Archive for July, 2007

Open Access Science and Science Policy

One of the best commentaries on “open science” (or, “open access science”) that I’ve seen recently is one pointed to in a blog entry, Open Access Science, ChemSpy, 24 July 2007. It’s Will John Wilbanks Launch the Next Scientific Revolution?, by Abby Seiff, PopSci, July 2007. It includes an interview with John Wilbanks, “executive director of the Science Commons initiative, and the six-year-old innovation of its parent organization, Creative Commons“.


When Pasteur had his eureka moment, the processes leading up to it were barely different than Archimedes’s. The scientist hypothesized, created his tools, and executed his experiments with little need for input from his colleagues. My, how things have changed.

Wilbanks and his team (which includes Nobel Prize winners Joshua Lederberg and John Sulston) are focused on three areas where roadblocks to scientific discovery are most common: in accessing literature, obtaining materials, and sharing data.

PopSci spoke with Wilbanks about how copyright goes wrong and whether scientists can learn to share.

How will an open-access system improve scientific research?

The question is, have we now hit a point where scientific problems are so complex that one person alone can’t solve them? It would certainly seem that way. The problems science is pursuing today—issues like global warming and genomic mapping—demand a distributed approach across disciplines. But currently, journal articles, data, research, materials and so on are stopped by contracts and copyrights at such a rate that it’s become nearly impossible to pull them together.

How has the scientific community received the Science Commons idea?

We’re pretty pleased at how positive the response has been. It mostly comes from our focus on research. Every scientist would like to be able to move through research faster, to spend less time and money acquiring material or disseminating it. That said, it will be fascinating to see what happens when people have to start sharing their own stuff.

After reading this commentary, I found it interesting to re-read an article, Toward a Post-Academic Science Policy, by David Kellogg, International Journal of Communications Law & Policy (Special Issue, Access to Knowledge), Autumn 2006. He contrasts (page 12/29) academic science (based on these norms: Communalist; Universal; Disinterested; Original; Skeptical) with industrial science (based on these norms: Proprietary; Local; Authoritarian; Commissioned; Expert), and suggests that post-academic science now fits neither the academic nor the industrial model.

The terminology “open science” (or “open access science”) isn’t used in this article, but it does include comments about “open access”. For example (page 15/29), he suggests that one attribute of post-academic science is this one:

(II) Post-Academic Science Makes Scientific Knowledge more Open to Public Scrutiny

The same technologies that make virtual labs and corporations possible also make scientific information more widely distributed and disseminated. Take the scientific journal article itself, which in academic science publishing was confined to the boundaries of the IMRAD [Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion] format. In recent years, scientific journals have started to publish complete data sets accompanying print publication on the web; thus, print articles grow smaller even as the amount of associated available information becomes (as a practical matter) unlimited. Some long-running print journals which have established an internet presence are making such “supplemental materials” a requirement of publication, and journals based entirely on the web practice such openness as a matter of course.[ref 16] At least in theory, this means that both the public and fellow scientists are able to examine claims made in published papers more closely.

Another perspective on modes of knowledge production, with much attention to the potential impact of OA, has been provided by John Houghton, Colin Steele and Peter Sheehan in their report to the Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) of the Australian Government. It’s entitled: Research communication costs in Australia : Emerging opportunities and benefits, September 2006.

In Figure 4.1 (page 55/156), Evolution of scholarly communication, they outline two modes of knowledge production: Disciplinary (Mode 1) and Transdisciplinary (Mode 2). Several attributes of Mode 2 overlap with those of David Kellogg’s model of post-academic science. For example, in Mode 2, knowledge production is “diffuse and collaborative“. Similarly, post-academic science “multiplies the sites of knowledge production“. In Mode 2, evaluation is “external“. Similarly, post-academic science “makes scientific knowledge more open to public scrutiny“. Of particular interest is David Kellogg’s suggestion that what is happening is that the norms of academic science are being transformed by the norms of industrial science, and vice versa. Thus, post-academic science is a hybrid.

Another author who emphasises the importance of interactions between academic science and industrial science, and also interactions with governmental policy, is Loet Leydesdorff. See, for example, The Triple Helix Model and the Study of Knowledge-based Innovation Systems. Int. Journal of Contemporary Sociology 2005; 42(1): 12-27.

An excerpt from the Abstract:

This paper examines the changing nature of knowledge-based innovation systems in light of the dynamic interconnections between the university, industry and government. Industries have to assess in what way and to what extent they decide to internalize R&D functions.

The importance of such models for science policy is being examined from a South African perspective. See, for example, The State of the Nation 2: Clashing paradigms in South African research publication policy, by Eve Gray, Gray Area blog, March 15, 2007. Excerpts:

To summarise somewhat brutally; the common theme across these policies is that South African research must address national development needs and contribute to employment and economic growth. The emphasis is on the value of collaborative and inter-disciplinary research in a rapidly-changing technological environment. While attention is paid to the need to build the international reputation of South African research, this is balanced out by a developmental focus that insists on a responsiveness to national need.

The wording of the policy [of the Department of Education] insists on ‘originality’, rather than tackling the implications of the collaborative research approaches recommended in the research policy framework. The target audience of these publications is identified as ‘other specialists in the field’, therefore rewarding individual rather than collaborative effort and dissemination within the scholarly community rather than the wider dissemination that would be needed to deliver the development goals of the R&D and Innovation policy framework. In other words, the policies framing rewards for research publication remain firmly in a collegial tradition in which the purpose of scholarly communication is turned inwards into the academy. The system is related to personal advancement in academe and the prestige of scholars and institutions in the international rankings rather than grappling with what it might mean to couple this with gearing research dissemination towards broader social goals.

See also: Jennifer A. De Beer, Open Access scholarly communication in South Africa: current status, significance, and the role for National Information Policy in the National System of Innovation. Masters thesis, Department of Information Science, Stellenbosch University, South Africa (2005). An excerpt from the Abstract:

Open Access scholarly communication is an overt intervention regarding knowledge diffusion. The marginalisation of science in and of developing countries, leading to a state of knowledge imperialism and knowledge dependence, is addressed, and it is argued that knowledge diffusion and generation are at the heart of long-term economic growth.

My own view is that some of the strongest and most influential justifications for OA are those that are based on the view that support for OA is good public policy. The impact of science communication on public policy is an important issue that merits the ongoing attention of policy-makers. I also agree with this comment:

The real issue: How to balance the interlocking, often conflicting interests of all stakeholders in scientific research—including researchers, publishers, corporations, and society—and how to achieve this balance in a wired, commercialized world where the public good doesn’t always come first.

See: Open Access and the Case for Public Good: The Scientists’ Perspective, by Michelle Romero, Online 2003(Jul/Aug); 27(4).


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Article on OA in the Globe and Mail

Turning the ivory tower into an open book, 21 July 2007, by Elizabeth Church, an education reporter for The Globe and Mail.

Mostly, it’s an accurate and informative article.

However, two excerpts did catch my eye. The first:

Imagine, for example, that you are a researcher who discovers a link between pesticide use and cancer or between higher ocean temperatures and the level of fish stocks. How much would you be willing to pay to get those findings out to anyone who wants them? Would it be worth spending a hundred dollars? A few thousand?

It’s implied that the costs of OA are high, and must be paid for by the producer of the research. Green OA, via self-archiving, gets minimal attention. There’s mention of PubMed Central, “a digital library of peer-reviewed manuscripts“, and the comment that: “Several universities are following suit by posting archived faculty work“.

The second excerpt that caught my eye:

And what will become of the big publishers such as Springer? Mr. Velterop insists that open access will never have the clout of traditional houses. It’s like the difference between a Marks & Spencer suit and an Armani, he argues – journals cost a lot because the peer-review process is expensive, time-consuming and complicated.

It’s implied that no OA journals have high impact factors, and that the major difference between OA journals and traditional ones is “the peer review process“. Of course, both implications are incorrect. The latter one appears to be an example of the use of the advice, attributed to Eric Dezenhall, that “publishers should attempt to equate traditional publishing models with peer review“. See: PR’s ‘pit bull’ takes on open access, by Jim Giles (Nature, 24 Jan 2007). This example of the use of such advice is a somewhat surprising one, because it’s attributed to Springer’s Jan Velterop, who was a former director and publisher (until April 2005) of BioMed Central, an OA publisher. He knows very well that BioMed Central’s OA journals utilize peer review processes.

The article can also be reached via a Google search for “Turning the ivory tower” Church Globe. A Letter to Editor about the article can be submitted. (I’m not planning to submit one, because I think that, overall, the article is quite supportive of the OA movement).

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More on the HHMI/Elsevier deal

Found via: JCB to HHMI: Why did you sell out to Elsevier?, Alex Palazzo, The Daily Transcript, July 18, 2007.

About an editorial, How the rich get richer, by Mike Rossner (Executive Director, The Rockefeller University Press) and Ira Mellman (Editor in Chief, The Journal of Cell Biology), J Cell Biol 2007(18 Jun); 177(6): 951. Epub Jun 11, 2007.


HHMI [Howard Hughes Medical Institute] will bestow monetary rewards on a commercial publisher in return for the type of public access already provided by many nonprofit publishers.

Two problems with this deal immediately come to mind. First, there is a clear potential for conflict of interest when a publisher stands to benefit financially by publishing papers from a particular organization. Second, and even more seriously, this action by HHMI undermines the effort to persuade commercial publishers to make their content public after a short delay, by rewarding them for not doing so.

See also: Paying a fee for Green OA, 21 Mar 2007.

And: Elsevier, HHMI and Open Access, Kaitlin Thaney, Science Commons, 8 Mar 2007.

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Review of “The Access Principle”

An invited review of The Access Principle, by John Willinsky (MIT Press, 2006) was submitted on 13 July 2007 for publication (after copyediting) in the University of Toronto Quarterly 77:1 ( Winter 2007/2008 ) — “Letters in Canada 2006.” Publisher: The University of Toronto Press. This version (but not the submitted version) includes links to relevant URLs. I’m the author of the review. (Credit line: James E. Till, Project Open Source|Open Access, University of Toronto).

From the viewpoint of a researcher with a background in the biomedical and health sciences, John Willinsky’s book can be regarded as an experimental intervention designed to stimulate changes in the current system of scholarly publishing.

Willinsky’s book can also be classified as a policy-oriented intervention. Its goal (as stated on page 31) is ‘incremental advances in the circulation of knowledge within the academic community and beyond’. The access principle that underlies the book is the belief (as defined on page 5) that a ‘commitment to the value and quality of research carries with it a responsibility to extend the circulation of this work as far as possible, and ideally to all who are interested in it and all who might profit by it’. Routes to the provision of free access to research articles are described, such as open access repositories and open access journals. However, the emphasis is on opening access, that is, on ways to increase access to the outputs of scholarship and research, rather than on any particular inflexible definition of open access.

Experimental interventions need to be evaluated. How to begin to evaluate the impact of such a book? One simple way is to see what other reviewers have already said about it. A Google search quickly revealed a blurb from the website of MIT Press, the publisher of the book. Via this site, one can obtain free access to an electronic version of the book.

The search also yielded links to several reviews. One chapter-by-chapter review, by Wioleta Fedeczko, included a comment that the book ‘provides a rich analysis of the ecologies of publication’. Another review, by Professor T.D. Wilson, found it an ‘important book’ and ‘extremely well written’. A third review by Scott Aaronson, while critical of the writing style, included a comment that the book has ‘given the open-access movement its first attempt at an intellectual foundation’.

Another search, of Peter Suber’s excellent Open Access News blog, yielded links to several more reviews. Of the first ten freely accessible reviews, only one, by Martin Frank in the New England Journal of Medicine, was clearly negative. However, his criticisms were mainly of the open access movement, not the book. These searches also yielded information about two awards won by the book, the 2006 Blackwell’s Scholarship Award and the 2005 Computers and Composition Distinguished Book Award. One can conclude that most evaluations of the book have been quite positive.

The references cited in the book are dated 2005 or earlier. So, subsequent contributions to the rapidly-evolving open access movement are missing. This doesn’t mean that the book will soon be badly out of date. It will continue to provide valuable background material about the intellectual foundations for the movement.

There’s another experimental intervention that’s been fostered by John Willinsky and is described in the book. It’s the Open Journal Systems (OJS), open source software for journal management and publishing that is having substantial ongoing impact. As of March 2007, over 900 titles were using OJS, in ten languages. One recent example is a new open access Canadian general medical journal, Open Medicine. It seems likely that the OJS may have much greater impact on scholarly publishing over the longer term than will Willinsky’s book.

Lastly, a brief comment about how this review is also, in a very minor way, an intervention in the current system of scholarly publishing. An invitation to prepare a review of Willinsky’s book posed a dilemma. The book is about fostering greater access to the scholarly literature, yet the University of Toronto Quarterly isn’t an open access journal. The publisher, University of Toronto Press, accepted an Author’s Addendum that permitted retention of the right to post the author’s final submitted version of the review on the author’s personal website or blog. It’s a modest contribution to the open access movement, but one that’s compatible with John Willinsky’s goal of ‘incremental advances in the circulation of knowledge’.

Added July 10, 2008: Archived in WebCite®: versions of the reviews by Wioleta Fedeczko, T.D. Wilson and Scott Aaronson.

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Copyediting not essential?

David Goodman and Alma Swan have recently commented on the topic of “Measuring the ‘added value’ of copy editing”. My own view: self-archiving by authors of the final (after peer review) version of manuscripts that have been accepted for publication won’t have major implications, either positively or negatively, for the overall quality of the scholarly and research literature.

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