and bandwidth, authors can now consider whether film clips, sound or colour plates that could not be reproduced in the print version could be added to the online edition. Authors can also choose to refer to URLs in their text or references to make the electronic version of the article come alive, and with availability in both HTML as well as PDF, authors can decide whether or not to add extra subtitles to assist navigation through the online text.

Read more....

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Open Access - Clear Benefits, Hidden Costs

In an editorial published in Learned Publishing (April 2007), Rick Anderson, Director of Resource Acquisition at University of Nevada, Reno, argues that, while clear benefits result from Open Access, such benefits do not come without costs. While Anderson makes some interesting, and valid, points he is generally not convincing in his arguments supporting publishers. In particular, he fails to address adequately the question of the often immense disconnect between the value added by publishers to their journals and the latter's often outrageous costs.
EXCERPTS from the editorial:
OA's champions sometimes draw a distinction between OA 'publishing' (i.e. the production of formal journals on an OA basis) and OA self-archiving. While this distinction can be useful in some contexts, it can also be used as a rhetorical gambit to mask the inevitable effects of pervasive and effective OA self-archiving. To make an article available to the public (whether in a journal issue or in a free archive) is, by any meaningful definition of the term, to publish it. The danger in saying that OA self-archiving is not publishing and therefore cannot harm publishers is that, if unchallenged, it may lead the general public - including policy-makers - erroneously to believe that publishers have nothing to fear from OA. In fact, mandates that result in widespread and effective OA will inevitably drive at least some publishers out of business, whether or not such an effect is intended by those who promote OA.

All of which begs an important question: so what? It is not the business of the scholarly information community to keep publishers profitable, but to produce and provide access to information. A solution that provides universal access without supporting publishers may be perfectly acceptable. There are two problems with this stance, however:

1. It assumes that publishers add no value to the scholarly information chain, and can therefore be harmed with impunity and without concern for negative consequences to the scholarly community in general.

2 It assumes that, in fact, publishers are not a part of the scholarly community, but rather entities from outside that community that enter the scholarly information space solely for the purpose of taking profit out of it.

In fact, most STM publishers are not profit-seeking corporations from outside the scholarly community, but rather learned societies and other non-profit entities, many of which rely on income from journal subscriptions to support their conferences, member services, and scholarly endeavours - as well as the peer-review and publishing activities that will remain important in a self-archiving environment. In other words, a publishing system that undermines the ability of publishers to make money in the marketplace thereby may also undermine scholars and scientists in their ability to do their work. As for non-profit organizations, to the degree that they need to be able to sell access to content in order to survive, effective OA self-archiving mandates will tend to drive them out of business. Recent studies of demand-side attitudes and expectations suggest strongly the truthfulness of what any rational person would intuitively assume: that immediate, full OA self-archiving leads inevitably to significant cancellations.3,4
. . . .
In summary: OA offers real benefits to society. However, the net value of those benefits cannot be determined unless its costs are computed as well. The purpose of this statement is not to call on participants in the scholarly information chain to fight against OA, but only to move forward while taking full account of costs as well as benefits, and to work towards solutions that offer a net benefit to society. To the degree that society benefits more from research than from public access to research, and to the degree that it benefits from the continued viability of the publishing industry (both for-profit and nonprofit), the solutions that serve the public best may turn out to offer something less than complete and immediate free public access to all scientific information.

Public Access: Emerging Federal Research Access Policies and How They'll Affect Your Library (ALA 07 MW)

Source: SPARC eNews
A podcast of the SPARC-ACRL forum on public access (January 2007) is now available. The drive for free public access to publicly funded research is in high gear in the U.S., Canada, and around the globe. For scientists and scholars, it promises not just to change the norms for how research is shared, but also to open new avenues for how it is conducted. The implications for academic and research libraries are no less profound, as the possibility of new and expanded roles in the research process emerge. The popular SPARC-ACRL Forum looks at what the changes mean for libraries.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Cyberinfrastructure Vision for 21st Century Discovery

Source: National Science Foundation, Cyberinfrastructure Council, March 2007
At the heart of the cyberinfrastructure vision is the development of a cultural community that supports peer-to-peer collaboration and new modes of education based upon broad and open access to leadership computing; data and information resources; on-line instruments and observatories; and visualization and collaboration services.... (Read more).

Sunday, April 1, 2007

The Future of Books

An article from this week's Economist asks: "Now that books are being digitised, how will people read?" The author discusses Google's Book Project and other big book digitization initiatives and ponders whether people will continue to have need of the printed book. The conclusion is "yes" for certain genres, for example longer novels. However, for much non-fiction the electronic format will have a much more viable future:

With non-fiction the situation is more nuanced. Many non-fiction books express an intellectual idea. Traditionally, the only way to deliver such an idea profitably involved binding it into a 300-page book, says Seth Godin, a blogger and author of eight books on marketing. “If you had a 50-page idea, you couldn't make any money from it,” he says, so a lot of non-fiction books end up on shelves with 250 unread pages. Freedom from such rigidities may save a lot of authorial time.

Non-fiction books will also benefit from another change that comes with digitisation. Like web pages, digitised books can have incoming and outgoing hyperlinks. On at the moment, links are only to entire books. But in future, says Google's Mr Clancy, links will point to and from specific phrases or words inside books. Footnotes, citations and bibliographies are obvious points for live links.

This has several benefits. It will help scholarly research, since it makes primary sources much more accessible. And it will reduce the slog of academic book-worming—jotting down the location of a book, trudging through the library, pulling it off the shelf, queuing for the photocopier—to the negligible effort of clicking a mouse.

Such links will also make books much easier to discover, by helping search engines. As link structures develop around books, search algorithms can count incoming links as “votes”, giving more weight to incoming links from much-cited places and less to obscure ones. The (offline) citation culture of academic literature already works this way. This, in fact, is what gave Larry Page, one of Google's co-founders, the original idea for his search algorithm, which he cheekily called PageRank.