Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Open or not?

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  • Ben Curran,

    There's two problems. The first being that the people who pay don't have access to the work that they fund. The second being that there is an absurd amount of money being wasted on subscriptions.

    We can celebrate the fact that the work would now be available to the public (problem one solved) at the same time as being worried that problem two is quite possibly being made worse. The most alarming thing that I got from the Guardian article was that the money to prop up the Gold-OA model is likely coming out of the science budgets with no extra money being provided - a cut by any other name.

    Either way, it's good that OA is moving ahead (a move we should follow in NZ). We really should be pushing for green-OA though - in the long term, it means more money to spend on education.

    Since May 2011 • 44 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn,

    Some issues worth considering:

    i) Universities both here and in the UK are reviewed on research outputs by formulas and schemes that variously reward "quality" and "volume". I can foresee a point where cost of publication becomes an issue for those with limited funds.

    ii) Whatever changes come about in the future, there is still a massive amount of valuable back-catalogue that will need setting free. Some of this is under draconian digital copyright agreements. The current direction of legislation in this area is at best unhelpful.

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 724 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome,

    Let me add my somewhat considered thoughts here (considered because I'm currently submitting material to academic articles); the "open access" moniker is a bit troubling at the moment precisely because of the cost, for researchers, to make their articles open access.

    The "Gold OA" class of journals really do charge you quite a wack of money (the ones I've seen are in the hundreds of pounds/US dollars range) and thus a lot of my (former, previously fellow, colleagues (hello, unemployment)) continue to submit to the traditional journals because:

    a) the OA journals often (but not always) want you to pay for publication. Individual academics don't want to pay those fees themselves and Departments often don't want to pay those fees on behalf of their staff because it takes money away from other activities (for example, the Department of Philosophy at Auckland, despite being one of the largest departments at UoA and one that does extremely well in the PBRF, is chronically underfunded at the moment; paying to publishing would really be hard to justify in this climate given there are free options (the Library's purchasing power for journals is separate from the Department's spending, so you can't move the money from one ledger to another)).

    b) in research-based institutions, like Auckland, not all journals are equal. Academics, if they want continuation (what we call "tenure" now), need to publish in big name journals with high impact factors (A and some B grade journals), and, in Philosophy at least, there are very few A and B grade OA journals.

    So, the problem for open access is that sometimes it's only open in a very limited direction; it lets other see your research more easily but it can (for the Gold OAs) actually limit your ability to get your research into the land of the peer reviewed. For example, I'm now an unemployed philosopher who is trying to publish in order to get another academic post within the next few years. I cannot, currently, afford to pay for publication, so I'm aiming my work at closed journals.

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 408 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood,

    Also, in at least some version of the "Gold" model I have seen the phrase "access for the people of the United Kingdom" has be a part of the wording, In those models the U.K. was effectively buying subscription access for the country to the journals. I haven't checked if this is part of the latest round of suggestions.

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 886 posts Report Reply

  • Ben Curran, in reply to HORansome,

    The first problem you outline is an accounting problem. The university has to stump up with the money either through a journal description or a paying for papers to be published. If chunks of the subscription charges were funnelled through departments, this wouldn't be a problem. They're currently not, this needs to be fixed.

    In philosophy there might be few A and B grade OA journals but in other fields, especially the sciences where I am, it's not the case. We could put forth an argument for some form of mixed model here though surely?
    Those departments that do have the option of publishing in high quality OA journals should be given the chance since it means that the results of their work are open to the public. And once the needless waste/profits are stripped from the publishing industry, there should be more money available for education in general.
    And hopefully it would give confidence to those attempting to start high quality OA journals in those fields which currently do not have them.

    As an individual, there's no problem with you submitting to a closed journal (unless you specifically want to reach the general public) since the public isn't paying for your work.

    Since May 2011 • 44 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood, in reply to HORansome,

    need to publish in big name journals with high impact factors (A and some B grade journals)

    As part (I think) of the movement surrounding OA, I have been seeing increasing analysis of impact factors, and criticism of them. So, in much the same time period as the boom in articles about open access, I have been seeing a boom in articles like this

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 886 posts Report Reply

  • Luke Goode,

    There's still a strong whiff of 'racket' in the Gold model, e.g. Springer Science currently charging authors EUR2000 (>3k NZD) plus VAT to go OA (as well as appearing in closed journal), while peer reviewing is still mostly free labour provided by the institutions and their academics. But we're inching in the right direction, at least.

    Since Jun 2012 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Shaun Lott,

    Some of the problem here is indeed, as pointed out by HORansome, that the shift to 'Gold OA' represents a shift in $ from the library's subscriptions budget to the researcher's operating costs. Another key part is the copyright restrictions that have made 'Green OA' hard to achieve.

    In some places (e.g. in the US for NIH grants and in the UK for Wellcome Trust grants) these costs are being explicitly covered in grants at the same time as a 'Gold OA' publication policy is being mandated by the funding body. This is far from universal though, and the cost of publication has to come from somewhere, most traditionally from subscription charges to the journal.

    The Economist has had a series of interesting articles on this subject (links below) the first of which summaries this business model of academic publishing quite nicely:

    Academic journals generally get their articles for nothing and may pay little to editors and peer reviewers. They sell to the very universities that provide that cheap labour. As other media falter, academic publishers have soared. Elsevier, the biggest publisher of journals with almost 2,000 titles, cruised through the recession. Last year it made £724m ($1.1 billion) on revenues of £2 billion—an operating-profit margin of 36%.

    However, not all subscribers pay the same amount. Harvard may be publicly complaining about the costs (Harvard crying poor?!), but I am led to believe that the University of Auckland (for example) has cut a much better deal with Elsevier by shifting to an all-online package.

    The thing is complicated, and one model will not fit all.

    But don't even start on the cost of time spent writing and reviewing grant applications!

    http://www.economist.com/node/18744177
    http://www.economist.com/node/21545974
    http://www.economist.com/node/21552574

    Waitakere • Since Aug 2009 • 52 posts Report Reply

  • Tim Darlington,

    There are two problems standing in the way of expansion of Green OA:

    1. The current model is largely based on authors signing copyright on their work over to the journal publisher, who has a direct financial interest in NOT undercutting the current model through allowing authors to publish their final draft online at no charge. For that reason, it's a long, slow uphill path getting publisher agreements for open-access archiving.

    2. Even if we didn't have PBRF, an author would want you to cite his publication in the prestigious journal that published it, not the X university institutional repository. But with PBRF, an author has to be seriously public-spirited to make the final draft available open-access - it could potentially reduce their citation count according to the measurements that TEC are going to make.

    Since Nov 2006 • 43 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome, in reply to Ben Curran,

    The first problem you outline is an accounting problem. The university has to stump up with the money either through a journal description or a paying for papers to be published. If chunks of the subscription charges were funnelled through departments, this wouldn't be a problem. They're currently not, this needs to be fixed.

    Well, yes and no. Part of the problem is that if you have a very successful department (with respect to publishing, like Philosophy at Auckland), you might get a situation where the cost of paying for open access publishing is close to the cost of journal subscriptions. Add to this the problem that, at the moment, the money spent on publishing (which, as Luke pointed out, doesn't necessarily go to the editors or reviewers) mostly still goes to the same oligarachs who control the closed journals.

    I'm not against open access. I am, however, very suspicious about the current model of OA. It still seems to the same people making a profit off of publicly-funded research.

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 408 posts Report Reply

  • Ben Curran, in reply to HORansome,

    where the cost of paying for open access publishing is close to the cost of journal subscriptions. Add to this the problem that, at the moment, the money spent on publishing (which, as Luke pointed out, doesn't necessarily go to the editors or reviewers) mostly still goes to the same oligarachs who control the closed journals.

    Unless I've got things horribly wrong, then this is one of the things that one of the commenter's Russell highlighted. The Green OA model, will eventually (it's a long eventually I know) destroy the subscriber base for the journals/Gold OA model because most of what people want access to will eventually be open source. Which is why we want the Green OA rather than the Gold OA that the UK is looking at implementing. As Luke Goode says above, heading straight into the Gold OA model "has a strong whiff of racket" about it.

    You're probably right about the cost of paying for open access being similar to journal subscriptions. By accounting problem, I was suggesting that if the subscription fees came out of the Library budget and went to the Philosophy department, there would be funds for getting papers into OA journals.

    The problem, as you say, is very much the model. As best as I can tell, the Gold model essentially props up a moribund industry that has no idea how to evolve to cope with the needs of todays academics. The Green model, would keep that industry alive for a short while - though when sufficient material is open, they would be forced to innovate and cut their costs to something reasonable or die. Though of course that still leaves the problem of the back catalogue that 81st state pointed out.

    Since May 2011 • 44 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome, in reply to Ben Curran,

    The problem, as you say, is very much the model. As best as I can tell, the Gold model essentially props up a moribund industry that has no idea how to evolve to cope with the needs of todays academics. The Green model, would keep that industry alive for a short while - though when sufficient material is open, they would be forced to innovate and cut their costs to something reasonable or die. Though of course that still leaves the problem of the back catalogue that 81st state pointed out.

    Precisely. We can be for open access but be quite suspicious of this model of open access. (and by this I mean "any model which supports Gold OA").

    The back catalogue material is, itself, it's own kettle of worms, in part because it's costly (although increasingly less so) to convert into accessible content and, in part because the copyright of a lot of the material is a) confusing (even though institutions paid for the research the copyright often belongs to the publisher (and sometimes the author) and sometimes who owns the copyright now is hard to trace) and b) is subject to different copyright rules in different parts of the world.

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 408 posts Report Reply

  • Grant Taylor,

    My perspective as an 'end-user' of published research who works outside of academic settings is that the costs of access are prohibitive, even for many commercial organisations. Perhaps there was a time, long, long ago, when the bulk of knowledge worth knowing within a field of endeavour was published in a selected few journals. In those circumstances, it was perhaps feasible to hold subscriptions to those journals. Now, especially in innovative and cross-disciplinary fields, the number of journals that comprise the resource pool is huge and it is simply not realistic to hold subscriptions to all of these - especially when a single title may contain a relevant article only a few times per year, at most. With the big publishing houses commonly setting per-article online access costs at US $35-$50, even a cursory literature review can cost well in excess of US $1,500 for article copies alone. These costs are a real barrier to the transfer of scientific findings into technological advances and commercial application.

    Auckland • Since Jul 2012 • 9 posts Report Reply

  • Euan Mason,

    This shifts publication costs from research users to research providers, and it changes some incentives. At present journal editors have a financial interest in quality research because quality attracts subscribers. If journals only require volume to make a profit then we should see a gradual relaxation in publication standards. In addition, if research providers have to pay for users' access then less research may be undertaken and very likely less of what is done will be published, although clearly there are other incentives to publish. Most of the cheap OA journals have no standing, and we might see a change there as well.

    Canterbury • Since Jul 2008 • 189 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    peer reviewing is still mostly free labour provided by the institutions and their academics

    So why don't either the UK government or a consortium of governments set up a peer review co-ordination body (in the UK, maybe around the research councils which do most of the funding)? With suitable process automation, it wouldn't cost that much to run.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4459 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn,

    So why don't either the UK government or a consortium of governments set up a peer review co-ordination body (in the UK, maybe around the research councils which do most of the funding)?

    After many years spent undermining collegiality (and believing they had benefitted from it) this would require a considerable shift in thinking for ukgovt.com amongst others. Blind reviewing won't help either.

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 724 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    ukgovt.com

    I think you mean Her Brittanic Majesties Most Exalted and Imperial Government, don't you. It isn't 2012 or something.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4459 posts Report Reply

  • Christopher Dempsey,

    I don't pretend to understand how publishing journal articles work. All I know is my experience as a finishing PhD student, sometime lecturer at University of Auckland, and sometime reviewer of academic books.

    From my perspective, good quality journals are great (but few and far between). They aggregate research (within a general theme) within the one journal, or in a specific issue. I know that these are 'locked' behind a paywall, and am very grateful to the UoA for the access as I have been able to read a number of very brilliant articles.

    Because of this pay-wall I infrequently use my ability to search journals to find pertinent research information for Council officers (wearing my Council hat momentarily) for particular topics - the last was on noise in the urban environment - which I download and send to officers for their information and contribution to policy analysis. I'm sure they are pleased to have the articles, as I am, as often the subject researched dovetails nicely with my lecture focus.

    I'm not sure that I would necessarily appreciate a system that disaggregates research into individual researcher online repositories, viz;

    " but to self-archive their peer-reviewed final draft in their institutional OA repository to make it free online for those who lack subscription access to the publisher’s version of record. This is called “Green OA.”

    This would mean having to know a name, and to search across multiple names to find appropriate articles/research.

    Just my 2c worth.

    Parnell / Tamaki-Auckland… • Since Sep 2008 • 642 posts Report Reply

  • Richard Dearden,

    This would mean having to know a name, and to search across multiple names to find appropriate articles/research.

    Presumably you used the Journal's search engine on keywords. I find that Google does just as well, and isn't limited to a single journal.

    The irritating thing in my field is that many/most people already archive late drafts of papers on their own sites,so the move to the Gold OA model will largely cost additional money with no benefit whatsoever.

    It's also worth pointing out that universities will not be able to give up their subscriptions even if all UK science is published open access as they will still have academics requesting the non-OA articles. Effectively, this move will mean that UK universities pay for access twice (and is also why library subscription money can't be transferred to pay OA fees).

    Given that most reviewing, and much editing of journals is done by academics for free, abandoning the old journals and starting on-line OA substitutes with high acceptance standards seems like the way forward. This has already happened in my field with journals like JMLR and JAIR, both of which are comparable in quality with the best commercial journals in the field.

    Birmingham, UK • Since Jul 2008 • 8 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood,

    A Times Higher Ed. article also does not like the Gold model.

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 886 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    From my perspective - as a occasional writer, and peer reviewer for academic journals - there is no money at all in academic publishing, in fact it costs as it takes away from time that could be spent on money making activities. Brave souls sometimes take on roles as guest editors (also unpaid) for whole issues and it seems to take a huge amount of time and work chasing up and tidying up articles, finding reviewers, copy editors, sorting publication issues etc all to impossible deadlines. It is disheartening, therefore, if all that work is only accessible to a limited audience.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 2087 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome, in reply to Hilary Stace,

    Well, there's no money for us academics in being an editor or peer reviewer. The journal publishers, though, seem to make quite a bit of money from the enterprise.

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 408 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace, in reply to HORansome,

    The shareholders are doing nicely. I think we are in the wrong part of the enterprise.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 2087 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand,

    Much of the problem is to do with the damn PBRF, which persists in placing the laboured book or highly specialised, peer-reviewed article at the top of the heap. I have had book chapters in overseas collections arrive 4 or 5 years after I wrote the thing and it is often just plain depressing. What we need (in an ideal world) is for the canon to be over-turned, to give greater credit to web-based and other , newer forms of publication.

    I like writing book reviews, especially if it is a good book, but academics get bugger-all credit for doing this.

    Peer reviewing can also sail close to academic censorship too and you have to be very aware of this.

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2311 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    I do wonder if google or some other institution is going to try and break this open. Currently the barrier to greater web only publishing having an impact is the publishing component - the content, editing, peer reviewing is typically done by academics for free.

    A significant move by a publisher to offer to move journals or set up new journals in an easy to use system open to the world would start to put cracks in it if the academics moved to publish there, and the quality of their work was recognised there.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6174 posts Report Reply

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