Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Open access series: Introduction.

(Short one today, as it's the first week of classes and (1) WebCT for my course is not yet working and (2) Trent's email server is no longer accepting my password. Sigh....)

As the title suggests, my newest "policy" series begins today. Including this shortish post, I envision four parts. In this installment, I'll lay out the topic, the various positions I will be considering, and my critical approach.

The topic is, as I suggested some weeks ago, open access to published research. Keeping in mind that I actually do have .pdfs of my dissertation proposal draft, MA thesis, and various grad papers available at my own website, I still find troubling the idea that anyone would be compelled to publish their research in a form that could be accessible to anyone. While it certainly may be a good thing that people do so, those sorts of consequentialist justifications have always left me a little cold.

But I get ahead of myself. There are two related issues that are important when it comes to open access, which I'll call cost and ease. That is, if you're in favour of "open access" to published research, you could be in favour of one of two distinct claims, i.e., that there be no charge for accessing published research, or that it be easy to access published research (e.g., through a central repository of some kind). If you're against open access, you could be against either or both of these claims, and you could be against them to varying degrees. I think there are three distinct and interesting positions that fall out of this division, which should be considered in turn.

The first is the status quo, with fairly high charges for access and fairly low ease of access. That is, currently, in order to read most published research, one is required to either subscribe directly or piggy-back on some sort of institutional access (e.g., university library); and then one has to laboriously search through a number of different databases to find the material that one is looking for. To make matters worse, these databases can be... shall we say, sporadic? ... in their coverage of whatever discipline is their subject; and there is also no guarantee that even a large institution, such as a university library, has access to the items listed in the database. So, even assuming you have paid for access to these databases, and can find something that looks useful for your interests, you may not have found everything you were looking for, and what you have found may have to be ordered from elsewhere. Which implies more charges, in most cases.

The second is what I'll call "total open access" or TOA. TOA would have no or exceedingly minimal charges for access and extremely high ease of access. In order to read most published research, one would go to a freely-accessible database that would contain all relevant research publications. This database would be easy to use and complete; and would also allow one to directly access the materials found, in either electronic or dead-tree form. All researchers would be required to have their publications available through this database. (Or else what? Good question.)

The third is what I'll call "improved access" or IA. IA would have modest charges for access and high ease of access. That is, the actual process of searching for published research would be highly similar to that of TOA, with one exception, namely that no one would be required to have their publications available through this database. To incentivize the process, researchers would be rewarded for participating, but not punished for failing to. After all, at the end of the day, the published work is their own and, if copyright means anything, it means that one can decide how to release what one has created. (Or even not to do so at all.) There would be more significant access fees than under TOA, but far less than under the status quo; and this would follow simply from the fact that, instead of subscribing to multiple databases and publishers in order to access all relevant research, individuals and institutions would only have to subscribe to one.

In the next three weeks, I'll be considering each of the status quo, TOA and IA in turn, by first critiquing the positive arguments for them, and then considering the negative arguments against them.

8 comments:

undergroundman said...

That is, currently, in order to read most published research, one is required to either subscribe directly or piggy-back on some sort of institutional access (e.g., university library); and then one has to laboriously search through a number of different databases to find the material that one is looking for. To make matters worse, these databases can be... shall we say, sporadic? ... in their coverage of whatever discipline is their subject; and there is also no guarantee that even a large institution, such as a university library, has access to the items listed in the database.

As I'm finding right now in my economics research...most of the articles I'm interested in are unavailable to me, and mostly even inaccessible through an interlibrary loan.

All researchers would be required to have their publications available through this database. (Or else what? Good question.)

Or else no more public money? Most of the research open access people are targeting involves public money. While most of the work is done with public money, most of the profits accrue to publishers such as Reed Elsevier, the company which runs sciencedirect.com, and who's stock is doing fairly well.



The third is what I'll call "improved access" or IA. IA would have modest charges for access and high ease of access. That is, the actual process of searching for published research would be highly similar to that of TOA, with one exception, namely that no one would be required to have their publications available through this database. To incentivize the process, researchers would be rewarded for participating, but not punished for failing to. After all, at the end of the day, the published work is their own and, if copyright means anything, it means that one can decide how to release what one has created. (Or even not to do so at all.) There would be more significant access fees than under TOA, but far less than under the status quo; and this would follow simply from the fact that, instead of subscribing to multiple databases and publishers in order to access all relevant research, individuals and institutions would only have to subscribe to one.


This is already the case. Most math and physics articles have been published in a free repository called arXiv for a long time now. All the open-access journals are listed to doaj.org or openjgate.org, among other places.

You assume that authors can simply submit a paper to an open-access database freely. Why? That's a bad assumption. Publishers purchase the right to distribute and sell the work, and if you allow open-access to it, they're not going to be happy. If you really want to know what the policies are, you should look into the actual legal details. Here's Nature's http://www.nature.com/authors/editorial_policies/license.html.

On there they say this: "In 2002, NPG was one of the first publishers to allow authors to post their contributions on their personal websites, by requesting an exclusive licence to publish, rather than requiring authors to transfer copyright."

NPG, by the way, is owned by Macmillan, which is owned by by Georg von Holtzbrinck.

The publishing companies are increasingly defunct and they're trying to hold on to huge profit which no longer makes any sense.

undergroundman said...

Here's a few articles: two for open-access, one against (from Reed Elsevier).

For:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2006/apr/19/news.science.

http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20070912-publishers-try-to-railroad-open-access-research-publicationspublishers-try-to-railroad-open-access-research.html

Against:

http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/authored_newsitem.cws_home/companynews05_00077

undergroundman said...

Here's the Nature article referenced in the 'Railroading Article': http://www.nature.com/news/2007/070122/full/445347a.html

ADHR said...

The links will be useful. Thanks!

Cutting off public money only really affects research that requires lots of public money. In the humanities, for example, this would have minimal to no impact. If TOA is supposed to be science-only, then it starts to look really arbitrary.

Speaking of which, I have yet to see a philosophy journal which forces you to transfer copyright to them. I would also question whether most journals in other disciplines require it. I suspect it may be a case of no one simply asking for the contract to be changed. Anything's negotiable, if you just try.

Here's the Journal of Philosophy (one of the few for which I can find these policies online): In order to have full copyright protection, your work must be registered with the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress. Unless you transfer the copyright of your work in writing to your publisher, which in this case is The Journal of Philosophy, the law requires that you file for registration in your own name (and pay the required fee). Transferring the copyright to us allows us to register a blank copyright with the Copyright Office on behalf of all parties involved, exactly as publishers have been doing for many years. As the copyright holder, we will protect the copyright of your work, collect royalty payments for you as indicated above, and keep records of these payments. Accordingly, we ask that you sign a copyright transfer agreement and return it to us upon acceptance of your material.

Anyway, the point of IA (and TOA) would be to change the law so that journal publishers can't force authors to give up their copyrights. It would be an optional extra. The idea of the series is to consider whether TOA, IA or the status quo are the goals we should aim at. How we get to them is another story.

undergroundman said...

In the humanities, for example, this would have minimal to no impact. If TOA is supposed to be science-only, then it starts to look really arbitrary.

That's a damn good point, actually, and you could make an argument that the open access model doesn't support the humanities (as I suspect you might!) as it lays the costs on the authors. But I really think it needs to be recognized that the cost of publishing has been driven way down by the internet and digital revolution. Meanwhile, according to one of those links, subscription costs are skyrocketing. There's an easy solution to this problem: start a "Public Library of Philosophy", but don't require philosophers to pay to publish. Instead do the screening for free; actually, you could allow people to post their working paper, and then rely on a consensus of academics (any academic/philosopher who is verified can join) to decide whether it can published. Peer review could become an open, somewhat more collective process rather than a closed-door up or down vote of a couple guys. This database then becomes a spot where anyone can read the article, and qualified members (or in some cases others) can put up responses to each work. People have been slow to take advantage of the potential of technology, especially philosophy (but also economics).

There are some of these around right now (I know this one, under Humanities Research Network, which Brian Leiter mentioned). The SSRN doesn't encompass as much as I'd like but it's a start.

ADHR said...

I suspect that, in practice, that kind of system will still be an up or down vote of a handful of people. There's a certain amount of filtering by specialty that has to happen (e.g., having an epistemologist reading papers on the situationist critique of virtue ethics just wouldn't be appropriate), and I suspect there'd be some self-selection as well (i.e., some people just wouldn't care to participate in the process).

Furthermore, although the costs have gone down thanks to electronic publishing -- I'm actually in favour of the idea of ditching paper journals in favour of e-journals, incidentally -- there's still some infrastructure costs that have to be borne. I'm not sure who pays for the Humanities Research Newtork, or SSRN for that matter. But somebody has to be paying for the bandwidth, as well as building and maintaining the relevant hardware and software.

As far as it relates to the TOA/IA issue, either is consistent with the "public library of research" (not just philosophy) idea. What I'm questioning in this series, really, is why we leap from the problems associated with the status quo aaaaallll the way to TOA, when IA sits comfortably in the middle. Is there something obviously superior about TOA? Or obviously inferior about IA? That's one of the key issues I want to address, after (hopefully) disposing of the status quo in fairly short order.

undergroundman said...

Ah, yeah. The one great benefit of TOA is that it reduces time spent organizing log-ins, doing interlibrary loans, ect. and allows researchers to spend more time surveying the literature and reading articles. It also allows great dissemination among the public.

To emphasize the last point: there is a lot to be said for an article which can simply be linked to, where that link can be posted up on a blog and discussed with friends or other interested people. It is best if these articles are in HTML rather than PDF, as that allows them to be more easily read.

ADHR said...

I'd disagree with you on the format issue, depending on what's being presented. A book works better as PDF's as PDF's actually paginate; to paginate an HTML document takes a bit of doing, and becomes difficult to read. Longer journal articles have the same problem. Furthermore, if your article has a number of charts, graphs or other graphical elements, they're often easier to convert into PDF than into JPG or GIF and then display in an HTML document.

I'm also not yet convinced that there's necessarily value in allowing the public free access to published research.