Friday, March 14, 2008

Onwards from open access

As many of my readers will already know, I have recently decided to leave my position of Director of Open Access at Springer for that of CEO of Knewco Inc. Several reactions that I have since received indicate to me that my move is not necessarily understood by everyone, and I’ve even seen speculations that my leaving open access might mean that it is not going anywhere at Springer.

Let me say the following to that. First of all, OA has developed some very solid roots within Springer and I am most confident that OA is being further developed with alacrity by my successors at Springer.

Secondly, I don’t feel that I am leaving open access. Open access is not some club that one is a member of or not; it is a 'thought form' that one adheres to. And open access is only one of the ways in which the speed, efficiency and quality of scientific discovery can be enhanced.

Looking back on my career, I feel that my motives haven’t changed much. When I was working on IDEAL/APPEAL* (at Academic Press) in 1994-95 and later, I did this on the premise that there must be better ways to disseminate the research papers published in journals than just via relatively small numbers of subscriptions. The IDEAL concept (derided at first, but then imitated by just about all publishers, and often nicknamed BigDeal) was brought about by the realisation that if access to electronic journal articles could be pooled by larger numbers of institutions, then for the same publisher’s income – the same cost therefore to the academic community – the articles would be accessible to vastly more researchers. If ever the clich√©
win-win was appropriate, it was here.

Open access logically follows on from that. The challenge was Рstill is Рto find appropriate economic models to sustain professional scientific publishing with open access. The recently agreed arrangements between Springer and the Max Planck Gesellschaft, the UKB (all the Dutch universities plus the Royal Library), and Göttingen University, may point to a way forward. All articles from these institutions in Springer journals are published with open access under these arrangements.

If the underlying motive is, however, to get the most out of the scientific knowledge that has been gathered, which it is in my case, then moving on from open access to the semantic web – the concept web, if you wish – feels, at least to me, an entirely logical step. Not all knowledge after all is captured in journal articles. There is much more besides those, in databases, for instance, and in less formal web conversations. (A case can even be made that journal publishing ‘destroys’ data, for instance by reducing them to simple pixels in graphs, taking away the underlying richness of the data). Also, the connections between knowledge fragments are not always easily made purely by reading journal articles, in may areas a problem exacerbated by the sheer numbers of articles published. And all relevant. We are in a situation of overwhelming – and growing – abundance of scientific information, and methods that deal with that abundance are clearly needed. This is what Knewco people are working on, and I am very excited to join them.

Jan Velterop

*IDEAL: International Desktop Electronic Access Library – APPEAL: Academic Press Print and Electronic Access Licence

1 comment:

  1. Jan, this looks a very interesting move, and I do applaud your interest in the semantic content of web material. Is there any way, do you think, of getting journal publishers to put pressure on Adobe to add support for more semantic content within PDF, to reduce the pernicious effect of destroying data you mention?