Open Access News

News from the open access movement


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Richard Poynder interviews Annette Holtkamp

Richard Poynder, The Open Access Interviews: Annette Holtkamp, Open and Shut?  September 12, 2008.  Another of Poynder's far-reaching and detailed interviews, ranging from the the prehistory of OA, and how SPIRES evolved into INSPIRE, to SCOAP3, open data, the affinities of physicists for OA, and Holtkamp's speculations on the future of open science.  (Also see Poynder's August 2008 article about INSPIRE and my blog post about it.)  Excerpt:

[R]ecently [Annette Holtkamp] has been heavily involved in the development of a new repository for the particle physics community called INSPIRE...INSPIRE will eventually become a full-text service like arXiv something that in a recent survey HEP scientists said they wanted. Moreover, it will...use very sophisticated repository software which will, amongst other things, include a new search engine, a metrics system for measuring the impact of articles, and a number of specialist data management tools. It will also boast Web 2.0 functionality and, as with SPIRES, the data will be managed and curated by professional librarians....

...Holtkamp is a passionate advocate for Open Access. She is a member of the Open Access working group of the Helmholtz Society, and was on the working party that designed SCOAP3. And when Germany joined the SCOAP3 consortium she became the German contact for SCOAP3.  [She is also "an information professional at Germany's largest particle physics research centre Deutsches Elektronen Synchrotron (DESY)."]....

SCOAP3 is an ambitious project that hopes to "flip" the entire particle physics literature from today's primarily subscription-based model in which researchers (or their institutions) pay to access published research to an Open Access model, in which the HEP research community would instead pay to publish its research. (Not on an author-pays model, but through a single consortium that will facilitate the re-direction of subscription funds). In return, publishers would commit to making HEP papers freely available on the Web.

The development of INSPIRE, however, opens up the possibility that SCOAP3 could prove to be a transitory phase....

[O]ne consequence of the rapid rise in both subject-based and institutional repositories is that scholarly communication is moving from a journal model to a database model. This could see a second kind of flip take place: Where today researchers pass over their papers to publishers, who then become the official source and distributors of published research, in the future repositories could become the primary location for scholarly papers. They might also become publishing platforms, with publishers relegated to outsourced service providers paid simply to organise the peer review of the papers that have been deposited in repositories. This, for example, seems to be the model that the University of California is moving towards....

As important as [open data] issues are, the main concern for particle physicists today is that in the light of the increasing complexity of the experiments they conduct it isn't enough simply to keep data in its raw form (even if it is constantly migrated to new machine-readable formats), but to retain with it the knowledge necessary for anyone who did not take part in the original experiment to reuse and reinterpret it. As Holtkamp puts it, "We will have to develop what we call a parallel format that is, a format that not only preserves the data itself, but also the necessary knowledge to be able to interpret it." ...

She adds, "I am pretty confident that Open Access will be the standard of the future for scientific papers, although it remains unclear when Open Data will become the norm." ...

So how might the research process look in this new world? We don't yet know. Holtkamp, however, has some ideas. "I can see a piece of research starting with a researcher simply putting an idea on a wiki, where it would be time-stamped in order to establish precedence," she says. "Others could then elaborate on the idea, or write a program or do some calculations to test it, or maybe visualise the idea in some way. Publication would then consist of aggregating all the pieces of the puzzle all of which would be independently citable." ...

What is it about particle physicists that made them OA pioneers?

With a degree in sociology (as well as a PhD in physics), Holtkamp is better qualified than most to suggest an explanation. That physicists were so early in the game, she says, reveals something about their mentality. "If they encounter a problem they immediately want a solution. If nothing ready-made is available a very common situation their strong self-confidence and pronounced playfulness lead them to sit down and try to work it out themselves, and often with success."

It is a mindset that always saw physicists loath to have to wait months (or longer) before reading about a new piece of research. They have always wanted immediate, free access to the latest findings something that the long lead time and subscription barriers inherent in the traditional journal publishing model could never properly satisfy.

From this perspective, one might want to suggest that it was not that the Internet provided the stimulus for scientists to change the way they did things, but that with its arrival physicists were finally able to share their research in the way they needed to....