On 14 February I was on a panel talking about the future of academic publishing for ALIA Information Online 2017. As there was no time for me to explain all of this I thought I’d post it all here with all the relevant links.
Essentially, I’m exploring the following key issues that need to be dealt with if we are ever to substantially improve, let alone revolutionise, academic publishing: speed (to access); improved reach (wider audience, not just the privileged); transparency of process; openness (for access); an expectation to use multi-media (sound, video, images); appropriate metrics; better facility and recognition for collaboration across disciplines; and interactivity.
And as a university librarian (i.e. not a scholar), I can’t stop myself from thinking that maybe we also need to decide whether scholarly publishing is really about the sharing of knowledge or just a competitive game where points are scored for individual and institutional reputations.
I must also thank some of my colleagues at UTS for their advice and suggestions, but what is written here is my personal view and it is not necessarily reflective of our institution.
I am aware of the frustration (particularly) of younger researchers with the time-lag in traditional publishing, especially when their research relates to topical issues – I’ve heard US academics talking about it in relation to issues like Black Lives Matter, and medical research, but climate change is another case in point. It really points to the need for changes around how we measure the quality of journals, especially accepting new types of peer review and editorial control. F1000Research videos are good on this – scientists say that every day the research is delayed somebody dies. A further example is Aggregate – an online platform to support the production, peer review, publication and discussion of innovative scholarship in architectural history. Places Journal seeks to combine serious journalism and open scholarship in their online free platform. They focus on the environment, social inequity, climate change, resource scarcity, human migration, technology innovation and the erosion of the public sphere. They have many academic partners across North America, Europe and now at UTS.
Transparency of process
Some researchers are very frustrated by the agonising process of peer review (and know that could be addressed more easily in the digital age with ongoing peer review). They also know that currently most peer review is NOT transparent (i.e. anonymous). See F1000 again – science should be transparent and open. In most cases, the effort put into peer review or editing is not currently recognised. This is not to suggest that we should throw the (quality) baby out with the bathwater, so an alternative is something like Publons which helps to link peer reviewers to publishers/editors and track/verify/showcase their efforts, leading to recognition for reviewing and editing.
F1000Research also say that in traditional publishing a lot of science remains unpublished, wasting the time and funding of those researchers, so they say publish everything, including dead ends – it stops other wasting years on the same nonsense.
The frustration of younger researchers with the lack of interactivity is something that could be solved by adding things like hypothesis.is – which we are now adding to our UTS ePRESS journals. Some of the examples cited above like Aggregate, F100Research and Places also seek to include more open debate, discussion and feedback well beyond the initial date of publication.
Better facility and recognition for collaboration across disciplines
Some researchers are frustrated that traditional publishing is more “siloed” in an age when most people think that complex problems need to be solved by collaborative work across several disciplines. It is also useful to have the insights of people from different fields and from actual practitioners. So, they seem to be approaching Open Access publishers to start new trans/cross disciplinary journals and the like.
This often becomes a bit of a problem because journals and research publications are still measured by traditional bibliometrics and impact factors and they are classified by fields of research which tend to categorise journals via single subject areas or disciplines. Some close-to-home examples include our Gateways: International Journal of Community Research and Engagement and the relatively new journal Project Management and Research Practice.
Openness (for access)
There are genuine frustrations surrounding scholarly publishing NOT being able to reach the objective of the research (e.g. the poor, the sick, the less privileged, the third world, etc.). Around the time of the Zika virus, there was some discussion about this which basically demonstrated that open and immediate access to information is critical to public health: eg. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v533/n7604/full/533469b.html
In Australia, almost all of the research done in universities is funded by the tax payer. I think the community deserves to have access to that research when published. Traditional scholarly publishers were not built to do this and now to meet funders’ mandates for open access they are levying fees on the authors. I think we need to dramatically rethink that model and to encourage more open access publishers within universities because it is now more feasible than ever in the digital age. Perhaps initiatives like the Open Library of Humanities (@OpenLibHums), UTS ePRESS, ANU Press, University of Adelaide Press, and Monash University Publishing, are better indicators of more open publishing platforms.
I think we could increase the impact and reach of the research by thinking outside current scholarly publishing methods and formats (e.g. articles and monographs), particularly for the humanities and social sciences. This was recently brought home to me thru my obsession with podcasts … I was listening to James Weirick on Military Justice and in introducing his new podcast in December he said he had been inspired by the three “pod-mothers” who have shown what podcasts can achieve. Here he was referring to the work of Julie Snyder, Sarah Koenig and Rabia Chaudry who did so much to bring the plights of Adnan Syed (Serial S1), Bowe Bergdahl (Serial S2) and Joey Watkins (Undisclosed S2) to many MILLIONS of podcast subscribers all over the world. Weirick (that’s what he likes to be called) said that if those three women had just written newspaper or journal articles, not so much would have happened, but now much has happened and a lot of people have donated funds or written letters of support for those three people. So, I think the mediums of knowledge exchange and storytelling need to be re-examined, especially in the digital age.
I’ve noticed that quite a lot of law academics are now getting involved in those legal/justice podcasts, or being interviewed on them. There was a little bit of that here in Australia too with Dan Box’s Bowraville podcast, which probably had a good deal to do with the retrial of a suspect that is happening right now. Podcasts can go much deeper than just an article or even a segment on 60 Minutes and I think that element of weekly story telling in sound is a really powerful thing that academic publishing could benefit from.
Within improved reach we will need improved metrics that show the impact of the research. I think we need to start using services like Kudos to help research get read more widely and for the research to be applied where it is most relevant. Some large publishers are already using Kudos to extend their audiences. It can also help track the networks and improve metrics for impact, showing the reach of the research publications in the community and industry. It can help reveal what is essentially hidden research.
(See also collaboration across disciplines, above.)
An expectation to use multi-media
I recently attended a Sydney Festival Big Thinking event at UTS in which a panel of Australian Indigenous people spoke about different ways of knowing, preserving and exchanging knowledge (customs, dance, art, storytelling, languages, objects, places designed to encourage this, etc). I think the contemporary academic publishing world is still stuck in the age of the printing press (via what are essentially still pretty strictly limited textual documents in monograph or article form – on the bloody internet!).
It is now so much easier and there is an expectation for better story telling and different media to be used. For me, it is almost like we are re-learning lessons lost from the age before Gutenberg when illuminated manuscripts contained, preserved (very well) and shared songs, art, music, traditions, laws, dance, science, knowledge, commentary and stories. Is this not what we are currently struggling with in the form of “new” scholarly multi-media formats? I think a lot of social sciences and humanities “knowledge” needs non-textual forms for it to be shared and preserved, yet scholarly publishers seem not very interested in this kind of thing. Do we have something or maybe a lot to learn from the traditional owners of this land?
The panel of elders and others at the Sydney Festival event also mentioned that since Australia was first settled and claimed by the British a little over 200 years ago, we’ve managed to create major problems with the soil, the forests, the waters and the general civilisation of the continent. Indigenous Australians seemed to have managed quite well for about 50,000 years before we arrived – so they must have had ways of sharing that knowledge and known how to live more gently and cooperatively in this environment, yet this was all done without books and journals. So, are traditional monograph and journal models such a great way of sharing and publishing knowledge or just more convenient forms we can point to, measure and count?
I guess someone should at least raise the issue of open data. Major publishers are now “buying” this up and major researcher funders have been slower to react, partly because it is harder for us to meet such a mandate for open data and partly because the necessary infrastructure isn’t there yet. The longer we leave it, however, the harder it will be to catch up. There must be some initiative to start attaching open data to research outputs. The data is really important. Data is not less valuable than conclusions and discussions. It should be available to others. Falsification of open data would be easier to detect.
A somewhat related matter is the question of data and text mining: yet another issue we need to look at. Most publishers have strict controls over text mining their published content and the mechanisms to get permission to do so are clunky. The Right to Read is the Right to Mine campaign that grew out of EU copyright reviews and reform is a useful reference here: http://www.leru.org/index.php/public/news/the-right-to-read-is-the-right-to-mine/
I don’t think there is an easy answer to this question and I will not even try to put a timeline on it nor estimate a rate of success against any of these issues. I do think, however, that attitudes towards and expectations of academic research publishing are changing. People are now more aware of new possibilities in the digital age, they expect immediate access to everything, everywhere and they will not want to pay for it if it is publicly funded. Many other industries have been dramatically changed or completely reinvented because of similar attitudes and expectations. Eventually scholarly publishing will change too.
Note: All images used above are mine except the Open Access diagram and they are all covered by CC licenses.
Recently I posted about the plight of Diego Gomez who is facing trial for the crime of sharing knowledge. Gomez, of course, is not the first victim of heavy-handed attempts to stifle the sharing of knowledge through the misuse of copyright law and licence agreements, as the case of Aaron Swartz tragically illustrated. The Open Access movement, at heart, is an attempt to find new ways to share knowledge – ways which remove the current legal and economic barriers which make information a commodity affordable only by the privileged.
Earlier this week, Ginny Barbour the Executive officer of the Australian Open Access Support Group (AOASG), noted in some tweets (and if you’ve read this far you should follow her), that we are in a bit of a rut with Open Access advances and we need to start thinking about what is needed next. I agree. She went on to suggest that we need to develop Open Access as an ecosystem, with different models for different specialities and countries and then agree some priorities. I also agree with most of that but global agreement and ecosystems take time to develop; it will only come slowly and with lots of compromise. Facing large challenges can sometimes lead to entropy, but we should not be daunted by the task ahead, and the size of the challenge should not prevent us trying some new approaches, learning and moving on. I think that initiatives like OpenAIRE are very good (almost) global scale examples of this.
With that in mind I’d like to map out what I think we can do now and locally to support OA and build the ecosystems needed to make it sustainable, at least as far as I can tell from my perspective in an academic library. I do not think all of these elements are that well understood, but I do think that they all depend very much on each other and I am trying to make these things a focus for all of my colleagues at UTS Library:
- advocating, shepherding, implementing and managing University Open Access policy. We have an OA policy at UTS, like many institutional OA mandates, it was originated and sponsored by the Library who now have the responsibility to implement it.
- improving and managing our Open Access research repository. Ours is now called OPUS. With an OA policy in place we hope to significantly increase the proportion of works in the IR which are open and we’ve set in place some work flow process improvements that link to our research publications management systems that will help us regarding the OA policy implementation by making it easier for academics to deposit copies of their publications. We’re also busy making it all more findable.
- providing and managing an Open Access press. UTS ePRESS is mostly a journal publisher, but we have started experimenting with monographs of late. We’re learning heaps by doing, improving its quality, meeting various standards (DOAJ, COPE, etc.) and promoting it widely. We are keeping an open mind on publishing and how we do it. I read an article just this week that questioned the need for journals and even articles in the age of the internet. It may not be feasible within the current academic system, but who knows in the future?
- we’re involved in related system and infrastructure projects. Libraries have a role to play in creating the infrastructure which will support changes in scholarly publishing. For UTS Library these have included our recent Symplectic implementation, a move to ORCID identity management for our researchers, and a pilot project for the payment of certain article processing charges (APC).
- education. We help to educate researchers in things like rights management (e.g. how to use the SPARC author’s addendum), data management, where to publish, Copyright, etc. There’s no better way to understand something than to teach it. We’re also learning more about the complex OA ecosystem ourselves through involvement in things like SPARC and COAR programs and a newly launched PKP project, The Open Access Publishing Cooperative Study that is looking towards a sustainable global OA model for research and scholarship (I’m on their advisory board).
- advocacy. Here we do what we can with limited resources, by promoting the OA elements listed above, through regular events during OA week and by trying to model our belief in OA however we can.
The last point above brings brings me to my final point about librarians as researchers and advocates. As researchers ourselves, librarians, at least in Australia, continue to publish in journals behind pay-per-view walls (and I’ve been guilty of this myself in the past). Our flagship professional journals are published by commercial publishers. I’ve heard the many complex reasons for this, but I disagree with those reasons. When we choose to publish somewhere behind an expensive paywall, or after paying a massive APC for Gold OA, or after signing a publishing agreement which will allow Green OA only after lengthy embargo periods we are acting directly in opposition to our role as advocates for freedom of access to information and knowledge.
I think that I have learned over time that one size is not going to fit all for OA, but we still need to work towards a global ecosystem that is inclusive of those who need our help. I don’t have all the answers and I’m sure we could improve and continue to learn more. What are you doing in your library?
PS: I must add my thanks to my colleagues at work who make all of this happen and who also encouraged me to post this and provided advice on how to make it much better than my early draft! MMB
This week I was quite upset by reading about the case of Diego Gomez, a Colombian graduate student who is standing trial, and possibly facing years in prison, for sharing an academic paper on Scribd, with his graduate school peers, some years ago. You can read more about his case and support him via EFF: Diego Gomez trial – EFF support.
This really got me quite angry thinking about how low on the totem pole the sharing of knowledge actually is in academia. The reality is that, because of the system we have, it falls well below the pursuit of individual careers and institutional reputations in a pretty bizarre, competitive and largely unfair game of rankings, ratings and impact factors that all works to reinforce an unsustainable market for academic publishing. (Remember here, that these are just my personal views, not those of my institution and also that I am actually part of that system, so I’m at least partially at fault.)
Governments and funding institutions need some metrics for research performance and output but the current measures for impact seem quite inadequate from a number of perspectives. Currently, they do not, and maybe they cannot, measure effectively and fairly “societal benefit”. As a vendor said to me earlier this week, sometimes the benefit from published research comes to fruition years down the track, so how can we account for that? The economic benefit of research to industry and the commercial sector can take ages to be realised and the links back to the original research may not be clear or comprehensive, so how much of this kind of impact should be directly attributable? The real impact of research is even harder to measure with less tangible outcomes like policy improvements or advances in areas such as public health.
Academics too need some agreed measures for career progression, but many are now openly questioning the value of the current publish or perish driver. It is especially debatable when it encourages and leads to situations in which the published research is locked away from those who might desperately need it by licenses that are unaffordable to all but elite and wealthy Western institutions that can afford the ridiculous fees charged by academic publishers; publishers who rely on academia for their content and then sell it back to them at prices that, as someone once noted, make Rupert Murdoch look like a socialist. Of course, this is news to nobody, but it does make Diego Gomez’ plight seem grossly unfair and unjust. It is an opportunity for us all, researchers, librarians, policy makers, to consider the limitations and inequities of the current system, and how we as individuals and institutions will address them.
As I was busy writing this post I noted with some interest that in an effort to make all publications by Dutch scientists available through Open Access by 2024, Dutch universities plan to boycott one of the big four academic publishers, Elsevier (from 2 July 2015). Apparently they were not able to even come close to an agreement with Elsevier.
Archaeology of Bathing by Mal Booth on 500px (public art, because I don’t like cats)
And so dear friends, Part 2 begins … having finished my sandwiches (as Gerard Hoffnung would say).
Do we really have a problem with low quality academic journals? This post by Witold Kieńć from openscience was made in late January, but I only found it this morning. He discusses the problems surrounding the hunt for better impact factors and the imperative to publish or perish in order to improve academic reputation. Witold asks whether low quality journals are really that much of a problem, but recognises the issue with predatory and poor quality journals. Whilst some see the latter as a waste of public money, Witold says they do no harm to knowledge development. Furthermore, if such publications are blocked we may well be preventing the development of excellent quality journals for years simply because they are new or innovating in new ways. Witold says the “noise” created by such journals can easily be filtered.
John Dupuis gathers and briefly analyses even more material on a similar subject in ScienceBlogs with his post Some perspective on “predatory” open access journals. John sees the need for more balance in reporting about predatory journals and more pressing issues in scholarly communications (i.e. flaws and limitations in the peer review system and the far more predatory traditional publishing system that is responsible for the big paywalls). He presents links to other resources discussing the major issues with a need for reform of peer review and to cases of significant retractions or scientific fraud that got past peer review in traditionally published journals. Finally he presents some very interesting links to articles since early 2014 that point out the ways the major commercial publishers are still controlling scholarly publishing and charging enormous amounts of money for it, even open access material.
A related article that I read only recently was published by the Huffington Post late in 2014. It was written by Jason Schmitt and titled Academic Journals: The Most Profitable Obsolete Technology in History. Jason highlights the unsustainable and unaffordable nature of the current publishing system for academic journals. “In contrast to the exorbitant prices for access, the majority of academic journals are produced, reviewed, and edited on a volunteer basis by academics who take part in the tasks for tenure and promotion.” This costly system causes problems for even the wealthier institutions like Harvard, but he says it wreaks havoc on smaller US institutions. (And I can assure you that it is just the same for Australian institutions.) Steep prices are further compounded by big deals and costing models where institutions are forced to buy packages including many titles that will never be used. The article questions whether we now need journals as they were traditionally conceived, i.e. in the days of print publishing. He suggests that a digital revolution is now possible for academic researchers which would remove most costs from the current system and be more suited to digital publishing and hosting. One major problem with this brave new world is the conservative nature of most academics who still seem to be quite comfortable with the current environment. But funding heavy weights such as the US NIH and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are throwing their support behind open access and this could point to change. Finally, Jason points out “we, the people, deserve access”.
I’ll finish Part 2 with a link to a short film about the Hague Declaration that is to be launched on 6 May in Brussels. This declaration is still in draft form (so you won’t be able to read and sign it until after it is launched), but it aims to improve access to facts, data and ideas for knowledge discovery in the digital age, so it nicely connects to the sentiments expressed by Jason above. Their aim is to remove the barriers to access and analysing knowledge and data. The short film about it can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/118462366 I think this is something all librarians should get behind.
Manly Beach, summer by Mal Booth on 500px (in lieu of a kitten)
Hello Sports Fans!
I’ve been reading a few pretty thoughtful and useful articles of late about open access publishing, traditional academic publishing and what might be wrong with and improved in these systems. So, I decided to bring all the links together here and offer you a wee comment on each for your viewing pleasure …
Firstly and perhaps most importantly there is this short article from Dr Sarah Kendzior who has left academia: Lip-Syncing to the Academic Conversation . Here she points out that only the privileged few have access, even if they’ve actually written the article or been cited by someone else. As she says “academia is an industry designed on insularity”. Maybe this can only truly be understood from outside our walls? She also points out that the relentless pursuit of career goals and value for money has led to us forgetting what should be a most basic goal: the furthering of knowledge.
More recently via techdirt I saw this article that makes a point not so far removed from Sarah’s gripes above: Don’t Think Open Access Is Important? It Might Have Prevented Much Of The Ebola Outbreak. It goes on to claim that the conventional wisdom about the non presence of the Ebola virus in West Africa before 2013 was wrong because the most up-to-date research was locked away behind paywalls and that the download charges were unaffordable even to the Liberian co-authors of some of the research. . It is a long bow to draw to suggest that the crisis might have been completely avoided if the research was freely available, but still …
Prof, no one is reading you was published less than a week ago in The Straits Times as an opinion piece. The authors say that an average academic journal article is fully read by about 10 people. They suggest (as I did recently) that authors need to start combining some short form journalism with this long form research to promote their research in order to get it read more widely. Furthermore the authors say that 82% of humanities articles are never cited, whilst only 68% of the social sciences and 73% of the of the natural sciences receive citations. They also complain about the sheer volume of material and jargon that one has to wade through in most articles. This is needed if that research is to have any impact at all with policy makers and practitioners and they give some very illuminating examples of why this is such a problem with key research into resources like water. It certainly made me think. And here is some further research from LSE into those poor citation rates (which seems to back up the figures used above): Are 90% of academic papers really never cited? Reviewing the literature on academic citations.
The authors of that article would probably applaud two recent posts from PLOS blogs. Firstly, there was How Articles Get Noticed and Advance the Scientific Conversation, which illustrates and explains the importance of social media in promoting research articles and in engaging with readers. And secondly there was Ask our authors anything: new PLOS ‘AMA’ series debuts on redditscience. So PLOS has started using that popular reddit Ask Me Anything series to help explain the science behind their research articles. I reckon this is F A N T A S T I C!
And just to further the point re promotion of research, openscience has a handy series of four posts starting at How to promote an Open Access book? Part 1: Networking. (The next three on Abstracting and Indexing, publisher’s brand and the traditional ways are linked from that first post.)
That’s all for my Part 1. I’ll give you all a little break now for being such good readers. Smoke if you’ve got them …