Sunday, November 18, 2018

The OA Interviews: Arul George Scaria

One common criticism of the open access and open science movements is that they tend to take a standardised view of science and scholarship, and so propose one-size-fits-all approaches when advocating for ways of making research and the research process more open and transparent. This often poses significant challenges for, for instance, researchers in non-STEM disciplines. It is also often deeply problematic for those based in the global South. 

This is one of the reasons why open access has become a source of considerable conflict and divisiveness, particularly as more and more researchers find themselves subjected to increasingly demanding and standardised OA mandates.

For instance, while many scientists (but by no means all) may be willing to make their work available with a CC BY licence attached, those working in arts, humanities and social science (AHSS) subjects often object strongly when told they must do so – usually for good reasons.

Likewise, the increasing move to pay-to-publish gold OA poses serious problems for those without access to the necessary funds to pay the associated publishing costs. With growing calls for a global flip of all subscription journals to a pay-to-publish model, this is now a very real issue. 

Again, it is those working in AHSS and the global South who are particularly challenged by this development. In addition, it presents those journals published by learned societies with an existential threat.

Global process

It is also important to bear in mind that scholarly communication is a global process and endeavour. As such, changes introduced in the global North tend to have implications for those in the South as well, often with harmful consequences.

This is the possible outcome, for instance, of the current European initiative dubbed Plan S. If it triggered a global flip to pay-to-publish (which currently seems very possible) Plan S would disenfranchise researchers based in the global South in a more fundamental way than the current subscription system does.

(For a more detailed exposition of the concerns researchers have over Plan S see this open letter, which has attracted the signature of over 1,300 researchers so far).

It is important, therefore, that advocates for greater openness do not assume the world of science and scholarship to be uniform when advocating for change, and that those implementing open policies consider carefully disciplinary differences, local needs, local conditions and local practices before seeking to force change on the research community.

In short, governments and funders need to understand both the global forces at play and local conditions prior to introducing new open policies and initiatives.

It is therefore to be welcomed that the Centre for Innovation, Intellectual Property and Competition (CIIPC) in New Delhi has conducted a landscape survey of the current situation in India as concerns open science (although due to feasibility concerns, the sample was restricted to a limited number of disciplines and institutions: Economics, Law, Mechanical Engineering, Medicine, and Physics were).

The study’s principal investigator was Arul George Scaria, Assistant Professor of Law and Co-Director at CIIPC, and he is currently working on a report based on the survey (available in draft form here).

In the interview with me below Arul George Scaria explains what the survey discovered and what recommendations the report will make as a result. He also answers some additional questions I put to him.

Here are a few quotes from the interview, but please read the full interview to get the complete picture. Those interested in the matter will clearly want to read the report too:

-        “The overall scenario with regard to open science practices in India is not that promising and we need to take a lot more steps to make science open.”

-        “Some of the most experienced scientists and policymakers in India maintain strongly that there is no crisis in science in India, despite clear evidence of the magnitude of the problem. Some of them might be taking that position because they think that accepting the existence of the crisis is harmful to the image of science in India.”

-        “It may not be advisable or possible to transplant the approaches being adopted for open science in the global North to a country like India, where access conditions and socio-economic situations are vastly different.”

-        “In the context of global South, it is also important to focus on creating offline resources and some of the specific suggestions put forward in the report include more focus on print media, community radio stations, and creation of shared physical infrastructures.”

-        “We need to ensure that initiatives like Plan S do not incentivise a complete shift to the pay-to-publish gold open access model. This would certainly be detrimental to researchers in the global South, as it would mean that most would be unable to share their research due to the exorbitant charges imposed by publishers.”

-        “Predatory publishing is an important challenge that needs to be addressed in India.”

-        “What we are witnessing today is the capture of shared community resources by a handful of cash-rich conglomerates who want to monopolise every aspect of science communication. We as a community need to fight back against the monopolisation of our resources. As most researchers still appear to be unaware of the long-term consequences of such monopolisation, extensive campaigns are needed in order to create awareness among researchers.”

The interview begins …

RP: Can you start by saying something briefly about yourself, your background and your current research interests?

AGS: I’m an Assistant Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Centre for Innovation, Intellectual Property and Competition (CIIPC) at the National Law University, Delhi. I’m also an Affiliate Faculty of the CopyrightX program, which is a course offered under the auspices of the Harvard Law School, the HarvardX distance-learning initiative, and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University.

I teach and research in the areas of innovation, intellectual property, and competition law. My current research interests are open science, open innovation, and regulation of digital markets in the context of big data, AI, and IoT.

RP: How did you become interested in open access and open science? Would you describe yourself as an OA advocate? If so, why? What strengths and benefits do you feel it offers over traditional methods?

AGS: Access to knowledge resources is a constant challenge in the global South, and my own experiences as a student/ researcher in India have confirmed this.

As a student, I noticed that even the most resourceful libraries in India did not have access to all the essential journals and books. But I was clueless about the root causes of this crisis and its magnitude. It was never a talking point since most of my colleagues did not even realise that the crisis existed.

Perhaps it was internalised as one among the many life-struggles and everyday bureaucratic trials that one has to live with and undergo in a country like India. Most research mentors also did not push students to go beyond materials that are easily accessible.

However, when I moved for my doctoral studies to the Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition in Munich, I could see how much effort a country like Germany has been putting into making knowledge more accessible to the public, in spite of the fact that Germany is a far more economically wealthy country.

Here I’m talking not just about the specific open access initiatives we see in Germany, but also about the excellent network of public libraries which make knowledge accessible for the broader public. This prompted me to open myself up to the growing number of open access initiatives across the world.

Subsequently, as a post-doctoral research fellow at the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL) in Belgium, under the guidance of Prof. Tom Dedeurwaerdere, I had an opportunity to learn a lot more about diverse open movements and to read closely the works of scholars like Prof. Elinor Ostrom.

All this convinced me how exigent inclusive knowledge production is for countries like India. On my return to India and my joining the National Law University in Delhi, open science naturally became a compelling research priority.

I prefer to call myself an open science advocate, as open science is a much broader movement than open access.

With regard to the third part of your question, yes, there are obvious advantages to open access. The traditional methods of access (which remains the contemporary research scenario in India) promotes exclusivity in access to knowledge as well as in the production of knowledge.

The open science movement challenges this by trying to make knowledge production more inclusive. It advocates for broader participation in the production of knowledge through diverse open initiatives. That’s the biggest strength I see the open science movement having.

Open access vs. open science

RP: How would explain open access and open science – and how they differ/ interact with one another – to a layperson?

AGS: I would say the simplest but most comprehensive definition of open access I have seen is Prof. Peter Suber’s. His definition reads: “Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.”

This definition can to a great extent also help us in differentiating open access from the broader concept of open science.

While the key focus of the open access movement is to make content available free of cost online, open science goes much beyond that and tries to make knowledge production more inclusive and transparent. So, open science encompasses all the ‘open’ movements, including open access, open data, open source software, and open lab notes.

I must add here that there is no single, comprehensive definition of open science. In our open science project, we defined it (based on the mapping of diverse definitions of open science available today) as “scientific inquiries wherein the characteristics of accessibility, transparency, usability, and non- or minimal existence of IP restrictions, are evident and exist throughout all stages of research. It is also characterised by openness to inclusiveness, collaboration, constant and continuous transfer of knowledge between producers and users of knowledge, and prioritisation of research and innovation based on social needs.”

To summarise, open access is part of the broader open science movement and one cannot practise open science without open access. However, it may not be the case vice-versa. There are many scholars who have adopted open access, but they may not be practising open science.

For example, people may share their scientific publications through open access repositories, but they may not make their works accessible to lay-people, or they may not support collaboration.

RP: believe you take a particular interest in the copyright aspects of open science. What, in your view, are the implications of the current copyright regime for the open access and open science movements?

AGS: Fine-tuning the IP system – particularly copyright law – is integral to the success of the open science movement. Over the years, most countries have added more and more layers of IP protection and extended the duration of protection for most subject matter. It is high time we asked ourselves whether we should continue with this IP maximalist approach.

In the specific context of copyright, it is important that we do not allow copyright law to prevent dissemination of knowledge resources. We need to broaden the exceptions and limitations under the copyright system so that we can regain a balance within the copyright system.

In the context of the broader open access and open science movements, we may even have to think about a shift from today’s automatic protection regime (i.e. copyright protection doesn’t require registration) to a registration/ renewal-based system for copyright protection. This would mean that more works would be available in the public domain without access and usage restrictions.

Needless to say, this would require radical changes to the current multilateral legal system. 

Research findings

RP: You were the principal investigator for the “Open Science India Report” (currently in draft form here). I believe this is based on a survey that set out to explore the current situation in India with regard to open science. Can you say briefly what your main findings were?

AGS: Yes, the report results from a survey we conducted among researchers in India working in different disciplines/ institutions. The data, in general, suggest that open science is yet to become a priority for most researchers. While it may not be possible to discuss all the findings, let me share some of the key findings:

The survey data show that while most researchers use publications and data which are accessible online, only a minority share their publications or data through open access repositories.

While unwillingness to pay article processing charges (APCs) and an inability to pay these are cited by many as important factors dissuading them from sharing their publications, it is important to note that around 44% of respondents said that they would be prepared to share their data openly only when all the research and publications based on those data are completed. This reveals the “exclusivity” approach we currently follow with regard to knowledge resources!

In considering these responses we need also to be aware that for most researchers there will never come to a point in their academic life in which they feel that all potential research and publications based on their data have been completed.

I would also note that our survey also shows that most of the researchers we surveyed did not see any benefit from sharing either publications or data! 

As I noted, making knowledge production inclusive is an important aspect of open science. Unfortunately, our survey data also reveal that we as researchers are not taking sufficient steps to make science inclusive.

If we take the case of people with disabilities as an example here: we still view such people as consumers of science and not potential producers. Thus, our survey data show that although many institutions have started to provide ramp and wheelchair facilities, only around 11% provide Braille textbooks and only around 18 % provide audiobooks. Don’t we need a change in this approach?

We also found that most researchers are unaware of any institutional measures for making research outputs produced in their institution accessible to people with disabilities, further indicating that there are hardly any measures taken at the institutional level in this regard.

We found a similar situation with regard to communicating science in a language accessible to the broader public. The survey data show that only a small number of researchers regularly share simplified versions of their research findings. In a multilingual country like India, it is also important to communicate science in regional languages in order for it to be accessible to the broader public. While some of our policymakers, including the current Principal Scientific Advisor to the Prime Minister, have emphasised this aspect in many interviews and talks, our data show that the vast majority of respondents (around 79%) have never shared translated versions of their research in regional languages.

The survey data also provide some insights into transparency-related measures taken by respondents. While close to half of them were of the view that the failure to reproduce scientific studies is a major problem in their field, the data also indicate that there are insufficient disclosure practices on the part of researchers.

That is, while most researchers reported that they share research methodology, most of them do not appear to be routinely sharing other important information like negative results and sources of funding. Yet these are integral to addressing the reproducibility crisis in science. 

Our survey data also show that most respondents are unaware of any mandates from their funding agencies or institutions with regard to the disclosure of research methodology, research tools, negative results, errors in research, errors in data, and other limitations. 

To summarise, the overall scenario with regard to open science practices in India is not that promising and we need to take a lot more steps to make science open. 


RP: What recommendations do you make in the report, and to whom are these recommendations addressed?

AGS: Our main recommendations are made in Chapter 4 of the report. So, we suggest that if Indian researchers want to address the crisis in science, we need a holistic and inclusive approach involving participation from all stakeholders. Hence our chapter is addressed to all the stakeholders in science including, but not limited to, researchers, policy makers, funding agencies, and institutions.

Apart from providing examples wherever possible with most of our recommendations, we have also tried to specifically mention what each stakeholder can do with regard to that recommendation.

This was done with the aim of not just making it easier for each stakeholder to understand what they can do, but also to convey to each stakeholder that their action is part of a broader set of actions required in that particular area.   

The main recommendations of the study include the need to create more awareness of the necessity for open science; to make openness and open science a priority in science at all levels; to introduce more robust open access, open data, open source software, and open hardware policies and practices; to have funding agencies, institutions and the government properly monitor and enforce such policies; to create shared resources; to fine-tune approaches towards IP (in particular, taking a more liberal approach to the limitations and exceptions under the copyright law); to introduce broader educational policy reforms to alleviate socio-economic barriers with regard to gender, caste, disability, etc. so as to make production of science more inclusive; to create facilities that enable the accessibility of knowledge resources for people with disabilities; to create incentives for sharing simplified and translated versions of research; to make research outputs available in machine-readable and interoperable formats; to enable a shift from pursuing sensational or “attractive” findings in favour of transparent and socially relevant research; to introduce and implement transparency-related mandates; to improve peer review; to encourage intra- and interdisciplinary collaboration; to share intermediate processes and findings; and to pursue more meaningful engagement with people outside the ‘mainstream’ scientific community.

The report also suggests the need for re-thinking the criteria used by policymakers, institutions, and funding agencies when evaluating the performance of researchers. We need a radical shift from the current approach which focuses solely on the number of publications, journal impact factor, number of patents, etc. Open science practices must be given due weight in the evaluation process.

Finally, the report points out that it may not be advisable or possible to transplant the approaches being adopted for open science in the global North to a country like India, where access conditions and socio-economic situations are vastly different.

In the context of the global South, it is also important to focus on creating offline resources, and some of the specific suggestions we put forward in the report include a greater focus on print media, community radio stations, and creation of shared physical infrastructures.

Offline open access

RP: Can you say a little bit more about offline open access resources and who would benefit from them? I assume this is intended to inform and educate the public, and perhaps “citizen scientists”, rather than researchers? Can you give me an example? Do you see this as a peculiarly Indian need?

AGS: Art. 51 (h) of the Constitution of India says that it is the duty of every citizen to develop “scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”. Can the citizens of India develop this scientific state of mind without access to scientific knowledge?

In a country like India, where the digital divide is substantial (some estimates suggest that only around 31% of the population in India has internet access, while a 2017 report from Pew Research Centre suggest that only around 21% of adults in India use the internet at least occasionally or own a smartphone), it is extremely important to focus on alternative offline resources.

One way of doing this would be to share simplified versions of scientific information in print form. In fact, it should be mandatory to share simplified summaries of research produced in publicly-funded research and educational institutions. So doctoral candidates defending their theses could be asked to make a short and simplified presentation of their research on the thesis defence day.

Some of the more reputable universities (e.g. the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands) are already insisting on this, and as a thesis examiner, I have witnessed how useful it is for both the public and the doctoral candidate.

Another important area where we need radical change is in providing access to libraries. In a country like India, it is important to invest in building an excellent network of public libraries across all villages and towns in the country. Every such library should be able to provide access to a good collection of books. Inter-library loans can facilitate this to a great extent, as the practices in German public libraries demonstrates.

This network of libraries should also provide easy access to digital journals. The Government of India should use the power of collective bargaining to reduce the costs of both print and digital materials in this regard.

It is also important to provide easy access to the libraries of publicly-funded educational institutions. While technically many of these institutions allow access to the public, they tend to put in place enormous bureaucratic procedures, including requiring recommendation and authorisation letters from faculty.

Why should the public need a recommendation letter before they can access materials bought using taxpayers’ money? It is high time to challenge and change such elitist practices in educational and research institutions in India.  

As I briefly indicated earlier, we should also try to make use of opportunities like community radio stations to communicate science to the broader public. Maybe specific incentives could be given to educational and research institutions to encourage this. We should also encourage them to communicate science in the context of local problems, with the use of local examples.

Only through such diverse efforts will we be able to develop scientific temper in the country, as envisaged under the Constitution of India.    

RP: Who funded your survey and report? Does it have any official status, and so require a response/ action from the Indian Government or from Indian institutions/ funders/ researchers? Or is it an advisory report?

AGS: The report is being produced under the aegis of the Centre for Innovation, IP and Competition, with the help of funding from Qualcomm Inc. It has no “official” status and is advisory in character.

However, we hope that all stakeholders, particularly policymakers, funders and researchers, will read the report and work towards developing at least some of the solutions we discuss in the report.

RP: What would you say were the distinctive characteristics of the research and political environment in India that need to be considered when seeking to introduce open science practices in the country, and what are the distinctive challenges advocates for open science face?

AGS: While there are many distinctive challenges to making open science the norm in India, I would suggest that two of them need specific mention.

The first one is the lack of awareness among researchers and policymakers that there is a serious crisis in science in India.

During many of my interactions with researchers at different academic levels and different institutions, one thing I have observed is that although most of them have directly experienced at least one aspect of the crisis (for example, an inability to access relevant journal articles for their research and/or teaching), not many see it as an issue that needs to be urgently addressed.

Most Indian researchers silently accept the status quo, and many times they (unknowingly) contribute to the problem (by, for example, not sharing their publications and data). This issue has to be addressed. We need to create greater awareness in the hope of persuading more researchers to challenge the status quo.

The second issue is more complex: Some of the most experienced scientists and policymakers in India maintain strongly that there is no crisis in science in India, despite clear evidence of the magnitude of the problem. Some of them might be taking that position because they think that accepting the existence of the crisis is harmful to the image of science in India.

But it is very difficult to make meaningful change when policymakers take this attitude. Accepting the existence of a problem is the most important step in addressing it, and so open science advocates need to fight to change the attitude of policymakers.

More challenges

RP: You said that it may not be advisable or possible to transplant the approaches to open science being developed in the Global North to a country like India. As you know, in Europe right now there is a new initiative called Plan S. This aims to ensure that from 2020 all new research funded by a growing number of funder signatories is made freely available on the internet. Clearly, for Indian researchers as consumers of scholarly papers, it would be a positive thing if the Plan S objectives were realised. But if (as some argue it will) Plan S triggered a global flip of subscription journals to a pay-to-publish gold OA model it would presumably have a negative impact on researchers in India and the global South as authors of research, particularly if they need/want to publish in international journals. What are your views on Plan S and its likely impact on India and the global South? For instance, if pay-to-publish became the norm would not researchers in the global South find that they had to pay a lot of money to have their research published?

AGS: I have mixed feelings about Plan S. On the positive side, it is really great to see different national research funding agencies coming together and strongly asserting that the results from publicly-funded research must be communicated through open access journals or open access platforms from January 1, 2020.

I truly hope that this will incentivise more countries to join the open access movement. Only through such collective efforts will we be able to address the global crisis in access to knowledge.

It is also good to see that Plan S has taken a strong position against hybrid journals, as they often engage in double dipping (taking money both from contributors to the journal as well as from readers of the journal).

On the other side, we need to ensure that initiatives like Plan S do not incentivise a complete shift to the pay-to-publish gold open access model. This would certainly be detrimental to researchers in the global South, as it would mean that most would be unable to share their research due to the exorbitant charges imposed by publishers.

It would also be detrimental to science in general, since science without the perspectives and participation of the global South is incomplete science, and in many cases also misleading science!

I hope that this danger of Plan S is given due attention during the implementation planning.

One way to address the issue is to promote green open access as a component of the implementation of Plan S – through the sharing of preprints in repositories for instance.

The other option would be to support researchers in different disciplines so that they can establish open access journals that do not charge APCs. This is practically feasible today as digital communication technologies have considerably lowered the cost of disseminating knowledge.

It is also important to note that most of the important aspects of the publication process (for example, the preparation of manuscripts and the review of manuscripts) are undertaken by researchers without remuneration. Given this, funding agencies could easily subsidise APC-free journals by underwriting the administration costs. It would also help establish excellent open and inclusive journals in diverse disciplines.

Other modes of communication, including the sharing of simplified versions of findings through social media, should also be emphasised in initiatives like Plan S with the aim of making science more inclusive.     

RP: You said some Indian researchers fear that the image of science in India will be harmed if they acknowledge that there is a crisis in the areas you mentioned. As you will know, pay-to-publish gold OA has encouraged the rise of a phenomenon that has been dubbed “predatory publishing”, and some maintain that India is a hotbed for predatory publishing. The Indian Government appears to have been struggling to tackle this problem. Others, however, argue that so-called predatory publishing is not what critics claim and that many publishers and journals in the global South have been wrongly classified as predatory. What are your views on predatory publishing, the exact nature and extent of the problem (if you accept that there is one), and the impact it is having on the Indian research community?

AGS: Predatory publishing is an important challenge that needs to be addressed in India. Some studies have shown that India has the highest number of predatory publishers, and some show that Indian researchers are the greatest contributors to predatory journals. However, I feel these two issues need more deliberation if we want to address the challenge effectively.

First, it is important to recognise that the issue of predatory publishing is not limited to open access journals. There are many closed-access publishers in India who will publish anything for a payment. So, in discussing the issue of predatory publishing we have to understand that this is an issue related to scientific publishing in general.

Second, we need to ask ourselves why predatory publishers have flourished in a country like India. And it is clear that the primary reason is the current incentive structure. When deciding whether to promote researchers most institutions in India use the Academic Performance Indicators (API) produced by the University Grants Commission (UGC). If one examines the API system, it is immediately evident that the focus is on quantity and not quality.

Consequently, researchers are being given the perverse incentive of increasing the number of their publications and in doing so not many will have the time or patience to focus on quality.

Was this ever the purpose of science communication? The situation is alarming and only by means of radical change to the current incentive structure will we be able to address this issue.

RP: You said earlier that while the key focus of the open access movement is making content available free of cost online, open science goes well beyond this and aims to make the whole knowledge production process more inclusive and transparent, including making things like lab notes freely available online. You will perhaps know that there is today some concern among OA advocates at the way in which legacy publishers like Elsevier are acquiring more and more of the knowledge production infrastructure – including services that are essentially a product of the open access movement (e.g. Mendeley and SSRN) – as well as traditional pieces of the publishing infrastructure such as publication workflow solutions like Aries Systems. The concern is that in doing so legacy companies will be able to lock the research community into proprietary systems that will prove as expensive and controversial as the subscription Big Deal. For instance, in 2016 Elsevier acquired a peer review patent and recently it acquired the manuscript submission and peer-review tracking system Editorial Manager. EM is widely used by publishers, including OA publishers like PLOS. (Elsevier’s moves in this area have been documented in this article). In light of this, we are seeing calls for “open infrastructures”. As the authors of this post put it, “Everything we have gained by opening content and data will be under threat if we allow the enclosure of scholarly infrastructures.” What is your take on this development, and what implications do you feel it might have for open science, particularly for those working in the global South?

AGS: I completely agree with the views expressed by Geoffrey Bilder, Jennifer Lin, and Cameron Neylon in ‘Principles for Open Scholarly Infrastructures’.

What we are witnessing today is the capture of shared community resources by a handful of cash-rich conglomerates who want to monopolise every aspect of science communication. We as a community need to fight back against the monopolisation of our resources. As most researchers still appear to be unaware of the long-term consequences of such monopolisation, extensive campaigns are needed in order to create awareness among researchers.

We should also fight this issue legally. Antitrust law might be a useful tool in this regard, as in my view many of the actions of legacy publishers like Elsevier violate antitrust law.

Likewise, we should use the opposition procedures available under patent law to prevent frivolous patents like the peer review patent you highlighted being granted.

RP: Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions.


Marc Couture said...

Richard: In the introduction, you state: “those working in arts, humanities and social science (AHSS) subjects often object strongly when told they must [use CC BY] – usually for good reasons”, referring to Peter Mandler’s 2013 paper.

There has been an ongoing debate in the last few years on the merits and pitfalls of CC BY for scholarly texts. I personally find that most arguments against it are easily countered. In my recent guest post on this very blog, I gave three relevant references (here, here and here). Those put forth in the paper you cite make no exception; I would even say that they are among the least compelling I ever encountered. Let me explain:

The author first raises two issues:

- In the humanities, the “data” are texts and images, that may require permissions to be used. However, what is at stake here is rather the chunks of text and the images actually reproduced in scholarly papers. I would like to know what proportion of these papers, even in the humanities, actually includes content requiring the permission of the rights holders. My impression is that it is infinitesimal in the social sciences, and very small in the humanities, and significant only in certain specific sub-fields (modern art studies, for instance). After all, old works are in the public domain, and reproduction of small amounts of protected works doesn’t require permissions; fair use/dealing may also play an important role here.

- The mixture of the content of a paper with new, original one, in order to create a derivative would lead to plagiarism. Here, the author himself recognizes that quotes would do the thing.

In both cases, the author explains that CC BY would be “defeated”. But I don’t understand why the fact that the full potential of CC BY couldn’t be attained in certain cases (much rare as far as I can foresee) is a reason to object to its use.

Then the author, implicitly referring to the non-commercial restriction, reveals what I see as his basic argument: “there are some reuses which we should be happy to support – but equally there are some that we should not be”.

Thus, one should not require CC BY... because it makes researchers unhappy. I take note of this, and obviously wish researchers (and everybody else in fact) be happy. But this is not a very compelling argument, to say the least. And it’s certainly not what academic freedom which the author mentions a few times in his paper, is about, whatever definition of this notion one might favour.

Richard Poynder said...

Thanks for commenting Marc. I linked to Peter Mandler’s piece to draw attention to the fact that, unlike most scientists, those working in AHSS do not generally view what they do as generating data – raw material for re-use by others – but assembling words and ideas in very deliberate and personal ways. As he puts it, “Our form of words is unique to us and it cannot be dismembered and mixed with the words of others – which CC BY facilitates.”

It may be that Mandler is wrong to use the word plagiarism in this context, but I do not think that that invalidates his argument, which (as I understand it) is that for those in AHSS how they say something is as important as what they say. For them, the purpose is not just to present new facts, but to reimagine and reinterpret known facts, and in a very individualistic way using very specific language. And their reputation hangs on this. Allowing derivative use (as CC BY does) means that their words can be reworked and/or presented in ways that may subject them to reputational risk. Toby Green has provided a real-life example here. This is more about presentational issues but I think makes the point.

I realise some might respond that authors can nevertheless take action if their reputation is put at risk, but who is going to be in a position to invest the time and money necessary to do this? Moreover, since CC BY licences do not require contacting the author for permission to reuse a work, reuse will likely take place without the author’s knowledge. Authors may not be aware of how their work is being used.

Mandler expands on his objections a year later (2014) in this document. The topic is further explored (with a working example) by the Royal Historical Society in this document (published earlier this year).

There are thus concerns with CC BY in the context of derivative use, and I believe there are good reasons for these concerns. In addition, there are worries over the fact that CC BY allows commercial reuse, not least because it means that CC BY-licensed works can be placed behind paywalls and monetised by third parties.

Amongst other things, this allows large legacy publishers to appropriate content in a way that is detrimental to the research community and this is a particular concern for those in the global South. For this reason, last year a number of Latin American research organisations issued The Declaration of Mexico, which recommends the use of CC BY-NC-SA rather than CC BY.

It is also worth noting that when OA advocate Martin Eve published the OA version of his book Open Access and the Humanities he did so with a CC BY-SA licence. In that book, Eve discusses the concern some have that widespread use of CC BY will feed attempts by governments to commercialise universities (which he acknowledges to be a genuine concern in the context of the UK). Those worried about this, he suggests, could consider using NC licences or (Eve’s preferred option) a ShareAlike licence. The latter, he says, would ensure “that if others benefit from the public work of academia, it remains a public good.”

I share these concerns too. And believe use of CC BY should be the choice of the author.

In conclusion, I believe forcing OA and CC BY licences on researchers in the way we are currently seeing will lead to their further proletarianisation. I suspect that this process is inevitable, but that does not mean one should not complain!

I have discussed copyright and open access at greater length in this piece here.

Marc Couture said...

Richard: Thank you for your explanations. As I wrote, the debate is going on. There and indeed valuable arguments on both sides, and you do a good job here in presenting some of them.

But I prefer to leave this discussion here, at least for the time being, in order to make a brief comment on the interview itself.

As a (former) researcher in a university from the global North, I'm very pleased to hear voices from the South (and the underprivileged in general) joining the discussion. So, I thank you Richard to have invited Arul George, and thank him for his well-crafted, very reasonable answers and explanations.

I'd like to dwell on one of the issues Arul mentions, one that is not often covered in the discussions on the role of publication in researcher evaluation: the importance of the sheer number of papers.

There has been much discussion, notably in the context of Plan S, on the IF fallacy, and the misuse of journal "prestige" or "reputation" (IF-based or not) as a proxy for research quality and usefulness. But it seems to me that researchers use in fact a two-pronged strategy. They try to place papers in top journals, while maximizing the total number of papers they can squeeze out of every research project. They end up publishing a good part, if not all, of their papers in less prestigious journals or even, something Arul mentions, in deceptive ones (OA or not).

Thus, if the idea of linking the quality of papers to the journals in which they appeared becomes a thing of the past, there is a risk that researchers simply refocus exclusively upon the number of papers. This is, unless there is a simultaneous questioning on this other dimension of the evaluation system, and we end up with practical ways to evaluate more fairly and accurately both the amount and the quality of research.

This is no easy task, and I have no clear idea how to do it other than to avoid over-simplistic schemes like the h-index, but what I envision (or dream of, should I say) is to see descriptions of the value of one's research contributions like the following:

"I have conducted the following 3 research projects [...], from which 16 articles were published, including two in top journals".

replaced, in this new paradigm, by something along these lines:

"I have conducted the following 3 research projects, which were relevant/important in view of [...]. Their results were described in 3 articles that had the following impact [...] and were used by [...] to [...]", as evidenced by [...].

By the way, this is something Plan S should also take into account, as it certainly has the potential to lower the overall publication costs (among other benefits).