Friday, July 20, 2012

Brought to Book: Academic Journals Face a Radical Shake-Up

The Economist, a journal that often takes a more conservative stance, has published an article, "Brought to book: Academic journals face a radical shake-up", that strongly advocates Open Access to scientific publishing.

If there is any endeavour whose fruits should be freely available, that endeavour is surely publicly financed science. Morally, taxpayers who wish to should be able to read about it without further expense. And science advances through cross-fertilisation between projects. Barriers to that exchange slow it down.

There is a widespread feeling that the journal publishers who have mediated this exchange for the past century or more are becoming an impediment to it. One of the latest converts is the British government. On July 16th it announced that, from 2013, the results of taxpayer-financed research would be available, free and online, for anyone to read and redistribute.

Britain’s government is not alone. On July 17th the European Union followed suit. It proposes making research paid for by its next scientific-spending round—which runs from 2014 to 2020, and will hand out about €80 billion, or $100 billion, in grants—similarly easy to get hold of. In America, the National Institutes of Health (NIH, the single-biggest source of civil research funds in the world) has required open-access publishing since 2008. And the Wellcome Trust, a British foundation that is the world’s second-biggest charitable source of scientific money, after the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, also insists that those who take its shilling make their work available free.

Criticism of journal publishers usually boils down to two things. One is that their processes take months, when the internet could allow them to take days. The other is that because each paper is like a mini-monopoly, which workers in the field have to read if they are to advance their own research, there is no incentive to keep the price down. The publishers thus have scientists—or, more accurately, their universities, which pay the subscriptions—in an armlock. That, combined with the fact that the raw material (manuscripts of papers) is free, leads to generous returns. In 2011 Elsevier, a large Dutch publisher, made a profit of £768m on revenues of £2.06 billion—a margin of 37%. Indeed, Elsevier’s profits are thought so egregious by many people that 12,000 researchers have signed up to a boycott of the company’s journals. . . .

A revolution, then, has begun. Technology permits it; researchers and politicians want it. If scientific publishers are not trembling in their boots, they should be.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

UK to open up publicly funded research

The UK and the OA advocacy community around the world have been in an uproar for several weeks over the Finch Report. It is still difficult to sort out what it all means, but it is clear that, in whatever form and with whatever funding, OA for publicly funded research is becoming inevitable in the UK.

 This post from the department of Business Innovation and Skills sheds some light on the plan -- links at the bottom of the post lead to the Finch Report and other commentary.

Academics, businesses and the public will get easier access to publicly funded research, Universities and Science Minister David Willetts will announce today.
The Government will widely accept the recommendations in a report on open access by Dame Janet Finch, a move which is likely to see a major increase in the number of taxpayer funded research papers freely available to the public.
Currently most formally published research is only available behind restricted paywalls. Reforms will see publications opened up to a greater audience, providing more opportunities for research and development across a range of sectors. They will also support the commercial exploitation of research, contributing to the Government’s economic growth agenda.
Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said: “Removing paywalls that surround taxpayer funded research will have real economic and social benefits. It will allow academics and businesses to develop and commercialise their research more easily and herald a new era of academic discovery. This development will provide exciting new opportunities and keep the UK at the forefront of global research to drive innovation and growth.”

Among the recommendations that have been accepted by the Government are:
Moving to deliver open access through a ‘gold’ model, where article processing charges are paid upfront to cover the cost of publication.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Accessibility Quotient: A New Measure of Open Access

Mathew A. Willmott, Katharine H. Dunn, and Ellen Finnie Duranceau (all from Massachusetts Institute of Technology) have just published "The Accessibility Quotient: A New Measure of Open Access" in Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication. They discuss the potentially very useful results of an examination of a measure that assessed the accessibility to publications by MIT faculty.

INTRODUCTION The Accessibility Quotient (AQ), a new measure for assisting authors and librarians in assessing and characterizing the degree of accessibility for a group of papers, is proposed and described. The AQ offers a concise measure that assesses the accessibility of peer-reviewed research produced by an individual or group, by incorporating data on open availability to readers worldwide, the degree of financial barrier to access, and journal quality. The paper reports on the context for developing this measure, how the AQ is calculated, how it can be used in faculty outreach, and why it is a useful lens to use in assessing progress towards more open access to research. METHODS Journal articles published in 2009 and 2010 by faculty members from one department in each of MIT’s five schools were examined. The AQ was calculated using economist Ted Bergstrom’s Relative Price Index to assess affordability and quality, and data from SHERPA/RoMEO to assess the right to share the peer-reviewed version of an article. RESULTS The results show that 2009 and 2010 publications by the Media Lab and Physics have the potential to be more open than those of Sloan (Management), Mechanical Engineering, and Linguistics & Philosophy. DISCUSSION Appropriate interpretation and applications of the AQ are discussed and some limitations of the measure are examined, with suggestions for future studies which may improve the accuracy and relevance of the AQ. CONCLUSION The AQ offers a concise assessment of accessibility for authors, departments, disciplines, or universities who wish to characterize or understand the degree of access to their research output, capturing additional dimensions of accessibility that matter to faculty.

Monday, July 2, 2012

David Nicholas, Ian Rowlands, Anthony Watkinson, David Brown and Hamid Jamali have published "Digital repositories ten years on: what do scientific researchers think of them and how do they use them?" in Learned Publishing (July 2012, Vol. 25: 195-206).

Digital repositories have been with us for more than a decade, and despite the considerable media and conference attention they engender, we know very little about their use by academics. This paper sets out to address this by reporting on how well they are used, what they are used for, what researchers’ think of them, and where they thought they were going. Nearly 1,700 scientific researchers, mostly physical scientists, responded to an international survey of digital repositories, making it the largest survey of its kind. High deposit rates were found and mandates appear to be working, especially with younger researchers. Repositories have made significant inroads in terms of impact and use despite, in the case of institutional repositories, the very limited resources deployed. Subject repositories, like arXiv and PubMed Central, have certainly come of age but institutional repositories probably have not come of age yet although there are drivers in place which, in theory anyway, are moving them towards early adulthood.