Saturday, April 29. 2006
Lawrence Lessig, in Wired magazine, has written a brilliant allegory -- "Crushing Competition" -- on how a powerful status quo with profitable inefficiency can and will lobby to try to block anything that favours a competing efficiency.
Larry's example is California's withdrawal of a cheap, efficient tax-filing system -- "ReadyReturn" -- much praised by tax-payers, under pressure from lobbying on behalf of the tax-filing service industry. Larry's point is that there is not an inefficiency under the sun that cannot be defended, nor a potential benefit that cannot be blocked, if the government hews to this sort of pressure from the business status quo, protecting its current revenue streams at all costs -- to the consumer, to society, or to the planet itself. Larry casts this as government's being pro-business status-quo-preserving interests instead of pro-competition, change and efficiency.
This may all sound familiar to the Open Access community from the rocky fate of the RCUK self-archiving proposal, the still-birth of the NIH "public access" policy, and even the inbuilt birth-defects of the Wellcome Trust self-archiving policy (with its counterproductive 6-month embargo at science's all-important early-growth tip) -- although the Wellcome Trust, being a private charity rather than a government agency, has had a freer hand, and the result has been welcome and evident (and lately rightly rewarded with the SPARC Europe Award for Outstanding Achievements in Scholarly Communications).
All the more reason that the distributed network of universities and research institutions should stop waiting for their cue from the government or a big research funder in order to mandate what is as surely in the best interests of research, researchers, and their institutions as the (defeated) California tax ReadyReturn is in the interests of the tax-payer. Indeed the tax-payer, being the research-funder, is the beneficiary here too, if self-archiving is mandated -- and the loser as long as it is not.
Distributed institutions have the advantage of not being fixed lobbying targets, the way governments are. Indeed, the only conceivable basis for hesitation by universities is fear of copyright infringement: This fear is groundless, but mandating immediate deposit of the full-text without mandating the setting of access privileges immediately to "Open Access" effectively moots the copyright issue completely, deflecting any embargo pressure from the deposit to the access-setting, and, most important of all, allowing semi-automated eprint-emailing -- directly by individual authors to individual eprint-requesters who discover the Closed Access full-text from its Open Access bibliographic metadata (author, title, journal, date, etc.) -- to tide over any delay period in setting full-text access to Open Access.
So, unlike governments, the world-wide network of universities and research institutions need not heed the lobby from interests vested in preserving the restricted-access status quo at the cost of needless research access-denial and impact-loss to research, researchers, their institutions, and the public that funds them. They can mandate immediate self-archiving immediately.
American Scientist Open Access Forum
Dr. Ian Gibson has written the foreword to Neil Jacobs (ed.), Open Access: Key strategic, technical and economic aspects, Chandos Publishing, forthcoming 2006.
A scientist and British MP, Ian Gibson's role in the Open Access (OA) movement has been a remarkable one, and he will certainly get the historic credit for having shepherded-through the landmark UK Parliamentary Select Committee on Science and Technology's recommendation to mandate OA self-archiving.
Historians and sociologists of science will find it especially interesting that Ian has done what he has done despite the fact that much of his admirable populist rationale for OA will prove to have been completely wide of the functional mark (though perhaps not of the practical, political mark).
In the PostGutenberg Era, OA will be seen clearly to have been a research community objective and a research community benefit, in making findings accessible to all researchers who need to use them, not just to those whose institutions can afford the journal in which they happen to have been published (as in the Gutenberg Era). OA may or may not eventually lead to publishing reform, but in and of itself it will become clear that OA was not and would not have been provided by researchers merely or primarily in order to reform publishing, nor in order to make journals more affordable. It will have been provided by researchers for researchers because that is what research and researchers need and want, and the Web has at last made it possible for them to give and get it.
The idea that OA is needed in order to break journal publishers' "monopoly" may hence prove to have been one of OA's actual intermediate selling points, in inspiring indignation and action, but it will also prove to have been a specious point.
Missing the mark too is the notion that OA is needed to feed a "hungry" public with the content of peer-reviewed research journals. Apart from a few small and non-representative fields, such as clinically relevant biomedical research and possibly some areas of applied science and social science research, there is not only no hunger but no appetite on the part of the general public for reading the mostly specialised and esoteric peer-reviewed research literature, written by specialised researchers, for specialised researchers with the expertise to understand and use it (2.5 million articles per year, across all research fields, in 24,000 peer-reviewed journals). It is through researchers using, building upon and applying the fruits of research that the general public benefits from OA, not through reading it through for themselves.
Developing-world access on the part of developing-world researchers (rather than the general public) is of course part of the rationale for OA, but let us not imagine that OA is merely or mainly an act of charity! There are just as many "needy" would-be users among researchers in the developed world as in the developing world, insofar as the research literature is concerned, because no researcher's institution anywhere can afford all the journals that could contain articles that any researcher might ever need, and, a fortiori, none can afford all the peer-reviewed journals there are (24K). And this would still be true (please note carefully!) even if all journals were sold at cost (zero profit, hence no point blaming monopolists and price-gougers).
And Ian is even off the mark insofar as "free-riding" is concerned. His own committee's (spot-on) recommendation was that all researchers should be required to self-archive their own published research article output in their own institutional repositories, free for all. Publishers have filled Ian's ears, no doubt, with apocalyptic alarms about the possibility of rival publishers free-riding on and underselling that free content: Utter nonsense, because based on a profound misunderstanding of the Web, of OA itself, and of what comes with the territory:
For if/when all articles are available free for all on the web, it is absurd to imagine that any free-riding rival publisher will be able to sell them, to anyone! On the contrary (and somewhat incoherently), the original publishers have also raised alarms about whether they themselves will continue to be able to sell them, under competition from their own author's free versions. All evidence to date is that they can and will; but if/when the subscription/license market should ever shrink to a non-sustainable level, there can and will be a natural adaptive transition to OA publishing -- but not before; and there's no sign on the horizon of anything like that yet.
But having said all that: Neither Ian nor OA enthusiasts (or detractors) seem to be aware of or deterred by such inconsistencies. So let them keep fighting for (or against) OA on the grounds of journal affordability, public accessibility, or what have you, if they like. Just as long it is Ian's own remedy that the proponents promote: mandated self-archiving in the researcher's own IR.
For those who are actually in a position to mandate self-archiving, however -- namely, researchers' own institutions and their research funders -- it might be helpful if we gave them a more compelling and face-valid reason for mandating OA than merely to fight publisher monopolies or to feed peer-reviewed research information to a hungry general populace: OA self-archiving dramatically enhances the uptake and usage -- and hence the productivity and progress -- of research itself, and that is what pays researchers' salaries, funds their research, and provides the return on the tax-payer's investment in research. OA is optimal (hence inevitable) for research. It is also already well overdue, having been reachable for well over a decade now. That's why we need the self-archiving mandates, at long last.
Thursday, April 27. 2006
There is always still the possibility of a miracle, which is a formal open statement by RCUK that the RIN study is not going to delay the long-overdue RCUK announcement, that the RCUK policy announcement is imminent and in no way contingent on the outcome of the RIN study (and that the announcement will be that the 7 councils have not all come to an agreement, but that 6 of them will now mandate self-archiving and the 7th, EPSRC, will continue thinking about it).
But I doubt that is quite the case, or that RCUK will straight-forwardly say so; nor is RCUK likely to admit they have simply been dithering aimlessly, and doing so precisely because they are under some sort of publisher/DTI pressure. They will instead pretend as if everything is more or less "on course" but that the course is "longer than expected." Whereas, in reality, RCUK are being intimidated into commissioning this joint RIN study in the vague hope that it will yield a more credible basis for drawing the unconscionable delay out still longer.
And -- again in reality -- this RIN study will produce absolutely nothing that we don't already know, several times over (apart from more irrelevant trifles, such as lower download counts at the publisher's website when the eprints are available free at the author's websites, which we also know already and which means nothing, because it does not translate into detectable cancellations).
If there were any honest wish to collect objective data on whether a self-archiving mandate will generate cancellations, the only way to collect such data is empirically: By adopting the RCUK self-archiving mandate and then seeing, objectively, whether it does generate any cancellations (and whether, if so, they are enough to warrant worrying about, rather than merely being a natural minor adjustment toward stable long-term co-existence between self-archiving and toll-publishing, or else part of a natural adaptive process of evolutionary transition from toll-publishing to OA publishing). Costs/benefits -- to research as well as to publishing -- could then be objectively and dispassionately (and empirically) weighed.
The RCUK mandate, pertaining only to UK research output, will almost certainly not generate cancellations, as the UK represents only a small fraction of the contents of major journals (and the few UK-only journals, besides not being the ones the big publisher lobby has in mind, are mostly subscribed to for local reasons, and for the paper edition, rather than for pressing scientific/scholarly reasons).
But without a mandate, there will be no relevant objective data at all, just speculation, rumour, and trifles, exactly as we already have now, all adding up to gratuitous delay, and absolutely nothing else.
As a consequence, it is alas almost certainly true -- barring a miracle non-sequitur announcement from RCUK -- that the UK has, with this foolish act, dropped the OA ball, and lost its historic lead in OA to the distributed network of universities worldwide (and possibly, just possibly, though I rather doubt it, to the European Commission).
This is all the more unfortunate as the RCUK has been repeatedly advised that there is a simple, natural way to implement the mandate that completely avoids all publisher contingencies, namely, to mandate only the immediate deposit of the full-text, and merely to encourage (not mandate) the setting of access to Open Access, leaving it entirely up to the author.
Such a compromise policy would be -- superficially -- as weak a self-archiving policy as the failed NIH "public access" policy has been (and surely the RCUK is not too craven to do what even the feckless NIH has already done, with its ineffectual "request" to deposit, if at all possible, within a year!) -- but with a difference: With the deposit itself mandated immediately upon acceptance in every case, semi-automated eprint-emailing, done voluntarily by each author if/when they choose to, would give OA the real chance it deserves to show its benefits:
Effectively, this "Dual Keystroke" policy would simply reduce what it takes for an author to provide OA from the N keystrokes required to self-archive the full-text (keystrokes that 85% of authors are are not now doing, and will not do, until/unless mandated -- at which point 95% will comply, as shown by the 2 international JISC author surveys conducted by Swan & Brown) to merely the very last, Nth keystroke, which is what it takes in each individual case to decide whether or not to keep emailing the full-text individually to each requester -- or simply to hit the "OA" key and make the deposit OA for one and all, once and for all!
Just a little bit of reflection would have shown the RCUK that this dual immediate-mandated-deposit/optional-OA-setting "keystroke" policy would have been completely immune to any credible publisher objection (being merely Fair Use!) -- but the RCUK seems not to have reflected, merely to have cowed and caved in...
No nontrivial empirical outcome can possibly come out of this RIN study on the objective effects of a national mandate when the mandate has not been empirically tested! Hence the best that can be done is to wrap up this non-study as soon as possible and get back to facing the existing empirical facts, which are that (1) self-archiving is highly beneficial to research and researchers in terms of usage and impact, but (2) it is only done spontaneously (unmandated) by 15% of researchers, except (3) in a few subfields -- such as some areas of physics -- where it has been at or near 100% for some time now, and that (4) in those 100% OA subfields it has not led to cancellations, as already attested to publicly by the publishers in question (APS and IOPP).
Or to announce that the RCUK policy is not to be contingent on the outcome of the RIN study, and to go ahead and announce the (long, long overdue) policy at last!
Wednesday, April 26. 2006
The UK -- which had the undisputed leadership of the world in setting Open Access policy -- may now be losing that lead, allowing itself instead to get needlessly side-tracked and bogged down in irrelevant diversions and digressions, designed solely to delay the optimal and inevitable (and obvious, and already long overdue).
Peter Suber's comments (quoted below) are spot-on, and say it all. The ball, already fumbled by NIH in the US and perhaps now by the RCUK in the UK too, will now pass to the European Commission and -- more importantly -- to the distributed network of individual universities and other research institutions worldwide. The leaders now are the institutions that have not sat waiting for national funder mandates in order to go ahead and mandate OA self-archiving, but have already gone ahead and mandated it themselves, for their own institutions.
What we should remind ourselves is that if the physics community -- way back in 1991, and the computer science community from even earlier -- had been foolish enough to wait for the outcome of the kind of vague, open-ended study now planned by RCUK with RIN, instead of going ahead and self-archiving their research, we would have lost 500,000 (physics) plus 750,000 (computer science) OA articles'-worth of research access, usage and impact for the past decade and a half.
The Wellcome Trust has had the vision and good sense to go ahead and mandate what had already empirically demonstrated its positive benefits for research with no negative effects on publishing on the basis of 15+ years worth of objective evidence.
The RCUK seems to prefer endless open-ended dithering...
Excerpted from Peter Suber's Open Access News:
The RCUK has announced an Analysis of data on scholarly journals publishing to be undertaken jointly with the RIN (Research Information Network) and DTI (Department of Trade and Industry).
Comments by Peter Suber:
"(1) The RCUK has not said whether it will wait to announce the final version of its OA policy until the new study is complete and fully digested. But it looks as though it will. It looks as though the voices calling for delay have prevailed.
Friday, April 14. 2006
John Willinsky's (2005) excellent book on Open Access is now available Open Access. Its only short-coming is that it makes absolutely no mention of its predecessor, the first book on Open Access, edited by Okerson & O'Donnell (1995), published over a decade earlier, avant le jour, and likewise available Open Access:
Okerson, A.S. & O'Donnell, J.J. (1995) (Eds.) Scholarly Journals at the Crossroads: A Subversive Proposal for Electronic Publishing. Association of Research Libraries.
American Scientist Open Access Forum
The following is a comment on an article that appeared in the Thursday April 13th issue of the The Independent concerning the UK Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) and Metrics (followed by a response to another piece in The Independent about Web Metrics).
Re: Hodges, L. (2006) The RAE is dead - long live metrics. The Independent April 13 2006Absolutely no one can justify (on the basis of anything but superstition) holding onto an expensive, time-wasting research assessment system such as the RAE, which produces rankings that are almost perfectly correlated with, hence almost exactly predictable from, inexpensive objective metrics such as prior funding, citations and research student counts.
Hence the only two points worth discussing are (1) which metrics to use and (2) how to adapt the choice of metrics and their relative weights for each discipline.
The web has opened up a vast and rich universe of potential metrics that can be tested for their validity and predictive power: citations, downloads, co-citations, immediacy, growth-rate, longevity, interdisciplinarity, user tags/commentaries and much, much more. These are all measures of research uptake, usage, impact, progress and influence. They have to be tested and weighted according to the unique profile of each discipline (or even subdiscipline). Just the prior-funding metric alone is highly predictive on its own, but it also generates a Matthew Effect: a self-fulfilling, self-perpetuating prophecy. So multiple, weighted mertics are needed for balanced evaluation and prediction.
I would not for a moment believe, however, that any (research) discipline lacks predictive metrics of research performance altogether. Even less credible is the superstitious notion that the only way (or the best) to evaluate research is for RAE panels to re-do, needlessly, locally, the peer review that has already been done, once, by the journals in which the research has already been published.
The urgent feeling that some form of human re-review is somehow crucial for fairness and accuracy has nothing to do with the RAE or metrics in particular; it is just a generic human superstition (and irrationality) about population statistics versus my own unique, singular case...
The reasons for the University of Southampton's extremely high overall webmetric rating are four:
(1) U. Southampton's university-wide research performanceThis all makes for an extremely strong Southampton web presence, as reflected in such metrics as the "G factor", which places Southampton 3rd in the UK and 25th among the world's top 300 universities or Webometrics,which places Southampton 6th in UK, 9th in Europe, and 80th among the top 3000 universities it indexes.
Of course, these are extremely crude metrics, but Southampton itself is developing more powerful and diverse metrics for all Universities in preparation for the newly announced metrics-only Research Assessment Exercise.
Harnad, S. (2001) Why I think that research access, impact and assessment are linked. Times Higher Education Supplement. 1487: p. 16.
Hitchcock, S., Brody, T., Gutteridge, C., Carr, L., Hall, W., Harnad, S., Bergmark, D. and Lagoze, C. (2002) Open Citation Linking: The Way Forward. D-Lib Magazine 8(10).
Harnad, S. (2003) Why I believe that all UK research output should be online. Times Higher Education Supplement. Friday, June 6 2003.
Harnad, S., Carr, L., Brody, T. & Oppenheim, C. (2003) Mandated online RAE CVs Linked to University Eprint Archives: Improving the UK Research Assessment Exercise whilst making it cheaper and easier. Ariadne 35.
Berners-Lee, T., De Roure, D., Harnad, S. and Shadbolt, N. (2005) Journal publishing and author self-archiving: Peaceful Co-Existence and Fruitful Collaboration.
Brody, T., Harnad, S. and Carr, L. (2006) Earlier Web Usage Statistics as Predictors of Later Citation Impact. Journal of the American Association for Information Science and Technology (JASIST).
Shadbolt, N., Brody, T., Carr, L. & Harnad, S. (2006) The Open Research Web: A Preview of the Optimal and the Inevitable. In: Jacobs, N., Eds. Open Access: Key Strategic, Technical and Economic Aspects. Chandos.
Citebase impact ranking engine and usage/citation correlator/predictor
Beans and Bean Counters
Bibliography of Findings on the Open Access Impact Advantage
American Scientist Open Access Forum
Saturday, April 8. 2006
Optimizing the European Commission's Recommendation for Open Access Archiving of Publicly-Funded Research
The European Commission "Study on the Economic and Technical Evolution of the Scientific Publication Markets in Europe" has made the following policy recommendation:
RECOMMENDATION A1.There is a very simple way to make this very welcome recommendation even more effective: Separate deposit from OA access-setting: Specify that the deposit must be done immediately upon acceptance for publication, in all cases, and apply all reference to delay to the timing of the access-setting not the deposit. The full-text plus its bibliographic metadata (author, title, date, journal, etc.) can and should always be deposited in the author's Institutional Repository immediately upon acceptance for publication, without a moment's delay.
Access to the metadata can always be made immediately Open Access, webwide. What can be delayed (for the 7% of articles in journals that do not yet explicitly give immediate author self-archiving their official green light) is the setting of access to the full-text to Open Access.
It is of course preferable that access to the full-text too should be set as Open Access immediately upon deposit. But, if the author wishes, access-privileges to the full-text can instead be set as Restricted Access (author-only) rather than Open Access for "a (possibly domain-specific) time period to be discussed with publishers."
(During that delay-period, would-be users who access the metadata but find they cannot access the full-text can email the author to request an eprint, and the author can email the eprint to the requester if he wishes, exactly as he did in paper reprint days.)
The European Commission is urged to make this small but extremely important change in their policy recommendation. It means the difference between immediate 100% Open Access and delayed, embargoed access for years to come.
Pertinent Prior American Scientist Open Access Forum Topic Threads:
"Evolving Publisher Copyright Policies On Self-Archiving"
"Draft Policy for Self-Archiving University Research Output"
"What Provosts Need to Mandate"
"Recommendations for UK Open-Access Provision Policy"
"University policy mandating self-archiving of research output"
"Mandating OA around the corner?"
"Implementing the US/UK recommendation to mandate OA Self-Archiving"
"A Simple Way to Optimize the NIH Public Access Policy"
"Comparing the Wellcome OA Policy and the RCUK (draft) Policy"
"New international study demonstrates worldwide readiness for Open Access mandate"
"DASER 2 IR Meeting and NIH Public Access Policy"
"Mandated OA for publicly-funded medical research in the US"
"Mandatory policy report" (2)
"The U.S. CURES Act would mandate OA"
"Generic Rationale and Model for University Open Access Mandate"
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