Tag Archives: Plan S

Chasing cash cows in a swamp? Perspectives on Plan S from Australia and the USA

Plan S was born in Europe, yet from the very start it aspired to accelerate conversations around open access on a global scale. After all, if free access to research outputs is good in one place, it will be good everywhere, right? Well, it turns out that things may not be that simple.

In this Open Access Week, we look East and West to find out how Plan S is being received across the globe. Dr Danny Kingsley explores how reliance on foreign students has trapped Australian universities in a ‘Faustian bargain’ with publishers and reduced the scope for change. Micah Vandegrift reports on the type of conversations that Plan S has inspired in the USA, as well as the potential political barriers, sounding a note of cautious optimism.

The uptake of Plan S or equivalent principles in countries beyond Europe is crucial to the overall success of the movement. Publishers are using the fact that uptake currently has limited geographic scope to stall change, arguing that they cannot alter their model to suit the requirements of a relatively small percentage of authors. The number of supporting funders is still small and concentrated in Europe, with a few US players. China initially looked set to join in and thus change the game, but since the end of 2018 we have seen little progress on that front. Has Plan S been successful in shaping conversations around the world?

Hearing from our colleagues in other countries highlights some of the promises and challenges Plan S is facing in making an impact outside Europe. Learning about those raises a number of interesting points for how we advocate for open access at home too.

Dr Danny Kingsley: Australia

Photo of Sydney Opera House over a calm sea.
Sydney Opera House. ‘ Plan S has not really caused much of a ripple Down Under ‘.

Rankings are a natural enemy of openness

When first approached by the Office of Scholarly Communication to write a piece about Plan S in Australia, my initial response was it would be very short. That is, Plan S has not really caused much of a ripple Down Under. Those in the know – people working in scholarly communication and some senior members of research institutions – are aware and watching closely. But as far as opening up a general discussion amongst the academic community, this simply hasn’t happened.

Over the past six months I have been trying to understand where some of the problems lie when it comes to openness in Australia. It is more fundamental than the usual concerns researchers have about Open Access, and goes to the heart of how universities work here.

Where the money flows

First a quick run-down on how research funding to universities works in Australia. There are only two government funders – the National Health and Medical Council (NHMRC) and the Australian Research Council (ARC). The amount of funding these granted in 2017-2018 was about $943 million and $758 million respectively to all research organisations. As a comparison, the Wellcome Trust endowed in the range of £10m – £50m in Australia in 2017-18. For those interested there is a full breakdown of sources of research funding.

The funder policies on Open Access and Research Data Management are pretty weak overall. The NHMRC policy requires that any peer reviewed publication be available in a repository 12 months after publication and “strongly encourages researchers to consider the reuse value of their data and to take reasonable steps to share research data and associated metadata arising from NHMRC supported research”. The ARC policy requires the metadata of research outputs to be available in a repository 3 months after publication and the work to be OA 12 months after publication. But the policy specifically states: “For the purposes of this policy, Research Outputs do not include research data and research data outputs.”

Resourcing limitations mean these policies are not monitored, and there are no sanctions for non-compliance. This means they are basically ineffective, given the findings of a study last year that identified what policies need to ensure compliance.

But these policies simply reflect a lack of policy generally in Australia, partly due to the revolving door that has been the Prime Ministership over the past five years. So, on face value, the reason for the lack of engagement with discussions around Plan S just reflect this lassitude.

But I am wondering if there might be something deeper at play here.

Cash cow

Australian universities are heavily financially reliant on overseas students, with the numbers of international students several multiples greater than any other comparable university worldwide. Numbers of overseas students have doubled since 2008, with 398,563 students enrolled in 2018. In one instance, the University of Sydney, fees from Chinese students make up one fifth of its annual revenue with $500 million in 2017. Taken across the country, these figures outweigh public research funding significantly.

While this dependence has been labelled as highly risky from a financial perspective, it is also causing serious issues elsewhere in the sector including concerns about eroding educational standards. But it is also causing a perversion in the way research is managed.

The role of the ranking

University rankings are extremely important in the recruitment of overseas students. The vast majority of Australian university websites list some interpretation of their rankings. Monash University and the University of Western Australia both note they are in the “top 100 universities in the world”. Other universities are more specific, naming their place, like UNSW at 43rd in the world and University of Queensland listing no fewer than five rankings, trumped by Queensland University of Technology with six rankings listed.

Chasing rankings comes at a price. In some instances, increasing a University’s position in the rankings is a specific strategy, with the University of Canberra a recent success story.

There is incredible pressure on researchers in Australia to perform. This can take the form of reward, with many universities offering financial incentives for publication in ‘top’ journals. This is fairly widespread, with some universities having this position on the public record. For example, Griffith University’s Research and Innovation Plan 2017-2020 includes: “Maintain a Nature and Science publication incentive scheme”. Publication in these two journals comprises 20% of the score in the Academic Ranking of World Universities.

Other institutions take a more draconian position. Murdoch University’s proposed ‘academic career framework’ identifies specific numbers of articles researchers are expected to publish in top journals per year. Not surprisingly this approach has been highly criticised for its “extremely narrow view of academic career success”.

Australia’s Chief Scientist has recently been arguing the need for a different way of assessing our researchers, with concern that the current system is fuelling bad science. With exception of some groundswell activity, this is as close as anyone is getting to using the ‘reproducibility’ word here in Australia, possibly from nervousness in the sector from government interference in the allocation of research grants in 2018. There is certainly nothing comparable to the UK or the US on this issue.

The Open Access challenge

But what has all of this to do with Open Access or Plan S? Well, everything actually.

For a start, signing up to the Declaration of Research Assessment (DORA), or the Leiden Manifesto is one of the principles of Plan S, with the Wellcome Trust stating that it will not fund research at institutions that have not signed up. Only a handful of Australian research organisations have signed DORA, none of which are universities. Given many Australian institutions are not only judging researchers on their publication record, but in some cases proscribing which journals in which they are allowed to publish, it would be extremely difficult for these institutions to become a signatory to DORA or the Leiden Manifesto.

But the main problem for the open agenda is the total reliance on specific metrics that deliver ranking numbers – metrics which enfold Australian universities into a Faustian bargain with the large commercial publishers.

Australian universities are not engaging with Plan S because they cannot afford to. And while the Australian funders remain silent on the topic (literally – a search for Plan S on each website comes up empty), there is little incentive to worry about it.

If anything, this situation further underlines the need to shift the academic reward system away from the single measure of publication of novel results in high impact journals.  Given how deeply ingrained that measure is in Australia it will be interesting to see where we are at this time next year.

Micah Vandegrift: USA

An image of a river in the USA.
A meandering river in the USA. Plan S has sparked conversations in the USA, but progress is slow.

A shot heard around the world

A little more than a year ago, open access had its “shot heard around the world” moment. Plan S expanded out from Europe, encompassing angst and excitement, requiring think-pieces from thought leaders, policy briefs from the wonks, and general malaise from lots of stakeholders. The European open agenda is, by design or by accident, shaping the horizon and Plan S continues to be a marker of that progression. I had the unique opportunity to be on the ground in Europe for most of the fallout last fall, and now with the benefit of time and geographic remove, I am observing the after effects, especially in how U.S.-based research communities are responding in kind. 

Ripples and tides

The greatest surprise is that Plan S seems to be the thing that is getting people from all corners out to debate the issues. The tidal wave of Plan S seems to have crashed on our shores with something for everyone – publishers, libraries, researchers, and funders. Librarianship tends to pivot around shifts in the publishing landscape, finding crevices to leverage our expertise and chances to show off that knowledge to researchers, and I expected Plan S to offer that as well. The weird thing, though, is that the responses have been uneven, distributed, and displaced. For example, I was invited along with Rick Anderson of Scholarly Kitchen fame to debate the Plan in front of 200+ managing and technical editors as the plenary session at their conference. On the flipside, Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, announced as Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in January 2019 (after a vacancy since something happened in November 2016), flippantly addressed Plan S in an interview simply saying “we won’t ever tell people where to publish.” Bizarrely, a research policy affecting labs and scholars from Norway to Portugal is giving me a chance to meet and chat with publisher colleagues more than ever before, and not opened any new doors for communicating finer points of licensing with faculty on my campus. 

A slow-flowing river

Following the current into the near future, I believe that there are three tributaries that will come together. Funders will continue to exert their influence, supplanting publishers as drivers of the conversation, disciplines will adapt discipline-specific means of scholarly sharing (see the rise of pre-prints [PDF]), and policy makers will attempt to legislate cautious action toward a global research marketplace. However… in the U.S. context there are two barriers that could dam the flow. Uncertainty in our political climate, and an America-first foreign policy agenda, is boiling up concern about “undue foreign influence,” and I fear that isolationism will compel a counter narrative to the open and public sharing of research worldwide. Secondly, America is a god-damn huge country and developing a coherent national framework for openness seems to be a fool’s errand. However, what sometimes appears to be a bog can actually be a river barely inching along. If Plan S was a splash, Plan Open U.S. will be a steady drip, creating geologic formations of systemic change toward a more open research ecosystem. 

Conclusions

We read Danny and Micah’s contributions with great interest. They raised several questions about Plan S, which we hope to discuss with Micah after today’s talk.

  1. What can we do to increase engagement of our local academic communities with the open access agenda?
  2. Is it possible to uncouple decisions about research practice from financial or political/ideological considerations?
  3. How can government funders find a balance between dictating open research mandates and respecting the academic freedom of researchers?
  4. Can institutions measure research accurately without creating perverse incentives?
  5. Is there any country in the world where the mention of politicians does not trigger an immediate eye-roll?

Published 24 October 2019

Written by Dr Danny Kingsley (Scholarly Communication Consultant) and Micah Vandegrift (Open Knowledge Librarian at NC State University Libraries).

Compiled by Dr Beatrice Gini

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Open Access monographs: Reflections from our recent symposium

Open access book formats have been under discussion for several years and have attracted interest – and concern – from researchers in Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences as well as amongst institutions, publishers, and funders. Earlier this month the Office of Scholarly Communication organised a one-day symposium on ‘Open Access monographs: from policy to reality which took place at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. It aimed to enable discussion about the open access monographs agenda and its future challenges with the Cambridge community and beyond, to bring together researchers with publishers, funders, experts and innovators in the field of open monograph publishing, and to share experiences about the opportunities and realities of publishing an open access book. 

In this blog we summarise the key themes that emerged from this symposium. In favour of simplicity we accept that many of the issues discussed do not belong to one theme category only and are interlinked with each other. 

Picture showing the front cover of the symposium programme.
Symposium programme

‘What would it take to implement open access books for REF?’ 

This was one of the first questions in Prof Martin Paul Eve’s (Birkbeck, University of London) keynote speech which highlights an uncomfortable truth in the discussions about open access monograph policy in the UK these days. 

‘To publish 75% of anticipated monographic submission output for the next REF would require approximately £96m investment over the census period. This is equivalent to £19.2m per year. Academic library budgets as they are currently apportioned would not support this cost.’ [1] 

The figures are staggering and immediately show that money is the number one challenge in any discussions about monographs in this context. Which brings us swiftly to our first theme: The economics of open access. 

The economics of open access 

The distribution of the economics is the most important factor in the puzzle of open access monograph publishing. The overall consensus from both publishers and academics are that BPCs (Book Publishing Charges) for monographs do not work well in the humanities. They scale badly and concentrate costs. However, it is clear that one business model does not fit all in this sphere. A diversity of business models and ecosystems in which monographs can be published as open access would give authors choice and avoid monopolies. It was thought provoking to hear Rupert Gatti say that Open Book Publishers couldn’t scale up on their current business model to publish 250-300 books (10 times the amount they do now) but they shouldn’t have to. Instead, they can envisage a system where numerous small publishers like themselves exist next to large publishers, like Cambridge University Press (CUP). The idea of avoiding monopolies is not only key for authors but also readers as having a few publishers controlling the methods of distribution of this literature could end up restricting the way we access and use content. 

Questions were also raised about how BPCs (or their replacement) should be set. Monographs vary in length and complexity, usually determined by their subject matter, which in turn have vastly different production costs. Should there then be a pricing structure that better reflects this? And in a culture of openness, can we ask publishers to be transparent about their costs and services so researchers can make more informed choices about where to spend their grant money? 

Publishers are very aware of the impact that open access is having on the business models and the need to maintain quality in production and the peer review process. CUP stated that digital sales are becoming an important part of monograph publishing and that timing of open access is also quite an important factor in the economics. Exploring models of delayed open access might provide one solution to protecting publisher incomes whilst still opening up access to content. 

‘Students cannot learn without images’ (Dr Nicky Kozicharow, University of Cambridge)

Another important piece of the puzzle is who pays for the costs of publishing an open access book? The current model used for STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine) journal article APCs (Article Processing Charges), where funders usually pay the costs, was referred to an epistemic injustice that should not be replicated as researchers in less economically developed countries are disadvantaged.

The problem around costs of reproducing third-party images was also widely discussed, especially by Dr Nicky Kozicharow. Not enough is being done to support researchers, such as art historians, who rely on images for teaching and research activities. There is a (perceived) lack of training in copyright, which was a useful message, if not an uncomfortable one, to our librarians who routinely deliver training in this and are now revisiting their communications about this. But also image holders should consider how they support researchers – whilst some big holders, such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Wellcome Trust, the Getty Collection and Wikimedia, do provide images free of charge, there was the suggestion that other collection holders should consider opening up access for researchers at affiliated institutions. This access would need to continue for a number of years beyond that affiliation so the images are accessible during the period in which a book will often be written up. 

Ethics, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion 

“Who and what is OA for? We need to start with the right question” (Prof Margot Finn, President of the Royal Historical Society) 

It is also important to view the economic question of who can afford to pay to publish an open access monograph through the lens of equality and inclusion. How can we ensure everyone has equal access to the opportunity to publish open access? Is open access a human right? The role of politics here is critical if we want to make open access work for everyone. Policymakers need to consider issues such as access, gender and nationality when making decisions that institutions and publishers have to interpret and adhere to.

Another group that suffers from the current set up for open access monographs are the early career researchers (ECRs). They often work in a precarious situation, moving between institutions on short term contracts. This restricts their ability to publish a monograph, which takes considerable time and effort. It is important that when institutions look to sign up to and implement statements such as DORA (San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment), that both monographs and journal articles are considered when looking at academic career progression. 

Of course, as we strive to make open access work for everyone, we need to be mindful of impinging on academic freedoms. As noted by Dr Steven Hill (Director of Research, Research England), researchers should still be free to choose the questions they study within the constraints of the system. Academics should also be free to choose the licence that they publish their work under. This has been a major sticking point for many academics (as we have previously written) with CC BY licences seen as an ethical issue in the humanities. Instead, what is needed is a softening of licence choices with options such as non-commercial and non-derivative available – a point also highlighted in the recent Universities UK report on ’Open Access and Monographs’. Finally, we should not make assumptions that the ethical issues around licenses are the same worldwide, because they are not. 

Scalability and sustainability 

‘We need to understand fully the obstacles that underpin academic research in order to have a sustainable, scalable, global open access model – but we are not there’ (Prof Margot Finn, President of the Royal Historical Society)

The issues around open access monographs are, at times, inextricably linked. Problems to do with economics are inseparable from issues of fairness (to sum the above section up badly) but also in scalability and sustainability. The academic monograph has its own distinct ecosystem in scholarly research. Open access monographs have a global readership, but production of open access books is not necessarily global, but concentrated on local or national levels. We need to consider the far-reaching consequences of this, including the relationship between the ‘global’ academic researcher and the ‘local’ publisher. We must also consider the role of the policymakers, often European, who set the rules in one country or part of the world and those academics who are not part of this system. Do the levels of academics in these countries and their outputs justify this dominance? We should also obtain more information on how open access books are used in order to justify the expenditure in publishing them, yet Hannah Hope, speaking for the Wellcome Trust, commented that the impact of open access books is hard to measure. Download statistics are often available and provide one measure. For example, UCL Press have had 2.5 million book downloads since its launch four years ago and Open Book Publishers report that their books are being freely accessed worldwide by over 20,000 readers each month. 

The ability of publishers to innovate is seen as a key factor in the sustainability and scalability of open access monograph publishing. The size of the publisher will most probably determine their ability to innovate, with smaller publishers being in a better position to ‘take risks’ and try out new models, even if such models end up failing or not being appropriate to implement in bigger organisations due to scalability and financial constraints. Radical OA are experimenting with various business models and bringing down BPCs. The RHS’s New Historical Perspectives (NHP) book series is designed to provide high-quality publishing support to ECR historians (ECRs defined as researchers within 10 years of finishing their PhD) whilst absorbing the costs of BPCs and relying on a generous donation to cover some of the image costs. Indeed, ‘Learned societies have a long history of innovation and experimentation in publishing’ according to Prof Margot Finn, but how they take their experimentation to the next level is yet to be figured out. 

Understanding how open access monographs can scale and be sustainable is key to figuring out the type of open access that will prevail. Green open access is not considered to be the future goal for CUP, who are experimenting with a number of different business models such as consortium models, crowdfunding and freemium models. They have also been engaging with authors, researchers and librarians worldwide to understand the monograph landscape better and to demystify issues concerning publishing process. Likewise, SpringerNature voiced concerns with green open access and although open access humanities publications account for a very small proportion of their overall open access publications (~10%) they feel that they are well positioned for a more open future. 

Collaboration, relationships, communication 

Publishing is not the end point. Academy as a whole needs to engage with that’ (Dr Rupert Gatti Trinity College/Faculty of Economics/Open Book Publishers) 

What is clear is that there are many players in the field of open access monograph publishing and continued and open communication between all parties is key. Within institutions, academics and research support providers (such as librarians) need to have conversations to ensure the help required is accessible, so authors are not battling with copyright issues alone or remain unaware of the full spectrum of publishing options available to them. Senior leaders at universities must engage with their academic communities to understand the issues they face. They can then in turn engage with policymakers to encourage realistic rules and guidance that would lead to meaningful, measurable outcomes. It was reassuring to hear that consultative approaches are being taken and we welcome the continuation of these. 

Publishers also have an important role in re-defining their relationship with academics. As Prof Martin Paul Eve questioned, are publishers solely service providers and academics content creators or are both parties co-producers and academic collaborators in the research process? Prof Roger Kain emphasised ‘the relationship of an author with their publisher with a journal is a very different relationship to the relationship of an author and their publisher with a monograph’ and as such this may lead to the chance to experiment further with business models, if publishers offer more added value through intellectual support for their authors. Of course, Learned Societies and holders of large collections of images have to be involved as well so that their position within the research process is well understood. These conversations should also happen in and between different geographical places because academic research will always have international collaborations. 

We also have to be mindful of the messages that come out of these conversations. Time and again we heard the notion that “open access means bad peer review” is still alive in the academic community. This is a myth that all publishers, as well as librarians and other research support staff, are keen to debunk. Another myth is the misconception that “open access is the end of print”. As Prof Roger Kain put it ‘open access does not mean wholly replacing the physical copies of a book but help creators of content to reach wider audiences…OA and print will co-exist’. The term “open science” was noted as appearing to exclude the humanities and, therefore, disengaging researchers before they’ve even got started, even though open science includes all disciplines (this is the reason why in Cambridge we prefer to use “open research”). The language used in Plan S communication was seen as being too opaque, especially for non-native English speakers. If we are encouraging open research, we should be using language that is open and transparent, especially when open research is an international endeavour, as already mentioned. It is important that messages are correct and clear so humanities scholars and other stakeholders can engage fully in debates about the future of open access monograph publishing. 

Summary 

‘If we are going to take open access for monographs forward in a timely fashion it has to be taken forward as a shared enterprise…an enterprise involving academics as content creators, their funders, their universities…but above all their publishers’ (Prof Roger Kain, School of Advanced Study, University of London & Chairman of the UUK OA Monographs Group)

The symposium saw common themes emerging around issues with open access for monographs as the system currently stands, but also the potential benefits and possibilities that open access could open up into the future. There was consensus that open access needs to go forward as a shared enterprise with all stakeholders being equal players. Looking into the future there was also concern about the visibility of humanities research going forward when compared to the natural sciences and that humanities authors should strive to demonstrate the impact of their publishing activities. 

Many of the themes discussed in this symposium echoed the recommendations as well as concerns outlined in the Universities UK Open Access Monograph report which was published a few days after this symposium took place. The report emphasised that complex questions still remained around issues such as costs, scalability and business models, but it was positive to read statements that the ‘academic book occupies a very distinct space in scholarly research’ reinforcing the fact that monographs are fundamentally different in intention and in kind when compared with journals or fields of research, and that ‘academic book publishing is an international activity’, with whatever implications this entails, as discussed earlier. 

Perhaps it is fitting to conclude with a dose of pragmatism by quoting one of Dr Steven Hill’s remarks at the end of the symposium 

‘...a really strong dose of pragmatism has entered this debate; that we all recognise that there are different visions of utopia that different actors in the system might have, but we can see that some of our visions of utopia have to be compromised in order to achieve something that is better than we have now and enable the kind of innovative scholarship that more openness will drive’. 

and a note of optimism by Prof Martin Paul Eve who said the following when he was asked if there are lessons to be learnt from how open access has been applied to journals so far. 

‘…we can learn a lot from how the open access debate has played out. I think we also learn a lot in seeing how compromises were reached within that to get to a point that is far better than a decade ago in terms of open access for journals…Momentum is growing, and acceptance is growing. And the idea that we don’t lose quality when things are available openly is growing. All these things are positive and I think we need to take those positives, articulate them from the start and see where that takes us rather than re-inventing the wheel, having the same argument, the same debates, and ending up in the same place, probably, but 20 years from now rather that in the next decade’

Recordings and most of the presentations are available in the University of Cambridge institutional repository, Apollo as well as the OSC YouTube channel. We would like to acknowledge that this symposium was supported by the Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. 

References

(1) Source: Eve, M.P. et al., (2017). Cost estimates of an open access mandate for monographs in the UK’s third Research Excellence Framework. Insights. https://doi.org/10.1629/uksg.392) 

Published 23 October 2019 

Written by Dr Lauren Cadwallader and Maria Angelaki 

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Multiplicity, the unofficial theme of Researcher to Reader 2019

For the past four years at the end of February, publishers, librarians, agents, researchers, technologists and consultants have gathered in London for two days of discussions around the concept of ‘Researcher to Reader’. This blog is my take on what I found the most inspiring, challenging and interesting at the 2019 event. There wasn’t a theme this year per se, but something that did repeatedly arise from where I was standing was the diversity of our perspectives. This is a word that has taken a specific meaning recently, so I am using ‘multiplicity’ instead :

  • The principles of Plan S are calling for multiple business models for open access publishing, according to Dr Mark Schiltz
  • There is now great range in the approaches researchers take to the writing process, as described by Dr Christine Tulley
  • Professor Siva Umpathy described the disparity of standards of living in India which has a profound effect on whether students can engage with research regardless of talent
  • In order to ensure reproducibility of research, we need multiplicity in the research landscape with larger number of smaller research groups working on a wide array of questions, argued Professor James Evans
  • Cambridge University Press is trying to break away from the Book/Journal dichotomy, diversifying with a long-form publication called Cambridge Elements
  • SpringerNature and Elsevier are expanding their business models to encroach into data management and training (although the analogy starts to fall apart here – what this actually represents is a concentration of the market overall).

Anyway, that gives you an idea of the kinds of issues covered. The conference programme is available online and you can read the Twitter conversation from the event (#R2Rconf). Read on for more detail.

The 2019 meeting was, once again, a great programme. (I say that as a member of the Advisory Board, I admit, but it really was).

The Plan S-shaped elephant in the room

Both days began with a bang. The meeting opened with a keynote from Dr Mark Schiltz – President at Science Europe and Secretary General & Executive Head at the Luxembourg National Research Fund – talking about “Plan S and European Research”.

Schiltz explained he felt the current publishing system is a barrier to ensuring the outcomes of research are freely available, noting that hiding results is the antithesis of the essence of science. There was a ‘duty of care’ for funders to invest public funds well to support research. He suggested that there has been little progress in increasing open access to publications since 2009. In terms of the mechanisms of Plan S, he emphasised there are many compliant routes to publication and Plan S “is not about gold OA as the only publication model, it is about principles”. He also noted that there are plans to align Plan S principles with those of OA2020.

As is mentioned in the Plan S principles. Schiltz ended by arguing for the need to revise the incentivisation system in scholarly communications through mechanisms such as DORA. This is the “next big project” for funders, he said.

Catriona McCallum from Hindawi noted DORA is the most vital component for Plan S to work and therefore we need a proper roadmap.  She asked if there was a timeline for how funders will make changes to their own systems for evaluating research and grant applications, as this is an area where societies and funders should work together. Schiltz responded that this process is about making concrete changes to practice, not just policy. There is no timeline but there has been more attention on this than ever before. He noted that Dutch universities are meeting next year to redefine tenure/promotion standards which will be interesting to follow. McCallum observed it could take decades if there is no timeline upfront.

One of the early questions from the audience was from a publisher asking why mirror journals were not permitted under Plan S because they are not hybrid journals. Schiltz disagreed, saying if the journals have the same editorial board then it is effectively hybrid because readers will still need to subscribe to the other half, as they would for hybrid. Needless to say, the publisher disagreed.

The question about why Plan S architects didn’t consult with learned societies before going public was not particularly well answered. Schiltz talked about the numbers of hybrid journals being greater than pure subscription journals now and there was concern that hybrid becomes dominant business model. He said we need an actual transition to gold OA, which is all very well but doesn’t actually answer the question. He did note that: “We do not want learned societies to become collateral damage of Plan S”. He acknowledged that many learned societies use surpluses from their publishing businesses to fund good work. But he did ask: “Is the use of thinly spread library budget to subsidise learned societies’ philanthropic activities appropriate, and to what degree? This is not sustainable”.

So, how do researchers approach the writing process?

Professor Christine Tulley, Professor of English at the University of Findlay, Ohio spoke about “How Faculty Write for Publication, Examining the academic lifecycle of faculty research using interview and survey data”. Tulley is involved with training researchers in writing and publishing among other roles. She has published a book called How Writing Faculty Write, Strategies for Process, Product and Productivity based on her research with top researchers who research about writing. She is also collaborating on De Gruyter survey of researchers on writing (with whom she co-facilitated a workshop on this topic, discussed later in this blog).

Tulley’s first observation is that academics think ‘rhetorically’. Regardless of discipline, her findings in the US show that thinking about where you want publish and the community you want to reach is more important to academics than coming up with an idea. Tulley noted that in the past, the process was that academics wrote first then decided where to publish. But this is not the case now, where instead authors consider readership in the first instance, asking themselves what is the best medium to reach that audience. This is a focus on what can be a narrow audience that an author wants to hit – it is not a matter of ‘reach the world’ but can be as few as five important people. This can limit end publication options.

She also observed that after the top two or three journals, then their rank matters less. Because of this, newer journals/ open access publications can attract readers and submissions, particularly through early release, which is more important that ‘official publication’ she observed. This does talk to the recent increase in general interest in preprints.

In a statement that set the hearts of the librarians in the audience aflutter, Tulley spoke about librarians as “tip-off providers”, being especially useful for early online release of research before the indexing kicks in. She noted that academics view librarians as scholarly research ‘Partners’ rather than ‘Support’. We have also had this discussion within the UK library community.

Equity of access to education

It is always really interesting to hear perspectives from elsewhere – be that across the library/researcher/publisher divides, or across global ones. Two talks at the event were very interesting as they described the situation in India and Bangladesh, highlighting how some issues are shared worldwide and others are truly unique.

Prof Siva Umpathy, Director of the Indian Institute of Science Education, Bhopal, spoke first, emphasising that he was giving his personal opinion, not that of the Indian government. He noted that taxpayers pay for higher education in India and this is the case for most of the global south – fees to students are much less common. This means education is seen as a social responsibility of government.

Umpathy noted that 40% of the population in India is currently under 35 years old. infrastructure and opportunities vary significantly within India let alone across the whole ‘global south’. In some areas of India, the standard of living is equivalent to London. In other areas there is no internet connection. This affects who can engage with research, some very bright students from small villages are at a disadvantage. Even the kind of information that might be available to students in India about where to study and how to apply can be uneven affecting ambitions regardless of how talented the student might be. He described the incredibly competitive process to gain a place in a university, consisting of applications, exams and interviews.

In India, when someone is paying to publish a paper it gives an impression that the work is not as high a quality, after all, if you have good science you shouldn’t have to pay for publication. I should note this is not unique to India – witness an article that was published in The Times Literary Supplement the day after this talk that entirely confuses what open access monograph publishing is about (“Vain publishing – The restrictions of ‘open access’”).

Beyond impressions there are practical issues – bureaucrats don’t understand why an academic would pay for open access publication, why they wouldn’t publish in the ‘best’ mainstream journals, therefore funding in India does not allow for any payment for publishing. This is despite India being a big consumer of open access research. This has practical implications. If India were to join Plan S and mandated OA, it will likely reduce the number of papers he is able to publish by half, because there’s no government funding available to cover APCs.

He called for the need to train and editors and peer reviewers and the importance of educating governments, funders and evaluators and suggested that peer-reviewers are given APC discounts to encourage them to review more for journals. This, of course is an issue in the Global North too. Indeed when we ran some workshops on Peer Review late last year. They were doubly subscribed immediately.

Global reading, local publishing – Bangladesh

Dr Haseeb Irfanullah, a self described ‘research communications enthusiast’ spoke about what Bangladesh can tell us about research communications. He began by noting how access to scientific publications has been improved by the Research 4 Life Partnership and INASP. These innovations for increasing access to research literature to global south over past few years have been a ‘revolution’. He also discussed how the Bangladesh Journals Online project has helped get Bangladeshi journals online, including his journal, Bangladesh Journal of Plant Taxonomy. This helps journals get journal impact factors (JIF).

However, Bangladesh journal publishing is relatively isolated, and is ‘self sustaining’. Locally sourced content fulfils the need. Because promotion, increments and recognition needs are met with the current situation (universities don’t require indexed journals for promotion), then this means there is little incentive to change or improve the process. This seems to be example of how a local journal culture can thrive when researchers are subject to different incentives, although perversely the downside is that they & their research are isolated from international research. A Twitter observation about the JIF was “damned if you do or damned if you don’t”.

He also noted that it is ‘very cheap to publish a journal as everyone is a volunteer’, prompting one person on Twitter to ask: “Is it just me or is this the #elephantintheroom we need to address globally?” Irfanullah has been involved in providing training for editors, workshops and dialogues on standards, mentorship to help researchers get their work published, as well as improving access to research in Bangladesh. He concluded that these challenges can be addressed; for example, through dialogue with policymakers and a national system for standards.

Big is not best when it comes to reproducibility

Professor James Evans, from the Department of Sociology at Chicago University (who was a guest of Researcher to Reader in 2016) spoke on why centralised “big science” communities are more likely to generate non-replicable results by describing the differences between small and large teams. His talk was a whirlwind of slides (often containing a dizzy array of graphics) at breath-taking speed.

The research Evans and his team undertake looks at large numbers of papers to determine patterns that identify replicability and whether the increase in the size of research teams and the rise of meta research has any impact. For those interested, published papers include “Centralized “big science” communities more likely generate non-replicable results” and “Large Teams Have Developed Science and Technology; Small Teams Have Disrupted It”.

Evans described some of the consequences when a single mistake is reused and appears in multiple subsequent papers, ‘contaminating’ them. He used an example of the HeLa cell* in relation to drug gene interactions. Misidentified cells resulted in ‘indirect contamination’ of the 32,755 articles based on them, plus the estimated half a million other papers which cited these cells. This can represent a huge cost where millions of dollars’ worth of research has been contaminated by a mistake.

The problem is scientific communities use the same techniques and methods, which reduces the robust nature of research. Increasingly overlapping research networks with exposure to similar methodologies and prior knowledge – research claims are not being independently replicated. Claims that are highly centralised on star scientists, repeat collaborations & overlapping methods are far less robust and lead to huge distortion in the literature. the larger the team, the more likely their output will support and amplify rather than disrupt prior work. if there is an overlap, e.g. between authors or methodologies, there is more likely to be agreement.

Making the analogy of the difference between Slumdog Millionaire vs Marvel movies, Evans noted that independent, decentralised, non-overlapping claims are far more likely to be robust, replicable & of more benefit to society. It is effectively a form of triangulation. Smaller, decentralised communities are more likely to conduct independent experiments to reproduce results, producing more robust results. Small teams reach further into the past and looks to more obscure and independent work. Bigger is not better – smaller teams are more productive, innovative & disruptive because they have more to gain & less to lose than larger teams.

Large overlapping teams increase agglomeration around the same topics. The research landscape is seeing a decrease in small teams, and therefore a decrease in independence. These types of group receive less funding & are ‘more risky’ because they are not part of the centralised network.

Evans described a disruption to the scientific narrative building on what has incrementally happened before is effectively Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions from the 1960s. But “disruption delays impact” – there is a tendency of research teams to keep building on previous successes (which come with an existing audience) rather than risking disruption and consequent need for new audiences etc. In addition, the size of the team matters, one of their findings has been that each additional person on a team reduces the likelihood of research being disruptive. But disruption requires different funding models -with a taste for risk.

Evans noted that you need small teams simultaneously climbing different hills to find the best solution, rather than everyone trying to climb the same hill.  This analogy was picked up by Catriona MacCallum who noted that publishers are actually all on the big hill which means they are in the same boat and trying to achieve the same end goal (hence the mess we are now in). So how do publishers move across to the disruptive landscape with lots of higher hills?

*The HeLa cell is an immortal cell line used in scientific research. It is the oldest and most commonly used human cell line. It is called HeLa because it came from a woman called Henrietta Lacks.

Sci Hub – harm or good?

The second day opened with a debate about Sci Hub on the question of “Is Sci-Hub is doing more good than harm to scholarly communication?”.

The audience was asked to vote whether they ‘agreed’ or ‘disagreed’ with the statement. In this first vote 60% of the audience disagreed and 40% agreed. Note this could possibly reflect attendance at the conference of publishers as the largest cohort of 51% of the attendees, or alternatively be a reflection of the slightly problematic wording of the question. More than one person observed on Twitter that they would have appreciated a ‘don’t know’ or ‘neither good nor bad’ options.

The debate itself was held between Dr Daniel Himmelstein, Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania (in the affirmative – that SciHub is doing good) and Justin Spence, Partner and Co-Founder at Publisher Solutions International (in the negative – that SciHub is doing harm). I have it on good authority the debate will be written up separately, so won’t do so here. One observation I noted was – the question did not define to whom or what the ‘harm’ was being done. The argument against appeared focused on harm to the market but the argument for was discussing benefit to society.

The discussion was opened up to the room but the comment that elicited a clap from the audience was from Jennifer Smith at St George’s University in London who asked if Elsevier’s profits are defensible when there are people on fun runs raising money for charities who are not anticipating their fundraising cash is going to publisher shareholders rather than supporting research. The question she asked is: “who is stealing from whom?”.

At the end of the debate the audience was asked to vote again at which point, 55% disagreed and 45% agreed meaning Himmelstein won over 5% of the audience. This seems surprising given that it seems very rare to actually change anyone’s mind.

But is it a book or a journal?

Nisha Doshi spoke about Cambridge Elements – a publication format that straddles the Book and Journal formats. It was interesting to hear about some of the challenges Cambridge University Press has faced. These ranged from practical in terms of which systems to use for production which seem to be very clearly delineated as either journal system or book systems. CUP is using several book systems, plus ISBNs, but also using ScholarOne for peer review for this project. Other issues have been philosophical. Authors and many others continue to ask “is it a journal or a book?”. CUP have encouraged authors to embed audio and video in their Cambridge Elements, but are not seeing much take-up so far which is interesting given the success of Open Book Publishers.

Doshi listed the lessons CUP has learned through the process of trying to get this new publication form off the ground. It was interesting to see how far Cambridge Elements has come. In October 2017 as part of our Open Access Week events, the OSC hosted CUP to talk about what was described at this point as their “hybrid books and journals initiative“.

What’s the time Mr Wolf?

In 2016, Sally Rumsey and I spoke to the library communities at our institutions (Oxford and Cambridge, respectively) with a presentation: “Watch out, it’s behind you: publishers’ tactics and the challenge they pose for librarians”. Our warnings have increasingly been supported with publisher activity in the sector over the past three years. Two presentations at Researcher to Reader were along these lines.

In the first instance, Springer Nature presented on their Data Support Services which are a commercial offering in direct competition to the services offered by Scholarly Communication departments in libraries. I should note here that Elsevier also charge for a similar service through their Mendeley Data platform for institutions.

Representing an even further encroachment, the second presentation by Jean Shipman from Elsevier was about a new initiative which is training librarians to train researchers about data management. The new Elsevier Research Data Management Librarian Academy (RDMLA) has an emphasis on peer to peer teaching. Elsevier developed a needs assessment for RDM training, assessed library competencies, and library education curriculum before developing the RDMLA curriculum for RDM training. Example units include research data culture, marketing the program to administrators, and an overview of tools such as for coding. Elsevier moving into the training/teaching space is not new, they have had the ‘Elsevier Publishing Campus’ and ‘Researcher Academy’ for some time. But those are aimed at the research community. This new initiative is formally stepping directly into the library space.

Empathy mapping as a workshop structure

One of the features of Researcher to Reader is the workshops which are run in several sessions over the two day period. In all there is not much more time available than a traditional 2.5 – 3 hour workshop prior to the main event, but this format means there is more reflection time between sessions and does focus the thinking when you are all together.

I attended a workshop on “Supporting Early-Career Scholarship” asking: How can librarians, technologists and publishers better support early career scholars as they write and publish their work?

Ably facilitated by Bec Evans, Founder at Prolifiko with Dee Watchorn, Product Engagement Manager at De Gruyter and Christine Tulley, the workshop used a process called Empathy Mapping. Participants were given handouts with comments made by early career researchers during interviews about the writing process as part of a research programme by Prolifiko. This helped us map out the experience of ECRs from their perspective rather than guessing and imposing our own biases.

We were asked to come up with a problem – for my group it was “How can we help an ECR disseminate their first paper beyond the publication process?” And we were then asked to find a solution. Our group identified that these people need to understand the narrative of their work that they can then take through blogs, presentations, Twitter and other outlets. Our proposal was to create an online programme that only allowed 5 minutes for recording (in the way Screencastify only allows 10 minutes) an understandable explanation of their research that they can then upload for commentary by peers in a safe space before going public.

And so, to end

It is helpful to have different players together in a room. This is really the only way we can start to understand one another. As an indicator of where we are at, we cannot even agree on a common language for what we do – in a Twitter discussion about how SciHub is meeting an ‘ease of access’ need that has not been met by publishers or libraries, it became clear that while in the library space we talk about the scholarly publishing *ecosystem*, publishers consider libraries to be part of the scholarly publishing *industry*.

One tweet from a publisher was: “Good to hear Christine Tulley talk about why academics write and what it is important to them at #R2RConf . We don’t want to, but publishers too often think generically about authors as they do about content”. While slightly confronting (authors are not only their clients, but also provide the content for *free*, so should perhaps be treated with some respect), it does underline why it is so essential that we get researchers, librarians and publishers into the same room to understand one other better.

All the more reason to attend Researcher to Reader 2020!

Published 4 March 2019
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
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