Here’s my submission for the House of Lords inquiry. I rather ran out of steam writing it so you’ll see it tails off towards the end. There’s probably loads of things I should mention too. But alas, I have lots of other work to be getting on with right now. Ironically, I highlight the excellent journal Impact Factor‘s of some OA journals. Please forgive me for those sins! So here it is:
17/01/2012 Author: Ross Mounce, final year PhD Student at University of Bath & Open Knowledge Foundation Panton Fellow email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This submission is an individual contribution but I think it may be indicative of the opinion of many in the scientific research community. Of particular relevance to this inquiry I should state my research funding is from BBSRC, I am engaged in content mining research (which is commonly hampered by copyright/legal issues with respect to non-Open Access research), and I am a council member of The Systematics Association (a UK-based learned society that publishes academic works with CUP).
- On the whole I was extremely pleased when the Finch Report came out and even more so when RCUK announced it was going to implement most if not all of the recommendations. I, and most of my colleagues strongly believe that taxpayer-funded research such as that given out by RCUK should be made openly available to everyone in the world to read and to use for whatever purpose (Open Access).
- Currently there are huge inequalities in access to scholarly outputs (not just papers, but data & software too). My research library at the University of Bath can only afford to subscribe to so many subscription access journals – very far from all of them. But for myself and my colleagues to do high-quality, high-impact, definitive research we frequently need access to materials we don’t have either free/Open Access, or quick paid-subscription access to. In these cases myself and colleagues often spend hugely-wasteful lengths of time trying to get copies of these must read materials that are buried behind paywalls we can’t unlock.
- The alternative options for access to paywall-restricted papers are poor and inefficient; inter-library loans can take days or weeks. Relatively few researchers currently post full-text self-archived copies of their own work in ‘green’ online repositories (although perhaps more might do so in the future). Electronic inter-library loans from the British Library can only be printed-once – if an error occurs during printing – tough luck, you’ll only ever have half a print version.
- Sympathetic colleagues at different institutions with different journal access rights pass each other PDFs all the time – technically this is copyright infringement – we have a system that appears to criminalise attempts to do comprehensive and diligent research. Yet these small acts of academic copyright infringement are rampant online if you know where to look and are often the only way to sensibly and efficiently get research done. Buying additional legal access is simply not affordable nor desirable at the outrageous prices often offered – and sometimes only upon inspection of the fulltext does one find that the paper isn’t actually of use and can be discarded.
- Many different peer-reviewed papers have shown that Open Access research has a higher citation rate than its paywall-protected ‘Closed Access’ counter-parts [e.g. 1-8]. Making RCUK research 100% Open Access should reasonably therefore confer some of this effect on our research and increase our already impressive global impact, particularly if we are one of the first big research nations to embrace this, rather than the last.
- But the UK is far from alone in strongly pursuing Open Access means of research dissemination. The NIH Public Access mandate requires that all NIH-funded research publications are accessible to the public (world-wide) via the PubMed Central repository no later than 12 months after publication. In Australia, both NHMRC & ARC have Open Access policies in place. In fact if one looks closely enough one will see a litany of national research funders that already have open access mandates in place Argentina, Denmark, Austria, Belgium, as well as innumerable policies at the university/institution level e.g. the Howard Hughes Medical Institute , Wellcome Trust, and even my own institution – the University of Bath (important to mention, because not all UK university research is funded by RCUK).
- In particular I think we should note the way in which the SciELO Network has provided sustainable free access to over a thousand South American, Latin American, and (more recently) African research journals via the internet. It is ethically awkward that ‘they’ provide access to so much of ‘their’ research to us for free whilst we often charge them for access to ‘our’ research (many institutions do NOT receive charitably given access via HINARI ). This is an asymmetrical access imbalance that sorely needs to be corrected.
On Learned Societies
- Learned societies heavily-reliant on subscription journal income and concerned with how the RCUK policy may affect them should closely examine the workings of other societies that have successfully operated open access journals for many years. West and colleagues  provide robust data showing hundreds of society-operated gold Open Access journals with good citation impact at either no-cost to authors, or for a usually reasonable APC.
- Good examples include the Journal of Economic Perspectives (of the American Economic Association) – not only do they charge nothing to authors (APC=0) and provide free access to readers, but also Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Reports (JCR) ranks this as the 5th best journal in Economics out of 321 listed. It is influential and extremely well cited.
- The journal Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica is a remarkable success story of society journals (it’s the official journal of the Veterinary Associations of the Nordic Countries). From 2000 to 2005 it was subscription-access only and was dwindling in impact and citations. In 2006 they changed to Open Access publishing with BioMed Central and now enjoy significantly increased impact and citations for the research published there.A plot of the Impact Factor of the journal Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica over time, showing a marked increase after switching to Open Access publishing. Source. Author: BioMed Central. Image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license
- The European Geological Society (EGU) publishes 14 different gold Open Access journals with the help of Copernicus Publishing. One of these in particular – Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics has been hugely successful and through high citation rate is now ranked the 2nd best journal of 71 in the category “Meterology & Atmospheric Sciences” in Thomson Reuters JCR. It happily publishes articles using the Creative Commons Attribution Licence (CC BY) and charges a fair, variable APC that is cheaper for those who submit manuscripts in LaTeX form – reflecting the ease of which it is to convert such manuscripts into publishable forms. Microsoft Word submissions require more processing and thus they charge more. It is commendable that they expose, and make avoidable some of the effort costs of typesetting this way.
- Furthermore, I’d bet there are many different societies operating subscription access journals that already allow self-archiving of published works so that they’d be compliant with the Green OA route which the RCUK policy also allows (with additional leniency on the humanities, allowing a 12 month embargo). This would seem to me to be a fairly pain-free way of complying with the policy should they wish to (N.B. Learned societies are not obligated to comply with this policy, although you would think if it was a British society it might be in their best interests. It is the researchers that must comply).
- I am concerned for some UK learned societies that from their annual financial reports seem to indicate they are rather reliant on subscription-journal income to support their societies financially. I am not privy to the exact details of whether society subscription-journal income is ‘ringfenced’ away from supporting the other activities & perks of a societies’ membership. I hope it is. Otherwise I worry that perhaps some learned societies maybe using the surplus from the subscription-access journal income (paid for by libraries/institutions/universities world-wide) and spending this surplus on personal society member-only perks e.g. a free hardcopy paper newsletter only delivered to personal members. I have examined annual report accounts of some learned society accounts myself and find that where the money/surplus goes to be rather opaque in some cases.
- It appears that many societies have been operating a consistent and healthy surplus from their subscription-access journals and using this surplus to expand their outreach activities and member perks – free pens, paper, mugs, USB sticks and heavily discounted student memberships. I myself have greedily taken many of these membership benefits, and know that I have received goods and services that far exceed the cost of the small, hugely subsidized membership fee I paid. All this would be okay if it was only members paying for other (younger) members – self-sustainability. But I am increasingly concerned about the asymmetry of fees and benefits provided by some learned societies. Surely a significant portion of journal subscription income is from institutional subscriber agreements? Institutions are very rarely members of learned societies, and institutionally the only benefit they get from these fees paid is institutional access to subscription-only society journals. Yet the surplus from subscription income at societies doesn’t seem to be given back except to members through perks and the organisation of outreach events and such.
- Therefore I think it would be fairer for a society to publish any associated journals in an Open Access manner and concentrate on being financially self-sustaining – whilst clearly delivering on their core mission(s) of educating the world about their subject. Relying on denying access to research via paywalls to provide surplus income with which to spend on outreach to further their mission, seems like a very convoluted argument and an inefficient way of achieving their aims. Put simply, Open Access very clearly fulfils many of the core purposes of learned societies and provides an open platform with which to build outreach around.
Arrangements for APC funds
- As I’m sure many will cite, most gold open access journals listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) are fee free. They do not charge an APC. Of those that do, the average APC is just $906 (Solomon & Bjork, 2012). There is no strong relationship between the APC cost of gold open access journals and their article level impact . Intuitively this makes sense – if I submitted my work to Nature, or I submitted my work to the Panamanian Journal of Ichthyology (a fictional journal) the work, if published, would essentially be the same – journal ‘brand’ is just a label, it doesn’t change anything – especially not the quality of peer review. In terms of citations, solid evidence supports this intuition – since 1990 the relationship between Impact Factor (citations to a journal) and article-level citations has significantly weakened . To put it another way – good research gets read and cited no matter where it’s published.
- I’m aware there are concerns in the Humanities and Social Sciences about Open Access and APCs. I don’t know why there aren’t more Open Access journals in these disciplines. There’s nothing technologically preventing a surfeit of new Open Access journals from forming. Good, well tested solutions like Open Journal Systems are free to implement (no software cost) and are used by over 11,000 journals world-wide. The implementation only needs bandwidth-cost support and the same human time/effort required to run a subscription access journal, which I’m sure institutions should be made willing to help with. Stuart Shieber gives an excellent description of how costs are managed at the Journal of Machine Learning Research. Here academics volunteer time, with the help of a little institutional support to produce a high-quality, high-impact peer-reviewed research journal that costs just $6.50 per paper to run.
- I would urge the House of Lords to look into how universities and libraries could be encouraged to help British academics create new, efficient, low-cost, peer-reviewed research journals. Martin Eve for one appears to have no trouble doing this. It need not even necessarily require additional cash-injection, just IT-support and the use of institutional bandwidth & servers to host Open Access journals. Willingness to try, rather than just moan about change is also required.
- Above all, academics in all areas need to consider and be made aware of the huge variety of open access publishing options available to them. The big commercial publisher brands may be the most well-known in some areas, and they spend significant marketing budgets on ensuring this. Unfortunately these commercial publishers also offer some of the most eye-wateringly expensive gold Open Access options. We need to incentivize and ensure a ‘value-for-money publishing’ mentality, and to discourage academics away from these expensive ‘hybrid’ OA options. It would be good to set a hard limit on the amount of cash that RCUK would be willing to pay for an APC for any one publication. Otherwise it might encourage some publishers to further indulge in price-gouging.
- I am glad that RCUK is supporting gold open access and green open access routes. I fail to see how green alone would work out in the end – it does not provide peer review. ‘Overlay’ peer-review services external to journal publishers operating on pre-print servers are a nice idea, but I’m not sure this model of publishing will gain traction or acceptance in academia, not for a while at least. Therefore to continue to build-on and support low-cost journals I think it is good that RCUK is encouraging the gold open access route.
- I don’t have much to say about embargo periods. Only that I’ve seen some interesting arguments used against short embargo periods in the humanities e.g. history. One such argument used was that the ‘citation half-life’ was very long in History and therefore a short embargo period would harm this discipline more than in the sciences. Yet I know that in Palaeontology, the citation half-life of papers as you might imagine is also very long – yet there are few such concerns about embargo periods or the effect of Open Access in this discipline. I recently gathered data and found that the mean-age of cited papers in palaeontology is roughly >18 years. Therefore I don’t ‘buy’ this long-tail usage argument as it equally applies in other disciplines that appear to have no problem with open access, green or gold.
1. Lawrence, S. 2001. Free online availability substantially increases a paper’s impact. Nature 411:521 http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/35079151
2. Xia, J. and Nakanishi, K. 2012. Self-selection and the citation advantage of open access articles. Online Information Review 36:40-51.http://www.emeraldinsight.com/journals.htm?articleid=17004555&show=html [the OA citation advantage is more pronounced for 'smaller' journals]
3. Xia, J., Myers, R. L., and Wilhoite, S. K. 2011. Multiple open access availability and citation impact. Journal of Information Science 37:19-28.http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0165551510389358 [More copies available in different places, more citations...]
4. Riera, M. and Aibar, E. 2012. Does open access publishing increase the impact of scientific articles? an empirical study in the field of intensive care medicine. Medicina intensiva / Sociedad Espanola de Medicina Intensiva y Unidades Coronarias.http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.medin.2012.04.002
5. Norris, M., Oppenheim, C., and Rowland, F. 2008. The citation advantage of open-access articles. J. Am. Soc. Inf. Sci. 59:1963-1972.http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/asi.20898
6. Eysenbach, G. 2006. Citation advantage of open access articles. PLoS Biol 4:e157+. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0040157
7. Hajjem, C., Harnad, S., and Gingras, Y. 2006. Ten-Year Cross-Disciplinary comparison of the growth of open access and how it increases research citation impact. http://arxiv.org/abs/cs.DL/0606079
8. Gargouri, Y., Hajjem, C., Larivière, V., Gingras, Y., Carr, L., Brody, T., and Harnad, S. 2010. Self-Selected or mandated, open access increases citation impact for higher quality research. PLoS ONE 5:e13636+. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0013636
9. West, J., Bergstrom, T. and Bergstrom, C. T. 2013. Cost-effectiveness of open access publications
10. Lozano, G. A. , Lariviere, V. and Gingras Y. 2012. The weakening relationship between the Impact Factor and papers’ citations in the digital age http://arxiv.org/abs/1205.4328v1