Open Access Week 2019: “Open for Whom? Equity in Open Knowledge”

It is #OpenAccessWeek, and a number of players in the scholarly communications industry have used the occasion to produce their latest thinking and surveys, with some inevitable contradictions and confusion. Simon Linacre unpicks the spin to identify the key takeaways from the week.


It’s that time again, Open Access Week -or #openaccessweek, or #OAWeek19 or any number of hashtag-infected labels. The aim of this week for those in scholarly communications is to showcase what new products, surveys or insight they have to a market more focused than usual on all things Open Access.

There is a huge amount of content out there to wade through, as any Twitter search or scroll through press releases will confirm. A number have caught the eye, so here is your indispensable guide to what’s hot and what’s not in OA:

  • There are a number of new OA journal and monograph launches with new business models, in particular with IET Quantum Communication and MIT Press, which uses a subscription model to offset the cost of OA
  • There have been a number of publisher surveys over the years which show that authors are still to engage fully with OA, and this year is no exception. Taylor & Francis have conducted a large survey which shows that fewer than half of researchers believe everyone who needs access to their research has it, but just 18% have deposited a version of their article in a repository. Fewer than half would pay an APC to make their article OA, but two-thirds did not recognize any of the initiatives that support OA. Just 5% had even heard of Plan S
  • And yet, a report published by Delta Think shows that OA publications continue to increase, with articles published in Hybrid OA journals alongside paywall articles declining compared to pure OA articles. In other words, more and more OA articles continue to be published, but the hybrid element is on the decrease, hence the reports’ assertion that the scholarly communications market had already reached ‘peak hybrid’

At the end of the Delta Think report was perhaps the most intriguing question among all the other noise around OA. If the share of Hybrid OA is in decline, but there is an increase in so-called read-and-publish or transformative agreements between consortia and publishers, could Plan S actually revive Hybrid OA? The thinking is that as transformative agreements usually include waivers for OA articles in Hybrid journals, the increase in these deals could increase Hybrid OA articles, the very articles that Plan S mandates against.

And this puts large consortia in the spotlight, as in some cases a major funding agency signed up to Plan S may conflict with read-and-publish agreements increasing Hybrid OA outputs. It will be interesting to see how all this develops in the next OA Week in October 2020. The countdown starts here.

Cabells Launches New Blog

Cabells today launches this new blog site, The Source, which brings the original posts and news coverage from our popular bi-weekly newsletter to a wider audience. Simon Linacre introduces the new site along with some wider thoughts on scholarly communications.


Earlier this week I attended the annual Research 2 Reader Conference, which has earned somewhat of a reputation in recent years for, as one delegate put it, “emitting more light than heat.” R2R, as it has become known, aims to use the judicious mix of publishers, librarians and scholarly communication bodies that attend to try and move many of the conversations forward that often become bogged down in the rhetoric and corporate-speak that blight so many other events.

True to their mission, the organizers did well to focus minds on the two big discussion points of the day in Plan S and Sci-Hub. Inviting Science Europe’s Marc Schlitz, one of the key people involved in progressing Plan S, to give the opening keynote ensured plenty of coverage on the first day through the usual social media channels. Later, two willing volunteers tried to pull apart the moral conundrum that is Sci-Hub and its use by debating mano-a-mano whether it did more harm than good for scholarly communications. (Good won by a nose on the votes.)

Communicating what?

What struck me during the event was that, as with other major debates such as Brexit or climate change, the communication is done most effectively in the ‘bubble’ in which the debating parties exist, with little or no apparent engagement from the people that the matters at hand actually impact? For both Plan S and Sci-Hub, the views and narrative from the perspectives of academics, authors, early career scholars, and editors are drowned out by the ‘professionals’ in scholarly communication.

And so, beginning today, we are going to try and change things.

Welcome to the first blog published directed to our new, dedicated blog page designed to represent the different views and voices of those in the trenches of scholarly communications. Many of you will have received our newsletter The Source every two weeks, and this will continue to share curated news from multiple sources around the world about academic publishing and higher education. However, to develop engagement with our readers and highlight their interests and concerns, we have established this blog and hope to add real color to the debates around such issues as Plan S.

New era

In addition to regular blog posts from myself, colleagues and invited guests, we will also be including:

  • highlights of related research Cabells has undertaken or supported
  • details of ongoing news and activities through our dedicated Twitter account
  • access to a rapidly growing set of free resources aimed at improving best practice in research, publishing and scholarly communications in general.

Since its founding over 40 years ago, Cabells services have grown to include both the Journal Whitelist and Journal Blacklist, manuscript preparation tools, and a suite of powerful metrics designed to help its users find the right journals, no matter the stage of their career. Our new blog has been put together with your needs front and center, and we invite you to get onto the comment section and let us know what you are thinking!

P.S. If you would rather comment directly, please feel free to email me at simon.linacre@cabells.com and hopefully we can start to create some interesting new posts.

For more information about Cabells, visit https://www2.cabells.com/.

Curiosity, curation and cures

In his latest post, Simon Linacre considers ways to solve new problems in an old industry from CISPC 2018


This week saw the second hosting of the Challenges in the Scholarly Publishing Cycle (CISPC) event in London, where a motley collection of publishers, librarians and researchers convened to discuss the latest issues in the scholarly publishing industry. The usual suspects – open access (OA), discoverability, accessibility – were given an airing, as were some new issues that hadn’t seen the light of day even a year ago, such as Plan S. With these topics and a mix of attendees, it was no surprise that full and frank exchanges ensued.

Adding grist to the mill of scholarly publishing discourse was The Scholarly Publishing Research Cycle 2018 report, which was released at the event. A detailed survey of the three main stakeholder groups, the report covers the issues above and a host of others in a wide-ranging overview of what’s on the minds of the great and the good in the industry. While having an inevitable UK focus – I’ll spare the intricacies of the REF for those of you outside Blighty – many of the findings will be familiar to all. Taking each group in turn:

  • For researchers, the most important challenges they identified currently were open access and licensing, discoverability and accessibility
  • For publishers, the key challenges were trust and validation, discoverability and policymakers’ scholarly publishing policies
  • While for librarians it was OA and accessibility, as well as scholarly publishing policies.

Curiouser and curiouser

While the issues were familiar – as were the shrugs when confronted with how to bridge some of the divides – there were a couple of stark omissions from the debate that perhaps could have shed some new light. Firstly, during an animated discussion of who were the real gatekeepers of scholarly publishing, which swung between publishers and librarians, the role of editors was curiously absent. Surely, with fast-moving changes in policymaking, mandates and author choice for their outputs, the role of editor as curator has never been more crucial?

Secondly, an old favorite of The Source reared its ugly head again in the shape of unintended consequences. Particularly in respect of Plan S and how things may get shaken out, it was evident from the flummoxed faces of all in attendance that there was much to still comprehend for all concerned. Could it accelerate predatory publishing practices? Will the ‘publish or perish’ culture alive and well in many countries be marginalized? Will journals see large scale consolidation and fragmentation? Again, the sage voice of editors would have brought welcome insight.

A problem shared

What was encouraging was that the report highlights some shared issues where much-improved communication and collaboration could help cure some longstanding problems that have become increasingly troublesome for all stakeholder groups. The ills of predatory publishing were mentioned by representatives of industry members as a major challenge, as was the different rates of change in the regulatory environment. However, some of the conclusions of The Scholarly Publishing Research Cycle 2018 report offered at least a glimmer of hope in the December gloom:

  • Better evaluative metrics for researchers will support the whole industry in dealing with the rise of impact evaluation and offer ample opportunity for collaborative working on all sides
  • Greater transparency by publishers, particularly around APCs and on behalf of society publishers who may have a distinct and more compelling offer than their larger cousins
  • Continued collective action by librarians, as seen in Sweden and Germany where they have made large-scale cancellations of content, may be replicated elsewhere and hasten change
  • Moving beyond open access, in the shape of seeking to address other issues in a shared publishing system, with the aim of making progress in other areas that often get neglected in the all-encompassing OA debate.

Who knows what will happen in the intervening 12 months before what will hopefully be the third CISPC event, but for many in the UK, it is difficult to think about anything beyond the 29th March 2019. With the balance of power likely to continue changing between the main protagonists, what is certain is that further such shared events can only be a good thing.

 

Academic freedom fighters

Isn’t it worrying what your kids pick up from the radio and TV these days? When I was a child – back in the good ol’ days of four TV channels and the one radio station my parents only ever seemed to listen to – I don’t remember hearing the constant stream of news stories about rape, murder, sera misconduct or violence that seem to dominate the news programs today. Is that right, or am I donning the same rose-tinted glasses that show fashion, music and sporting icons just BETTER 30 years ago?

What prompted these musings was a question my 10-year-old asked me last week while the radio was on in the background:

‘Dad, what are they talking about on the radio?’

Me, not listening to the radio due to an intense focus on making the first espresso of the day, ‘What?’

‘Dad, on the radio. They are talking about something. And they said “post-truth”. What’s “post-truth”?’

‘Oh, erm, well, er – it’s not worth explaining. Eat your breakfast’

Difficult to swallow

Now, I am not saying an in-depth of exposition of modern political discourse and current media disintermediation is beyond me, but I need at least a couple of strong coffees before breaking that down into the proverbial bite-sized chunks for my kids. But it did concern me that while I dodged that particular challenge that morning, it only delayed the inevitable that I would have to explain in the future that there is a school of thought that believes that truth can somehow be ignored in favor of emotion, feelings – or simply shouting more loudly.

For many in academia, the notion of post-truth comes at a worrying time. While the idea may make for some interesting debate and analysis, the effect is to concentrate attention away from evidence and rigor towards something else entirely, as if truth is something that is irrelevant, unnecessary. What’s next after post-truth – post logic? Post-freedom? Post-life? At a time when the need for experts has been challenged in some quarters, and worse wholly ignored, the very essence of what an academic does is also called into question.

Global Challenges

If this wasn’t bad enough, faculty also see challenges to what has been termed ‘academic freedom’ across a wide-ranging number of cases around the world in recent months:

  • In Brazil, academics have promised to resist what they say is a breach of their freedoms by the state after campuses were stormed by police and people arrested for their views following the recent presidential election
  • In Canada, a professor was suspended by his school in the Summer after blowing the whistle on colleagues who had published in predatory journals
  • Meanwhile, in China, it was reported last month that the head of the elite Peking University was removed from office and replaced by a government representative
  • Scientific network ResearchGate has come under fire for allegedly forcing authors to upload their open access publications rather than share a link to them
  • The consortium of research funders that have come together under Plan S – joined this month by Wellcome and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – has also been challenged for not allowing publication of their funded projects in hybrid OA journals

Looking at these together, it is clear that there is a spectrum of potential breaches to academic freedoms, and while all such breaches are serious, it is clear that being arrested because of your research or having a member of the ruling party put in charge of your university present major problems for academic freedom. For those academics unnerved by Plan S then, they should think themselves lucky, right?

Wading through the pages and pages of comment on this issue, there seems to be a huge disconnect on both sides. While some open access advocates stress the fundamental necessity to make funded research openly accessible, some academics stress the fundamental necessity to choose which journal to publish in. Of course, these are not mutually exclusive, and it may well be that both publishers and Plan S alike evolve their policies into a joined-up approach that will satisfy both of the concerns expressed. Like the TV of my youth, publication channels have exploded in number and variety, but research quality remains absolute, and a further fundamental necessity for scholarly endeavor. We shouldn’t lose sight of that or the other academic freedoms that are currently under threat.

What lies beneath

On announcing that the Journal Blacklist has reached 10,000 journals – 10,060 to be precise – there have been two broad reactions. One group of people have said, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know there were 10,000 journals in total!’, while another group has said, ‘Wow, I bet that’s just scratching the surface.’ This underlines the challenge in estimating how large the problem of predatory publishing is, but however large it is, there are ways to circumvent it. 

 

One of the many roles the librarian at a university has had over the years is to be the de facto guardian not only of the journal resources they provide in the library, but also to ensure faculty and researchers use legitimate resources outside the library as well. Many have provided invaluable guidance over choosing the right journals to read, use and publish in, a contribution made more and more difficult over time as the number of journals has grown exponentially. In a time of budget cuts, these services have often been retired or forgotten without any substitutes put in place.

Librarians would also have a savviness and understanding of the journal world, and be on hand to answer quick questions about journals and legitimacy. It is hoped that the Cabells Blacklist can go some way to support these kinds of queries from academics, and in case your trusty librarian is in Charleston this week, here is a quick guide on how to identify predatory journals and use the Blacklist to ensure you or your colleagues are not one of the thousands of scholars who waste millions of dollars every year paying to publish in predatory journals:

B Behavioral Indicators: What is the track record of the journal you want to publish in? Look at its history and appearance online. Read the articles.

L – Look, But Don’t Touch: Use investigative skills to ‘research your research’ before making any submission decisions.

A – Actively Monitor: Ensure any information used in a decision to publish is up-to-date. 

C – Community Effort: Journals on the Blacklist, Whitelist or official ranking have used their communities to validate their entries – trust in your communities to help you choose a journal.

K – Kickass Metrics: Use citation-based information, such as the Impact Factor, alongside other metrics, such as alt metrics, usage and readership to ensure evidence-based decision-making with a blended approach. 

L – Legitimacy: Failure to legitimize your journal submission decision can lead to painful consequences – use of the Cabells Blacklist can prevent this.

I – Independent: Make sure your investigation of journals is based on independent, verified sources of information.

S – Searchable Database: The Blacklist, along with major journal databases such as Scopus and Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, are fully searchable and enable comparison of journals across multiple data points.

T – Transparency: There are many databases which offer information, but are not transparent. How and where did they get their data? Being critical of any information is vital to ensure optimal decision-making. 

(NB: For help in identifying potentially predatory journals, ask your librarian if your institution subscribes to the Cabells Blacklist.)

 

Open Access weak?

Open Access weak?

recent post on the London School of Economics estimable Impact for Social Sciences blog argued that the ‘problem’ of predatory publishing could be overstated, and should not detract from the movement towards greater open access of scholarly articles. The implication was that predatory publishing behavior was a bit of a sideshow, and should not be overtly linked with the greater good that open access brought to scholarly communications.

Open access is always uppermost in many publishers’ and information professionals’ minds at this time of year, as there has been a flurry of activity around the industry’s big conference at Frankfurt, and are now in the midst of the annual event that has become Open Access Week. For those in the know, it is a time to highlight new open access projects or launch new products, as well as an opportunity to generally talk up OA and its benefits and challenges. For those not in the know, it is… well, a time to wonder again what on earth all this open access stuff is about?

Sadly, for a concept that opens up scholarly communications, the industry has not done a terribly good job of communicating what open access actually is, and it is often not easy to find out a clear answer. Take, for example, Open Access Week itself. Is there one catch-all Twitter hashtag to capture all the activity? No. Instead, we have #openaccessweek2018, #OAweek, #OpenAccessWeek, #OpenAccess Week 2018 and #oaweek to name but a few that have come through the Cabells Twitter feed. 

And even when you do understand what open access is, there is a huge number of acronyms to wade through (SPARC, OASPA, SHERPA, OAPEN, DOAJ etc) representing a seemingly infinite array of related organizations promoting it, together with labyrinthine subtexts and politicking of various factions pushing their angle. One of the problems with open access is a lack of adoption by academics – something which has been backed up by numerous studies – and yet there is an inability to simply explain what it is and what you should do as a researcher. And as a result, few resources to support academics, particularly if things go wrong.

It is this lack of understanding that leads to problems such as predatory behaviors, which can be anything but overstated when they strike. Last week saw the case of an unfortunate academic from Scotland (reported by Times Higher Education here) who admitted being duped by a fake conference organized by the World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology (Waset). The academic decided to speak out as she feared many others would refrain from doing so for fear of embarrassment or repercussions at their institution. The £2,500 she lost on the event could be repeated many times, as the same newspaper reported in 2017 that some figures showed that predatory conferences could outnumber legitimate ones. 

Open access is a big deal and will rightly be discussed and refined during Open Access Week – but there are also unintended consequences that have to be recognized and addressed, and the personal damage both financial and reputational to those who fall prey to predatory publishing is anything but overstated.

(NB: For help in identifying potentially predatory journals, ask your librarian if your institution subscribes to the Cabells Blacklist)