Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Open access and publishing

On 24 January, the UK Serials Group (UKSG) published The E-Resources Management Handbook. I contributed a chapter to it on Open access and publishing. It is freely available from the UKSG site.

Jan Velterop

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Plagiarise, don't let anything evade your eyes

Title taken from a song by Tom Lehrer

A commentary in Nature suggested that duplicate publication is on the increase. Mostly autoplagiarism, apparently, as it seems that the majority of these duplicates share at least one author. A few studies are referenced that suggest a relatively low number of plagiarised articles, but a much higher number of suspected duplicates with the same authors. And it is suggested that those have been published simultaneously, which is, of course, not easy to achieve for alloplagiarism ("simultaneous publication is rarely observed for duplicates that do not share authors").

It also suggested that duplicate publication is bad, particularly in areas like clinical research ("Duplication, particularly of the results of patient trials, can negatively affect the practice of medicine, as it can instill a false sense of confidence regarding the efficacy and safety of new drugs and procedures"). This is no-doubt true, but one wonders if this negative effect is anything other than minor, given the rather widespread publication biases when it comes to clinical trials, such as this one regarding the treatment of depression with selective serotonin reuptake (SSRI) inhibitors: "Thirty-seven studies were assessed by the FDA as positive and, with one exception, every single one of those positive trials got properly written up and published. Meanwhile, 22 studies that had negative or iffy results were simply not published at all, and 11 were written up and published in a way that described them as having a positive outcome." (Ben Goldacre in The Guardian of January 26, 2008). Judging the scientific validity of findings just by counting articles is clearly pretty primitive.

Autoplagiarism is seen as ethically questionable, to say the least. According to the authors of the Nature commentary, Mounir Errami and Harold Garner, "it not only artificially inflates an author's publication record but places an undue burden on journal editors and reviewers, and is expressly forbidden by most journal copyright rules."

This is undoubtedly true as well, but again, placed in context it may be dwarfed by the burden on journal editors and reviewers imposed by the cascading effect of the whole publication process, with its cycle of submission, rejection, submission to another journal, rejection by that other journal, and so forth, until the article is finally published somewhere, meanwhile peer-reviewed at every stage.

What if the motives of autoplagiarising authors are more benign? What if they just want to ensure a wide dissemination of their work and they see multiple publication as a way to achieve that? One might say that publishing in a journal that offers open access would be a better way of doing that, or self-archiving in an open repository (and I would certainly be in favour of publishing with open access). But a quick look at the various open access advocacy email lists shows that cross-posting is rife, even though the archives of such lists are completely open. That complete openness is evidently not being regarded as sufficient by the cross-posting posters to get the attention desired. Multi-publication may in essence be the same phenomenon, or at least driven by the same motives. Is it so much different from having multiple versions of an article, as in one in a journal, another one in a central repository, another one in an institutional repository, et cetera? Sure, those should all refer to the same formally published article, so the authors can't get extra credits for them, so maybe it is very different. But hey, the scientific ego-system is a pretty cut-throat arena, and multiple publication seems amongst the smaller of possible misdemeanors, with a least the positive effect of wider dissemination of research results.

I am not convinced that autoplagiarism is anything other than a minor problem in science. It seems to me that non-publication of negative results is a problem of an order of magnitude greater. It is high time that this bias is addressed, and with the kind of indignation now seemingly accorded to autoplagiarism.

Interesting irony:
A Google search on 'non-publication of negative results in 2007' (search done on 26 January 2008, 16:30 GMT) shows as first result an article in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, with the link:
http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S1067502707000394 which leads to a screen saying "The article you requested is not currently available online".

Further down in the Google results is a link to an abstract that seems to be from the same article, and it is online, albeit not open. From the abstract: reasons why studies were not published range from "results not of interest for others" (1/3 of all studies), "publication in preparation" (1/3), "no time for publication" (1/5), "limited scientific quality of study" (1/6), "political or legal reasons" (1/7), and "study only conducted for internal use" (1/8)

Jan Velterop

Friday, January 18, 2008

Reviewed reviews

"Book self-archiving cannot and should not be mandated, for the contrary of much the same reasons peer-reviewed journal articles can and should be."
Stevan Harnad
18 January 2008
contribution to liblicense-l

I agree with him.

I think.

Why I can't be entirely certain is because by peer-reviewed journal articles he may mean the same as the NIH in the description of the types of articles that fall under the mandate, which says:
"The Policy applies to all peer-reviewed journal articles, including research reports and reviews. The Policy does not apply to non-peer-reviewed materials such as correspondence, book chapters, and editorials."
That's a mistake, in my view. Review articles belong in the second sentence, with editorials and the like; not the first. More often than not, review articles are initiated by a publisher, inviting a distinguished author to write one. More often than not the author is offered some payment for writing it. Seldom if ever is a review article the result of a funded research project.

Review articles have a lot in common with books. And if self-archiving of books "cannot and should not be mandated", the same applies, grosso modo, to review articles.

Even OA publisher par excellence, BioMed Central, requires subscriptions to access review articles, for instance in the journal Breast Cancer Research. I think they are right to do that. It will be interesting, though, to see how BMC will deal with the NIH requirement to self-archive review articles. Willl the 12 months' embargo be enough? They currently make these articles freely available after two years ("freely available online to registered users", which isn't quite the same as open access, but maybe that distinction is for pedants only). They could just avoid inviting authors with NIH grants to write review articles, of course.

Jan Velterop

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Taking the trip without paying the ship? Episode 2

Peter Suber, on his Open Access News blog, has made several comments on my previous posting. They all warrant a response, but first I'd like to make the general point that much of what separates the OA-advocacy sphere from the publishing sphere comes down to deep-rooted and stubborn differences of perception.

Such as the idea that researches 'give away' their papers to publishers. It certainly doesn't feel that way on the side of the publishers. There it feels like being asked to perform a service. That's why the process is known as 'submission' and not as 'donation'. Besides, if all this 'giving away' is a bad thing, why would scientists continue to do it? They may be many things, but they're not stupid.

Or the idea that the information in articles is being 'locked-up' by publishers for the sake of control. As far as publishers are concerned, any scientist is completely free to self-publish his articles on his own web sites or in repositories. What causes the 'lock-up' (at least until subscriptions are replaced by other ways of paying for publishers' services) is the requirement to publish in reputable peer-reviewed journals. Not a requirement imposed by publishers. That is not to say that it isn't a useful requirement. One of the main roles of publishers is to provide the structure for a professional, timely and efficient peer-review process to take place, on the scale necessary. Anybody can organise peer review of their own papers and decide not to bother a publisher with it, just as anybody can buy their eggs and wheat from a farmer and proceed to bake their own cake. Both happen, though most people have no time for it, find that they lack the requisite skills, or just find it downright boring. Publishers -- and bakers -- are there to professionalise and speed up that process, offering to take the hassle out of the hands of scientists leaving them to spend their time on where their real interests lie: doing science.

Back to Peter's comments:
"Subscription journals and mandated open access are not compatible." Jan's argument depends on the high level of OA archiving, whether that level is caused by a mandate or by a successful disciplinary culture of self-archiving. It therefore predicts that the near-100% level of OA archiving in physics would kill off subscription journals in physics. But that is not what we see when we look. On the contrary: the American Physical Society (APS) and the Institute of Physics Publishing Ltd (IOPP) have seen no cancellations to date attributable to OA archiving. In fact, both now host mirrors of arXiv and accept submissions from it. They have become symbiotic with OA archiving. We may or may not see the same symbiosis in other fields, as their levels of OA archiving rise to levels now seen in physics. But the experience in physics is enough to falsify the flat prediction that subscription journals and high-volume OA archiving are incompatible. For more on the question whether high-volume OA archiving will cause libraries to cancel subscription journals, see my article from September 2007 (esp. Sections 4-10).
First of all, my argument doesn't depend on a high level of OA-archived content to be valid. If there is a high level of OA content, then potential cancellations are the issue. At a lower level, we see an expectation -- increasingly a demand -- for reductions in the subscription fee. You could call that 'partial cancellation' if you wish. As for the idea that the field of high energy physics demonstrates that subscriptions and self-archiving are compatible, I do wonder why it is that the SCOAP3 initiative was taken. The compatibility that seems to exists in high energy physics is like the fluidity of supercooled water. SCOAP3, the idea of which is to abolish subscriptions altogether, will be the dropping in of the coin around which that water quickly solidifies as ice.

The incompatibility of subscriptions and OA (whether self-archived or otherwise) is as fundamental as the melting point is to supercooled water. In exceptional circumstances, temporary unstable states can occur. I accept that, pragmatically, this unstable state of pseudo-compatibility can occur for a while and runaway cancellations won't necessarily take place until the penny drops properly.

The second of his comments:
Jan assumes that all OA journals charge author-side publication fees. ("They don't give authors a choice and simply refuse to publish articles unless they are paid for by article processing charges....") But in fact most OA journals charge no publication fees. Last month, Bill Hooker's survey of all full-OA journals in the DOAJ found that 67% charged no publication fees. The month before, Caroline Sutton and I found that 83% of society OA journals charged no publication fees.
I'm certainly not assuming that all OA journals charge author-side fees, and I have no reason to doubt the numbers that Bill Hooker and Peter and Caroline come up with. Since the topic at hand was the NIH mandate, however, the question that I have is how many of those 70 to 80% of non-fee-charging OA journals would be acceptable journals for NIH-grantees to publish in?

His third comment:
If "paying the ticket" means paying the publication fee at a fee-based OA journal, then there are two replies. First, the NIH already allows grantees to spend grant funds on such fees. Second, but the NIH does not, and should not, require grantees to publish in OA journals. There aren't yet enough peer-reviewed OA journals in biomedicine to contain the NIH output; and even if there were, such a requirement would severely limit the freedom of authors to publish in the journals of their choice. That's why all funder mandates worldwide focus on green OA, not gold OA.
The freedom of authors to publish in the journals of their choice is important. I fully agree with that. The fact that this is seen as such an important tenet of academic freedom only serves to underscore how important journals are for other reasons than just distribution. That is why I argue that all journals should offer at least the option of immediate OA, and I do take the point of there not being enough journals yet that offer it. (By the way, a journal that offers immediate OA isn’t the same as an OA journal. Journals that offer OA include ‘hybrid’ journals. As the Bethesda Statement clearly says: “Open access is a property of individual works, not necessarily journals or publishers”.)

The NIH should indeed not require publishing in OA journals and journals that offer OA as an option. But if they are truly aiming to have, eventually, a solid and sustainable OA publishing system, they could at least advise publishing with OA and make clearer and more widely known that they allow grantees to spend grant funds on article processing fees for immediate open access.

Peter's last comment, an extensive one:
If "paying the ticket" means paying for peer review even at TA journals, when grantees submit their work to TA journals, then the reply is somewhat different. TA journals are already compensated by subscription revenue for organizing peer review. The NIH mandate will protect their subscriptions by delaying OA for up to 12 months and by providing OA only to author manuscripts rather than to published articles. In the September 2007 article I mentioned above (Section 6), I list four incentives for libraries to continue their subscriptions even after an OA mandate. If the argument is that these protections don't suffice, and that the risk to publishers is too great, then my answer is that Congress and the NIH have to balance the interests of publishers with the interests of researchers and the public. Here's how I described that balance last August:

Publishers like to say that they add value by facilitating peer review by expert volunteers. This is accurate but one-sided. What they leave out is that the funding agency adds value as well, and that the cost of a research project is often thousands of times greater than the cost of publication. If adding value gives one a claim to control access to the result, then at least two stakeholder organizations have that claim, and one of them has a much weightier claim than the publisher. But if publishers and taxpayers both make a contribution to the value of peer-reviewed articles arising from publicly-funded research, then the right question is not which side to favor, without compromise, but which compromise to favor. So far I haven't heard a better solution than a period of exclusivity for the publisher followed by free online access for the public....Publishers who want to block OA mandates per se, rather than just negotiate the embargo period, are saying that there should be no compromise, that the public should get nothing for its investment, and that publishers should control access to research conducted by others, written up by others, and funded by taxpayers.
The first two sentences sound suspiciously like "free-riding on the bus is OK, because the bus company is already compensated by the revenue from season ticket holders". I'm pretty sure that is not what he means, but what does he mean?

His reasoning on the balance struck is also shaky. Yes, publishers do add value, but why is saying so implying that they are the only ones adding value? And they don't claim to control access. They have to as long as there is no widely accepted other way for them to charge for the value they add than subscriptions. That's the beauty of author-side payment: it naturally removes the need to control access that comes with the subscription model. 'Gold' -- paying for the services you ask a publisher to perform -- is so much cleaner than messing around with compromised subscriptions and embargoes. And it would result in OA immediately upon publication as well, and not 12 months later.

Anyway, perhaps this NIH mandate is a spur for publishers and societies to accelerate moving to 'gold', at least for articles falling under these mandates.

Jan Velterop

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Taking the trip without paying the ship?

‘Twas the time of peace on Earth, making merry for some, serious contemplation for others, and infantilisation for others still, if I read the blog and list postings of the last few weeks. And combinations of all of the above, of course. Many of those who favour Open Access have reason to be happy, since the NIH mandate has passed all its hurdles in the US legislature and is becoming law. Albeit, oh irony, as stowaway in a spending bill that allocates nigh unlimited funds to war, a small fraction of which would have made the entire academic literature published since the dawn of modern science open to anyone in the whole world. A bag of sweets hidden in a barge of poison. It is a shame the mandate couldn’t make it on its own.

What is it all about?

The mandate in the bill requires researchers, authors, to deposit the articles resulting from their NIH-funded research immediately in PubMed Central and then make them open after 12 months at the latest. Read thus, the whole thing is ostensibly taking place outside the purview of publishers, as it is not they who are mandated to do anything. There’s even a positive message for many of them, if they are willing to hear it. Open access is, after all, a desirable thing, politically and scientifically. And it is not just any articles resulting from their research that grantees are mandated to deposit and make open within 12 months, it is their published, peer-reviewed articles. So what publishers have to do is make sure they offer authors open access – or at least embargoed open access – to the articles for which they, the publishers, arrange peer-review and then formal publication in a journal.

How they do that is the question. Most journals get ‘paid’ for their efforts by the authors’ transfer of copyright. This copyright they then subsequently ‘trans-substantiate’ into money via subscriptions. What an embargo does is simply to make this ‘payment’ of copyright worth less. For some journals, an embargo of 12 months will make little difference. The time-sensitive currency of the information published in those titles demands that libraries need to subscribe to get immediate access anyway. For those, the ‘value’ of copyright is not eroded. But for other journals, the ones that publish less time-sensitive material, a mandate is possibly devastating, a double whammy, removing the incentive to pay both on the part of the librarian, who judges that his or her constituency can wait 12 months for access, as well as on the part of the author, who, given the option, may judge that his or her readers can wait 12 months for access. Subscription journals and mandated open access are not compatible. Only journals run on entirely charitable support can survive this way.

Fully open access journals stand somewhat outside the pitch as observers of the spectacle, since they have already understood that being dependent on what governments may allow you as a term in which to sell subscriptions is just too risky. They don't give authors a choice and simply refuse to publish articles unless they are paid for by article processing charges, a.k.a. author-side publication fees. Subscription-based journals and hybrid journals (those that offer paid-for open access as an option) are the ones likely to suffer, although hybrid journals have the possibility too, of course, to remove the non-OA option for NIH-funded research articles and behave exactly like a full OA journal towards NIH-grantees.

Surely, the stowaway analogy doesn’t go further than the mandate simply being buried in the bowels of the bill, does it? Surely, the free-readership mandate doesn’t imply free-ridership, too, does it? Surely, the mandate doesn’t imply that NIH-funded researchers are compelled to take the trip without paying for the ticket? If so, the bill is fundamentally a dishonest one. If it isn’t a dishonest one, surely the NIH will clearly indicate that it is entirely legitimate, and advisable, for authors to spend a small percentage of their grant money – estimates range from 1 to 2 percent – on the article processing fees for publication with immediate open access?

If the bill really should be the fundamentally dishonest variety feared, one of ‘taking the trip without paying the ship’, then this OA ‘victory’ will, alas, turn out to be a Pyrrhic one. A short-term pseudo-success at the cost of a long-term open access solution. A palliative that ultimately kills instead of a treatment that ultimately cures.

Advocates of true, immediate, and sustainable open access, as an integral part of research, may still have a long way to go.

Happy 2008!

Jan Velterop