What if funders and libraries paid processing fees instead of authors?

I was recently contacted by science journalist Elie Dolgin, who wanted my thoughts on Willinsky and Rust‘s funder-library OA subscription model. Here are his questions and my responses, published here to complement the article he wrote: A fix for open-access cost barriers: what if funders and libraries paid processing fees instead of authors?

Whether this model is indeed better than the current OA system reliant on article processing charges?

The main attraction of this model is that it removes the paywall, rather than readers paying to read content (whether paying individually or via library/other subscriptions). One aim of Open Access is to remove paywalls to readers, and the proposal achieves this.

However, most advocates of Open Access aim higher than just removing the paywall; their goal is for OA research materials to have more generous re-use rights too. Traditional commercial publishers have strict rules about what readers may do with articles/information they access. For example, it is usually forbidden to pass on a legitimately-accessed PDF of an article to a friend or colleague. On the one hand, this is intended to strictly limit access to subscribers only, but it can also prohibit passing on the PDF to a colleague at the same institution, or posting the PDF on the institution’s virtual learning environment, even though in both cases the beneficiaries are also legitimate subscribers.
Furthermore, OA aims for more permissive sharing rights than those allowed under traditional licence arrangements. There is emphasis on attribution (such as in a CC-BY licence), and re-use rights would include being allowed to use longer extracts, and to perform text and data mining on the article or dataset. This is really important for reproducibility studies, and for Cochrane-style reviews where data from multiple studies is examined.
This model does not appear to challenge restrictive sharing and re-use practices.

What, if anything, appeals to you about John’s suggestions?

In my experience, many staff in libraries have a (small c) conservative approach to transformative approaches or technologies. They often operate in complicated organisations where it is difficult to effect change quickly, budgets are tight, and they want to be able to give their readers and researchers access to the widest possible range of materials and information sources. John’s suggestions represent an approach to funding academic publishing which goes some way towards achieving (some goals of) Open Access, without being a radical proposal that will make academics nervous.

Any criticisms?

As just mentioned, this is not a radical (“change at the root”) solution. Part of the OA movement is about opening up access to and re-use of scholarly materials, and there is a parallel and often overlapping issue which is the costs of subscriptions. It is suspected by many that the high profitability of many publishers, and that they make this profit from journal articles for which they pay researchers or their universities no fee, is unethical and an unwise use of (often public) funds. I take care to point out that this issue is separate from the OA movement, although some of the goals are shared.
To someone who sees profits being made from the free (to publishers) labour of researchers, squeezed library budgets, and increasing journal subscription costs, John’s proposal does nothing to address the issue from this side: it merely shifts the costs to libraries (and other subscribers) from pay-to-read to pay-to-subscribe-to-support. In this way, the OA subscription model is possibly cheaper than the APC model, but it does not increase transparency in the costs of publishing and help the costs to fall, or the perceived value-for-money to increase and therefore justify the costs of publishing.

Do you buy the argument that funders and libraries will have more bargaining power to lower processing fees, or is this just shuffling money in a different way?

In my experience, libraries have very little bargaining power, as they generally have to accept the price asked by the publisher, or lose the subscription and have to deal with lots of unhappy academics. Consortia at regional or national level can enter into collective bargaining if they stick together to exert the necessary pressure, but this is the same for any charging mechanism, whether this new model or the traditional subscription. Competition between universities is intense, and this can erode the solidarity needed for a collective bargaining model to work effectively.
What is different about this model is whether libraries lose out if they do not subscribe – if the resources are OA anyway, the publishers will have to come up with other benefits to the subscribing institution of carrying on their membership. This is especially important if subscriptions are to continue in the face of further pressure on budgets, where libraries will look to cut anything perceived as non-essential. It is not yet clear to me how such library-funded OA platforms can count on supporters to stay involved – see also Open Library of Humanities which uses a similar model, called Library Partnership Subsidy (LPS).

The novelty of this proposal and why it could put OA publishing on a more sustainable footing

It is novel in that it flips the costs to libraries from pay-to-read to pay-to-subscribe-to-support. I am not sure about its contribution to making OA publishing more sustainable, as it is tangled up in this other issue of publishing costs.
Personally, I would favour a more radical approach, in which we consider how knowledge is produced, shared, and remixed – in the age of the internet. For example, what about a distributed network of document/dataset/other servers connected by search interfaces, with persistent identifiers for items (DOIs), people (ORCID iDs), and organisations, and metrics such as altmetrics to assess the reach, endurance, and citation impact of each item? This would build a new research information ecosystem, allowing knowledge to network and flow easily, and not perpetuate the limits of print-based media in a digital environment. It would also challenge the legacy publishing model which keeps researchers locked in to publishing in expensive journals through the use of their elite names (e.g. “everyone wants to publish in Nature”) and commercial products such as Impact Factor.

Open in order to… challenge inequality

The theme of International Open Access Week 2017 is “Open in order to…”

My response is open in order to challenge inequality, as many barriers exist to equitable participation in learning and research.

Some actions such as positive discrimination can increase diversity, but do little to address structural inequality.  Unless these approaches then transform systems from the inside, they can be little more than box-ticking quota exercises.

Examining the roots of inequality (a radical approach) allows barriers to be identified and tackled.  Such a strategy creates a more inclusive environment, and diversity increases as a result.

Removing paywalls from publicly-funded research ouputs is a good way to address systematic exclusion from access to research on the basis of ability to pay (often linked with operating within a higher education institution).

This Open Access Week, how can you contribute?

Read, think, learn


Make Wikipedia easier to verify, and more Open Access.  Take a closed/toll-access reference and add an open version to it.

  1. Go to oabot.org and log in (create a free account if you don’t already have a Wikipedia account)Log in to https://tools.wmflabs.org/oabot/
  2. You will be presented with a single citation and a single suggested open citation to add to the Wikipedia entry. Review citation and click Add link, or Skip
  3. Review the citation, and click Add link if the citation is a match (same document and legitimate source). If it’s not a match or you’re not sure, click Skip.

A quick, simple, and fun way to improve Wikipedia and access to OA research. Learn more at Celebrate Open Access Week by adding open citations to Wikipedia.

Launch of new ORCID education and outreach resources!

Today (16 October 2017) is ORCID’s fifth birthday, and the launch of the new education and outreach resources – the products of the project I’ve been working on since joining ORCID in March 2017.  Find out more on the ORCID blog: Celebrating ORCID@5 with the launch of new resources!

I’ve learned a lot during the process, including how to add .srt captions to videos, organise and manage working groups across 18 hours’ time difference, and wrangling metadata in Figshare.

Many people were involved in bringing all this together: members of the Meerkat, Giraffe, and Eagle working groups, ORCID Ambassadors, colleagues in the Community Team and Development Team at ORCID, film stars of the future who participated in the Why ORCID? video, people who worked on translations, and those who are now spreading the word about these new materials across the world…

To mark the occasion and thank everyone who contributed, I hosted two (for different time zones) virtual launch parties, and here is the order of service:

Arrival: have ORCID@5 video playing https://vimeo.com/238076634 | Introductions: people introduce themselves and tell the group about their role in the project | Canapés: guided tour of Welcome to ORCID https://orcid.org/help | Refreshments: serve virtual drinks e.g. [Gabriela served an ORCIDinha to Laura], and people share any dressing up or drinks/snacks they’ve prepared for the party | Tapas: tour of outreach resources http://members.orcid.org/outreach-resources | Entertainment: play Why ORCID? video https://vimeo.com/237730655 | Thank guests, and close.

Education & outreach launch party menu

Thanks to my colleague Gabi for the artwork and the inspired drinks list 🙂 I’m off to enjoy something suitably alcoholic before starting work on phase two of this project tomorrow…



My ORCID iD in action

After all this time telling other people about the benefits of ORCID, I was very pleased be be able to interact with several integrations this week!  I agreed to do some peer review for a journal, and was able to use my ORCID credentials at several stages in the process:

1 .Logging in to ScholarOne Manuscripts via ORCID is a breeze

Logging in to ScholarOne Manuscripts using my ORCID account (I would otherwise have had to create a new account and manually enter data into a form)

2. Authorising Wiley (ScholarOne Manuscripts) to read and update my record means reduced data entry for me, and the information they push to update my record is validated, not simply self-asserted

Granting permission for Wiley (ScholarOne Manuscripts) to read and update my record

3. Authorising Publons to get my ORCID iD

Granting permission for Publons to get my ORCID iD

4. When the peer review process is complete and the article is published, this will show up on my ORCID record under the Peer Review section.  And all I had to do was grant permission for this to happen…

Have you got your ORCID iD yet? Registration is free and fast – register today!

UKSG webinar – Blockchain in research and education

Thanks to Martin Hamilton, Futurist at Jisc, for an excellent overview of how we got here, where we are, and what might be next.  Catch up with the slides from this webinar, and here’s a reading list of things mentioned:

  • History of bitcoin
  • Ethereum is “an open-source, public, blockchain-based distributed computing platform featuring smart contract (scripting) functionality.”
  • Namecoin is “an experimental open-source technology which improves decentralization, security, censorship resistance, privacy, and speed of certain components of the Internet infrastructure such as DNS and identities.”
  • Blockcerts – “The Open Initiative for Blockchain Certificates: Build apps that issue and verify blockchain-based certificates for academic credentials, professional certifications, workforce development, and civic records.”
  • Blockchain for Science  – “To bring science towards reproducible results, autonomous and free data handling and incentivisation of true innovation; to guide the social, technical, cultural, political, economical and legal impacts of the blockchain (r)evolution to science; to support scientific communication and education; to free science from any kind of censorship, central point of failure or other potential deadends.”
  • Provenance – “We enable great businesses to build trust in their goods and supply chain. Provenance powered data helps shoppers choose your product.”
  • Sovrin is “a global, decentralized identity network. It delivers the Internet’s missing identity layer. Sovrin allows people and organisations to create portable, self-sovereign digital identities which they control, and which can’t be taken away by any government or organisation. It uses a public permissioned ledger which is governed by the Sovrin Foundation.”
  • Avoiding the pointless blockchain project
1. Must be a database, 2. Must have multiple writers/updaters, 3. You don't trust the folk updating the database, 4. You don't need a trsuted intermediary to vouch for updates / updaters, 5. Transactions are often dependent on each other, 6. Database contains rules for assessing the legitimacy of transactions, 7. Database contains a mechanism for conflict resolution, 8. Information / asset in database can be drawn down e.g. funds transfer

Avoiding the pointless blockchain project – 8 rules

Find out more about UKSG and UKSG events

Disruptive forces in the “staggeringly profitable” business of academic publishing

There is an excellent long read in today’s Guardian: Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science?

Learn how academic publishing became so profitable, the rapid increase in library subscription costs (the serials crisis) and the start of Big Deals, and the development of open access as an alternative to subscription publishing (see also my other posts on open access).

Sci-Hub, a different way of disrupting the subscription and paywall model, is in the news at the moment: US court grants Elsevier millions in damages from Sci-Hub – though it’s far from clear if or when they may receive any of it:

Meanwhile, Finnish researchers have launched a boycott against Elsevier: “The group behind Tiedonhinta.fi statement urges researchers to refrain from peer review and editorial duties for journals owned by publishing giant Elsevier.  The boycott is launched on a new website nodealnoreview.org. The site welcomes also signatures from international colleagues all around the world, who are worried about cost of and access to research literature in their own countries.”