Tag Archives: Plan S

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
Creative Commons License

Plan S – links, commentary and news items

The discussions around Plan S are voluminous. On 8 February 2019, the opportunity to provide feedback on Plan S closed.

We were attempting to maintain a list of commentary and news stories on Plan S at the end of one of our blogs: Most Plan S principles are not contentious. This grew so large that we moved the list into this dedicated blog.

As of 01 April, new links have not been added due to resourcing issues – however, let us know at info@osc.cam.ac.uk if we have missed anything from the period 10 February – 01 April that should be added.

Please note that there is a list on the Open Access Tracking Project using the tag “oa.plan_s”  which is crowd sourced and updated in real time, so is more comprehensive than this effort. There is also a comprehensive Reddit list curated by Jon Tennant available. A smaller list (but with different links) is also available.

Relevant documents from Science Europe

Commentary, news stories & press releases

These are presented here in reverse order of publication (most recent first).

Commentary in 2018

Published  10 February 2019
Compiled by Dr Danny Kingsley
Creative Commons License

10 years on and where are we at? COASP 2018

Last week, the 10th Conference of the Open Access Publishing Association was held in Vienna. Much was covered over the two and a half days. A decade in, this conference considered the state of the open access (OA) movement, discussed different approaches to OA, considered inequity and the infrastructure required to meet this need and argued about language. Apologies – this is a long blog.

Fracturing of the ‘OA movement’?

In an early discussion, Paul Peters, OASPA President and CEO of Hindawi noted that similarly to movements like organic food or veganism, the OA ‘movement’ is not united in purpose. When what appear to be ‘fringe’ groups begin, it is easy to assume that all involved take a similar perspective. But the reasons for people’s involvement and the end point they are aiming for can be vastly different. Paul noted that this can be an issue for OASPA because there is not necessarily one goal for all the members. He posed the question about what this might mean for the organisation.

It also raises questions about approaches to ‘solving’ OA issues. Many different approaches were discussed at the event.


The concept of ‘unbundling’ the costs associated with publishing and offering these to people to engage with on an as needs basis was raised several times. This points to the concept put forward last year by Toby Green of the OECD. It also triggered a Twitter conversation about the analogy of the airline industry (and how poorly they treat their customers).

If the scholarly journal were unbundled, different players could deliver the functions. Kathleen Shearer, Executive Director of COAR noted that not all functions of scholarly publishing need to take place on the same platform. She suggested next generation repositories as one of the options.

Jean-Claude Guedon provided several memorable quotes from the event, with the most pertinent being “We don’t need a ‘Version of Record’. We need a ‘record of versions’”. Kirsten Ratan, of Coko Foundation agreed in her talk on infrastructure, stating “we publish like its 1999”. The Version of Record is the one that matters and it is static in time. But it is not 1999, she noted, and we need to consider the full body of work in its entirety.

After all, it was observed elsewhere at the conference, nothing radical has changed in the format of publications over the past 25 years. We are simply not using the potential the internet offers. Kathleen quoted Einstein stating “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew”.

New subscribing models

Wilma van Wezenbeek, from TU Delft and Programme Manager, Open Access, VSNU discussed the approach to negotiations taken in The Netherlands. They are arguing that when comparing how much is spent per article under the toll system and what it would cost to have everything published OA, that enough money exists in the system. VSNU are being pragmatic, focusing on big publishers and going for gold OA (to avoid the duplication of journals). She also noted how important it is for libraries to have presidents of the University at the negotiation table. Her parting advice on negotiations was to hold your nerve, stay true to the principles and don’t waiver.

This approach does not include smaller publishers and completely ignores fully gold publishers, an observation that was made a few times in the conference. An alternative approach, argued Kamran Naim, Director of Partnerships & Initiatives at Annual Reviews, was collective action. In his talk ‘Transitioning Subscriptions to OA Funding: How libraries can Subscribe to Open’ he asked what is required to flip the subscription cost to manage OA publication (instead of APCs). The challenge with this idea is it requires people to continue subscribing even when material is OA and they don’t have to. Another problem is the idea of ‘subscribing’ to OA material can become a procurement challenge. This cost can be classified as a ‘donation’ which is not allowed by some library budgets. So the suggestion is that subscribing libraries will be offered to subscribe to select journals and receive 5% off the subscription cost. The plan is to roll out the project to libraries in 2019 for 2020 models.

Study – downloading habits when material is OA

A very interesting study was presented by Salvatore Mele and Alexander Kohls from CERN and SCOAP3. Entitled ‘Preprints vs traditional journals vs Open Access journals – What do scientists download?’ the study compared downloads of the same scientific artefact as a preprint on arXiv and as a published article on a (flipped) journal platform.

Their findings, which came from arXiv, Elsevier and SpringerNature’s statistics, showed that there is a significant use of the version in arXiv during the first six months (when the only version of the work is available in arXiv) which drops off dramatically after the work is published (a point identified as when the DOI is minted).

They also compared downloads from 2013 – before the journals flipped to gold under the SCOAP3 arrangement with those from 2016 when the journals were open access. The pattern over time was similar, but accesses in 2016 were higher overall over time, but dramatically higher in the first three months after the DOI was minted.


The final slide demonstrated that having recent open access content was also driving up downloads of older works in the non-open access backfiles from the publisher platforms.

This work is not published “because we have day jobs”. I have included my poor images of the slides in this blog and will link to the slides when they are made available.


Being the 10th OASPA conference there was some reminiscing throughout the presentations. In a keynote reflection on the Open Access movement, Rebecca Kenniston from KN Consultants noted several myths about OA publishing that existed 10 years ago that still persist. Rebecca discussed “library wishful thinking” when it came to OA. This has included thinking OA would solve the serials crisis, that practice would change ‘if only the academic community were aware’, that institutional repositories and mandates would solve OA. (Certainly one of my own observations over the 16 or so years I have been involved in OA is there is always a palpable sense of glee at OA events when ‘real’ researchers bother to turn up.)

David Prosser, Executive Director of Research Libraries UK was outed as the architect of the ‘hybrid’ option, which he articulated in his 2003 paper “From here to there: a proposed mechanism for transforming journals from closed to open access“. David defended himself by noting that the whole concept did not work because it was proposed with an assumption about the “sincerity of the industry to engage”.

This made me consider the presentation I gave to another 10th anniversary conference this year – Repository Fringe at Edinburgh. In 1990 Steven Harnad wrote about ‘Scholarly Skywriting’ and described the obstacles to the ‘revolution’ as including ‘old ways of thinking about scientific communication and publication’, ‘the current intellectual level of discussion on electronic networks is anything but inspiring’, ‘plagiarism’, ‘copyright’ and ‘academic credit and advancement’ amongst others. Little appears to have changed in the past 28 years.

The more perceptive readers will note how long ago these dates are. This OA palaver has been going on for decades. And it seems even longer because, as Guido Blechl from the University of Vienna noted, “open access time is shorter than normal time because it moves so fast”.

But none of this wishful thinking has come to fruition. Rebecca asked “what shift do we need in our thinking?” Well in many ways that shift has landed in the form of Plan S. See the related blog for the discussions about Plan S that happened at the conference.

Language matters

Rebecca also mentioned “our own special language”, which is, she observed, a barrier to entry to the discussion. Indeed language issues came up often during the few days of the conference.

There were a few references to the problems with the terms ‘green’ and ‘gold’, and specifically gold. This has long been a personal bugbear of mine because of the nonsensical nature of the labels, and the associations of ‘the best’ and ‘expensive’ with gold. There has been a co-opting of the term ‘gold’ by the commercial publishing sector to mean ‘pay to publish’. Of course all *hybrid* journals charge an APC, and more articles are published where an APC has been paid than not, which is possibly why the campaign has been successful – see the Twitter discussion here. But it is inaccurate. In truth, ‘gold’ means the work is open access from the point of publication. More fully gold open access journals do not charge an APC than do.

There was also concern raised about the term ‘Open Science’ which, while in Europe is an inclusive term to cover all types of research, is not perceived this way in other parts of the world. There was strong support amongst the group for using the term ‘Open Scholarship’ as an alternative. This also brought up a discussion about using the term ‘publication’ rather than the more inclusive research ‘outputs’ or ‘works’, which encompass publishing options beyond the concept of a book or a journal.


Inclusivity is not optional! We need a global (information/publishing) system!” was the rallying cry of Kathleen Shearer in her talk.

For many in the OA space, equity of access to research outputs lies at the centre of what the end goal is. It is clear that knowledge published by academic journals is inaccessible to the majority of researchers in low- and middle-income countries. But if we move to a fully gold environment, with the potential to increase the cost of author participation in the publishing environment, then we might have simply reversed the problem. Instead of not being able to read research, academics in the Global South will be excluded from participating in the academic discussion.

There was a discussion about the change in global publishing output since 2007, which reflects a big increase in output from China and Brazil, but otherwise shows that output is uneven and not inclusive.

One possible solution to this issue would be for open access publishers to make it clearer to authors that they offer waivers for authors who are unable to pay the APC. There was discussion about the question ‘what form should OA publishing take in Eastern and Southern Europe?’. The answer was that it should be inexpensive and use infrastructure that is publicly owned and cannot be sold.


Ahhhh infrastructure. We are working within a fast consolidating environment. Elsevier continues to buy up companies to ensure it has representation across all aspects of the scholarly ecosystem and Digital Science is developing and acquiring new services to a similar end. See ‘Virtual Suites of tools/platforms supported by the same funder’ and ‘Vertical integration resulting from Elsevier’s acquisitions’. These are obvious examples but Clarivate Analytics has recently acquired Publons and ProQuest has absorbed Ex Libris which has in turn bought Research Research and has plans to create Esploro – a cloud-based research services platform, so this is prevalent across the sector.

This raises some serious concerns for the concept of ‘openness’. In his excellent round up, Geoff Bilder, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Crossref, commented that we are looking in the rear view mirror at things that have already happened and we are not noticing what is in front of us. While we might end up in a situation where publications are open access, these are not representative of the discussions that occurred to allow the authors to come to those conclusions. The REAL communication happens in coffee shops and online discussions. If these conversations are using proprietary systems (such as Slack, for example), then these conversations are hidden from us.

Who owns the information about what is being researched and the data behind it when the scholarly infrastructure is held within a commercial ecosystem? Is there an opportunity to reimagine? asked Kirsten Ratan, referencing SPARC’s action plan on ‘Securing community controlled infrastructure’. “In scholarly communication,” she summarised, “we have accepted the limitations of the infrastructure with a learned helplessness. It‘s time that these days are over.”

There are multiple projects currently in place around the world to collectively manage and support infrastructure. Kathleen Shearer described several projects:

  • Consortia negotiations such as OA2020 and SCOAP3
  • The Global Sustainability Coalition for Open Science Services (SCOSS) is an international group of leading academic and advocacy organisations that came together in 2016 to help secure the vital infrastructure underpinning Open Access and Open Science. SPARC Europe is a founding member.
  • The 5% commitment is a call that “Every academic library should commit to contribute 2.5% of its total budget to support the common infrastructure needed to create the open scholarly commons”. This is primarily a US and Canadian discussion.
  • OA membership models
  • APC funds

There are actually a couple of other projects not mentioned at COASP 2018. In 2017, several major funding organisations met and came to a strong consensus that core data resources for life sciences should be supported through a coordinated international effort to both ensure long term sustainability and appropriately align funding with scientific impact. The ELIXIR Core Data Resources project is identifying resources defined as a set of European data resources that are of fundamental importance to the wider life-science community and the long-term preservation of biological data.

OA Monographs

The final day of the event looked at OA monographs. Having come from a British Academy event on OA monographs the week before (see the Twitter discussion), this debate is fairly top of mind at the moment for me.

Sven Fund, who is both the Managing Director of Knowledge Unlatched and of fullstopp which is running a consultation on OA monographs for Universities UK, spoke about the OA monograph market. He noted that books are important, and not just because “people like to decorate their living rooms with them”. But he suggested that rather than just adding a few hyperlinks, we should be using the technology available to us with books. It has been the smaller publishers who have been innovating, large publishers have not been involved, which has limited the level of interest.

The OA book market is still small, with only 12,794 books and chapters listed in the Directory of OA Books (DOAB) compared to over 3 million articles  listed in the Directory of OA Journals (DOAJ). But growth in OA books is still strong even though the OA journal market matures. Libraries are the bottleneck, Sven argued, because they need to change the funding model significantly. There has been 10-15 years of discussion and now is the time to act. Libraries need to make a significant commitment that X% goes into open access.

There are also problems with demonstrating proof of impact of the OA book. Sven argued we need transparency and simplicity in the market, and said that no-one is doing an analysis of which books should be OA or not based on impact and usage. This needs to happen.

Sven said that royalties are important to authors – not because of the money but because it shows how much the work has been read. For this reason he argued we need publishers to share their usage data for a specific OA titles with the author. As an aside, it seems extraordinary that publishers are not already doing this, and I asked Sven why they don’t. He replied that it seems that ‘data is the new gold’ and therefore they do not share the information. Download information about open books is often protected because of the risk a of providing information that gives their competitors a commercial advantage.

But Sven also noted there needs to be context in the numbers. Libraries in the past have done a simple analysis of cost per download without taking into consideration the differences in topics. Of course some areas cost more per download than others, he said. There is also the risk that if you share this data then you might have a situation where a £10,000 book only has a few downloads which ‘looks bad’.

The profit imperative

There were some tensions at the meeting about profits. A question that arose early in the first panel discussion was: “Should we be ashamed as commercial publishers for making money?”. One response was that if you don’t make money you are not a commercial publisher. But the same person noted the ‘anti commercial sentiment’ in these discussions indicate that something is wrong.

A secondary observation was that open access publishers are doing a good job “while the current incentive systems are in place”. This of course points to the academic reward system controlling the behaviour of all players in this game.

As is always the case at open meetings, the Journal Impact Factor was never far away, although Paul Peters noted that the JIF was partly responsible for the success of OA journals, PLOS ONE took off when it received an impact factor. It was noted in that discussion that OA journals obtaining and increasing their JIF is ‘not proof of success, it’s proof of adaptation’.

The final talk was from Geoff Bilder. One participant described his talk on Twitter as “the best part of the publishing conference, where Geoff Bilder tells us everything that we’re doing that’s wrong”. Geoff noted that throughout the conference people had used some terms fairly loosely, including ‘commercial’ and ‘for profit’. He noted that profit doesn’t necessarily mean taking money out of the system, often profit is channelled back into the business.

In the end

In all it was an interesting and thought provoking conference. Possibly the most memorable part was the 12 flights of stairs between the lecture rooms and the breakout coffee and lunch space. This has been the first OA conference I have attended where participants improved their cardiovascular fitness as a side bonus to the event.

The Twitter hashtag is #COASP10

Published 24 September 2018
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
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