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 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 »
The Open Access Interviews: Richard Savory, Jisc Licensing Manager
(Open & Shut?, Wednesday, December 10, 2014)
For the past several decades the research community has been bedevilled with the so-called serials crisis, the phenomenon by which the cost of scholarly journals continues to rise at an unsustainable rate.
One of the most significant responses to this affordability problem was the open access (OA) movement, which in 2002 coalesced around the Budapest Open Access Initiative. Open access publishing, OA advocates have always argued, will be cheaper, and therefore sustainable.
In 2004, confronted by the growing demands of the OA movement, and faced with competition from open access publishers like BioMed Central and PLOS, traditional subscription publishers responded with hybrid OA, which allows authors to continue publishing in subscription journals but, if they wish, to choose to make a particular paper open access by paying an article-processing charge (APC). The first such initiative was Springer’s Open Choice, which at the time the company’s CEO Derk Haank characterised as a challenge to OA advocates to “put their money where their mouth is”. Read more »
The Open Access Interviews: Dagmara Weckowska, lecturer in Business and Innovation at the University of Sussex
(Open & Shut?, Monday, September 22, 2014)
As a result of prolonged pressure from the open access (OA) movement — and following considerable controversy within the research community — the UK is now embarked on a journey that OA advocates hope will lead to all publicly-funded research produced in the country being made freely available on the Internet. This, they believe, will be the outcome of two funder mandates that have been introduced.
The Research Councils UK (RCUK) policy — which came into effect on April 1st 2013— requires that all peer-reviewed papers and conference proceedings (and eventually monographs too it is assumed) arising from research funded by RCUK are made open access, either by researchers paying to publish in open access journals (gold OA), or continuing to publish in the traditional (subscription) manner and then depositing copies of their works in an open access repository (green OA), usually after an embargo period. Read more »
The Open Access Interviews: Paul Royster, Coordinator of Scholarly Communications, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
(Open & Shut?, Sunday, August 31, 2014)
Paul Royster is proud of what he has achieved with his institutional repository. Currently, it contains 73,000 full-text items, of which more than 60,000 are freely accessible to the world. This, says Royster, makes it the second largest institutional repository in the US, and it receives around 500,000 downloads per month, with around 30% of those going to international users.
Unsurprisingly, Royster always assumed that he was in the vanguard of the OA movement, and that fellow OA advocates attached considerable value to the work he was doing.
All this changed in 2012, when he attended an open access meeting organised by SPARC (The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) in Kansas City. At that meeting, he says, he was startled to hear SPARC announce to delegates that henceforth the sine qua non of open access is that a work has to be made available with a CC BY licence or equivalent attached. Read more »
Open access: What price affordability?
(eCancer Journal, Thursday, August 14, 2014)
Dating from 1665, the scholarly journal has served the research community well for over 300 years. In the past few decades, however, the subscription model it utilises has created a couple of apparently intractable problems—what we will call the affordability and accessibility problems.
The affordability problem has its roots in the dramatic growth in research after World War II, a problem made worse by the constant above-inflation increases in the cost of journal subscriptions—which led to what librarians call the “serials crisis”.
The situation was further exacerbated by the fact that learned societies struggled to cope with the growing demand from researchers for publication outlets. Spotting a lucrative market opportunity, for-profit companies (led by Robert Maxwell’s Pergamon Press) began to launch new scholarly journals , and to invite learned societies to outsource their journals to them, on the promise that by doing so they would be able to generate more money to subsidise their other activities. Read more »
The Subversive Proposal at 20
(Open & Shut?, Saturday, June 28, 2014)
Twenty years ago yesterday, cognitive scientist Stevan Harnad posted a message on a mailing list, a message he headed “A Subversive Proposal”. This called on all researchers to make copies of the papers they published in scholarly journals freely available on the Internet.
The message sparked a protracted discussion, and eventually led to the publication of a book called Scholarly Journals at the Crossroads: A Subversive Proposal for Electronic Publishing.
Today the Subversive Proposal is viewed as one of the seminal texts of the open access movement.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Subversive Proposal, I emailed Harnad nine questions yesterday. These questions are published below, with Harnad’s answers attached. Read more »
The Open Access Interviews: Deputy Director General of the Bureau of Policy at the National Natural Science Foundation of China
(Open & Shut?, Tuesday, June 17th, 2014)
On May 15, 2014 both the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) announced new open access policies.
Both funders’ policies require that all papers resulting from funded projects must be deposited in online repositories and made publicly accessible within 12 months of publication — a model pioneered by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2008, when it introduced its influential Public Access Policy.
As a result of the new Chinese policies there will be a significant increase in the number of research papers freely available, not least because it comes at a time when the number of papers published by Chinese researchers is growing rapidly. In reporting news of the policies, Nature indicated that Chinese research output has grown from 48,000 articles in 2003, or 5.6% of the global total, to more than 186,000 articles in 2012, or 13.9%. Read more »
Open Access in India: Q&A with Subbiah Arunachalam
(Open & Shut?, Monday, June 9th, 2014)
Today the world is awash with OA advocates, and the number of them grows year by year. But it was not always thus.
When Chennai-based information scientist Subbiah Arunachalam began calling for OA, for instance, there were hardly any other OA advocates in India, and not a great many more in the rest of the world either.
Yet like all developing countries, India faced (and continues to face) a serious access problem with regard to the scholarly literature — a function of the fact that the costs of subscribing to scholarly journals are very high, and these costs consistently rise at a faster rate than overall inflation. As a result, Indian scientists do not have access to all the journals they need to do their job properly. Read more »