Tag Archives: Norms of Science

Scare campaigns, we have seen a few

In a sister post, I identified the latest scare offensive in the ongoing discussions around open access as: ‘restricting choice of publication’. In this, there is an implied threat from editorial boards and publishers that if the UK Scholarly Communication Licence (UKSCL) were to be in place, then these journals would refuse to publish articles from affected researchers.

In this post I want to look at other threats that have been or are lurking in the shadows in the open access debate. The first is tied fairly closely to the ‘restricting choice of publication’ threat.

The new scare – threats to ‘Academic Freedom’

The term ‘Academic Freedom’ comes up a fair bit in discussions about open access. In his tweet sent during  the Researcher to Reader conference*, one of my Advisory Board colleagues Rick Anderson tweeted this comment:

“Most startling thing said to me in conversation at the #R2RConf:
“I wonder how much longer academic freedom will be tolerated in IHEs.” (Specific context: authors being allowed to choose where they publish.)

In this blog I’d like to pick up on the ‘Academic Freedom’ part of the comment (which is not Rick’s, he was quoting).

Academic Freedom, according to a summary in the Times Higher Education is  primarily that “Academic freedom means that both faculty members and students can engage in intellectual debate without fear of censorship or retaliation”.

This definition was based on the American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP) Statement on Academic Freedom which includes, quite specifically, “full freedom in research and in the publication of results”.

Personally I read that as meaning academics should be allowed to publish, not that they have full freedom in choosing where.

Rick has since contacted the AAUP to ask for clarification on this topic. Last Friday, he tweeted that the AAUP has declined to revisit the 1940 statement to clarify the ‘freedom in publication’ statement in light of evolution of scholarly communication since 1940.

The reason why the Academic Freedom/ ‘restricting choice of publication’ threat(s) is so concerning to the research community has changed over time. In the past it was essential to be able to publish in specific outlets because colleagues would only read certain publications. Those publications were effectively the academic ‘voice’. However today, with online publication and search engines this argument no longer holds.

What does matter however is the publication in certain journals is necessary because of the way people are valued and rewarded. The problem is not open access, the problem is the reward system to which we are beholden. And the commercial publishing industry is fully aware of this.

So let’s be clear. Academic Freedom is about freedom of expression rather than freedom of publication outlet and ties into Robert Merton’s 1942 norms of science which are:

  • “communalism”: all scientists should have common ownership of scientific goods (intellectual property), to promote collective collaboration; secrecy is the opposite of this norm.
  • universalism: scientific validity is independent of the sociopolitical status/personal attributes of its participants
  • disinterestedness: scientific institutions act for the benefit of a common scientific enterprise, rather than for the personal gain of individuals within them
  • organized scepticism: scientific claims should be exposed to critical scrutiny before being accepted: both in methodology and institutional codes of conduct.

If a publisher is preventing a researcher from publishing in a journal based on their funding or institutional policy rather than the content of the work being submitted then this is entirely in contravention of all of Robert Merton’s norms of science. But the publisher is not, as it happens, threatening the Academic Freedom of that author.

While we are here, let’s have a quick look at some of the other threats to researchers invoked in the last few years.

Historic scare 1 – Embargoes are necessary for sustainability

In the past the publishing industry has tried to claim research on half-life usage of research articles as ‘evidence’ for the “green open access = cancellations” argument. This sounds plausible except for the lack of any causal link between green open access policies and library subscriptions. The argument here is that embargoes are necessary for the ‘sustainability’ (read profit) of commercial publishers.

We should note the British Academy’s own 2014 finding that “libraries for the most part thought that embargoes for author-accepted manuscripts had little effect on their acquisition policies” and that any real cancellation issue was “the rising cost of journals at a time of budgetary constraint for libraries. If that continues, journals will be cancelled anyway, whether posted manuscripts are available or not.”

My debunking of this claim dates back to 2015 although it did raise its head again loudly in 2017 during discussions around the UKSCL. It is not uncommon for a researcher to express concern about their chosen journal’s viability because of open access. The message has been successfully pushed through to the research community.

Historic scare 2 – The need for full copyright

Copyright is supposed to protect the content creator. The argument I hear repeatedly about why publishers need authors to sign their copyright over to publishers is so they can ‘protect the author’s rights’. But when people sign their copyright away to another entity, copyright becomes a purely economic tool for financial exploitation by that entity.

There is no doubt publishers protect their own copyright. Indeed owning it allows maximum freedom to make money from the content (and prevent anyone else from doing so). But strangely whenever I have asked for examples of publishers stepping in to protect an author’s rights as the result of a copyright transfer agreement, there has been no response.

However it is not uncommon for a researcher to tell you that this is one of the protections that publishers offer them. I defer to Lizzie Gadd here who has published thoughts around the distinctions between copyright culture and scholarly culture. She notes how many academics have been led by publishers to believe that the current copyright culture supports scholarly culture to a far greater extent than it actually does.

Historic scare 3 – Press embargoes

The HEFCE open access policy requires the collection and deposit of work within three months of acceptance (although the first two years of the policy pushed this timeline out to three months from publication).  This means that work is deposited into repositories, and the metadata that exists – the title, the authors, the intended journal and the abstract – is made available before publication. The work itself (and we are talking about the Author’s Accepted Manuscript, not the final Version of Record) is under an infinite embargo which will be set when the work is published. This process has its own problems, discussed elsewhere.

In 2016 there was a blow up about the metadata about an article being in the public domain before publication. Our office received multiple concerned calls by researchers asking us to remove records from the repository until publication because of fear that having that metadata available was in contravention of the embargo rules. They were concerned the journal would refuse to publish their paper. When we investigated, not only was this not publisher policy but if anyone had been threatened in this manner the publishers we contacted requested we forward the information so they could follow up.

It demonstrates how spooked academics can be by their editors/journals/publishers.


This latest ‘restricting choice of publication’ threat is just another in a long line of implied threats that the scholarly communication community is having to manage. Each time a new one looms we need to identify the source, develop evidence and information to counter the threat and try and work with our research community to reassure them.

Between this, and the huge amount of time we have to spend identifying dates of publication or managing publisher and funder policies or keeping track of the funds that are being spent in this space, we are exhausted.

But perhaps that’s the point?

Published 15 March 2018
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
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* Note: In the past two years I have written a precis up about the Researcher to Reader event with summaries, see: ‘It is all a bit of a mess’ Observations from Researcher to Reader conference and ‘Be nice to each other’ – the second Researcher to Reader conference. Time pressure means I may not be able to do that this year, but see the Twitter hashtag for the event.

Taking a Principled stance – the Scholarly Commons

It only rains about 10 days a year in San Diego. And Tuesday was one of them. In a rooftop room on campus in San Diego at UCSD, a group had gathered for the FORCE11 Scholarly Commons workshop. The workshop brought together members of the Scholarly Commons working group, who hail from around the world and come from the broad scholarly commons. The Scholarly Commons is an idea to help define the future of research communication. The goal is to promote the best research and scholarship possible through rapid and wide dissemination to all who need or want it.

FORCE stands for the Future of Research Communications and eScholarship and is an organisation (or community) open to anyone interested in these issues. The group consisted of researchers from multiple disciplines, communicators, programmers, and a couple of librarians. This is the unusual and powerful thing about FORCE11 – the diversity of its members. Someone actually remarked: ‘you know, there probably should be a few more librarians here’ which is something you don’t often hear at meetings about open access issues. Usually librarians are delighted if a real live researcher turns up.

We were meeting to discuss the draft of 18 Principles of the Commons – an attempt to define what the community considers the attributes and behaviours of a person who is fully participating in research. The Principles are broadly separated into four major themes of being Open, Equitable, Sustainable and Research & Culture Driven.

FORCE11 works openly and tries to be as accessible as possible so there were full and open notes being collaboratively taken and the Twitter hashtag was #futurecommons.

The workshop was very hands-on, and expertly moderated by Jeroen Bosman and Bianca Kramer who are the power behind the excellent 101 Innovations in Scholarly Communication project. As their ‘wheel’ of tools identifying tools available across the research life stages and through time demonstrates, it is becoming increasingly difficult to navigate the new research space. Indeed that is part of the rationale behind this Scholarly Commons project. It is an attempt to take stock and make sense of what we, the community, want to see in an open and accessible future.

Despite having fewer than 40 people we managed to have multiple activities running concurrently with several ‘unworkshops’. Everything was fed back into the group, and there was a very broad range of discussions, agreements and ideas. To prevent this blog being a tome, I am only going to cover here a couple of areas that were discussed.

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Due to a flight delay I was only able to catch the end of the Sunday evening welcome reception where we were asked to reflect on the 18 draft Principles plastered on the walls and decide which we agreed with and which we did not (or had an issue with). As I scanned through I was struck by the overall similarity they had with Robert Merton’s 1942 publication, The Normative Structure of Science where he proposed that science operated to four ‘norms’, of Universalism, Communalism, Disinterestedness and Organised Skepticism.

Screen Shot 2016-09-22 at 11.53.53I mentioned this in an early discussion and was somewhat chuffed that the group really did take this on board – to the extent that one unworkshop group worked on updating the norms to reflect today’s situation.

As an aside – the challenge with having people coming together from multiple research areas is everyone brings their a priori biases with them. People tend to see the problem through their own lens, so have different ways of approaching the problem. For the group to agree that this perspective was a good one was personally very validating.

Considering outreach as part of the research lifecycle

I the first unworkshop I joined we discussed how research-centred the Principles are – they did not consider the importance of outreach. Given the impenetrable nature of the language in many academic papers, we agreed that making something Open Access facilitates outreach but is not outreach itself.

The discussion moved to idea about what researchers could do to help with outreach – even if they themselves did not want (or were unable) to do it. These are fairly simple including providing supplementary material that is accessible in terms of the descriptive language used (no jargon), potentially providing the information in a different language to English, and ensuring the license under which it is made available is open.

We proposed that the Commons should facilitate outreach and have the outreach in mind even if the researcher themselves does not generate the outreach. There had been a comment earlier in the Equity discussion that noted “Each part of the research cycle is equally valid and none should not be preferenced over the other.” Our discussion concluded that outreach (for the lay public) should be considered to be part of the research process and equally valued.

It should be noted that we are not discussing paper-related activities here. Making the paper open access or tweeting a link to the paper doesn’t count. This is about sharing the information in an understandable manner outside the Academy.

Tool mapping

thumb_IMG_2188_1024The workshop, as mentioned, was very hands-on. By that I mean we did several ‘craft activities’ involving dots, glue, sticky tape and scissors. One of these activities involved ranking various tools for research against the four themes of the Principles, deciding whether they were in alignment with them (green), in opposition with them (red) or in-between (yellow).

Screen Shot 2016-09-22 at 13.12.47We then placed these assessments on the windows under the part of the research lifecycle they related to, and ordered them. The most Principle-friendly tools were up high, and the least down low.


thumb_IMG_2191_1024 We then did an activity where we tried to trace the path of our own discipline in terms of the tools our disciplines tended to use. This exercise was an attempt to see if there were any discernable patterns about where some disciplines tend to align or otherwise with the Principles. While the sample size for each discipline was too small to really come to any conclusions, this exercise did open up ideas for a way of disseminating the Principles.

The Principles as an Innovation

This is where another of my disciplinary perspectives comes into play. If we accept that the Principles are themselves an ‘innovation’ – in that they are “an idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption”, then we can look to Everett Rogers Diffusion of Innovations first published in 1962, and now in its 5th edition. You might not have heard of him but you know about his work – Rogers was the person who coined the idea of ‘early adopters’, late adopters’ and ‘laggards’.

Amongst lots of interesting insights about why people adopt new ideas, Rogers came up with five ways to evaluate an innovation which will determine the success or otherwise of its adoption. These are judged as a whole and are interrelated:

  • Relative advantage – the perceived efficiencies gained by the innovation relative to current tools or procedures
  • Compatibility with the pre-existing system
  • Complexity or difficulty to learn (it needs to be easy)
  • Trialability or testability without risking the current system
  • Observed effects.

It is the second point which is the interesting one here – ‘Compatibility with the pre-existing system’. The reason why this is relevant is we are not talking about one system when we discuss scholarship – there are a myriad of systems. There is no ‘one solution’. If we are to try and implement something like the Principles across the academy, we will need to do it along disciplinary lines. (Disclosure – this happens to be the conclusion of my 2008 PhD thesis on the adoption of open access across disciplines).

Disciplinary dissemination

This leads us to the question of audiences for the Principles. Ideally we would have institutions signing up to them, pledging that they will work with their research community to work in this manner. But this is unrealistic currently due to the diverse nature of research institutions. But there might be a way to have funders sign up, because often funding is given within disciplinary restraints. This is doubly the case because funders (in the UK, Australia and the US at least) are increasingly using an ‘Impact narrative’ and the Principles offer a way to practically identify and reward impact behaviour.

And we are not coming from a standing start. We can build on the work done by Jeroen Bosman and Bianca Kramer in their 101 Innovations in Scholarly Communication project. There were over 20,000 responses to their survey of innovation use and this allows a detailed mapping of disciplinary behaviours. If we the further map those findings against an assessment of the research tools being used at a disciplinary level and whether they are aligned with the Principles, we should be able to see which disciplinary areas are already working in the Principled way. It is the funders of these disciplines that we should approach first to try and gain early adoption of the Principles. This  work would become a checklist that can reward people for the behaviours that they are already doing in this space.

A project like this would in turn open up some questions about what we need to do at a disciplinary level to help that community become more aligned with the Principles. These may require a number of approaches – Do they have the tools that work for them or do these need to be developed? Is there a cultural reason why this discipline is not engaging? In answering these questions we come up with the answer to the question: What does a Scholarly Commons researcher look like in this discipline?  Until we have some evidence of where these areas are we are effectively stabbing in the dark.

Making this happen now

In a different unworkshop we talked about how the nature of the Principles themselves went against the idea of being  inclusive because we are potentially creating a binary situation – either you are following the Principles or not.  What we really need to do, we agreed, is not reject people for acting in ways that are not totally in line with the Principles, rather reward behaviour that supports the Principles.

In order to facilitate this, we designed a series of ‘Decision Trees’ to help researchers be as open as they can. This is a recognition that researchers are working within a complex ecosystem. With all the will in the world, if there is not an Open Access journal available to you in your field, you cannot publish in one.

thumb_IMG_2196_1024The easiest part of the research lifecycle was to tackle was publishing, in terms of choosing a publication outlet. The decision tree allows for people who cannot publish in an Open Access journal, nor afford to pay for hybrid (not something I personally recommend anyway) to still be ‘Principled’ by putting a copy of their work in a repository.

thumb_IMG_2197_1024Our discussion about data was more complex. For a start, there is a question about whether the data is digital or not. As we discussed it, our draft tree became incredibly complex so we created two separate flows. The Data 1 decision tree says to someone who has analogue data and no funds to digitise, that as long as they put in some information in their paper about how to contact them for the supporting data, then they have met the spirit of the Principles to the best of their ability.

thumb_IMG_2198_1024While we know the gold standard for data sharing is to have the data (with well defined metadata) available openly in a non proprietary repository with a DOI, for various reasons this is not always possible. We should not sanction a researcher because they are unable to meet that (very high) standard. The Data 2 tree shows that data that is in a repository under embargo without a DOI is discoverable in a way it would not be if it were in a desk drawer – so that is, again, within the spirit of the Principles. We need to consider the ‘close enough’ option as being a valid one, at least in the implementation stage of the Principles.

We agreed that in some areas of the research lifecycle that a list of tools that could help would be of more use than a decision tree. Time restraints meant there are a couple of areas of the lifecycle which still need consideration (and we need to do some decision tree design work!), but generally the group agreed that this was probably quite useful.


When it comes to the Principles themselves, we are still working on it. We did however agree that we thought the Principles were something worth doing, and that they were more or less something we can start working with (and on – they are likely to be dynamic). One suggestion was that we call them Scholarly Commons Principles 1.0 – a reference to this being the first version of possibly many. There are plans for several subgroups to pitch for funding to do some deeper work in some areas. So it is an ongoing project, but a substantial one.

There are some troopers in the Scholarly Communication community. Several people at our workshop had ‘done the double’ – attending  the SciDataCon 2016 conference and associated meetings over eight days in Denver last week and then coming to this event. The gruelling pace was starting to show by the end of the last day of our workshop.

thumb_IMG_2177_1024You know you have been on a very short visit when you fly back with the same in-flight crew as your outward bound journey. One of them even recognised me and commented on how quickly I was returning. So while the trip was an exhausting few days, it was productive and worthwhile. And it was really nice to smell eucalypt trees (rather bizarrely) and do laps in an outdoor pool – things I have not done since moving to the UK.

Published 22 September 2016
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
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