Richard Poynder is an independent journalist and blogger specialising in information technology,
scholarly communication, professional
online database services,
intellectual property. Richard takes a particular interest in the
Open Access movement, whose development he has been following for more than a decade. More information is available here.
Interview Series: The State of Open Access
Recent Articles and Interviews
The OA Interviews: ScienceOpen’s Alexander Grossmann
(Open & Shut?, Monday, November 16, 2015)
In his time, the founder and president of ScienceOpen, Alexander Grossmann, has sat on both sides of the scholarly publishing table. He started out as a researcher and lecturer, working variously at the Jülich Research Centre, the Max Planck Institute in Munich and the University of Tübingen.
Then in 2001 he reinvented himself as a publisher, working first at Wiley-Blackwell, and subsequently as managing director at Springer-Verlag GmbH in Vienna, and a vice president at De Gruyter.
An important moment for Grossmann came in 2008, when Springer acquired the open-access publisher BioMed Central from serial entrepreneur Vitek Tracz. Listening to a presentation on the purchase given at a management meeting by the company’s CEO Derk Haank, Grossmann immediately saw the logic of the move, and the imperatives of open access Read more »
The Open Access Interviews: F1000 Founder Vitek Tracz
(Open & Shut?, Sunday, September 20, 2015)
Vitek Tracz is a hero of the open access movement, and it is not hard to see why. Fifteen years ago he founded the world’s first for-profit OA publisher BioMed Central (BMC), and pioneered pay-to-publish gold OA. Instead of charging readers a downstream subscription fee, BMC levies an upfront article-processing charge, or APC. By doing so it is able to cover its costs at the time of publication, and so make the papers it publishes freely available on the Internet.
Many said Tracz’s approach would not work. But despite initial scepticism BMC eventually convinced other publishers that it had a sustainable business model, and so encouraged them to put their toes in the OA waters too. As such, OA advocates believe BMC was vital to the success of open access. As Peter Murray-Rust put it in 2010, “Without Vitek and BMC we would not have open access”.
Today Tracz has a new, more radical, mission, which he is pursuing with F1000. Read more »
Predatory Publishing: A Modest Proposal
(Open & Shut?, Tuesday, September 8, 2015)
What many now refer to as predatory publishing first came to my attention 7 years ago, when I interviewed a publisher who — I had been told — was bombarding researchers with invitations to submit papers to, and sit on the editorial boards of, the hundreds of new OA journals it was launching.
Since then I have undertaken a number of other such interviews, and with each interview the allegations have tended to become more worrying — e.g. that the publisher is levying article-processing charges but not actually sending papers out for review, that it is publishing junk science, that it is claiming to be a member of a publishing organisation when in reality it is not a member, that it is deliberately choosing journal titles that are the same, or very similar, to those of prestigious journals (or even directly cloning titles) in order to fool researchers into submitting papers to it etc. etc. Read more »
When email marketing campaigns go awry: Q&A with Austin Jelcick of Cyagen Biosciences
(Open & Shut?, Saturday, August 15, 2015)
Earlier this week I received an unsolicited email message from a company called Cyagen Biosciences inviting me to cite its “animal model services” in my scientific publications. By doing so, I was told, I could earn a financial reward of $100 or more. And since the amount would be based on the Impact Factor (IF) of the journal in question, the figure could be as high as $3,000 — were I, for instance, to cite Cyagen in Science (IF of 30).
The email surprised me for a number of reasons, not least because I am a journalist/blogger not a scientist. As such, I have never published a research paper in my life, and have no plans to do so. Moreover, I have only the vaguest idea of what an “animal model service” is, let alone how I would cite a company selling such a service in a scientific paper.
But mostly I was surprised that — at a time when thousands of researchers are calling for the abandonment of the Impact Factor — any company would want to tie its reputation to what is widely viewed as a sinking ship. Read more »
Open peer review at Collabra: Q&A with UC Press Director Alison Mudditt
(Open & Shut?, Wednesday, August 12, 2015)
Earlier this year University of California Press (UC Press) launched a new open access mega journal called Collabra. Initially focusing on three broad disciplinary areas (life and biomedical sciences, ecology and environmental science, and social and behavioural sciences), the journal will expand into other disciplines at a later date.
One of the distinctive features of Collabra is that its authors can choose to have the peer review reports signed by the reviewers and published alongside their papers, making them freely available for all to read — a process usually referred to as open peer review. Read more »
Emerald Group Publishing tests ZEN, increases prices: what does it mean?
(Open & Shut?, Wednesday, July 22, 2015)
When in July 2012 Research Councils UK (RCUK) announced its new open access (OA) policy it attracted considerable criticism.
Initially this criticism was directed at RCUK’s stated preference for gold OA, which universities feared would have significant cost implications for them. In response, RCUK offered to provide additional funding to pay for gold OA, and agreed that green OA can be used instead of gold (although RCUK continues to stress that it “prefers” gold).
At the same time, however, the funder doubled the permissible embargo period for green OA to 12 months for STM journals and 24 months for HSS journals. This sparked a second round of criticism, with OA advocates complaining that RCUK had succumbed to publisher lobbying. The lengthened embargoes, they argued, would encourage those publishers without an embargo to introduce one, and those who already had an embargo to lengthen it. Read more »
HEFCE, Elsevier, the “copy request” button, and the future of open access
(Open & Shut?, Monday, June 22, 2015)
At the 2001 meeting that launched the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) the newly-fledged OA movement outlined two strategies for making the scholarly literature freely available. Later dubbed green OA and gold OA, these are now the two primary means of providing open access, and both types have been mandated by research funders in the UK. For instance, in 2013 Research Councils UK (RCUK) introduced an OA policy that favours gold open access, and in 2014 the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) announced what is essentially a green OA policy, which will come into force next year. So how does the future for open access look?
Just to remind ourselves: With gold OA, researchers publish their papers in an open access journal and the publisher makes them freely available on the Internet as a natural part of the publication process. With green, OA researchers continue to publish in subscription journals, but then self-archive a version of their work in an open repository, either a central repository like PubMed Central, or an institutional repository. Meanwhile, the official version of the paper (version of record) remains behind a subscription paywall on the publisher’s site. Read more »
The Open Access Interviews: John Willinsky
(Open & Shut?, Sunday, May 10, 2015)
Born in Toronto, Ontario, John Willinsky taught school for 8 years before taking a doctorate in the study of education, and subsequently became a professor of education at the University of British Columbia (UBC). In 2008, he moved to Stanford where he is currently the Khosla Family Professor in the Graduate School of Education.
Willinsky’s interest in what later became known as open access began in 1998, with his efforts to bring the evidence of research to bear on local journalism. He quickly realised, however, that his ambitions were significantly challenged by the fact that most scholarly journals required a subscription to read, and many had yet to move online.
So he shifted focus, and instead began trying to convince journals and conferences that they should go online, in the hope that this would enable greater public access to research. To help persuade editors and journals to make the move he founded the Public Knowledge Project (PKP), which subsequently evolved into a partnership with the Simon Fraser University Library (which is where the development team is based, led by SFU Associate University Librarian Brian Owen) and Stanford University. Read more »
The Open Access Interviews: Publisher MDPI
(Open & Shut?, Monday, April 27, 2015)
Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, or more usually MDPI, is an open access publisher that has had a challenging few years. It has been charged with excessively spamming researchers in order to maximise APC revenue, it has been accused of publishing pseudoscience, and it has been criticised for publishing papers of very poor quality. This has occasionally led to editorial board resignations e.g. here and here.
The criticism came to a head in February last year, when University of Colorado (Denver) librarian Jeffrey Beall added MDPI to his controversial list of “Potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers”.
MDPI AG was spun out of the MDPI Sustainability Foundation in 2010 by the owner of both organisations Shu-Kun Lin, along with the then CEO of MDPI Dietrich Rordorf. In the process a number of journals were relocated to MDPI, and since then MDPI’s portfolio of open access journals has grown to 137. Last year MDPI published over 12,000 papers.
MDPI’s difficulties appear to have started in December 2010, when one of its journals — Life — published a paper by Erik Andrulis called Theory of the Origin, Evolution, and Nature of Life. Aiming to present a framework to explain life, the paper was greeted with scepticism and ridicule. The popular science and technology magazines Ars Technica and Popular Science, for instance, characterised the ideas in the paper as “crazy” and “hilarious”.
Read more »
The Life and Death of an Open Access Journal: Q&A with Librarian Marcus Banks
(Open & Shut?, Tuesday, March 31, 2015)
Librarians have been at the forefront of the open access movement since the beginning, not least because in 1998 the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) founded the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). Today SPARC is arguably the world’s most active and influential OA advocacy organisation.
It is important to note that librarians’ interest in open access grew primarily out of their frustration with the so-called “serials crisis” — the phenomenon that has seen the cost of scholarly journals consistently grow at a higher rate than library serials budgets.
SPARC’s initial strategy, therefore, was to encourage the growth of new low-cost, non-profit, subscription journals able to compete with the increasingly expensive ones produced by profit-hungry commercial publishers. As SPARC’s then Enterprise Director Rick Johnson wrote in 2000, “In 1998, after years of mounting frustration with high and fast-rising commercial journal prices, a group of libraries formally launched SPARC to promote competition in the scholarly publishing marketplace. The idea was to use libraries’ buying power to nurture the creation of high-quality, low-priced publication outlets for peer-reviewed scientific, technical, and medical research.” Read more »
Open Access and the Request Eprint Button: Q&A with Eloy Rodrigues
(Open & Shut?, Sunday, March 22, 2015)
Contrary to what one might expect, not all the items in open access repositories are publicly available. Estimates of the percentage of the content in repositories that is not in fact open access tend to range from around 40% to 60%. This will include bibliographic records containing only metadata, plus full-text documents that have been placed on “dark deposit” — i.e. documents that are present in the repository but not freely available, either because they are subject to a publisher’s embargo or because the author(s) asked for the full-text to be deposited on a closed access basis. To enable researchers to nevertheless obtain copies of items that have been placed on dark deposit OA advocates developed the request eprint button. But how does the button work, and how effective is it? Below Eloy Rodrigues, Director of Documentation Services at the University of Minho, discusses the issues, and outlines the situation at UMinho.
RP: How many scholarly items are currently deposited in the University of Minho’s institutional repository RepositóriUM, and what are the growth rates?
ER: Currently we have more than 32,600 items in RepositóriUM, with around 5,000 being deposited yearly since the upgrade of our policy (effective since January 2011). Since 2011 more than 20,000 items have been deposited. Read more »
The OA Interviews: Alison Mudditt, Director, University of California Press
(Open & Shut?, Sunday, March 08, 2015)
As the open access train rolls towards the future more and more traditional scholarly publishers are jumping on board. When and how they do so is not an easy decision—as Wiley’s Alice Meadows pointed out recently on the Scholarly Kitchen. Nevertheless, OA is now inevitable, so the plunge has to be taken sooner or later.
The University of California Press made its move in January, launching two new open access programmes—Collabra and Luminos.
Collabra is a mega journal that will initially focus on three broad disciplinary areas (life and biomedical sciences, ecology and environmental science, and social and behavioural sciences), and then expand into other disciplines at a later date. Collabra is expected to publish its first articles in the next month or so.
Luminos is an open access monograph publisher that will publish its first book this autumn. Read more »
Open Access and the Research Excellence Framework: Strange bedfellows yoked together by HEFCE
(Open & Shut?, Wednesday, February 18, 2015)
When the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) announced its open access policy last March the news was greeted with great enthusiasm by OA advocates, who view it as a “game changer” that will ensure all UK research becomes freely available on the Internet. They were especially happy that HEFCE has opted for a green OA policy, believing that this will provide an essential green component to the UK’s “otherwise one-sided gold OA policy”. The HEFCE policy will come into effect on 1st April 2016, but how successful can we expect it to be, and what are the implications of linking open access to the much criticised Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the way HEFCE has done? These are, after all, strange bedfellows. Might there be better ways of ensuring that research is made open access?
What OA advocates particularly like about the HEFCE policy is that in order to comply researchers will not have to find the money needed to pay to publish in gold OA journals (as they are asked to do with the OA policy introduced by Research Councils UK in 2013). Rather, the HEFE policy states that only those papers that have been deposited in an open repository (on acceptance) can be submitted to REF2020, and that it is agnostic on whether researchers opt for green or gold. Read more »
The Open Access Interviews: Dr Indrajit Banerjee, Director of UNESCO’s Knowledge Societies Division
(Open & Shut?, Monday, December 15, 2014)
The mission of UNESCO, which was founded in 1945, is to “contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information.”
An important plank in that mission is a commitment to help build inclusive and equitable knowledge societies. We should not be surprised, therefore, that UNESCO supports the Open Access movement, we should not be surprised that it was the first UN agency to adopt an OA policy, and we should not be surprised that it now makes its own publications Open Access.
Today UNESCO’s OA repository (OAR) provides free access to over 500 of its own books, reports and articles in over 11 languages, and in recent years it has created a number of OA portals, directories, knowledge banks and Open Access indicators. Read more »