This is my first post reporting from the Berlin 9 Open Access Conference taking place in Bethesda this week. I’ll be reporting and summarizing as thoroughly as I can starting with two pre-conference sessions that took place yesterday.
Note: I’ll include the presenters’ slides here if I can somehow get my hands on them. Stay tuned.
Christoph Bruch of the Max Planck Digital Library (MPDL) opened the first pre-conference session on Open Access Publishing by introducing the four presenters:
- Neil Thakur, NIH (perspective of funders and government)
- Peter Binfield, PLoS ONE (perspective of an OA publisher)
- Pierre Mournier, Cléo/OpenEdition.org (alternate approach to gold/green OA)
- Caroline Sutton, OAP Association & Co-Action Publishing (perspective of OA advocacy)
Neil Thakur started his talk by saying that he was not presenting official NIH policy, but rather a personal perspective. He pointed to the declining level of science funding in the US and that the response to this development could only be to work longer, work cheaper, or create value more efficiently, arguing that the emphasis should be on the last option. In Neil’s view this had also worked in the past: eletronic publications are faster to find and easier to distribute than ever in the history of scientific research. However more papers and more information don’t necessarily mean more knowledge. Knowledge is still costly, both because of paywalls, but also because of the time that has to be spent on finding relevant information and on integrating it into one’s own research. Neil went on by describing the difficulty and costliness of planning large collaborative projects and the need to increase productivity by letting scientists incorporate papers into their thinking faster. He lamented that many relevant answers to pressing scientific questions (e.g. regarding cancer or climate change) are “buried in papers” and cited natural language processing (NLP), data mining and visual search as techniques that could help to extract more relevant findings from papers. He set a simple but ambitious goal: in 10 years time, a scientist should be able to incorporate 30% more papers into their thinking than today. So what kind of access is required for such approaches? Full and unrestricted access is necessary for summarizing content and analyzing the full text, otherwise the computer can’t mine anything and the improvements in efficiency described fail to materialize. Neil made the excellent point that librarians are generally more concerned with how to disseminate scientific findings vs. funders and scientists who are interested in increasing scientific productivity. Libraries sometimes need to adjust to the notion that the university should ideally produce knowledge, and that knowledge takes on a variety of forms, not just that of peer-reviewed publications. Neil called this vision “all to all communication”, an approach that is ultimately about creating repositories of knowledge rather than repositories of papers. His characterization of “a machine as the first reader” of a paper really resonated with me for stressing the future importance of machine analysis of research results (something that of course applied to science much more than to the social sciences and humanities). Neil furher argued that fair use is a different goal than analysis by machine and that the huge variety of data formats and human access rights made machine reading challenging. Yet the papers that one doesn’t include in one’s research (e.g. because they aren’t accessible) may be those which are crucial to the analysis. Neil also put on the table different ways of measuring scientific impact and quickly concluded that what we currently have (Impact Factor) is insufficient, a criticism that seemed to resonate with the audience. Rather, new measurements should take into account productivity and public impact of a publication, rather than citations or downloads. Finally, Neil concluded by describing various problems caused by licenses that restricts the re-use of material. Re-use is, among other things, extremely important to companies who seek to build products on openly available research results. He ended by saying that “we’re funding science to make our economy stronger”, driving home the relevance of openness not just for access, but also for re-use.
Peter Binfield’s talk presented his employer (PLoS) and its success in developing a business model based on open access publishing. PLoS started modestly in 2000 and became an active publisher in 2003. Today it is one of the largest open access publishing houses in the world and the largest no-for-profit publisher based in the U.S. With headquarters in San Francisco, it has almost 120 employees. Peter noted that while PLoS’ old missions had been to “make scientific and medical literature freely available as a public resource” its new mission is to “accelerate progress in science and medicine by leading a transformation in research communication”, broadening its direction from providing access to publication to being an enabler of scientific knowledge generation in a variety of technological ways. Peter stressed that PLoS consciously uses the CC-BY license to allow for full re-use possibilites. He described the author fees model that is financially the publisher’s main source of income (though there is also some income from ads, donations and membership fees) and noted that PLoS’ article fees have not risen since 2009. Fee waivers are given on a regular basis, assuring that the financial situation of the author does not prevent him/her from publishing. PLoS Biology (founded in 2003) and PLoS Medicine (2004) are the house’s oldest and most traditionally organized journals. They follow the model of Nature or Science, with their own full-time editorial staff, unique front matter and a very small number of rigorously selected papers (about 10 per month). Peter noted that tradeoff of this approach is that while producing excellent scientific content it is also highly labor intensive and makes a loss as a result of this. The two journals were followed up by PLoS Genetics, PLoS Computational Biology, PLoS Pathogens, and PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, the so-called PLoS Community Journals, launched between 2005 and 2007. These publications are run by a part-time editorial board of academics working at universities and research institutes, rather than being PLoS employees. Only a relatively small administrative staff supports the community that edits, reviews and publishes submissions, which serves to increase the overall volume of publications. Finally, Peter spoke about PLoS ONE, a very important component of PLoS. While traditional journals have a scope of what is thematically suitable for publication in them, PLoS ONE’s only criteria is the validity of the scientific data and methods used. PLoS ONE publishes papers from a wide range of disciplines (life sciences, mathematics, computer science) asking only “is this work scientific?” rather than “is this work relevant to a specific readership?”. Discussions about relevance occur post-publication on the website, rather than pre-publication behind closed doors. Peter continued by stating that PLoS ONE seeks to “publish everything that is publishable” and that because of the great success of the service, PLoS had reached the point of being financially self-sustaining. By volume, PLoS ONE is now the largest “journal” in the world, an increase in growth that he also linked to the introduction of the Impact Factor (IF) to rank the journal, an important prerequisite for researchers in many countries (e.g. China) who are effectively banned from publishing in non-impact factor journals, something that Peter wryly called “the impact of the impact factors on scientists”. Peter gave the impressive statistic that in 2012, PLoS ONE will publish 1 in 60 of all science papers published worldwide and described a series of “clones”, i.e. journals following a similar concept launched by major commercial publishers. Houses such as Springer and SAGE have started platforms with specific thematic foci that otherwise closely resemble PLoS ONE. Finally, Peter spoke about PLoS’ new initiatives: PLoS Currents, a service for publishing below-article-length content (figures, tables etc) and focusing on rapid dissemination, PLoS Hubs, where post-review of Open Access content produced elsewhere is conducted and which aggregated and enriches openly available results, and PLoS Blogs, a blogging platform (currently 15 active bloggers) used mainly for science communication and to educate the public. Peter closed noting that the Impact Factor is a flawed metric due to being a journal-level measurement, rather than an article-level indicator. He described the wider, more holistic approach taken by PLoS by measuring downloads, usage stats from a variety of services and social media indicators.
Pierre Mournier from Cléo presented OpenEdition, a French Open Access platform focused on the Humanities and Social Sciences and based on a Freemium business model. Cléo, the center for electronic publishing is a joint venture of multiple organizations that employs roughly 30 people. It currently runs revues.org (a publishing platform that hosts more than 300 journals and books), calenda.org (a calender of currently over 16000 conference calls) and hypotheses.org (a scholarly blog platform with over 240 active bloggers). Pierre explained how Cléo re-examined the golden road open access model and found it to be problematic for their constituency. He regarded the problem of subsidy model (no fees have to be paid — the model favored in Brazil) as being very fragile, support can run out suddenly. On the other hand, author fees potentially restrict the growth of a platform and have no tradition in Humanities and Social Sciences, which may be a disincentive to authors. Pierre continued by asking what the role of libraries could be in the future. Cléo’s research highlighted that Open Access resources are used very scarcely via libraries libraries, why users searching at libraries use resources which are toll access (TA) more frequently. Open access interestingly enough appears to mean that researchers (who know where to look) access publications more freely, but students tend to stick to what is made available to them via libraries. Because libraries are the point of access to scientific information for students, they use toll access resources more, for which the library acts as a gatekeeper. Pierrre explained that the Freemium model they developed (also used by services like Zotero or Spotify) based on this observation combines free (libre) and premium (pay) features. Access to HTML is free with openedition, while PDF and epub formats are subscription-based and paid for by libraries. COUNTER statistics are also provided to subscribers. Pierre highlighted the different needs of different communities involved in the academic publication process and notes that the Freemium model gives libraries a vital role, allowing them to continue to act as gatekeepers to some features of otherwise open scholarly content. Currently 20 publishers are using OpenEdition, with 38 research libraries subscribing, and 1000 books available.
Caroline Sutton spoke about “open access at the tipping point”, i.e. recent developments in the Open Access market. OASPA consists of a number of publishers, commercial and non-profit, e.g. BioMed Central, Co-Action Publishing, Copernicus, Hindawi, Journal of Medical Internet Research, Medical Education Online, PLoS, SAGE Publications, SPARC Europe and Utrecht University Library Publishers. The initial activism of OASPA was about dispelling fears about Open Access (Is it peer-reviewed? Is it based on serious research?). Caroline listed factors showing that the broad perception of Open Access has changed over the past few years. The new characterization is that Open Access is about the grand challenges of our time and and important prerequisite for economic growth. The discussion is about the finer points of how OA fits into academic publishing, rather than whether or not it should exist at all. Caroline noted that beyond gold vs. green road, there is now more talk of mixing and combining the two approaches. She pointed to a huge growth in OA publications over the last 2-3 years and noted that “everybody is getting into the game” including commercial publishers such as Springer, SAGE and Wiley. So how necessary is an organization like OASPA if OA is so popular? As Caroline put it “now we can roll up our sleeves and do different things” (e.g. educate legacy publishers and scholarly societies who lack the resources to successfully implement OA). Another area of activity of OASPA is discussing what should count as an open access journal. Free access AND re-use are crucial according to Caroline, who noted that OASPA promotes the use of CC-BY across the board, although there are exceptions to this. It is now about making the point that re-use is interesting, about finding arguments that convince scholars and publishers of the advantages of data mining and aggreation sevices for which re-use is required. Licensing and technical standards are key in this respect. Caroline closed by noting the significance of DOAJ and the development of new payment systems for OA article charges which would make it easier for authors and publishers to utilize OA.