Saturday, September 08, 2018

Paywall: The Business of Scholarship — a review

My review of Paywall: The Business of Scholarship has been published in Nature. Below are the first two paragraphs. The full review can be read here.

Billed as a documentary, Paywall would be more accurately described as an advocacy film. Its intention seems to be to persuade viewers that the paywalls that restrict access to journal content online are an unnecessary hangover from the print era, and now serve only to perpetuate the excessive profits that legacy publishers such as Elsevier, Wiley and Springer Nature make from the public purse.

The film makes a convincing case that the paywall system creates problems — and that universal open access (OA) to scholarly articles would be better for society. But it fails to adequately explore the thorny challenges that arise with OA publishing. These include the fact that the publishers castigated by the film would continue to dominate scholarly communication in an OA world; the increasingly expensive ‘pay-to-publish’ model, which substitutes inequities in access for inequities in affording publication; and the rise of predatory publishing. And although Paywall acknowledges that current reward systems have slowed the progress of OA publishing, it does not address the puzzling question of why academics have proved so reluctant to make copies of their published papers freely available in their institutional repositories ...

More here.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The OA Interviews: Virginia Steel, Norman and Armena Powell University Librarian at UCLA

Those wishing to go directly to the Q&A with Virginia Steel can access the pdf here and then click on the link at the top of the document.

Who would have thought in 2002 that the sixteen “open” enthusiasts who that year launched the Budapest Open Access Initiative were about to unleash on the world a chain of events that some believe will eventually upend the 350-year old scholarly publishing system, and has in the meantime thrown researchers, librarians, universities, funders, governments and scholarly publishers into what at times looks like a dance of death.
Virginia Steel
Of course, the key driver for the changes that scholarly publishing is currently going through was the emergence of the internet, since those changes would not be possible without the web. And in fact, publishers had begun to take advantage of the new digital network a decade before open access became a thing. Elsevier, for instance, launched its online database of electronic journals ScienceDirect eight years prior to BOAI. But publishers had assumed they would simply port the traditional subscription model to the online environment and carry on much as before, all be it a subscription model re-imagined as the now infamous Big Deal.

In other words, as the name suggests, what was radical about the BOAI was not its recognition that journals could now be put online, but the assumption that this could be done without the imposition of paywalls. In retrospect, we can see that this simple idea has ended up calling into question practically every aspect of traditional scholarly publishing, not excluding traditional peer review and the need for legacy publishers.

Yet …

Yet for all its revolutionary potential, and the significant mindshare that open access has acquired over the past 16 years, some of the key aspirations articulated by BOAI have yet to be realised. And they may never be. Yes, today more research is freely accessible. But leaving aside the fact that the openness of that content is fragile[1], the truly revolutionary potential of making it open has not yet been exploited.

So, for instance, OA has yet to solve the affordability problem that BOAI promised it would, and in pursuit of which goal most librarians joined the OA movement in the first place.

More importantly, OA has failed to create the more equitable knowledge infrastructure envisaged by BOAI. Let’s recall: the promise was that removing access barriers would allow the world to “accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich … and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge.”

The reality today, however, is that paywalls are simply being replaced by publication walls, a development that threatens to disenfranchise those in the global South even more thoroughly than paywalls.

These failings are a product of the fact that the strategies adopted and promoted by OA advocates have too often had unintended consequences. Above all, they advocated for the use of pay-to-publish gold OA. In doing so they enabled legacy publishers to co-opt open access, and so lock themselves and their high profits into the new environment, not least by introducing overpriced hybrid OA.

The pay-to-publish model also gave rise to a plague of predatory publishers, and the accompanying tide of fake science now threatens to corrupt the scientific record.

The nub of the problem is that OA advocates too often fail to think through their ideas and strategies, with the result that their interventions often worsen rather than improve the situation. It does not help that they are susceptible to groupthink and tend to flock around any idea that has superficial appeal. The way that dissident voices are challenged and policed on Twitter is indicative of this tendency. Moreover, OA advocates will often cling to a faulty idea long after it has become clear that it is flawed.

And while there were plenty of warnings about likely unintended consequences, these were ignored or poo-pooed. In 2004, for instance, the world’s largest and most experienced publisher Elsevier cautioned: “By introducing an author-pays model, Open Access risks undermining public trust in the integrity and quality of scientific publications that has been established over hundreds of years.”

Elsevier added, “Because the number of articles published will drive revenues, Open Access publishers will continually be under pressure to increase output, potentially at the expense of quality.”

Elsevier is of course not a disinterested party. Nevertheless, its point was a valid one and should have been listened to since it is also an obvious one. (Ironically, as soon as it realised that gold OA would allow it to increase its profits Elsevier quickly distanced itself from its warnings, thus proving the point it had made!).

But the most knowledgeable and far-sighted commentator has been publishing consultant Joseph Esposito. True, Esposito is not a disinterested party either, and he has a habit whenever a change to the status quo is mooted of muttering darkly “be careful what you wish for” (e.g. here, here and here). Nevertheless, his warnings have generally been on the money.

In 2004, for instance, Esposito predicted that in an OA environment, “the overall cost of research publications will rise, though the costs will be borne by different players, primarily authors and their proxies.” This has proved accurate.

In the same vein, in 2014 Esposito predicted that open access would be additive rather than substitutive, and so further increase the costs of scholarly communication. As he put it, “revenue from OA will be additive to the revenue from traditional journals.”  That is today’s reality.

And in 2105 Esposito predicted that open access would be co-opted by legacy publishers. Few would now deny that that too is today’s reality.

For open access advocates, this is all hugely frustrating and the cause of a lot of hand-wringing. The uncomfortable truth is that almost every initiative, idea or proposal introduced by the OA movement is rapidly derailed, subverted, or co-opted by publishers for their own benefit, or leads to undesirable developments like predatory publishing.

Too gloomy a view?

But is this to take too gloomy a view? While many of Esposito’s predictions may be today’s reality, it does not mean that they will be tomorrow’s. After all, we are in the middle of a revolution, and perforce seeing through a glass darkly. We may simply be witnessing the inevitable teething problems that any largescale social change can expect to experience.

To put my cards on the table: I am a sceptic by nature and so Esposito’s views resonate more with me than the perpetual Pollyannaism of many OA advocates. Nevertheless, I can see that it may just be that the research community is going to have to wade through a lot more mud before it reaches the promised land.

I assume, however, that whether the vision of BOAI is ever fully realised will to a great extent depend on whether those who support, promote and implement open access learn from experience and adapt and change their strategies as a result.

Here there are encouraging signs. Conscious that the institutional repository movement has failed, for instance, the Confederation of Open Access Repositories has developed a new strategy focused on creating what it calls a “Sustainable Knowledge Commons”.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Falling prey to a predatory OA publisher: Individual failure or community problem?

Depending on whom you speak to, so-called predatory publishing is a serious threat to the scientific record, a minor irritant, or an elitist misunderstanding. 
Courtesy Azizofegypt CC BY-SA
Thus, while some argue that predatory publishers represent “the dark dangerous force” of scholarly publishing, others insist that, by contrast, they have introduced valuable low-cost journals that have levelled the playing field for less privileged members of the research community. As such, the latter say, the journals they publish would be better described as “new wave journals” or examples of “innovation in publishing”, not predatory journals.

Others argue that any harm predatory publishers do is small and has been significantly overblown by the enemies of open access, or that the problem is “not as big now as it once was.”

Yet others maintain that the real predators of scholarly publishing are legacy subscription publishers, who have been robbing the research community blind for years and are now corrupting open science.

These complexities point to a central problem in any discussion of predatory publishing: no one is able to adequately define (or agree on a definition of) the phenomenon. And yet however one defines it, it is clearly casting the research community in a bad, bad, bad light.

Hugely controversial

Whatever the truth (and likely predatory publishing is some mix of the above) the topic is a hugely controversial one and engenders bitter disputes. For instance, the person who coined the term predatory publisher –  Jeffrey Beall – has been the recipient of a constant stream of verbal attacks and legal threats, not least because he created the foundational blacklist of what he calls “potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers”. Beall also regularly publishes articles (e.g. here) in which he maintains that predatory publishing is a direct consequence of open access, and that OA has as a result thrown scholarly publishing into “crisis mode”.

Many were not surprised, therefore, when last year Beall’s site disappeared overnight. And shortly afterwards he left his post at the University of Colorado without explanation (that I am aware of). 

[Update 22nd July: On the same day I posted this an interview with Beall was published in the Indian Express in which he offered his explanation as to why he left his job.]

To add to the confusion, as concern grew, and both blacklists (e.g. Beall’s list, now Cabells) and whitelists (e.g. the Directory of Open Access Journals) began to appear, a new problem emerged: even if an OA publisher tries to be honest and straightforward and has the papers submitted to it assessed in a diligent manner, it may at any point (and for whatever reason) be deemed by the community to be predatory. As a result, all those researchers who have published with it can expect to suffer reputational damage.

Given these complexities, I plan to use the term predatory publishing in this article in a very specific way. I will be referring to those OA publishers who clearly and deliberately trick researchers – essentially, by failing to provide the promised (or even a meaningful) service and/or deceiving them about the nature of that service, simply in order to extract money from them. I will not name any publishers, or journals, but simply refer to some of the deceptive practices they engage in that I know take place. I know they take place because I am regularly contacted by the victims of such unethical behaviour, and these victims share with me the details of what has happened to them.

So, for instance, the publishers/journals I am talking about often do not inform authors at the point of submission that they will be charged an APC if their paper is accepted. And they often tell them (or imply) that the papers they publish are properly peer-reviewed where in reality they are not.

It’s true, there are also some dishonest researchers who deliberately seek out predatory publishers in order to bulk up their CVs. Nevertheless, I have been contacted by a sufficiently large number of scholars who have been tricked by unscrupulous OA publishers that I am confident there is a serious problem out there. And it leads me to believe that a great many of the researchers who publish in these journals are hapless victims of a scam.

In my view, predatory publishing (or whatever you choose to call it) is a serious problem and a solution will eventually have to be found. Here, however, I am concerned primarily with the victims of predatory publishers.

The consequences can be serious

When authors fall victim to a predatory publisher the consequences can be serious. Not only will they be conned into handing over (usually public) money for a service that is never (or very inadequately) provided, but (more seriously for them) their reputation (and likely their career) may be negatively impacted as a result. Unsurprisingly, therefore, victims of predatory publishers experience a great deal of anguish, anger and resentment.

Monday, July 09, 2018

OA Big Deals: VSNU embraces greater transparency

Over three months ago (in March) the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) published a very brief news item announcing that it had reached agreement with Springer Nature on a new OA Big Deal. 

Curious as to the details of the agreement, I invited VSNU to answer some questions, both about the Springer Nature deal and VSNU’s failure to reach agreement with the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), concerning which another short news item had been published at the same time. VSNU’s Spokesperson and Advisor Public Affairs Bart Pierik agree to answer my questions.

When I sent my list of questions to him, however, Pierik appeared to change his mind. “Considering the fact that we are finalising some more deals with publishers at this moment (we just published good news about Oxford University Press) my proposal is that we would be glad to make one Q&A in April about all of these deals,” he emailed me.

I was disappointed but decided instead to write something more wide-ranging about the growing number of OA Big Deals we can see being agreed between legacy publishers and the research community and to mention VSNU in that larger piece.

I concluded that article by again inviting VSNU to answer my questions, adding, “By doing so they can help shine a light on this somewhat crepuscular corner of scholarly communication and demonstrate that affordability and transparency are just as important as accessibility.”

April came and went, and I assumed my questions had fallen into a black hole somewhere never to be seen again. 

To my surprise, however, this morning I received an email from Wilma Van Wezenbeek, Programme Manager Open Access at VSNU.

Not only did Van Wezenbeek attach answers to my questions but she informed me that VSNU has now published the contracts it has signed with both Springer Nature and Taylor & Francis (although Springer Nature has not permitted VSNU to disclose their general terms and conditions).

I publish below both the email and the Q&A, as I received them.

I could have wished that the answers were fuller and more detailed, but I guess Rome wasn’t built in a day!

The only other comment I would make at this stage is that it seems to me that if OA advocates and the wider research community want to see greater transparency over the rising number of OA Big Deals that universities, consortia and funding agencies are now signing with publishers on their behalf they are going to have to push hard. And they are going to have to keep pushing. 

The email

Dear Richard Poynder,

It has been a while that you sent Bart Pierik a list of questions to be answered by us. As we mentioned earlier we wanted to respond but needed some more time to flesh out the details.

We also thought the best moment would actually be now so that we could “put the money where the mouth is”, because we also worked on getting the contracts with Springer Nature and Taylor & Francis disclosed.

As you might have seen today, we have (partially, Springer Nature has not agreed with opening up their general terms & conditions) now done so.

Together with the Springer Nature negotiation team, I have answered the questions. I hope that you find them satisfactory. Please note that you can make them public if you wish to do so.

Kind regards

Wilma van Wezenbeek
Programm Manager Open Access, VSNU

The Q&A

Wilma Van Wezenbeek
RP: What are the main details of the new Springer Nature deal? How does it differ from previous OA deals with Springer Nature? What are the key changes over the last deal?

VSNU: The new deal is a continuation of the Springer Nature Compact deal, comprising both reading and publishing rights.

RP: I am thinking it is a deal that covers both reading and publishing, but perhaps not what the DEAL negotiators call a Publish & Read contract?

VSNU: It is too early to compare what we are doing, and what the result of the German DEAL negotiations will be. We can learn from each other, and for sure we know that there are more roads that lead to open access.

RP: What about numbers: In terms of access, how many journals does the deal provide access to? Is this all of Springer Nature’s journals? If not, what percentage of them?

VSNU: All of the Compact Collection, comprising 2,268 journals (compared to 2,079 in 2017).

RP: In terms of publishing, how many journals does the deal allow authors to publish OA in? Is this all of Springer Nature’s journals? If not, what percentage of the publisher’s journals? Are there any limits on the number of papers that can be published OA?

VSNU: In over 1,854 journals the articles by corresponding authors from the Dutch universities are published in open access (in 2017 we had 1,712 journals).

RP: How many (and what percentage of the total number of journals that authors can publish in as part of the deal) are hybrid OA journals, and how many (and what percentage of the total) are pure gold?

VSNU: The publishing part of the deal only covers the Compact Collection, being the hybrid journals.

RP: Has VSNU signed an NDC with Springer Nature over this? If not, are there nevertheless constraints on what it can release in the way of information about the deal and its costs?

VSNU: VSNU advocates openness and transparency regarding the contract. In the bilateral agreement between the Ministry of OCW (Education, Culture and Sciences) and higher education recently closed, the VSNU is asked to have “disclosure” as one of the conditions with which they enter the negotiations.

It took us several months after we published our notification that we had an agreement on the main issues to flesh out the details, but we are happy to note that Springer agreed with publishing the major details of our contract.

RP: Either way, can you say how much will be paid to Springer Nature as part of the deal, and how the price was calculated?

VSNU: Yes, this is in the public part of the contract which covers both reading and publishing rights. BTW, you might know that we did also have a request in the context of the Government Information (Public Access) Act and published a graph of costs incurred by publishers over the years 2011-2015.

RP: What is the estimated APC cost for the OA publishing part of the deal?

VSNU: Our negotiations are about non-APC based offsetting agreements. VSNU arranges what has been common practice for subscriptions for years – central financing. Calculations have been made of the virtual APCs in our deal; we refer to a publication written by Leo Waaijers, in September 2017, to the OpenAPC website, and to the most recent figures we update frequently on What you find about the APC costs in the contract, is Springer’s own interpretation/calculation.

RP: How do these costs compare with previous deals? Are there savings, or is it cost neutral, or perhaps higher than previous deals?

VSNU: Our VSNU mandate at the time of the start of our negotiations last year was very clear – no price increase (we only accepted the cpi, i.e., consumer price index) and a continuation of our full open access deal.

However, a full comparison is tricky, e.g. the Adis journals have been added to the reading part (we used to pay separately, i.e., we held individual subscriptions at several of our institutes).

RP: How do universities pay for the deal, and on what basis are their individual bills calculated, or is the government top-slicing the deal (i.e. paying Springer Nature directly for the deal)?

VSNU: Dutch universities make use of a model to allocate the costs. Cost division is based on the total budget of a university, student numbers and scientific output.

RP: Does the deal cover all Dutch research institutions and all researchers based in The Netherlands?

VSNU: The deal covers all Dutch universities and university hospitals. The KNAW is also taking part in the same deal.

RP: When does the deal go into effect? (I think the last contract ended in 2017)?

VSNU: The deal covers the period 1/1/2018 until 31/12/2021.

RP: So presumably it is a 3-year deal? I think the previous contracts were for 1 year. Is 3 years not too long a period to sign up for in today’s somewhat volatile OA environment?

VSNU: Yes, this (actually 4-year deal) is covering a long period. For us, it includes an important milestone year: 2020. The articles by Dutch corresponding authors in Springer journals will then be openly available for all to read.

RP: What went wrong with the Royal Society of Chemistry negotiations? What is the next move with the RSC?

VSNU: The Dutch universities and Royal Society of Chemistry Publishing (RSC) have been unable to reach a new agreement on access to scientific journals. The VSNU would be happy to reopen negotiations with RSC if and when the publisher is willing to make comprehensive and fair agreements on open access, which they have not been until now.

RP: What other publishers has VSNU failed to reach agreement with, and why?

VSNU: There was one other publisher, namely Oxford University Press. Happily, OUP was able to present an acceptable offer a year after the previous contract had ended.

RP: Why has VSNU published so little information about the deal? At a Couperin event in January VSNU president, Koen Becking said that the take-home point of the meeting for him was that VSNU and other negotiators need to communicate with the research community much better over what they are doing and why. Does that not imply a far greater amount of information should have been released with the announcement of the Springer Nature deal, and with the announcement that the RSC deal has failed.

VSNU: As happened in the past, we try to share information whenever and wherever we can, and we will continue to do so. The moment that we have reached mutual ground, it does not mean that every detail of the contract has been settled. It took us longer than we anticipated, and we are happy that we can share some more information with you now.  

Larger issues

RP: The VSNU announcement says: “the proportion of Dutch articles published open access in Springer Nature journals has risen from 34% in 2014 to 84% in 2017.” What does that mean? 84% of what: of Dutch output? Of the output of participating institutions? These are Springer figures I believe. Has VSNU done its own calculations?

VSNU: The figure means that 84% of the output by Dutch eligible authors have published his or her article OA at Springer Nature. In the author’s submission process the default option to publish is under a Creative Commons license. The VSNU receives monthly reports from Springer; in which these figures are shared. More information on the numbers of articles published open access at Dutch universities is available on  

RP: At the Couperin event Ralf Schimmer (Max-Planck Society) and Koen Becking (VSNU) said that these kind of OA Big Deals are simply not sustainable on a country-by-country basis. In other words, countries need to coordinate their strategy. But history suggests that this is very unlikely does it not, even within the EU? Science Business reported in 2016 that only five EU countries want to abandon the traditional journal subscription model and move to open access publication, and most EU countries prefer green OA. How then can these deals achieve their objective, or reduce costs in the way that Schimmer and Becking predicted at Couperin?

VSNU: The OA2020 initiative is growing, but you are right, we need more countries to follow us. This is something we also mention in our roadmap open access 2018-2020.  

RP: Meanwhile, we see funders moving towards building their own publisher platforms (mainly using the F1000 platform). Might that not be a better approach?

VSNU: Joining forces is an important condition to change the publishing landscape. For this reason, VSNU aligns with amongst others the Dutch funding organisation NWO and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences KNAW at the national level, and at international level (e.g. with EUA).

As we mentioned in our open access roadmap, we would like to see the research(er) to be more in control.  Creating a publication platform is one of the actions to change the way of producing and disseminating knowledge in order to reach the goal of making research output publicly available without delay.

RP: Many predict that these kinds of OA Big Deal contracts will lock legacy publishers into the new OA environment, lock in unsustainable prices, and threaten the continued existence of smaller publishers and pure OA publishers. How can you allay the concerns of those who worry about this?

VSNU: These are real concerns. VSNU strives for changing the scholarly output system, not to push researchers into the hands of some publishers that impose their rules and regulations. Therefore, other actions are needed, such as a change in the rewarding and recognition policies underlying researchers’ career paths and funding policies.

For smaller or pure OA publishers the VSNU takes into account what reasonable steps can be taken towards open access, as is mentioned in our open access roadmap.

RP: What happens if an organisation like VSNU agrees one of these OA Big Deals with a large legacy publisher and then when it comes up for renewal cannot agree on pricing for the new one. Much has been made of the fact that researchers cannot get access to journal articles if a subscription Big Deal is not renewed, but what happens if an OA Big Deal fails? Researchers will presumably struggle to pay to publish their papers and so are more vulnerable?

VSNU: The preferred road to open access for the VSNU is the gold route. In case this seems to be not feasible in the end, there are alternatives of green open access or delayed open access making use of Dutch legislation (the “Taverne” amendment, see again our roadmap open access).

RP: It turns out that most open-access articles do not have a license attached to them. This has led Jon Brock to argue that publishers can deny access to the majority of open-access articles at their discretion. What if anything is VSNU doing to avoid that possibility in the deals it is signing

VSNU: In the contracts, the VSNU negotiates the CC-BY license is seen by VSNU as the preferred default to prevent copyright issues. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The OA Interviews: Taylor & Francis' Deborah Kahn discusses Dove Medical Press

Please note the postscript to this interview here

The open-access publisher Dove Medical Press has a controversial past and I have written about the company on a number of occasions (here, here, here and here).
Deborah Kahn

When Dove was acquired by Taylor & Francis last September it was assumed (by me at least) that controversy had become a thing of the past for the publisher.

Seven months after the purchase, however, a medical technology company called Minerva Surgical took the unusual step of publishing a press release alleging that a paper published in Dove’s International Journal of Womens Health makes “material misleading statements” about the nature of a study funded by a rival in “clear violation of the COPE guidelines.”

As a result, Minerva said, the paper should be retracted immediately.

To discuss this latest incident, Dove’s background, and some of the “historical issues” the publisher has faced, Taylor & Francis’ Director, Medicine and Open Access, agreed to do a Q&A with me, which I publish below.

Of the latest controversy Kahn says, “our investigations show that the peer review was carried out to high standards and that the journal behaved well, and the authors responses have satisfied us that the complaints are unfounded.”

On the historical issues, she adds, the naysayers were wrong to have doubted Dove’s probity. “We went through very detailed due diligence, carrying out an extremely thorough process, when we acquired Dove Medical Press. We were satisfied that, after some historical issues, improvements had been made to their peer review process working with the OASPA membership team … Eight months on from our acquisition, Dove are performing well in all areas, we remain confident that we got value for money, and are delighted that they are part of Taylor & Francis Group.”

There are one or two places in the Q&A where readers may feel there is a little repetition. If so, this is because the interview was done by email in a staged way. I have, however, not edited the text as I am keen to publish Kahn’s answers exactly as she emailed them to me.

The Q&A begins …

RP: I am wondering why Taylor & Francis (T&F) decided to buy Dove Medical Press? I have seen the short press release published at the time, which talks of Dove journals having Impact Factors (and of T&F wanting to expand in OA and medical journals) but I am also aware that the perception in the market is that (as this article puts it), titles from Dove “tend to rank poorly on impact factor”. Can you say more about why T&F chose to buy Dove?

DK: Open Access and Medical publishing are both strategically important areas of investment and growth for Taylor & Francis. So we were delighted when we were able to enter into discussions with Dove Medical Press, as they fit so well with our plans.

Dove Medical Press is a small and entrepreneurial company, with staff based in Auckland and Macclesfield, all of whom are committed to excellent service to authors, and high-quality peer review. They publish around 100 journals, of which 12 have impact factors ranging from 1.7 to 7 –  almost all of them placed within the top two quartiles of the Journal Citation Report.

Two more titles are set to receive Impact Factors in the next release of the JCR. The vast majority of the rest of the journals are indexed in the DOAJ, PubMed and the Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI). All of these indexes perform in-depth checks on the quality and integrity of the contents of journals before accepting them for indexing.

We chose to buy Dove because we were impressed by the quality of their content, the quality of their peer review, their focus on author experience, and their loyal author following, with a high percentage of repeat authors. We rated it a very good business in its own right and knew that we would learn from them as we continued to develop our own open access offerings.

RP: How much did T&F pay for Dove?

DK: This wasn’t disclosed at the time of acquisition. Please see the press statement released by Informa, our parent company.

RP: Yes, I saw that, but I was hoping you could tell me anyway? Frankly, I don’t understand why this information needs to be secret, although I suppose it fits with the secrecy that has always surrounded Dove. When I interviewed Dove’s Tim Hill in 2008 he refused to tell me who the owners of Dove were and denied that (despite what some believed) there was any connection between Libertas Academica (LA) and Dove, or with him (aside from the fact that the owner of LA was his son).

Then, when in 2010 I emailed him to point out that New Zealand Companies House records that he had one time been the sole director and shareholder of LA, and had in fact  been a director of LA when he told me in 2008 that there was no connection, he responded, “Henceforth I will not be providing you with any comment or information on any subject.” In 2016, I tried to make contact with Dove directors Graeme Peterson and Kevin Toale, neither of whom responded.

Can you tell me why there has always been this kind of secrecy surrounding Dove? OA advocates argue that scholarly publishing is primarily funded by the taxpayer and so should be transparent both in process and financing. There is now also a widespread belief that there should be even greater transparency with regard to medical research, and those who publish it, not least because it is felt that pay-to-publish OA has made it easier for pharmaceutical and medical device companies to use scholarly papers as marketing tools. Do you agree that there are dangers here and that greater transparency is essential?

DK: I do believe that there should be transparency in all scholarly publishing, both in traditional subscription and open access publishing. COPE, OASPA, WAME and the DOAJ have collaborated to identify Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing, and these principles form part of the criteria on which membership applications to those organizations are evaluated. All Dove journals are included in the DOAJ and have “the tick”, which means they have met the high level of compliance to these criteria.

All Dove journals are also members of COPE and have met their membership criteria also.

I don’t think that there has been secrecy around Dove Medical Press. Information about the company has been available from Companies House since they came into existence in 2003. Nothing in our due diligence suggested anything to the contrary.

Tim Hill (from Dove) is Tom Hill’s father, and he may have helped his son establish Libertas Academica in the first instance. However, Tim Hill was not involved in the direction or any of the operations of Libertas Academica. No current Dove staff have ever worked with or as part of Libertas Academica, nor do the two companies share any operations.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Six questions about openness in science

Recently I was contacted by a student from a Russian university who is writing a dissertation on the influence of open access on modern scientific communication. She sent me six questions. The questions and my answers to them are below. 

Why does society need science to be open?

Q: It’s a rather common opinion (at least among Russian researchers) that the research community has access to all the materials it needs, and non-scientists are not interested in this information as they can’t understand it or use it. Why does society need science to be open?

A: Yes, I think these are common views amongst researchers everywhere. Much has been said and written about why the world needs open science but for me, there are essentially two main reasons: transparency and efficiency.

Transparency has become important if only because science appears to be facing a major credibility crisis right now. There are a number of reasons for this, not least the so-called reproducibility crisis (also referred to as the replication crisis) that has become apparent in recent years. In addition, we have seen a rise in research misconduct and detrimental research practices (which of course is related to the replication crisis). There is also increasing suspicion of science and scientists within society. The latter is part and parcel of a global loss of faith in professionals, a phenomenon captured in an oft-cited statement by UK politician Michael Gove – who in 2016 declared that people “have had enough of experts”.

Coupled with the “fake news” phenomenon we are experiencing today this is a dangerous development as it suggests that emotions, prejudice and ideology may increasingly be displacing facts. Let’s not be mistaken, the new scepticism about professionals and distrust of scientists has real-world implications.

In fact, the seeds of the loss of faith in scientists were sown some while ago, as a result of things like the MMR vaccine controversy, the exaggerated claims that we have seen scientists and pharmaceutical companies make about the efficacy of drugs like Vioxx (scholarly publisher Elsevier was associated with this activity by producing fake journals, apparently intended to promote drugs), and conflicting claims over genetically modified food. Additionally (in the US in particular), we have seen a growing gap between the public and scientists over creationism-evolution, and political rejection of scientists’ warnings about global warming/climate change.

Mitigating the scepticism

We must hope that open science and the greater transparency it affords can play an important role in mitigating this scepticism and distrust of scientists. If, for instance, all research papers, and the data generated during the research process, were freely available online scientific results could be checked.

And if we are talking about the wider issue of open science (rather than just open access and open data), then I would point out that the growth of clinical trials registries and the pre-registration of studies will increase transparency too. In providing public access to information about trials and studies the greater transparency that results should help reduce or eliminate unethical practices like HARKing and P-hacking. It would also go some way to address the problem of positive publication bias, in which negative or null results are today far less likely to be published than positive results. Amongst other things, this helps pharmaceutical companies to hype their drugs inappropriately.

We can also hope to see increasing interest in opening up the entire research process – by, for instance, the use of open notebook science techniques. Here I am talking about the kind of things that Jean-Claude Bradley pioneered a decade ago. This too brings greater transparency.

In terms of making science more efficient, if research papers and data were all freely available online (particularly null results) it would be easier for scientists to avoid wasting public money by unknowingly repeating experiments. Freely available data also allows for cross-pollination between disciplines and enables other scientists to find patterns in data that the producers of the data did not, if only because these other scientists will be looking at the data from another angle.

Finally, if research papers and data were all made freely available it would be possible to deploy machines to text and data mine (TDM) them. Amongst other things, this would allow computers to provide far more substantive aid to researchers and, some argue, it would see machines start to make new scientific discoveries on their own. All these things would clearly make research more effective.

How one makes TDM commonplace is, of course, a very different matter, not least because of the continuing (and perhaps intractable) barriers that copyright imposes.

On the issue of non-scientists having access to research: I think the growth of citizen science suggests that it is no longer true (if it ever was) that members of the public have no need to access research, or that they cannot understand it.

True, most citizen science today consists of little more than recruiting members of the public to do grunt work (counting butterflies, bugs or birds, or staring at images of galaxies on their computer), and then have them hand the results over to professional scientists in the lab. I.e. the “real” science continues to be undertaken by professionals. I would hope, however, that we can move beyond this. Citizens can also do scientific work – even, it would seem, a 9-year old.

Open licensing and bronze OA

Q: Databases like Web of Science (WoS) and Scopus now indicate if articles are open access or not, but publishers often open some materials for a short period of time and then close them again. It seems to be a bit misleading when articles drift from open to closed status and it also creates uncertainty over the current state of OA in different disciples. Does open access require the use of open licenses? Can we call “bronze” access “open”?

A: You draw attention to a couple of serious problems. The term bronze OA (where articles are “made free-to-read on the publisher website, without an explicit open license.”) stems from a paper published in PeerJ earlier this year. The issue of papers being made OA only temporarily (which is far more likely if a licence has not been attached to a work) was highlighted by Stevan Harnad as long ago as 2006 when he talked about what he called “peek-a-boo OA”. This reminds us that many open access issues are long-standing and hard to resolve!

But is bronze access really “open”, and does OA require the use of open licences? That depends on your point of view, and your definition of open access!

When those who attended the 2002 BOAI meeting adopted the term open access and set out to define it, they did not specify the use of a licence. In fact, if one looks closely at the actual definition of open access, it becomes apparent that two important words are missing – namely “immediate” and “permanent”. 

Thus according to BOAI, open access impliesits free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself.

While the BOAI section on open access publishing suggests that publishers “will use copyright and other tools to ensure permanent open access to all the articles they publish” this is not in the actual definition. Moreover, as I say, no specific license was named.

Today OA advocates argue that the BOAI definition implies use of the most liberal Creative Commons licence (CC BY). But not everyone agrees. Perhaps part of the problem here is that at the time of the BOAI meeting the CC licences had not been released.