Archive for the ‘open access publishing’ Category

There’s a great discussion going on over at the Empirical Legal Studies blog, where legal scholars are thinking about the merits, problems and functions of law reviews. This forum was prompted by research by Jason Nance and Dylan Steinberg, “The Law Review Article Selection Process: Results from a National Study.” Many of the points apply equally well to scholarshp in Canada.

My thoughts parallel those of Benjamin Barton, who had this to say (in post #5, with emphasis added) on the incongruity of faculty complaints about student editors:

First, there are so many student-edited law reviews that it is not an exaggeration to say that virtually anything a law professor writes that is in English and makes some vague sense can and will be published. This is an enormous comparative advantage for a law faculty member over other disciplines, since a law professor can remain “productive” regardless of whether their work is relevant or even particularly good.

Second, having students edit most of the work means that law professors do not have to. Being a reviewer for a peer-edited journal (let alone being an editor) takes a great deal of time, and is in many ways a relatively thankless pain. The fact that student editors do the bulk of this work is a major benefit for law faculties.

Peer review in the law is an embarrassment to the discipline, and authors are coddled by overworked student editors who are intimidated by faculty. It needs to be fixed, and a look to how things are done in the humanities and social sciences would be a start – just make sure to take the open access path, so everyone can see the results of reform…

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They make pages.

It’s as simple as that, really. Academics like citing to pages, and HTML documents don’t give them that ease of reference.

As a bonus, being able to download an article as a PDF means you have access to the document exactly as it was intended to be published for a hard-copy audience. As long as articles are printed on paper, that’s useful for creating unique citation identifiers.

This could be changed by citing to paragraphs – as is the case in some legal scholarship – but authors and publishers would have to be willing to toss a lot of numbers into documents. And readers would have to be willing to ignore irritating clutter that breaks the flow of information.

For now, PDFs make a good transitional format because everyone can read them (as long as they aren’t password-protected). Too many changes at once, especially in areas that are only incidental to open access, just create barriers for those unwilling to leave paper and page citations behind.

The common sense solution, of course, is to have repositories which offer articles in a variety of formats, be they HTML, PDF or something else. Many are doing this already. As a result, readers have quick access to the text without firing up Acrobat Reader or some other viewer, while also providing an ‘official copy’ to be used for citations.

(hat tip to eFoundations via Open Access News)

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Here’s a thought that stuck me a moment ago, as I was conducting some historical research…

The open access mandate which may be given to the National Institutes of Health has a problem: it just governs future grants. But what about all of the government-funded research that has taken place in previous decades? Shouldn’t that legacy also be publicly accessible?

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There are so many ways I could spin this bit of news. It’s tempting to go with how wonderful it is the National Library of Australia will host an open access repository. I’ve thought this was the way to go for some time, in part because of the costs to government of keeping the present business model, in part because good things happen when national libraries give legitimacy to open access – things like a reputation for quality and greater ease of repository searches.

But as that seems so self-evident, I’ll instead run with how nifty it is that Open Journal Systems is the software platform being used to run the national library’s venture. OJS is a project of the Public Knowledge Project underway at Simon Frasier University and the University of British Columbia. The software is open source, of course, which goes some way to reducing publishing costs.

Here’s hoping that Library and Archives Canada follow suit.

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Michael Geist points to a Globe and Mail article about the open access movement. I would have liked more from the interview with University of Toronto’s head librarian – the two words about subscription costs (“It’s alarming”) probably distill a 20 minute conversation –  but it is good to see this in the popular press. It is also nice to see the humanities get a mention in a conversation about open access.

Yes, academe is in my blood…

That’s why I will take issue with two statements that appear in the piece. They come from both sides of the open access debate: the academics and the publishers. Let’s start with the academic perspective:

Prof. Guédon [professor of comparative literature at the University of Montreal ] predicts that attitude will change over the next five years as academics see the benefits of getting their work to a wider audience. “We don’t want to be in an ivory tower. We want to be relevant,” he says.

True. But open access is not a solution to the old problem of academic elitism and disengagement. Open access could improve academics’ work visibility beyond the ivory tower, but it probably won’t. People outside universities just aren’t interested in scholarship, and won’t be perusing SSRN, PLoS or PubMed Central on their lunch break.

The lesson: Access has nothing to do with relevance. Unless you write something The Public want to read, you stay in the ivory tower.

Even so, I can see some ways open access will encourage non-academics to use journals.

  1. Scholarship will transmute into culture. Journalists and authors will have increased access to subjects of interest to them and their audiences. Whether or not academic work will receive shoddy interpretation in the popular press is another question entirely.
  2. Education will drive interest. As more and more people attend universities where professors introduce students to open access resources, the ease of research will encourage graduates to consult topics of interest to them.
  3. Open access gives authors incentive to write on topics of wider interest. Public access to journals is an open door. Invite people inside. Do this by framing research within controversies, because conflict is inherently interesting. Do it by writing approachable prose. Do it by connecting your esoteric subject to a genuinely important question. Communicating why you love your subject can’t hurt.

Now it’s the publisher’s turn:

Mr. Velterop [director of open access for Springer] insists that open access will never have the clout of traditional houses. It’s like the difference between a Marks & Spencer suit and an Armani, he argues – journals cost a lot because the peer-review process is expensive, time-consuming and complicated.

The dinosaur publishers are right to be worried. They have a losing business model relying on the clout and prestige of brand names – a losing strategy when an academic can get their stamp of approval from a recognized alternative of similar quality. Reputations change as traditions wither and are replaced. How appropriate, then, that the publisher would turn to the fashion world for an analogy.

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[ed. note: this post has been changed after initial publication to prevent confusion]

Congratulations, America, your country is one presidential veto away from requiring open access to tax-funded research.

For further information:

I do wonder, though, if arguments framing this as a taxation issue are really what the open access movement needs. It might be the reason that I have heard some scientists pushing open access as just ‘American research for Americans’ – and expressing protectionist resentments about U.S. research falling into the hands of people who didn’t pay for it.

Surely we don’t want jingoism to feed an unhealthy and small-minded attitude that open access should stop at national borders – especially when open access has such potential for international development.

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RPM at Evolgen faces a dilemma. He wants to publish in an open access journal with PLoS but doesn’t have the resources to pay for the costs of publication, which are roughly equivalent to the price of a spiffy new iMac. A fee waiver is an option, but he thinks failing to pay the cost of his paper’s publication harms the open access movement.

I think he should go for the waiver – the participation of authors is as important to the open access movement as hard currency. Furthermore, hard data on the number of people who need to apply for a fee waiver gives the open access movement ammunition when it campaigns for funding.

This dilemma is an excellent reason for universities to provide open access grants and become institutional members whose faculty receive discounts. I’m proud the University of Alberta is one of four vanguard universities in Canada participating in the PLoS initiative, and I hope they are joined by many more soon.

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