Open Access

I attended a provocative info session on Open Access hosted by Free Culture NYU. Below, I summarize the positions of the presenters. These are their words, not mine, although I must say I was convinced.


Conference: Taking Action on Open Access
Jan. 13, 2007.
Notes by Eli Jacobowitz

1. SPARC – Heather Joseph spoke.

Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition.

A coalition of libraries dedicated to the dissemination of research results, reduction of financial pressure on libraries, and leverage of network and digital technologies.

The existing scholarly journal market is monopolistic and is not being constrained by market forces. Since 1986, the Consumer Price Index rose 60%, but the cost of scholarly journals has risen by 200%.

SPARC takes member library dues and creates alternative publishing models to compete. This is a market issue. In the case of publicly funded research, taxpayers pay three times! First for the initial researchers’ salaries, second for the peer reviewers’ salaries, and third for the library to license access to the journals that publish the results. The journals make average 38% profit margins.

In science, dissemination of results is an inextricable component of the research process. The more the better. SPARC advocates immediate, free of charge access to journal articles. So-called Intellectual Property _increases_ in value when shared.

But this is also an issue of democratization and fairness. MIT, the best-funded private research institution in the US, can only afford 70% of the journals they need. Most are much worse off. The faculty are forced to choose reference material based on what they can get for free or cheap, rather than what they need to know. And worse, they are teaching what’s free or cheap rather than what students need to know.

Currently in the works:, as well as a bill in congress mandating all government-funded research be published openly within six months. They can always use testimonials from institutions, etc. but particularly useful would be individual researchers’ comments.

2. – Gavin Yamey spoke.

Public Library of Science.

Restricted access to medical literature is a public health crisis. Especially in the Third World, this is an ethical issue. When, as in Uganda, public health funding is under $10 per person per year, $25 for a journal download is impossible.

Journals’ model: subscribers pay ongoing fees for content, for which the copyright is owned by the journal. They allow some free access, but after a delay, and with the copyright restrictions in place. One journal article yields its publisher around $1,000,000 in subscriptions and reprints (e.g. drug trials, the pharmaceutical corps buy many many reprints).

PLoS’s alternative model: Free availability online, where marginal costs are ~$0, recovering the fixed costs up front from researcher as part of their grant-covered expenses (around $2500). When they can’t afford the fee, it’s waived. Use Creative Commons Attribution license, which is held by the author.

Study found that moving to an Open Access model would save ~30% off the overall costs of the current system.

Rebuttals to objections to Open Access:

  • Peer review does not suffer. In fact since PLoS competes directly with traditional journals, it must be up to standards.
  • Not vanity publishing. The editors are blinded from the finances.
  • “Impact Factor” does not suffer. This measure of journal reputation is actually quite high for Open Access journals, and PLoS Biology has the highest rating in its field.
  • Peers will still cite. In fact Open Access increases article citation rate.
  • Abstract-only is not enough. Study found 61% of abstracts are wrong or incomplete! Plus data mining can’t operate on only abstracts.

3. – John Wilbanks spoke.

Intellectual Property laws were created with an entirely different system in mind. Even though there is some gray area, the uncertainty over rights is, in itself, a means of intimidation against open publishing.

Science Commons proposes a definition of Open Access: audience can read, download, copy, link, crawl with data mining apps, extract as data and pass to software.

Note that the Copyright laws and responses to them like Creative Commons were not designed for scholarly materials. The right to freely reuse or remix material can be in tension with the need to preserve the integrity of the work since the validation of peer review only applies to that original version.

Technical hurdles: need openly readable and crawlable formats (pdf is terrible). Need better implementation of semantic web and refinements in data mining.

Data mining allows piecing together disparate articles that each contain one step in a chain of inference. Allowing this is a vital extension to access rights.

Researchers and meta-researchers also need open access to the data (with proper metadata), as well as the research results. That raises very complex policy and tech issues.

They have a rights addendum form that can be used by researchers to retain certain rights when publishing.

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