Plan S for/versus Early-Career Researchers

Last week saw the joint-hosting by ALPSP and UKSG of a one day conference in London on the theme of “Shifting Power Centres in Scholarly Communications”. Former researcher and Cabells Journal Auditor Dr. Sneha Rhode attended the event and shares her thoughts below from both sides of the research and policy divide.


The ALPSP and UKSG event on scholarly communications was filled with illuminating talks by librarians, funders and publishers – but the academics panel on Plan S, which comprised of three early career researchers and a professor of sociology, was the highlight for me. Plan S – an initiative for Open Access (OA) publishing that is supported by cOAlition S, an international consortium of research funders – launched in September 2018, and requires that scholarly publications from research funded by public/private grants provided by national, regional and international research councils and funding bodies must be published in compliant OA journals or platforms from January 2021 [1].

It was clear from the panel discussion that Plan S/OA isn’t a priority for researchers. This was shocking for most attendees, but not for me! Not long ago, I was an early career researcher myself at the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London. I know from experience that early career researchers have busy lives doing research, applying for jobs, writing grant proposals, writing research papers and submitting to different journals until their research is accepted. Add to this, the stress of short tenures, limited funding and the power imbalance between researchers and principal investigators. It was apparent from the panel discussion that advancing in a highly-competitive career, where success is based mostly on the number and impact factor of research articles produced while having little control over money and decisions that are made in the publishing life cycle, makes it hard for OA to be a priority for researchers. Moreover, there has been limited engagement between librarians/funders/publishers and researchers regarding Plan S. No wonder, most researchers know very little about Plan S.

I wholeheartedly support OA and Plan S – it is a great initiative aimed at solving some of the problems that researchers face. Principle 10 in Plan S mentions assessing the impact of work during funding decisions, rather than the impact factor or other journal metrics (shout out to Ireland for putting this into place from next year) while Principle 4 mentions OA publication fees being covered by the funders or research institutions, and not by individual researchers [1]. However, individual members of cOAlition S plan to monitor compliance and sanction non-compliance by withholding grant funds, discounting non-compliant publications as part of a researcher’s track record in grant applications, and/or excluding non-compliant grant holders from future funding calls. This seems harsh, and yet it might be the only way to ensure compliance. However, I wish there were other methods to ensure Plan-S compliance out there that are geared towards researchers. I wish funders would introduce incentives for researchers to publish OA that could help them in their funding grants, tenure-track applications and promotions instead. Moreover, I also hope additional funds are assigned, and efforts are made by university librarians and funders to improve author engagement and awareness to Plan S and OA.

We at Cabells understand the need for author awareness to Plan S and OA. We are constantly trying to innovate to improve researchers’ work. With this in mind, the Journal Whitelist, our curated list of over 11,000 academic journals spanning 18 disciplines that guides researchers and institutions in getting the most impact out of their research, will soon start listing additional “Access” information. This additional information about OA policies (that govern Plan-S compliance) for individual journals will help smoothen researchers’ transition into publishing Plan S-compliant research.

ALPSP and UKSG deserve huge credit for showing us that a lot needs to be done by the publishing industry to make early career researchers are an integral part of Plan S. Early career researchers are invaluable to the publishing industry. They perform research that is published in journals and they are the editors and reviewers of tomorrow. We at Cabells recognize this and look forward to creating a synergy between researchers and Plan S into the future.

[1] https://www.coalition-s.org/.


sneha
Dr. Sneha Rhode, Cabells Journal Auditor

 

 

 

 

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.

Publish and be damned

The online world is awash with trolling, gaslighting and hate speech, and the academic portion is sadly not immune, despite its background in evidence, logical argument and rigorous analysis. For the avoidance of doubt, Simon Linacre establishes fact from fiction for Cabells in terms of Open Access, predatory publishing and product names.


When I went to university as a very naive 18-year-old Brit, for the first time I met an American. He was called Rick who lived down the corridor in my hall of residence. He was older than me, and a tad dull if I’m honest, but one evening we were chatting in our room about someone else in the hall, and he warned me about setting too much store by perceptions: “To assume is to make an ass out of u and me,” he told me sagely.

Twenty years later, while I have come to realize this phrase is a little corny, it still sticks in my mind every time I see or hear about people being angry about a situation where the full facts are not known. Increasingly, this is played out on social media, where sadly there are thousands of people making asses out of u, me and pretty much everyone else without any evidence whatsoever for their inflammatory statements.

To provide a useful point of reference for the future, we at Cabells thought we should define positions we hold on some key issues in scholarly publishing. So, without further ado, here is your cut-out-and-keep guide to our ACTUAL thinking in response to the following statements:

  • ‘Cabells is anti-OA’ or ‘Cabells likes paywalls’: Not true, in any way shape or form. Cabells is pro-research, pro-quality and pro-authors; we are OA-neutral in the sense that we do not judge journals or publishers in these terms. Over 13% of the Whitelist are pure OA journals and two-thirds are hybrid OA.
  • ‘Cabells is anti-OA like Beall’ or ‘You’re carrying on Beall’s work’: Cabells had several discussions with Jeffrey Beall around the time he stopped work on his list and Cabells published the Blacklist for the first time in the same year (2017). However, the list did NOT start with Beall’s list, does NOT judge publishers (only journals) for predatory behavior, and the Blacklist shows considerable divergence from Beall’s List – only 234 journals are listed on both (according to Strinzel et al (2019)).
  • ‘Predatory publishing is insignificant’ or ‘Don’t use the term predatory publishing’: The recent FTC judgement fining the Omics Group over $50m shows that these practices are hardly insignificant, and that sum in no way quantifies the actual or potential hurt done by publishing fake science or bad science without the safety net of peer review. Other terms for such practices may in time gain traction – fake journals, junk science, deceptive practices – but until then the most commonly used term seems the most appropriate.
  • ‘The Whitelist and Blacklist are racist’: The origins of the word ‘blacklist’ come from 17th century England, and was used to describe a number of people who had opposed Charles II during the Interregnum. It is a common feature of language that some things are described negatively as dark or black and vice versa. Cabells is 100% pro-equality and pro-diversity in academic research and publishing.
  • ‘Cabells unfairly targets new or small journals with the Blacklist’: Some of the criteria used for the Blacklist include benchmarks that a very few legitimate journals may not pass. For example, there is a criterion regarding the speed of growth of a journal. This is a minor violation and identifies typical predatory behavior. It is not a severe violation which Cabells uses to identify journals for the Blacklist, and nor is it used in isolation – good journals will not be stigmatized by inclusion on the Blacklist simply because they won’t be included. In the two years the Blacklist has been in operation, just three journals out of 11,500+ listed have requested a review.

Two worlds collide

Two events this week in the UK have little in common at first glance, aside from the fact that the Cabells team are attending both of them. In his latest post, Simon Linacre compares and contrasts #UKSG2019 and #ICAM2019 in order to tease out how such events can remain relevant in today’s changing scholarly environment.


The life of an academic, and those who make a living supporting their work, can be a nomadic one at times, thrusting you in and out of both familiar and unfamiliar scenarios at breathless speed. This week, I joined one of my colleagues at Cabells at the UK Serials Group (UKSG) conference in Telford, and while the location lacked a certain glamour, it made up for it in interesting debates and the feeling that at least some progress was being made to improve the lot of librarians and the work they do.

Cabells was very pleased to sponsor the pre-conference seminar, which was organized by the Society of Scholarly Publishers (SSP) with the theme of “’We’re Not Who We Used to Be’: Shifting Relationship Dynamics and Imbalances in an Open Access World”.

Image by SSP

There were a number of great talks on the development of open access (OA) and what the next steps were likely to be for industry initiatives such as Plan S, as well as more macro happenings such as Brexit.

No limits

A discussion afterward on how people saw their roles changing in the light of the anticipated OA developments – be you a publisher, librarian, academic or industry professional. Of particular note was reference to the notion of a ‘facilitated collection’ – discussed in Lorcan Dempsey’s recent blog post which relates to how libraries main focus has shifted from acquiring research for their academics to use to facilitating the use and access to a much wider variety of resources, some of which are acquired but some of which is increasingly available through the myriad of open access resources now available. However, the reality of almost limitless resources is that increasingly limited librarian resources struggle to support academics find their way.

Helping hand

This scenario is familiar to us at Cabells and is one of the reasons we developed the Journal Blacklist to help both librarians and researchers understand not all open access journals and articles are of good quality, and indeed can contain bad science or lack any form of peer review. Thanks to a shout out from Ebsco’s Sam Brooks in his plenary at UKSG, where he recognized Cabells’ contribution to identifying predatory journals that even the most skilled researchers had trouble doing so.

And so, after returning home from Telford we have a quick turnaround before heading North to the beautiful city of Edinburgh and the AACSB’s International Conference and Annual Meeting. Attended by the great and the good of business schools globally, its theme is ‘Challenging Core Foundations’, which similarly addresses the changing landscape of the modern digital age, and what it means for its delegates and institutions. For business schools, these changes mean that they are being pushed to explore new perspectives on how business education could and should develop to meet new demands, and one hopes the ideas exchanged in the old city of Edinburgh next week can match the new thinking put forward by librarians this week.

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.

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)