Gold Open Access is Bad for Science Publishing

Recently I was listening to a podcast discussing the recent Finch Report which comes out in favor of the Gold path of Open access. What open access is attempting to resolve is the problem that much of government funded research costs too much before it is made accessible. It costs so much that even some research libraries are unable to access the results.

The basic model is that the researcher applies for funding. This process is time consuming and often fails. Therefore too many people are chasing too little money. Those who are fortunate to receive funding will eventually need to publish their findings in scientific journals in order to advance in their careers (and to push scientific progress forward).

Scientific journals are basically other academics acting as editors and reviewers (for the most part unpaid). So the government is paying the academics to do this work as well. Once the material is published the university libraries have to buy a subscription in order to make the work available to their researchers.

Cash Flow

How many times in this process have we paid for the the results before they are available? In most cases none of the material is available to a wider audience outside academia.

The Gold Route to open access would make research available to researchers and the general public by making the researchers pay the publishers in advance to make their material available. In other words taking the subscription fees from the library budget and adding it on to the research grants.

There are problems with this.

1. The lock in to publishers is still strong. The reason why we are discussing a scientific publishing crisis is that the cost of purchasing access to the articles is too high to bear. Gold Open Access does not address this problem in the long term. Sure, in the beginning it may be cheaper than subscriptions but we are still locked into the publishers who have raised the prices of subscriptions to a level that even wealthy universities are struggling to survive. Do we really think they will not do the same when faced by individual researchers desperate to publish in order to move forward in their careers?

2. The greed issue. Journals need to fill their pages with scientific articles. Isn’t there a danger when they are being paid per article that they will be tempted to dismantle rigorous standards in favor of cash?

And most importantly

3. Authors without funding (Read Mark Carrigan’s excellent piece on this). What about those unfortunate researchers who did not receive funding? Either they will not publish (impossible situation in academia), they will take money from other projects to pay for publishing (Fraud? Embezzlement?) or the universities will have to pay (increases costs again).

As funding is the exception and not the rule (most grant applications are denied) most of the publishing in my field is done without direct financing. For example this summer I am busy writing two articles during my holiday. They are important to me and to my research but they are not funded through projects. But once I publish I will be in a better position to obtain funding – who should pay for this?

The gold route creates a wonderful situation for the publishers and will turn the well financed researchers into direct sub-contractors to the publishers, and those without financing into the beggars.

This is not good science.

If it ain’t online & open it may as well be dead

While Rupert Murdoch keeps threatening the world that he will move all his media behind paywalls it is time to recall the fascinating truth about information: If it ain’t online & open it may as well be dead. If it cannot be found via Google it may as well not exist. I know that this is shallow and that it fails to take into account quality print media but then again – it doesn’t matter how great you are if nobody has ever heard of you.

Encyclopaedia Brittanica had an excellent market lead, brilliant trademark and high quality product. After the web they began to die. After Wikipedia who cares?
One of the oldest online free journals that keep producing, providing & pushing excellent content is First Monday. Authors don’t have to pay & readers don’t have to pay. And yet, miraculously every month quality pours out. Here are my must read articles from the December issue (volume 14, number 12):

Political protest Italian-style: The blogosphere and mainstream media in the promotion and coverage of Beppe Grillo’s V-day
by Alberto Pepe and Corinna di Gennaro

The self-Googling phenomenon: Investigating the performance of personalized information resources by Thomas Nicolai, Lars Kirchhoff, Axel Bruns, Jason Wilson, and Barry Saunders

Public lives and private communities: The terms of service agreement and life in virtual worlds by Debora J. Halbert

Fresh First Monday out now!

The latest issue of First Monday is online. As always this journal manages to provide articles of interest every month. No exception this time. I am looking forward to reading The relationship between public libraries and Google: Too much information by Vivienne Waller, What value do users derive from social networking applications? by Larry Neale and Rebekah Russell-Bennett & From PDF to MP3: Motivations for creating derivative works by John Hilton.

Strangely enough even though First Monday has been around since 1996 – it was one of the first openly accessible, peer–reviewed journals on the Internet – and it has a focus on the Internet some students have managed to miss it and its impact.

Open Access & Scientific Publication in Malmö

Tomorrow I am off to Malmö to give a copyright & Creative Commons presentation at a seminar on Open Access and Scientific Publication. This should be an interesting event (not because I am there) because the speakers are an interesting group concerned with increasing accessiblity to scientific publication. Judging from the amount of registered participants it should be a good meeting. I am looking forward to the trip.

British Library Digitalisation Strategy

The British Library has published its Digitisation Strategy 2008-2011 and in the document it focuses on a continued commitment to produce a critical mass of digitised content. They write in the

We aim to help researchers advance knowledge by becoming a leading player in digitisation. We will produce a critical mass of digitised content, reflecting the breadth and depth of our collection. We will provide a compelling user experience that facilitates innovative methods of research and meets 21st century requirements for interacting with content.

Over the next 3 years we will build on our existing digitisation programme. Current projects include the digitisation of:

  • 20 million pages of 19th century literature [approximately 80,000 books];
  • 1 million pages of historic newspapers in addition to the 3m already digitised;
  • 4,000 hours of Archival Sound Recordings in addition to the 4,000 hours already digitised;
  • 100,000 pages of Greek manuscripts.

The British Library has been very active in digitalisation and in it’s attempts to make sure that the public knows the value and importance of this work. Even though I tend to have a sceptical approach to feelgood documents such as these the British Library have proven themselves to be great open access activists.

Two New OA Books (+1)

This has been a busy week for books on Open Access. On Wednesday I blogged about the book Understanding Open Access in the Academic Environment: A Guide for Authors by Kylie Pappalardo. Today Open Access News wrote about two more new Open Access books:

E. Canessa and M. Zennaro at the Science Dissemination Unit of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste have put together an edited book Science Dissemination using Open Access.

From today’s announcement:

The book is a compendium of selected literature on Open Access, both on the technical and organizational levels, and was written in an effort to guide the scientific community on the requirements of Open Access, and the plethora of low-cost solutions available. The book also aims to encourage decision makers in academia and research centers to adopt institutional and regional Open Access Journals and Archives to make their own scientific results public and fully searchable on the Internet. Discussions on open publishing via Academic Webcasting are also included.

The other book is a 144 pp. collection of articles on OA by 38 authors, edited by Barbara Malina entitled Open Access Opportunities and Challenges: A Handbook, the German UNESCO Commission, July 2008. This is an English translation of Open Access: Chancen und Herausforderungen – ein Handbuch (2007).