Open@VT

Open Access, Open Data, and Open Educational Resources

Commercial Publishers and the Growth of Research

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the resignation of the editorial board for the Journal of Library Administration. Several commenters urged them to start their own open access journal. That would certainly help tip the landscape to open access, but I haven’t heard that it’s going to happen this time like it has in the past.

Even if it does happen, JLA won’t wither away. There will simply be an additional journal for the discipline. It’s happened before- if you follow the previous link and look under 1998, you’ll see that when the Journal of Academic Librarianship was sold to Elsevier, the board resigned and most of them went on to found portal: Libraries and the Academy. Today, JAL is doing fine (and I’ve published there, though I’ve since pledged not to submit articles to, perform peer review for, or serve on the editorial board of Elsevier journals). So JLA will probably form another editorial board and will continue receiving submissions.

There are at least a couple of reasons why: the number of articles written is always increasing, and virtually all articles get published somewhere. The STM Report 2012 (PDF, p. 5) contains this data on growth in scholarly publishing:

“There were about 28,100 active scholarly peer-reviewed journals in mid 2012, collectively publishing about 1.8–1.9 million articles a year. The number of articles published each year and the number of journals have both grown steadily for over two centuries, by about 3% and 3.5% per year respectively. The reason is the equally persistent growth in the number of researchers, which has also grown at about 3% per year and now stands at between 6 and 9 million, depending on definition, although only about 20% of these are repeat authors.”

It’s commercial publishers who have been far faster in creating new journals, in order to further increase profits, as Michael Eisen writes:

“Long before the Internet, publishers discovered that launching new journals was like printing money – something Elsevier specialized in for decades, launching hundreds of new journals with hastily assembled editorial boards and then turning around and demanding that libraries subscribe to these journals as part of their “Big Deal” bundles of journals. These journals succeeded because there are always researchers looking for a place to put their papers, and many of these new journals greased the wheels by having fairly lax standards for publication.”

Midway through writing this post, I saw that the Scholarly Kitchen has already posted on the likely lack of effect from the resignations, though with a slightly different angle, comparing impact factors of old and new journals when editorial boards resigned. Their conclusion is that this is just a tempest in a teapot.

And maybe they are right, if you just focus on the editorial board. But the real story is not so much the resignation of the editorial board but what caused it: authors refusing to agree to the publisher’s terms. So what gives me hope is not editorial boards (why are they giving free labor to Informa anyway?) but authors who are paying more attention to contracts and open access issues. That could be a sign of a groundswell that will bring real change to scholarly communication.

Worth Reading

Project Information Literacy has an interview with Peter Suber. It’s particularly interesting to hear how he got involved in open access.

Nature has a special open issue on scientific publishing. All the articles are worth reading, but I especially recommend John Wilbanks’ License Restrictions: A Fool’s Errand advocating CC-BY licenses ( annotations are on his blog) and a very informative article, The True Costs of Science Publishing.

Curt Rice posts about why OA enhances academic freedom, rather than detracts from it as some have claimed.

MIT’s faculty open access policy is now 4 years old, and their library shares personal thanks for article access (during last year’s Open Access Week, MIT had a great article about the policy’s worldwide impact). Documenting this is hugely important. First, it shifts the discussion to the good things that are happening rather than hypothesizing about the bad things that might happen .01 percent of the time under OA. Second, and more importantly, it establishes a narrative that goes beyond the rationale for OA. As research in psychology tells us, people remember stories, not facts. (Positive narratives are also badly needed for ETDs). See how MIT solicited these stories through a feedback mechanism in their institutional repository:

MIT repository feedback mechanism

MIT’s repository feedback mechanism

New Video from Harvard

Here’s a great short video (8:30) with two Harvard professors talking about open access issues, including dissertations and altering publication agreements:

Worth Reading

Several interesting items have appeared in the last few days:

This reflection on publishing in PLoS ONE is fascinating (read the comments too). PLoS ONE has lots of appeal (open access, fast turnaround time, good impact factor), but younger researchers can’t get past the perceptions of older colleagues.

The mass resignation of the editorial board of the Journal of Library Administration due to the publishing terms of Taylor & Francis is covered by Brian Mathews, Jason Griffey, and Chris Bourg. I think this is a positive move, but fear that JLA will simply replace the board and go on publishing as usual. Some have encouraged the editorial board to form its own OA journal, just as these boards that resigned did.

Of particular interest to Virginians, Waldo Jaquith used Kickstarter to fund a successful bounty for video speech transcription. The code will be put to use on Richmond Sunlight, a project of Open Virginia.

And here at Virginia Tech, the Center for Digital Research and Scholarship is offering a journal publishing service– here’s how the editorial process works.

Open Dissent

Last Sunday Evgeny Morozov published an opinion piece in The New York Times, “Open and Closed”, which addresses openness as a fad:

…”openness” has become a dangerously vague term, with lots of sex appeal but barely any analytical content… Openness is today a powerful cult, a religion with its own dogmas … “open” has become the new “green”

There’s some truth to this. “Open” is being prefixed to a lot of things, almost as a sales technique, in the same way as the words sustainable, natural, organic, and local. And to some extent perhaps I have been susceptible- for example, the Links page here directs readers to initiatives for open data, open science, open peer review, etc. While I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable about open access, I know much less about these other “open” efforts and hoped to use this blog to examine them.

The problem, as Morozov states, is that “open” everything emerged from the open source movement and was then translated to other areas. But that is a unique domain with its own problems and solutions. So the takeaway, which I think most of us already knew, is that

We must differentiate the many different types of “open.”

His later point about MOOCs perhaps has some merit, although I find it odd that he falls in with the strongest advocates of open in saying that MOOCs should “also give users the ability to reuse, remix and repurpose their content.” So it isn’t that “open” is unfocused or misguided, it’s that it isn’t open enough.

We should always evaluate claims critically, particularly in the university, where we claim to promote just that, though those involved in the open access movement have been examining particular problems and potential solutions for years now.

On the whole I find a critique of openness intriguing, though I actually wish it had a bit more bite to it. It’s an issue I’ll be returning to again.