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The Research Works Act and the breakdown of mutual incomprehension

3 February 2012 2,353 views 44 Comments
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When the history of the Research Works Act, and the reaction against it, is written that history will point at the factors that allowed smart people with significant marketing experience to walk with their eyes wide open into the teeth of a storm that thousands of people would have predicted with complete confidence. That story will detail two utterly incompatible world views of scholarly communication. The interesting thing is that with the benefit of hindsight both will be totally incomprehensible to the observer from five or ten years in the future. It seems worthwhile therefore to try and detail those world views as I understand them.

The scholarly publisher

The publisher world view places them as the owner and guardian of scholarly communications. While publishers recognise that researchers provide the majority of the intellectual property in scholarly communication, their view is that researchers willingly and knowingly gift that property to the publishers in exchange for a set of services that they appreciate and value. In this view everyone is happy as a trade is carried out in which everyone gets what they want. The publisher is free to invest in the service they provide and has the necessary rights to look after and curate the content. The authors are happy because they can obtain the services they require without having to pay cash up front.

Crucial to this world view is a belief that research communication, the process of writing and publishing papers, is separate to the research itself. This is important because otherwise it would be clear that, at least in an ethical sense, that the writing of papers would be work for hire for the funders – and part and parcel of the contract of research. For the publishers the fact that no funding contract specifies that “papers must be published” is the primary evidence of this.

The researcher

The researcher’s perspective is entirely different. Researchers view their outputs as their own property, both the ideas, the physical outputs, and the communications. Within institutions you see this in the uneasy relationship between researchers and research translation and IP exploitation offices. Institutions try to avoid inflaming this issue by ensuring that economic returns on IP go largely to the researcher, at least until there is real money involved. But at that stage the issue is usually fudged as extra investment is required which dilutes ownership. But scratch a researcher who has gone down the exploitation path and then pushed gently aside and you’ll get a feel for the sense of personal ownership involved.

Researchers have a love-hate relationship with papers. Some people enjoy writing them, although I suspect this is rare. I’ve never met any researcher who did anything but hate the process of shepherding a paper through the review process. The service, as provided by the publisher, is viewed with deep suspicion. The resentment that is often expressed by researchers for professional editors is primarily a result of a loss of control over the process for the researcher and a sense of powerlessness at the hands of people they don’t trust. The truth is that researchers actually feel exactly the same resentment for academic editors and reviewers. They just don’t often admit it in public.

So from a researcher’s perspective, they have spent an inordinate amount of effort on a great paper. This is their work, their property. They are now obliged to hand over control of this to people they don’t trust to run a process they are unconvinced by. Somewhere along the line they sign something. Mostly they’re not too sure what that means, but they don’t give it much thought, let alone read it. But the idea that they are making a gift of that property to the publisher is absolute anathema to most researchers.

To be honest researchers don’t care that much about a paper once its out. It caused enough pain and they don’t ever want to see it again. This may change over time if people start to cite it and refer to it in supportive terms but most people won’t really look at a paper again. It’s a line on a CV, a notch on the bedpost. What they do notice is the cost, or lack of access, to other people’s papers. Library budgets are shrinking, subscriptions are being chopped, personal subscriptions don’t seem to be affordable any more.

The first response to this when researchers meet is “why can’t we afford access to our work?” The second is, given the general lack of respect for the work that publishers do, is to start down the process of claiming that they could do it better. Much of the rhetoric around eLife as a journal “led by scientists” is built around this view. And a lot of it is pure arrogance. Researchers neither understand, nor appreciate for the most part, the work of copyediting and curation, layout and presentation. While there are tools today that can do many of these things more cheaply there are very few researchers who could use them effectively.

The result…kaboom!

So the environment that set the scene for the Research Works Act revolt was a combination of simmering resentment amongst researchers for the cost of accessing the literature, combined with a lack of understanding of what it is publishers actually do. The spark that set it off was the publisher rhetoric about ownership of the work. This was always going to happen one day. The mutually incompatible world views could co-exist while there was still enough money to go around. While librarians felt trapped between researchers who demanded access to everything and publishers offering deals that just about meant they could scrape by things could continue.

Fundamentally once publishers started publicly using the term “appropriation of our property” the spark had flown. From the publisher perspective this makes perfect sense. The NIH mandate is a unilateral appropriation of their property. From the researcher perspective it is a system that essentially adds a bit of pressure to do something that they know is right, promote access, without causing them too much additional pain. Researchers feel they ought to be doing something to improve acccess to research output but for the most part they’re not too sure what, because they sure as hell aren’t in a position to change the journals they publish in. That would be (perceived to be) career suicide.

The elephant in the room

But it is of course the funder perspective that we haven’t yet discussed and looking forward, in my view it is the action of funders that will render both the publisher and researcher perspective incomprehensible in ten years time. The NIH view, similar to that of the Wellcome Trust, and indeed every funder I have spoken to, is that research communication is an intrinsic part of the research they fund. Funders take a close interest in the outputs that their research generates. One might say a proprietorial interest because again, there is a strong sense of ownership. The NIH Mandate language expresses this through the grant contract. Researchers are required to grant to the NIH a license to hold a copy of their research work.

In my view it is through research communication that research has outcomes and impact. From the perspective of a funder their main interest is that the research they fund generates those outcomes and impacts. For a mission driven funder the current situation signals one thing and it signals it very strongly. Neither publishers, nor researchers can be trusted to do this properly. What funders will do is move to stronger mandates, more along the Wellcome Trust lines than the NIH lines, and that this will expand. At the end of the day, the funders hold all the cards. Publishers never really did have a business model, they had a public subsidy. The holders of those subsidies can only really draw one conclusion from current events. That they are going to have to be much more active in where they spend it to successfully perform their mission.

The smart funders will work with the pre-existing prejudice of researchers, probably granting copyright and IP rights to the researchers, but placing tighter constraints on the terms of forward licensing. That funders don’t really need the publishers has been made clear by HHMI, Wellcome Trust, and the MPI. Publishing costs are a small proportion of their total expenditure. If necessary they have the resources and will to take that in house. The NIH has taken a similar route though technically implemented in a different way. Other funders will allow these experiments to run, but ultimately they will adopt the approaches that appear to work.

Bottom line: Within ten years all major funders will mandate CC-BY Open Access on publication arising from work they fund immediately on publication. Several major publishers will not survive the transition. A few will and a whole set of new players will spring up to fill the spaces. The next ten years look to be very interesting.

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  • http://twitter.com/ipoga Jens Peter Andersen

    To me, 

  • http://theparachute.blogspot.com/ Jan Velterop

    Researchers (and their funders) should stop paying for any publisher services with the coin called copyright (i.e. stop transferring their ©), and instead, pay with real money, for real, clearly understandable services (e.g. author-side paid OA). One flaw: OA journals mostly charge for publication, not for organising the peer review. That loads all cost onto the published articles only, including the cost of any work done on rejected articles.

    Jan Velterop

  • http://twitter.com/drs1969 David Smith

    Hi Jan,

    back in the day BMC flirted with the idea of charging for peer review services but unless it happened after my time there, it was never implemented. I seems to recall an economic analysis about OA costs that also posited that paying for rejection was the only way to make the OA system sustainable on a per journal basis (sadly can’t locate the paper anywhere). My question then, why has the idea of paying even if the paper is rejected, not taken off? A blocker might be the uncomfortable thought that taking a paper through multiple rounds of rejection might make the cost of publishing the research in question uncomfortably high… 

  • http://theparachute.blogspot.com/ Jan Velterop

     Hi David,

    I don’t think the cost of multiple rounds of peer review is the most important potential blocker.

    There are a few things that militate against having a submission charge. 1) The existence of journals with free submission, which is the vast majority. (Contrast this with the non-existence of journals with free publishing: authors always pay, either by transferring their ©, or by transferring some money); 2) The need for publishers to justify the quality (or lack thereof) of the peer review performed; 3) The psychological hit that authors may feel upon rejection which leads them to conclude that they’ve thrown away their money (though they may have just pitched at the wrong journal level, or submitted substandard work).

    Among the benefits of a submission charge is that authors are more likely to try and submit their article to the most appropriate journal, and not one, or several, levels higher, just in case. And that in turn would lessen the burden on the peer review system.

  • Mike Taylor

    Thanks, Cameron, that’s a fascinating analysis with a very optimistic prognosis.  I had to tweet this article three times, I kept finding such quotable quotes!

    Only one quibble: “Researchers neither understand, nor appreciate for the most part, the
    work of copyediting and curation, layout and presentation. While there
    are tools today that can do many of these things more cheaply there are
    very few researchers who could use them effectively.”

    Don’t you think that arXiv gives the lie that assertion?  The papers posted there have been copyeditied by their author; they are not curated, and none the worse for that; authors also execute layout and presentation.  So far as I can see, the only significant respect in which arXiv’ed preprints are inferior to articles published in journals is that they have not been through peer-review.

    Am I missing something?

  • http://cameronneylon.net Cameron Neylon

    Mike, my point was more that most researchers don’t understand or know much about what happens. I’m not saying that these are all things that need to happen but I think we’re going to see a new wave of people setting up “free” journals which then fail due to a lack of appropriate technical and social infrastructure because people don’t understand the issues. So trivial example, Arxiv articles don’t get checked for accuracy of citations (you might argue that a bunch of journals don’t do this well either but at least they should)

  • Irene Hames

    Cameron, you’ve presented a very nice analysis and identified
    what I also think are the key reasons for why things have come to a head now:

    “So the environment
    that set the scene for the Research Works Act revolt was a combination of
    simmering resentment amongst researchers for the cost of accessing the
    literature, combined with a lack of understanding of what it is publishers
    actually do. The spark that set it off was the publisher rhetoric about
    ownership of the work.”

    Important too that you talk about ‘research communication’.
    That already encompasses much more than actual research publication, and is set
    to become even richer and more varied.  Especially
    when valuable contributions to the scientific effort that aren’t currently acknowledged
    in any meaningful way (e.g. to data usability) become recognised, encouraged
    and rewarded.

     

  • Richard Sever

    Great analysis. One thing that distinguished the Wellcome and NIH approaches was that Wellcome clearly acknowledged the costs involved and provided funds to researchers to pay publishers directly to make papers open access. NIH, by contrast, funded a publication infrastructure of their own (PMC) and then mandated papers be deposited there (without any form of payment). Is the former approach more conducive to the resolution you envisage and less likely to produce the kind of defensiveness we’ve seen from publishers?

  • http://twitter.com/wisealic Alicia Wise

    Hi Richard,
    Yes, the Wellcome Trust approach is really welcomed by publishers.  At Elsevier we have a number of open access agreements with funding bodies. With the Wellcome Trust, for example, we have successfully blended gold and green oa models.  Wellcome Trust reimburses its grant recipients for their gold open access publishing fees, and in exchange Elsevier deposits a final version of the article (without journal branding) into UK PubMed Central.  We feel the Wellcome Trust model is a good one, and represents a win for author, funder, publisher, university, and science more broadly.

  • http://twitter.com/wisealic Alicia Wise

    Thanks, Cameron, for this thoughtful piece.  I commented to you earlier on twitter, but a colleague suggested it would be nice to post here as well.

    First, I would add that access is a value that unites academics, funders, AND publishers.  People write and/or become publishers in order to be widely read, not to ‘restrict access’.  Publishers have to figure out how to cover the costs of doing this, and we use a very wide array of business models.

    Second, it is great that funders are willing to cover the costs for research communication.  When I asked earlier you signalled that you support ”gold CC-BY OA, backed up by funder mandates and appropriate funding”.  That’s clear, thanks.  This leads me to wonder if the word ‘mandate’ is another thing of mutual incomprehension.  The word carries a hint of force.  Synonyms include dictate, fiat, order, command, and control.  Would mandates still be necessary in a world where the enabling framework of gold oa funding was securely in place?   And if so, why?

    Thanks, Alicia

  • http://theparachute.blogspot.com/ Jan Velterop

    Alicia says:

    “First, I would add that access is a value that unites academics,
    funders, AND publishers.  People write and/or become publishers in order
    to be widely read, not to ‘restrict access’.  Publishers have to figure
    out how to cover the costs of doing this, and we use a very wide array
    of business models.”

    I thinks she’s right. It subsequently comes down to the efficiency and the effectiveness of finding ways to cover the cost and at the same time achieving the widest possible availability. That’s what distinguishes publishers. From what I know, it is OA journals that achieve a wider dissemination (the widest possible) at a lower cost per article published (by which I mean cost to the scientific community) than subscription journals, give or take one or two exceptions.

    To me that means that, if peer reviewed journal publishing is the desired thing, the ‘gold’ model is the more efficient.

    The objection that the model cannot apply to very selective journals as the article fee would be too high seems a realistic one – except that the PLoS journals seem to manage without such a high fee. But if any journal can afford to introduce a submission-based fee as opposed to a publication fee, surely it is the truly selective journals. A submission fee would eliminate the objection, as it would not load all the costs on the few published articles only since the rejected articles would contribute as well.

  • Mike Taylor

    Hi, Alicia.  We’re having this discussion over on Twitter, too, but it’s not easy to convey even the core points, let alone the nuances in 140 characters minus however many it takes to say @theOtherPersonsName:disqus!

    Here’s what I’ve been trying to convey over there.  Pre-internet, publishers unambiguously existed to make work available as widely as possible.  So their goal was absolutely in alignment with that of authors wishing to be read.  To a first approximation, publisher revenue was in direct proportion to the number of copies made available.

    One of the unfortunate (for publishers!) side-effects of the Internet is that they are no longer needed for dissemination.  The cost of copies is zero, or so close that it can’t be measured, so one the work has been done for one person to read, it’s easy for seven billion to read it.  Some publishers (those who have adopted Gold OA) have accepted this shift, and so they charge on the basis of how many works they publish rather than how many are read.  Which is great because it means that the publisher’s goal is again compatible with the writer’s — it doesn’t hurt the publisher when more and more people read a given work (though note that even for Gold OA publishers, their goal is no longer perfectly aligned with the author’s, since unlike the pre-Internet model they don’t make more money with each distributed copy).

    The real problem comes with publishers who are wedded to the old model, and who want to be paid for every copy distributed.  For such publishers it is inevitable that they will want to restrict access to anyone who’s not paying for access.  However noble their hearts, however much they dream of universal access, the bitter commercial reality is that when they make money by selling access, they have to oppose access that people don’t pay for.  And for 99% of the world’s population that means no access.

    Again: that conclusion doesn’t rest on the publisher being evil.  I do believe that no-one goes into publishing with the dream of restricting access!  But it is an unavoidable consequence of the pay-per-copy-distributed model that they end up wanting to avoid the distribution of copies that haven’t been paid for.

    Hope that’s clearer (and less confrontational-sounding!)

  • http://twitter.com/wisealic Alicia Wise

    Thanks, Mike
     
    That is indeed  more clear than the tweets!
     
    Publishers enable; the market decides. We offer a range of publishing options, including open access, because one size doesn’t fit all. Some authors want to publish open access for various reasons. Other authors don’t want to for various reasons. We provide options for all.
     
    You also express concern about access for the ’99 % of the world’s population’ who can’t afford it. Are you aware of initiatives such as Research4Life (http://www.research4life.org/)? It’s 10 years old, Elsevier was a founding partner and is the largest content contributor.  Research4Life provides free or very low cost access to researchers in over 100 developing countries.  That’s a commitment to universal access in action.
     
    With kind wishes,
    Alicia

  • http://mendeley.com/profiles/william-gunn Mr. Gunn

    Alicia, how are the eligibility criteria for Research4Life chosen, and under what conditions is eligibility revoked?

  • http://mendeley.com/profiles/william-gunn Mr. Gunn

    The best way around this would be to remove the journal as the arbiter of quality. Given the heterogeneous quality of even the journals with the highest rejection rates, isn’t it time we did that anyways, and focus instead on the extent to which the research findings are re-used and built upon?

    I do like the idea of fee-for-service publishing, as opposed to copyright transfer & I think that may be where the future is going. After all, as Cameron says, it’s the funders who eventually call the shots.

  • http://melancholia.myopenid.com/ Melancholia

    IIf written 20 year ago, it would be nice. At that time
    publisher played substantial role in the dissemination of research results.
    They arranged printing, mailing out of paper journals, promoted the books and
    the papers. But transferring the copyright to the publishers never was an easy
    thing, but it was tolerable when authors got something substantial in exchange,
    and the publishers behaved decently and felt to be bound by some standards.

    Nowadays publishers like Elsevier and Springer contribute
    nothing. Often, they made a negative contribution. The author is usually asked
    to provide an almost a camera-ready copy, made to the publisher’s specifications.
    Then they do some reformatting, and often introduce new misprints (instead of
    catching author’s ones), and may go even further. Say, forget to include
    figures in the paper. They do not bother themselves with promotion, and,
    moreover, effectively making a lot of works totally inaccessible but setting up
    ridiculous prices.

    All work is done by scientists themselves: doing research,
    writing up the results, preparing files for journals, refereeing, making
    decisions about what to publish. Publishers usually do not pay to scientists.

    What was a mutually beneficial transaction in the past today
    looks like a robbery. Reed Elsevier wants laws making this robbery legal. But
    even laws will not make it morally acceptable by the scientific community. There
    are alternative ways to distribute information, and if Elsevier will not work
    hard to fulfill the scientists’ demands, it will find itself out of the loop
    very soon.

  • http://melancholia.myopenid.com/ Melancholia

    May be it is my field responsible, but I never encountered a journal checking the accuracy of the citations. I even don’t quite understand what you mean; cheking that the cited paper exists? Certainly, a publisher cannot check if the citation is appropriate. What they do is insisting on dots where I prefer commas, or vice versa.

  • http://melancholia.myopenid.com/ Melancholia

    In fact, in several fields papers in arXiv  already command  a higher respect than traditional publications. Many people check arXiv regularly, once a week or once a day, they see all important papers in their field together (not scattered among dozens of journals, no matter how prestigious), they read the arXiv versions. They may cite later the final publication, but they don’t read it. Sometimes they refer to parts which were present in the arXiv version, but were cut out of the published one by a demand of the editors.

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  • dwojick

    In the USA the only funder that matters is Congress, so I am curious what you think the legislation will look like? If you mean author pays then you are asking Congress to pay several billion dollars a year for something it now gets for free. That’s a big ask.

  • http://cameronneylon.net Cameron Neylon

    Two answers I’d give to that. Firstly congress (or at least US taxpayers, a lot of this is currently going through state funding I guess) is already paying (and indeed in my view overpaying) that several billion dollars. I’m really just arguing that it should be paid by a different route. Overall we should expect costs to come down over the next decade although there will be some transitional costs so there would likely need to be a short term investment.
    But secondly the whole point is that they’re not getting it for free. In many cases they’re not getting the full benefit of the research they are paying for. So congress and the US taxpayer is paying a massive price for a lack of effective communications. There are consistent estimates (primarily from the Wellcome Trust) that the full cost of OA using todays systems and prices is around 1.5% of total research costs. So around $US2B let us say. There are estimates that the loss to the US economy just due to the lack of access to research by small and medium enterprise is around $US16B. Possible health costs could dwarf that as could the cost of regulation based on out of date or poor information. If congress was putting $100B into build a four lane highway and then stopped it a mile short of its destination because it was cheaper to put through a two lane road I think people would be a little bit annoyed. That’s what the US taxpayer gets at the minute. Saving a few cents on the dollar to throw away billions.

  • dwojick

    Another issue that needs to play in here is freedom of speech. Having the Federal government tell a researcher they cannot submit an article to Science or Nature is probably unconstitutional. 

  • http://theparachute.blogspot.com/ Jan Velterop

    The fact that these things seem so difficult to get across to scientists is a mystery and probably worthy of a research project in its own right.

  • http://theparachute.blogspot.com/ Jan Velterop

    How can it be unconstitutional for a funding body to require, in exchange for giving a research grant, that the publishable results of the research be made freely available? Nothing to do wth free speech. Nothing prevents the researcher to submit the results to Nature as well. It can be argued that it is Nature that blocks free speech if it doesn’t allow researchers to make their results openly and freely available as a condition for considering to attach the ‘Nature tag’ to the published results.

  • http://cameronneylon.net Cameron Neylon

    No, its not a freedom of speech issue. Scientists are free to publish or speak wherever they choose. Government is free to regard that as something they will pay for or not. Government is also free to add whatever requirements to formal contracts that it wishes within legal boundaries. So if government contracts to an institution to carry out research then government is free to require specific forms of communication to be carried out as part of that contract.
    To take a sideways example. No-one is saying a researcher can’t go on the TV news, but if the TV news was a pay to play interview process then I’d argue government had a perfect right to say that it wasn’t an appropriate use of government funds to do that. Indeed in some cases it might well be an appropriate use of research funds. Part of my point is that funders should reasonably expect researchers to take an active role in deciding how best to communicate their results within the resource limitations. Deciding to lock up results in a venue where the critical people can’t get at, say for example that is a study looking at disease transmission in poor communities – if it has the effect of excluding access to underfunded public health workers – is borderline misappropriation in my view.

  • dwojick

    That is a nice, albeit abstract argument. But it does not change the fact that you are asking for a bunch of new Federal money when budgets are being cut. Moreover, the way this is likely to be funded is by diverting money away from research, to give to the publishers, which the research community might not care for. I  am just thinking about the legislative realities. Hill staffers are a hard headed bunch.

  • http://cameronneylon.net Cameron Neylon

    I think I have to take a slight issue with “access is a value that unites academic, funders, and publishers”. Because I think we mean different things by value. So for a funder, access is about maximising impact. From a funder perspective at network scale the upsides of enabling frictionless access to any user far outweigh even the probable costs of trying negotiate partial specific forms of access.

    From the publisher perspective access “has value” which is quite a different thing. Again I think that there tremendous commercial value to actually be gained from getting out of the content game entirely but I struggle to believe that you could go to the Elsevier board and say “we should enhance access, we can do this at no additional cost” because there would always be questions about drying up a potential market. I agree that people don’t go into publishing to reduce access, but corporations (or indeed any organisation) as a whole frequently act to preserve both the markets and the problems that brought them into being. Problems that really don’t exist to any great extent in a web based world. So Elsevier could solve the problem at a stroke by ploughing one year’s of profits into a massive shift. Not going to happen. And given your governance structures _shouldn’t_ happen because this isn’t what the corporation is set up to do. So while I accept that access may well be a core value for any Elsevier staff and even that it is a corporate value offering I can’t accept that it is a corporate value in the same sense that it is for me.
    At the same time I think that focus on where the income now is prevents effort being applied to where the costs are. Essentially we have a totally broken market because we pay for things that cost nothing (access and distribution) and don’t pay for the things that do cost money – production, indexing, validation etc. We also have a broken market in terms of the purchaser and payer being de-coupled as well as essentially monopoly conditions on the sale of specific journals. All of this is ultimately really destabilising.

    To answer you second question. Mandates are necessary because we need to drive a large scale cultural shift and this never happens of its own accord. There are a variety of ways to drive such changes, one is by direct fiat from above (Michael Nielsen’s analogy of Sweden changing which side of the road they drove on is instructive here) and this is the role that mandates play. One of the real ironies is that the NIH mandate is not actually something targeted at publishers at all, its targeted at researchers and waking them up to the fact that they have a public obligation in return for the funding they receive. 

    The other approach is one driven by local incentives. This is why I work on linking research impact with re-use and the role of networks in maximising exploitation. It’s also at core why I believe in OA. We maximise the impact of public research funding by insisting that its outputs be open. Funders incentives are clearly to maximise the impact of the funding they receive. All we need to do is to align the incentives of researchers (who need money) with those of funders (who have money) so this is a viable way to proceed. But its a slow process and in the meantime we have global flu epidemics, global warming, an aging population and a few other things that need to urgently be sorted out so mandates have to be part of the equation to get things moving.

  • http://cameronneylon.net Cameron Neylon

    Jens absolutely, and that’s why my title was “the breakdown of mutual incomprehension”. There’s a great potential for good to come out of this for everyone. I think publishers were truly unaware how much the ownership issue was going to be a flash point for researchers and I think its great that researchers are starting to talk about and communicate around the issues. I agree that some of that conversation isn’t terribly well informed but as someone said “we can inform people if they’re talking, if they’re not talking we’re a bit stuck”

  • dwojick

    The problem is that journal articles are not contract deliverables. The deliverable is a final report, which the government then owns. In fact I have argued that open access to these reports is the proper solution to the problem:
    http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2012/01/06/my-argument-for-public-access-to-research-reports/

    Note that we are not talking about specifying a form of communication, but of prohibiting a form of communication. That is where the free speech issue comes in. But we really need to see the proposed legislative language and how this “expectation” is mandated.

  • http://cameronneylon.net Cameron Neylon

    I really don’t get how you get from “government doesn’t agree to pay for” some forms of communication to prohibiting it. You could as well say that the fact that we don’t fund translation into chinese means we’re prohibiting communication in Chinese. Nobody is talking about prohibiting, just about specifying what are appropriate uses of government money. I’m sure you would agree that using federal funds to buy large quantities of alcohol for a staff party would be inappropriate, but that doesn’t prohibit researchers from consuming alcohol, indeed, consuming it at a staff party if they so desire.
    I also have to say that the “journal articles are not contract deliverables” is a particular example of publisher think that makes absolutely no sense to any other stakeholder. I don’t know a researcher anywhere who wouldn’t agree that they are a key deliverable, whether its on the contract or not – whether those papers get delivered or not is the major concern on the only contractual issue that really matters, getting the next grant. Researchers would be much happier if we didn’t have to additionally write reports and could just attach the papers. The reports argument goes down really really badly with researchers who are already spending way too much on reporting requirements that we feel are largely a waste of time. Bear in mind that these reports are written on federally funded time as well – so if we can cut that cost out we can probably afford any transitional costs easily.
    It also makes no sense from a funder perspective. Funders don’t spend billions to generate reports that no-one reads. They fund research to generate outcomes. Those outcome require research be communicated. Communication is therefore a key part of the funder agenda. If publishers don’t get that fact they won’t be in business much longer because they’re not offering a product that has any value for anyone.

  • http://cameronneylon.net Cameron Neylon

    Actually I’m asking for a small possible quantity of federal funds in the short term (that can probably be easily saved from other cost centres, like writing those reports) which would lead to massive savings of federal funds in reasonably short order. Given that the profits alone of a few big players could fund the publication of every paper in the world in PLoS ONE I think there is a fair bit of money to be saved. Money which I absolutely agree would be much better spent on research. Then if we even make a 10% overall increase in research efficiency we save another $10B year on year in research capacity, not allowing for increased tax take from large and small enterprise – reduced health costs due to better health and environment. Its not abstract. Its real money and we’re talking about tens of billions in extra tax revenue (or if you prefer in the pockets of those entrepreneurs that drive the innovation economy)
    For the hard heads on the Hill? I’d argue that what we have at the moment is effectively a monopoly market controlled by a few (mainly foreign) corporations. This is all about introducing a proper market so that we move away from the centrally controlled nightmare of a system we have at the moment in which libraries and publishers attempt to build five year plans which can’t survive the realities of a real market.

  • dwojick

    I am referring to rules that specify that journal articles rising from research must be submitted solely to OA journals. I think the Welcome rule is like that, but I have not seen it. I know one of the UK Council rules is like that. In the USA I think it is likely that it would be illegal for the Federal government to make such a rule, because the government does not own the article.

  • dwojick

    I do not understand your monopoly argument (and I think the American non profit society publishers would disagree with you). How does switching to author pays change the market structure? Presumably all the big existing publishers, profit and non, would make the switch, some happily I think. Collecting fees is easier than selling subscriptions.

  • http://theparachute.blogspot.com/ Jan Velterop

    I haven’t seen anything like that from any funding agency. Could you give examples? What they do specify is that articles arising from research be available with open access within a certain amount of time (the NIH specifies 1 year, I think), regardless of where they are published. That’s fundamentally different from requiring they be published only in OA journals. And since the © to the submitted manuscript belongs to the author, there should be no problem if he or she deposits it before publication, unless the publisher applies the so-called Ingelfinger rule, refusing to publish anything that is already out in the open. Few do. Many publishers cooperate directly with PubMedCentral to deposit the articles there, where they are subsequently open, after the one year embargo. It works, and there is no demonstrable, even discernable, damage to publishers’ revenues. RWA would make it problematic.

  • http://cameronneylon.net Cameron Neylon

    At the moment, the product for a subscription based model is a given journal. No-one can obtain the articles in a given journal by another means or by exchanging for an alternate journal so there is an effective monopoly on access to the contents to any given journal. Equally the subscription market leads to planned negotiation at large scale which are highly political. Bundling and big deals is another area where monopolies come into play – by selective journal pricing libraries can be forced into larger scale purchasing than is necessary – again the possibility of alternate products is limited because of the power of the seller. In fact society publishers actually have the strongest monopolies in many cases due as they are the only place to get certain information or classes of article – a monopoly can exist without it being unfairly utilised.
    The instant you switch to APCs the authors, who are in practice the ones who incur the cost, will start to ask the question of whether they are getting good value for money. I look at Elsevier and $3000 for some non-standard non-commercial licence which probably means I couldn’t use it to teach at a fee charging institution for instance, whereas for much less I get PLoS ONE at half the price. This would lead to a profound and rapid change in market dynamics. It would also mean we were paying for the bit of the process where costs are actually incurred which tends to lead to more efficient markets.
    I agree that collecting fees is easier and safer than selling subscriptions which I why I find it bizarre that publishers aren’t falling over themselves to help introduce mandates up front. There is the odd attachment to what are largely low value secondary markets rather than actually focussing on the real value proposition that publishers can add. I think its a result of real fears of not being in control of the cost base and the advantage that such a model gives to new market players with more modern infrastructure and lower cost base.

  • dwojick

    I am a regulatory designer so I am looking at this in terms of a viable Federal rule system, not vague feelings and expectations. See
     http://www.stemed.info/engineer_tackles_confusion.htmlIn the free speech case I assume we are talking about a contract requirement that papers must be submitted solely to OA journals. Otherwise there is no force so nothing changes. Simply funding voluntary OA submissions probably changes nothing. And as you note articles are not now deliverables, so we would need new contract provisions (and laws). As for the reports not being read, DOE alone gets 30 million downloads a year. That is a lot of public access. The problem is that most funding agencies do not make their reports publicly available, something you OA folks should be complaining about. If you want to make the research results publicly available then just get the reports published, instead of trying to restructure an entire industry, using Federal force.If you are just vaguely predicting the world to be different in hoped for ways, then we have nothing to discuss. I thought you were contemplating a specific Federal program to take effect over the next ten years. I am trying to figure out what form it could take. It is not easy.

  • http://cameronneylon.net Cameron Neylon

    Ah, ok I get where you’re going now. If you really want the design of the system rather than just the intention then this is what I would do.
    1) Contractual language that effective research communication to appropriate audiences is part of the basis on which grants will be judged 2) By default no federal funds to be used for any communication that does not provide a CC-BY/ccZero licence. Special cases can be made at grant proposal time. 3) The only formal publications to be included on any grant report to be those that are available under CC-BY/ccZero licenses 4) The _use_ of research outputs is an explicit metric to be used on judging the success of grants 5) CVs on grant proposals to only include formal publications that are available under CC-BY/ccZero licences
    Researchers are of course free to spend private money on anything they please – or their institution will let them.
    The problem with grant reports is that they are legacy part of the system that should be phased out. Reports should be automatically generated from the appropriate research communications generated through the project – which is another way of encouraging OA without necessarily exactly requiring it. If it can’t legally be included in the auto-generated report then it won’t. Anything that requires the writing of additional material is inconsistent with Paperwork Reduction Act, OMB guidance and is basically a waste of federal funds in my view. This will take a while and I agree we should argue for those to be accessible as part of any government transparency agenda but its not a fight that I think is worth spending much time or energy on. I want real research in the hands of those that can use it as soon as it is published and I want proper review of that material to be part of the process.
    The reality is I think Europe will move much more effectively on this than the US over the next 5-10 years and the US will come along behind. The US will lead on the technical infrastructure to automate reporting effectively – you are already ahead on this with STARMETRICS and other things coming on line. Ultimately it is ease and effectiveness of reporting that will drive the process to its conclusion but some form of mandate is likely required to push those changes through and get critical mass. I don’t think freedom of speech is an issue that will even come into play. It didn’t with the NIH mandate, it hasn’t with UK mandates or the Wellcome Trust one either. If it were a real problem then the US government would have real problems commissioning any kind of report at all.

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