Show me the data!

I just submitted some comments to SPARC / PLOS / OASPA’s request for public comment on their new HowOpenIsIt? material here. If you haven’t done so yourself, the deadline is TODAY 5pm (EST).

Below are the comments I submitted. A mixture of praise for remembering to include machine-readability. Concern over some possible interpretations, and practical points on providing Hyperlinks or URLs for all the CC licenses mentioned:


* I heartily support & commend that Machine Readability takes pride of place within this guide to Open Access. This freedom was there from the start in the Budapest declaration: “…crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose…” but in recent years this freedom has been often neglected by some, and worse actively-restricted by some subscription-based publishers in their contractual agreements. Yet it represents one of the most important freedoms that needs to be enabled by Open Access. It has been estimated that over 50 million academic articles have been published and the volume of publications is increasing rapidly year on year. The only rational way we’ll be able to make full use of all this research both NOW and in the future, is if we are allowed to use machines to help us make sense of this vast and growing literature.

* I am slightly worried that the statement on machine readability for Open Access, could yet still provide a barrier for use by publishers to protect their content from mining: “…through a community standard API or protocol” perhaps leaves too much to interpretation. The API provided could be a poor one, inflexible and not sufficiently cutting-edge for the research required. I think there is no need for a clause on how machines might be let access to Open Access research if it is published CC-BY as mentioned under Reuse Rights. Only that the medium in which the work is published (PDF, HTML, XML or other) is sufficiently machine-interpretable and not DRM-protected.

* I support that the guide itself is licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND to prevent derivative or modified works, to prevent interoperability problems. This is in line with both W3C ( and IETF practices.

* May I suggest the paper version of this guide (if there is to be one) be printed with full URLs to the CC-BY-NC-ND, CC-BY, & CC BY-NC licenses mentioned in the guide. Likewise the electronic/digital version should have clickable hyperlinks to further explain these contractions.

* I think the guide should make it clearer that the label ‘Open Access’ should only be applied to content that has all of the full top-line suite of rights. Anything less than this in any of the categories is nearly but not quite Open Access. There are other terms available for such less Open content, like ‘free access’, ‘public access’, ‘less-restricted access’ that can all be applied in some form or combination to apply to the set of rights in between ‘Open Access’ and ‘Closed Access’. This guide should reaffirm that only the full suite of Open rights makes a work Open Access.

* However, I do wonder if the question of who holds copyright (author or publisher) is somewhat irrelevant to Open Access? I certainly support that authors retain copyright to their own content, but in instances where the publisher has taken the copyright and the work is in all other respects fulfilling the other qualities of Open Access – is this not Open Access? Surely then the Copyright column is just a special case subset of the Reuse Rights column? The issue of who holds copyright is something important but separate to Open Access in my opinion.

* Ditto for ‘Author Posting’ this duplicates what is given in the Reuse Rights column, just a special case for the author. This section is usefully distinct in grey not-quite-Open Access cases, but for Open Access it is just a rewritten duplication that *anyone* has the right to reuse/repost.

At some point I also intend to make comment on BMC’s Open Data & Open Bibliography RFP but the deadline for that is much later and I have LOTS of work to do in the mean time, so that’ll have to wait for a bit…

Opportunity Knocks

October 3rd, 2012 | Posted by rmounce in Open Access | Palaeontology - (2 Comments)

A few months ago I gave a short talk about the Open Knowledge Foundation and its activities as relevant to academics at a small (but good!) palaeontology conference in Cambridge (which I blogged about previously).

I didn’t need to give this talk. Neither the OKF nor my academic progression required me to give this talk. I just felt it might be helpful to let my friends and peers know who the OKF are, what they’re trying to achieve, and what my Panton Fellowship is about.

That optional talk has now paid HUGE dividends: enabling me to talk live on BBC Radio 3 last night about Open Access and the beneficial impact this will have on research with our Minister for Science & Universities, David Willetts MP & Dame Janet Finch (writer of ‘the Finch report’). I got some good time at the end after the show to speak with David about encouraging efficiently run ultra low-cost journals like the Journal of Machine Learning Research. I hope this will have had some influence, if not, I certainly tried!

So how did this come about?

Nick Crumpton, PhD student at the University of Cambridge, and one of the student organisers for Progressive Palaeontology 2012 (ProgPal) is also a BBC Online British Science Association Media Fellow and thus has good contacts at the BBC. They were apparently looking for a young scientist to come on the show and give an informed opinion from ‘the coalface’ of research so Nick kindly remembered my impassioned talk from ProgPal on OKF & openness in academia and recommended me.

I got in touch with the programme producer, and was invited to join the live radio debate later that night.

Image © British Broadcasting Company. Click through to listen to the radio programme. The Open Access discussion segment occurs from about 6min40s in

…and that’s how it happened.

With Open Access Week coming up very soon, 22-28 October, I guess the point of this post is:

No matter how small your contribution towards the advocacy of Open Access might seem; every little helps. Keep at it. Keep speaking out about OA until all publicly funded research everywhere (glares at the US) is Open Access.

Postscript: That same day Sir Mark Walport was also interviewed on BBC Radio, partly about Open Access – I highly recommend & agree with his opinions; the link is here. Listen from 11.38 to 15.10 for the OA bits h/t Steve Hitchcock @stevehit