Welcome to the SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #102
October 2, 2006

Read this issue online

Open access and quality

If an article is published in a toll-access (TA) journal and then deposited in an open-access (OA) repository, its quality does not change.  And conversely, if it's first deposited in an OA repository and then published in a TA journal, its quality does not change.  That's the sense in which quality and access are independent.  It's obvious and it's basic.  But it's not the whole story.

There are other, subtle ways in which quality and access intersect.  This is an attempt to disentangle a large tangle of them.

Most of the ways in which access affects quality are very indirect.  But there's one family of indirect effects that I won't cover here:  the ways in which OA improves the quality of published research by improving the productivity of the researcher.  That goes to the heart of the case for OA, but it's more familiar, and actually larger, than the topics I want to explore here.

* The main factors that affect the quality of journal literature are price- and medium-independent:  the quality of authors, the quality of editors, and the quality of referees.  We know that these key players can be just as good at OA journals as at TA journals because they can be the very same people.  An excellent TA journal can convert to OA and use the same standards and the same people that it used before.  An excellent newly-launched OA journal can use the same people as an excellent TA journal.  And of course two journals don't have to use the same people to use people of comparable skill and experience. 

* We have to acknowledge from the start that there are strong and weak OA journals, just as there are strong and weak TA journals. 

Hence, any analysis focusing on weak OA journals and strong TA journals (as if to show the superiority of TA journals) would be as arbitrary as one focusing on weak TA journals and strong OA journals (as if to show the superiority of OA journals).  Without some additional argument showing that the journals on which they focus are typical of their breeds, they would be guilty of cherry-picking and generalizing from an unrepresentative sample. 

Moreover, we know that something has gone wrong if an argument for the virtues of either model implies that weak journals using that model do not exist.

* TA publishers have often charged that OA journals compromise on peer review.  The allegation is that if a journal accepts a fee for every paper it publishes, then it has an incentive to lower its standards in order to accept more papers.  It sounds plausible but it doesn't stand up to scrutiny. 

First, even if OA journals charging author-side fees have an incentive to accept more papers, it doesn't follow that they have an incentive to lower their standards.  If they have a large number of excellent submissions, they can increase their acceptance rate without lowering standards.  Unlike TA journals, they have no space limitations to hem them in. 

Second, OA journals charging author-side fees often waive the fees in case of economic hardship.  Not every accepted paper will create revenue, and some will have the opposite effect. 

Third, OA journals charging author-side fees have editorial firewalls in place to insulate the peer-review process from business decisions about fees.  For example, it's very common for editors not to know whether an author has requested a fee waiver.  Many OA journals ensure that at least one voice in the editorial decision is not employed by the journal and has no financial stake in the outcome.  At most of the new hybrid OA journals, authors don't even communicate their decision on the OA option until after the paper has been accepted. 

Fourth, just like TA journals, OA journals know that their submissions and prestige depend on their quality.  Preserving their quality will always be more valuable to them than another fee.  This is especially true when we realize that the fees themselves are set at or near (and sometimes below) the subsistence level.  A journal gains nothing and loses much if it lowers its quality in order to bring in a fee that does little more than pay the costs of bringing in the fee. 

Fifth, the majority of OA journals charge no author-side fees at all.

We're hearing less of this objection now that some of the critics (like Elsevier and the Royal Society) are offering hybrid journals and accepting author-side fees themselves.  As full and hybrid OA journals spread, the objection will continue to fade away.

* Is peer review at OA journals less rigorous than at TA journals?  In October 2005 the Kaufman-Wills report (The Facts About Open Access) concluded that it was, based on a finding that TA journals used external reviewers, or reviewers outside the journal's editorial staff, more often than OA journals.  However, a subsequent addendum retracted most of that conclusion as based on an erroneous interpretation of peer review practices at BioMed Central.

The Kaufman-Wills report (October 11, 2005)
Post-publication addendum (October 28, 2005)
For more details on the original criticism of OA journals and the post-publication retraction and clarification, see my interview with Cara Kaufman (November 2, 2005).

* On the other side, there are reasons to think that TA journals face stronger incentives to lower standards than OA journals. 

First, the Kaufman-Wills report showed that more subscription journals charge author-side fees than OA journals.  Author-side fees needn't cause a lowering of standards at either kind of journal.  But insofar as they have that tendency, TA journals are afflicted more often than OA journals.

(Not only do a greater number of TA journals charge author-side fees, but a greater percentage of them do so as well.  Of course, at a TA journal, author-side fees are laid on top of reader-side subscription fees.)

Second, TA journals often justify price increases by pointing to the growing volume of published articles.  This is the incentive that critics saw in fee-based OA journals:  the incentive to increase quantity in order to increase revenue.  As with OA journals, this needn't result in a decrease in quality; but insofar as it has that tendency, the problem exists at both kinds of journals.  Is it worse at TA journals?  Consider the next factor.

Third, subscription fees at TA journals include substantial profits or surpluses, often more than 35%.  An EPS report from July 2006 showed that the *average* profit margin at STM publishers in 2005 was 25%.

At fee-based OA journals, the incentive to accept more papers to generate revenue is small, because the fees barely cover their costs.  At TA journals, the incentive to accept more papers to justify price increases is much larger, because subscriptions often contain significant profits or surpluses.  As I've noted, when a journal has an abundance of excellent submissions, then it can increase quantity without decreasing quality.  But when it doesn't have enough excellent submissions, then it can only accept more papers by lowering standards. 

Not all TA journals have towering profit margins.  Not all are even in the black.  However --though no one has yet done the relevant studies-- I would bet that subscription revenue exceeds costs more often at TA journals than fee revenue does at OA journals, and conversely, that fee revenue falls below costs more often at OA journals than subscription revenue does at TA journals.  If so, then the average TA journal using increased quantity to justify price increases will get a bigger revenue bump from increasing its acceptance rate than the average OA journal will.  Hence, the incentive to increase the acceptance rate by lowering standards is stronger at TA journals than at OA journals.  Within the domain of TA journals, it's stronger at high-profit journals than at low-profit or non-profit journals.

TA publishers who gloated at the news --last June-- that PLoS would have to supplement fee revenue with foundation grants didn't realize that the same news showed that PLoS has no incentive to lower its standards in order to bring in more insufficient fees.  Or at least TA publishers with any kind of profit margin have a greater incentive to lower standards, accept more papers, and justify a price increase.  Are OA journal fees high enough to corrupt peer review or too low to pay the bills?  Critics can't have it both ways.

Fourth, if TA journals have a shortage of excellent submissions, they cannot publish a short issue without shortchanging subscribers.  Hence, to fill an issue they must lower their standards.  Because OA journals don't have subscribers, they are free to publish short issues limited to their first-rate submissions. 

Fifth, TA journals with lower standards, lower submission rates, and (consequently) lower rejection rates have higher profit margins than journals with higher standards and higher submission rates.  The reason is that journals with lower rejection rates perform peer review fewer times per published paper.  Hence, publishers seeking higher margins have an incentive to lower standards.  (This is compatible of course with the existence of other incentives pulling in the opposite direction.)

This is the conclusion of financial analysts at Credit Suisse First Boston, published on April 6, 2004.  The report is not online but I wrote a summary for SOAN.

The same Credit Suisse report shows that bundling can protect weak journals from cancellation and thereby insulate publishers from the market forces that would ordinarily punish declining quality. 

Note that some of these incentives amplify one another.  For a TA journal, lowering standards and lowering the rejection rate not only enlarges the journal and justifies price increases but also lowers the costs of peer review and increases profit margins. 

* There's evidence from TA journals that have shortened their embargoes or converted to OA that OA increases submissions.  If it increases submissions, then it allows the journal to increase selectivity and improve the quality of the accepted articles. 

From an interview with Elizabeth Marincola, then-Director of the American Society for Cell Biology, which publishes Molecular Biology of the Cell (Open Access Now, October 6, 2003): 

What happened after ASCB decided to provide OA to all the articles in MBC after only two months, the shortest embargo in the industry?  "We have not lost subscription income, our submissions have gone up and our meeting programs have held strong. Financially we have been able to have our cake and eat it."

From T. Scott Plutchak, Editor of the Journal of the Medical Library Association (LibLicense, February 10, 2005):

The Journal of the Medical Library Association (JMLA)...has been open access via PubMed Central since September 2001.  At present, every article, letter, editorial and feature of every issue, back to volume 1, issue 1, July 1911, is available.  The online version is generally up within a day or two of the hard copy arriving on my desk....Benefits?  Although difficult to quantify, I'd say we're seeing greatly increased readership, a striking increase in manuscript submissions, particularly from overseas, and vastly increased value of the older material, since it is now so easy to get to."

From Sara Schroter (BMJ, February 14, 2006):

Three quarters (159/211) [of surveyed authors] said the fact that all readers would have free access to their paper on bmj.com was very important or important to their decision to submit to BMJ. Over half (111/211) said closure of free access to research articles would make them slightly less likely to submit research articles to the BMJ in the future, 14% (29/211) said they would be much less likely to submit, and 34% (71/211) said it would not influence their decision.

From D.K. Sahu and Ramesh Parmar (the Neil Jacobs anthology from Chandos Publishing, 2006): 

OA has certainly helped the Indian journals to reach an international audience...The number of manuscripts submitted to the journals has increased many fold (see Figure 19.1), with increases in the number of articles coming from other countries ranging from 12–44% for various journals (see Figure 19.2).

Finally, here's an argument I made in SOAN for March 2005:

For authors, the only reason to submit work to a TA journal is its prestige. In every other way, TA journals are inferior to OA journals because they limit an author's audience and impact. OA journals will start to draw submissions away from top TA journals as soon as they approach them in prestige. And by the time they equal them in prestige, the best TA journals will have lost their one remaining competitive advantage.

* There is abundant evidence that OA increases citation impact. 

I've often argued that citation impact is not the same thing as quality, and I haven't changed my mind.  But I can justify talking about citation impact here because for many authors, funding agencies, and university promotion and tenure committees, citation impact is a crude surrogate for quality.  Some acknowledge its crudity, or its divergence from a true quality measurement; but at the same time, some act as if they preferred impact to quality, insofar as the two diverge.

Some critics have argued that part of the correlation between OA and citation impact is due to a quality bias:  authors preferentially self-archive their best work.  Studies by Tim Brody, Chawki Hajjem, Stevan Harnad, and Gunther Eysenbach show that there is a substantial OA citation advantage even after correcting for any effects of this bias.  I doubt that the debate is over, but for present purposes we needn't decide the question.  Either OA articles have greater impact than TA articles even after we control for quality, or OA articles have a higher average impact because they have a higher average quality.

If self-archiving authors do preferentially deposit their best work, then the reason could be called author pride --the quality filter that costs publishers nothing.  All published articles pass through this filter, of course.  But published and then self-archived articles pass through it twice.

Just for the record:  I'm not saying that author pride suffices; on the contrary, we still need peer review, sometimes to ratify author pride but more often to check it.  Nor am I saying that the existence of a self-archiving bias arising from author pride negates the evidence for an OA impact advantage; on the contrary, I accept the evidence that a significant impact advantage remains even after subtracting the self-archiving quality bias.

I wrote about one form of quality bias in BMJ for May 2005.
This is an editorial commenting on a study by Jonathan Wren, also from May 2005.

Note that the OA impact advantage centers on the citation tally for individual articles, not the impact factor of whole journals.  Insofar as OA increases the citation tally for articles, it will tend to increase the impact factor for journals.  But other articles from the same journal might raise or lower the impact factor, muddying the water.  In 2004 Thomson Scientific did two studies of the impact factors of OA journals, and both showed that OA journals had competitive numbers.  Despite the relative youth of OA journals, even in 2004 there was at least one OA journal in the top cohort of impact factors in nearly every scientific discipline.

First Thomson study:  James Testa and Marie E. McVeigh, The Impact of Open Access Journals: A Citation Study from Thomson ISI, April 14, 2004.

Second Thomson study:  Marie E. McVeigh, Open Access Journals in the ISI Citation Databases: Analysis of Impact Factors and Citation Patterns Thomson Scientific, October 2004.

* Journal prices don't correlate with impact or quality.  In fact, Theodore and Carl Bergstrom have shown that journal prices are either unrelated to quality or inversely related to it.  In their analysis of journal prices and citation impact (Nature, May 20, 2004), they conclude that "libraries typically must pay 4 to 6 times as much per page for journals owned by commercial publishers as for journals owned by non-profit societies. These differences in price do not reflect differences in the quality of the journals. In fact the commercial journals are on average less cited than the non-profits and the average cost per citation of commercial journals ranges from 5 to 15 times as high as that of their non-profit counterparts."

Golnessa Galyani Moghaddam confirmed this conclusion in a study published this summer (Libri, June 2006).  Not only do for-profit journals cost more than non-profit journals per issue or per volume, they also cost more per citation and per point of impact factor.  Moreover, of the top 30 journals by usage at the Indian Institute of Science, 20 were non-profits and only 10 were for-profits.

* By hugely enlarging the audience, OA makes authors more careful.  If you like, consider this another effect of author pride.

In SOAN for July 2006, I argued that one reason for graduate schools to mandate OA for theses and dissertations is to improve their quality:

All teachers know that students work harder and do better work when they know they are writing for a real audience --large or small-- beyond the teacher.  The effect is amplified if they are writing for the public.  Some teachers try to harness this power by telling students to write as if their work were to appear on the front page of the New York Times.  Some arrange to give students a real audience beyond the teacher.  In a law course in which I conducted moot court, the quality of student preparation and argument improved dramatically after I started videotaping them.  I didn't even have to put the videos online; I just put them on reserve in the library for the rest of the semester....OA gives authors a real audience beyond the dissertation committee and real incentives to do original, impressive work....[E]ven when grad students think it's safe and easy to fool their committee, it's risky and difficult to fool the world.

The Chronicle of Higher Education quoted a Yale professor to the same effect just last month:

Ramamurti Shankar, a professor of physics who is teaching one of [Yale's new OA] courses, said knowing that his lecture might be watched online by a wide audience keeps him on his toes. "I have to be a little more careful than I usually am," he said.

* Here's a variation on the same theme:  OA keeps authors honest. 

Citing OA articles makes it easy for readers to verify that authors are accurately summarizing the cited work or data.  Citing TA articles makes this harder (but clearly, not impossible) and to that extent protects authors who want to blow smoke.  The most detailed case I've seen for this conclusion is also the most recent:  Mark Liberman, Open-access sex stereotypes, Language Log, September 10, 2006.

* Here's another variation on the theme:  OA deters plagiarism.  In the early days, some authors worried that OA would increase the incentive to plagiarize their work.  But this worry made no sense and has not been borne out.  On the contrary.  OA might make plagiarism easier to commit, for people trolling for text to cut and paste.  But for the same reason, OA makes plagiarism more hazardous to commit.  Insofar as OA makes plagiarism easier, it's only for plagiarism from OA sources.  But plagiarism from OA sources is the easiest kind to detect.  Not all plagiarists are smart, of course, but the smart ones are steering clear of OA sources. 

For the same reason, they'll avoid OA dissemination for any of their own works containing plagiarized passages. 

The first tendency improves the average integrity of work quoting OA literature.  The second improves the average integrity of OA literature itself.

Because OA will only reduce plagiarism by smart plagiarists, the effect may be small.  And today the effect is small in any case because so little of the literature is OA.  But just as we can expect good things from a pest-resistant strain of wheat, even when we've just introduced it in one field, we can expect good things from this plagiarism-resistant strain of research literature.

* The EC's Study on the Economic and Technical Evolution of the Scientific Publication Markets in Europe (dated January 2006 but apparently not released until late March or early April) recommended that we widen our concept of a journal's quality to include quality of access or quality of dissemination.  This is an excellent idea.

A critic might object that even if adopted, this wouldn't change the fact that the OA/TA status of an individual article is independent of the article's quality.  That's true but beside the point.  The report isn't trying redefine the quality of articles, but to recognize other kinds of quality.  When academic publishers give awards to good journals, they recognize many kinds of quality, including (for example) quality of design.  That's the kind of enlargement of our thinking the EC study recommends, but it focuses in particular on quality of access, which publisher award ceremonies tend to overlook.  When libraries decide what to buy, renew, or cancel, they consider many kinds of quality, including quality of access.  For example, they take price into account, as one criterion among many others, and for TA electronic journals they investigate whether they will still have access to subscribed issues after they cancel.

* Now and then someone will suggest that OA is fine for second-rate work but not for first-rate work.  This claim is more sniffed than elaborated, so it's hard to tell what the argument is. 

If it's saying that high-quality, high-prestige journals will never or rarely be OA, or vice versa, then it's a prediction, not a datum.  Moreover, it seems to be a false prediction.  There are already high-quality, high-prestige OA journals, for example, the Beilstein Journal of Chemistry, Nucleic Acids Research, and PLoS Biology. 

(I pick these three to show that OA, quality, and prestige can exist together under a variety of circumstances:  two charge author-side fees and one doesn't; two are from non-profit publishers and one from a for-profit; two are converted TA journals and one was born OA.)

There are more than this list of three, of course.   But one reason there aren't already more than there are is that most OA journals are new.  Even when new journals are excellent from birth, it takes time for their prestige to catch up with their quality.  Another reason is that most of the money to pay for peer-reviewed journals is still tied up in support of TA journals.  Since neither of these explanations depends on any intrinsic limitation in the quality of OA journals, we have good reason to think that the numbers of high-quality, high-prestige OA journals will grow as we remove the barriers to their growth.

I can accept one form of the premise, namely, that so far most high-quality, high-prestige journals are TA.  But of course, so far, most low-quality, low-prestige journals are also TA.  Moreover, the present ratio of excellent TA journals to excellent OA journals is just a present fact about a very dynamic, rapidly changing situation, not a fact about the intrinsic quality of either kind of journal.  To mistake it for more would be like arguing in 1980 that more prestigious journals used typewriters than computers, and therefore that computers must have some intrinsic limitation keeping their numbers down.

I can accept another, more important form of the premise, namely, that most authors will seek prestige before OA, if they have to choose.  The mistake is to assume that they have to choose.

There are two reasons why there's no trade-off here.  First, there are already high-quality, high-prestige OA journals and their existence shows that nothing intrinsic to OA blocks that path.  Second, authors can publish in a prestigious TA journal and then deposit their postprint in an OA repository.  About 70% of TA journals already give blanket permission for this and many of the others will give permission after an individual request.

* There's a related argument (related because it's more sniffed than elaborated) that the internet is the proper home for crap, not scholarship.  It's really more prejudice than argument, and in 2006 it's more dead than alive.  Hence, you may think it no longer deserves a response.  But it was common in the early days of the net, and when it was common it was also self-fulfilling.  It was one (of many) early obstacles to OA, and we're still struggling to overcome its effects.  Moreover, it isn't completely dead.

It's true that the crap/gold ratio was very high in the early days of the net.  But even then it didn't follow that there was no gold, let alone that there shouldn't be.  And today the only people who can still say that there's no high-quality, peer-reviewed work in their fields on the internet are the ones who aren't paying attention. 

Even though scholars generally know that there is good scholarship online, there is still a sense in some quarters that quality work belongs elsewhere, or that good work online is harmed by its association with crap.  For example, at universities giving grad students the option to submit dissertations electronically, and where OA for electronic submissions is the default, there's evidence that some professors advise their graduate students against it.  They're trying to preserve their students' chances of publishing parts of the dissertation in the future (well-intentioned but uninformed) and trying to make their students look like real scholars rather than camp-followers (ironically more camp-following than scholarly).

The attitude is often accompanied by mutterings about the dislike of reading long or difficult works online or the love of printed books --which I share, by the way, but which are compatible with taking full advantage of the benefits online dissemination.  Just as often it's accompanied by mutterings that "you get what you pay for".  And of course it's still true that the internet is full of crap, though it's false that that crap/gold ratio hasn't declined steadily in the past decade and false that the tools for finding the gold haven't improved just as steadily.  It's true that putting peer-reviewed scholarship online puts it in the same bin as a lot of crap, but the same is true of the bin of print.  What's astonishing is that smart people can forget that the low quality of the crap online doesn't affect the high quality of the scholarship online.  More critically, putting peer-reviewed scholarship online doesn't add to the crap online; it dilutes the crap online.

If the same squeamishness about online dissemination had infected print dissemination in the age of Gutenberg, on the ground that real scholarship was inscribed by hand on goatskin, then every kind of knowledge would have been held back.  What's striking is that those still carrying traces of this prejudice would rather follow the (literally) hide-bound customs of their field than take advantage of new technologies to pursue their own interests.


OA wrap-up on the last Congress

The second session of the 109th Congress ended yesterday.  Congress didn't finish all its unfinished business and will almost certainly reconvene after the November 7 elections for a lame-duck session.  Meantime, here's an update on the OA legislation.

(1) Back in June, the House Appropriations Committee adopted language requiring the NIH to strengthen its public access policy in two critical ways:  to convert the request to a requirement and to shorten the permissible embargo from 12 to six months. 

However, the full House still hasn't voted on the bill and the Senate hasn't adopted one of its own.  The fate of the Appropriations Committee language will be determined by a House-Senate conference committee, probably in November.  The House position will be very close the current language, demanding an OA mandate.  The Senate position will be heavily influenced by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.  Friends of OA in Pennsylvania could greatly help the cause by contacting Specter's office.

(2) A sweeping NIH Reauthorization Bill passed by the House of Representatives on September 26 includes language to monitor the effectiveness of the NIH public access policy.  The message is that the compliance rate with the NIH policy is too low, the agency has to take steps to improve it, Congress cares, and Congress is watching.  See the press release from the Alliance for Taxpayer Access, September 27, 2006.

The reauthorization bill sets the mission and many of the basic policies for the agency.  To streamline the process and minimize political haggling, House leaders put many contentious issues to one side.  OA was one of these.  But Rep. Michael Doyle (D-PA) introduced it anyway, proposing a pro-OA amendment that he eventually withdrew to avoid holding up the bill.  Doyle also gave a very strong five-minute speech in support of OA at one of the mark-up sessions and asked NIH Director Zerhouni three questions about OA at the reauthorization hearing on September 26.  Here's a webcast of the hearing (Doyle's questions are at the very end); the transcript isn't yet online.

The Senate didn't act on the reauthorization bill before adjournment and will have to deal with it in November or the next session.

(3) The Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006 (FRPAA) is still under consideration by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, chaired by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).  The committee hasn't voted on it but is taking it seriously. 

On the hill, the bill is progressing at an ordinary pace.  Off the hill, the momentum is strong and building, not only from the disease advocacy organizations, but from the Harris poll (in May) and the rapidly growing number of university presidents and provosts explicitly supporting the bill.

(4) The CURES Act has not come up for a vote.  It was an excellent bill but it's dead.  From a narrow OA point of view, the consolation is that it's subsumed by FRPAA, which is far from dead. 

CURES was introduced by Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT), who was defeated by Ned Lamont in this year's Democratic primary election for the Connecticut Senate race.  But don't count Lieberman out.  He's running for re-election as in Independent and may win.  As I write, the latest poll shows Lieberman and Lamont in a dead heat.

However, even if Lieberman wins, expect more from FRPAA than CURES in the 110th Congress.


Top stories from September 2006

This is my selection of the most important OA developments since the last issue of the newsletter, not counting any developments covered in the lead essays above.  When items have two URLs, the first is usually for the item itself and the second for my blog posting about it on Open Access News.  For other developments that didn't make the cut, see Open Access news, which I update daily, and which has a browseable and searchable archive.

Here are the top stories from September:

     * Tally update:  125 university leaders endorse FRPAA, 10 opposed.
     * Hybrid journals continue to spread.
     * Major OA repository projects launch.
     * The NIH retreats from its earlier goals.
     * The NEH will prefer OA projects.
     * Are price barriers in the national interest?

Tally update:  125 university leaders endorse FRPAA, 10 opposed.

There were two events on this front in September.  (1) On September 6, the Oberlin Group released an open letter in support of FRPAA signed by the presidents of 53 liberal arts colleges.  In the next week another three presidents added their names.  Counting signatures on earlier letters, and signatures that came later in the month, the number of presidents and provosts who have now signed public letters endorsing FRPAA has climbed to 125.  (2) On September 22, the DC Principles Coalition released an open letter *opposing* FRPAA signed by 10 senior administrators at US universities.

For the pro-OA administrators, see the SPARC list, which collects the signatures from four separate letters.

For the dissenting administrators, see the DC Principles letter.

Here are the September news stories and press releases on the provost letters.

SPARC, New England Provosts Issue Support for Federal Research Public Access Act, SPARC E-News, September 29, 2006.

Stevan Harnad, 125 Provosts For, 10 Against FRPAA Self-Archiving Mandate, Open Access Archivangelism, September 25, 2006.

T. Scott Plutchak, It Gets Lonely Out Here, T. Scott, September 24, 2006.

Three responses to the 10 anti-FRPAA provosts, two from colleagues who preferred not to be named, and one from Jonathan Eisen.

Anon., Pushback Begins: Ten Academic Officers Pen Letter Against FRPAA, Library Journal Academic Newswire, September 28, 2006.

The DC Principles Coalition found 10 senior administrators who opposed FRPAA and released their public letter on September 22, 2006. 

Susan Brown, Coalition Works to Secure Open Access to Published Research, Chronicle of Higher Education, September 22, 2006.

David Lau, Bloom signs letter supporting open access to research, The Phoenix, September 14, 2006.  On the signature ofAl Bloom, President of Swarthmore College.

Stevan Harnad, 115 US university presidents and provosts endorse FRPAA self-archiving mandate proposal, Open Access Archivangelism, September 8, 2006. 

The Oberlin Group has released an Open letter in support of FRPAA signed by the presidents of 53 liberal arts colleges.

These liberal arts college presidents are an important addition to the research university provosts who have already endorsed FRPAA. Liberal arts colleges deserve access to publicly-funded research as much as more research-intensive insitutions and have less access to it through subscriptions. Their support will matter to members of Congress representing the states where these colleges are located. I'm very proud to say that Earlham College, my own school, is on the list.

It's not true that liberal arts colleges are devoted entirely to teaching and do no research.  They may put teaching first and research second, but they do research.  Moreover, teaching requires research, both by the teacher and by students.

Anon., Critics Assail Senate Bill Requiring Open Access to Federally Sponsored Research, Chronicle of Higher Education News Blog, September 25, 2006.

Three more provosts endorsed FRPAA on September 5.
..and another on September 8
..and another on September 11
..and another four on September 13
..and another six on September 19

Scott Jaschik, Momentum for Open Access Research, Inside Higher Ed, September 6, 2006.

Stevan Harnad, No OA Yet? Don't Blame Elsevier! Open Access Archivangelism, September 2, 2006.


Hybrid journals continue to spread.

There were five big developments on this front in September.  In chronological order:  (1) The American Chemical Society announced its hybrid journal program, AuthorChoice; (2) the American Society of Plant Biologists announced an innovative hybrid program that charges no fees to participating authors who are already members of the ASPB; (3) Oxford introduced Creative Commons licenses for most articles in its hybrid program, Oxford Open; (4) Taylor & Francis launched its hybrid OA program, iOpenAccess; and (5) Elsevier and the Wellcome Trust agreed that Wellcome-funded authors participating in Elsevier's hybrid program will pay Elsevier's "sponsored article" fee and that Wellcome will reimburse the authors.

Each of these developments deserves an article.  But I'm at the mercy of the fast-rising volume of OA news.  For most of these developments, my blog posts contain detailed comments.

The rapid spread of the hybrid option is dizzying but not surprising.  It's not surprising because it's virtually no-risk for publishers.  It may not add significantly to the volume of OA literature; it may rarely benefit authors more than self-archiving; and it may never benefit libraries.  It's far from a solution, but it's becoming a standard feature that will let publishers test the market, collect data, learn some of the economics of OA publishing, and decide what to do next.  If we're lucky, it won't be a destination but just one step toward more widely beneficial forms of OA. 

My thoughts on the hybrid model are spelled out further in last month's SOAN.

Here are the news stories:

Taylor & Francis posted a clarification of its iOpenAccess program to the SPARC Open Access Forum, October 1, 2006.

Elsevier adopted a policy to allow its authors to comply with the Wellcome Trust's OA mandate.  Authors must pay Elsevier's "sponsored article" fee, but Wellcome will then reimburse the authors. 

Mark Chillingworth, T&F latest to offer Open Access, IWRblog, September 28, 2006.

On September 28, Taylor & Francis announced its own hybrid OA journal program.  http://www.informa.com/corporate/investors/press_releases/2006/2006-09-28_20017377567.htm

Oxford University Press announced that it has introduced Creative Commons licenses for most Oxford Open journals, September 25, 2006.

Kim Thomas, APS extends open access to all its journals, Information World Review, September 12, 2006. 

Donald R. Ort, RT-Plant Physiology: Full Open Access Publishing at No Charge to ASPB Members, Plant Physiology, September 2006. 
--Also see the ASPB press release on the new hybrid option, September 25, 2006.

Jan Velterop, the Open Access Director at Springer, sent me the Springer Open Choice answers to my nine questions for hybrid journal programs.  I blogged them and publicly offered to blog the answers of other hybrid journal publishers.  But I got no other takers.

The APS added an RSS feed for the articles in its Free To Read program.

Richard Charkin, Of this and that, Charkin blog, September 4, 2006.  Charkin, the CEO of Macmillan, comments on the hybrid model.

Sophie Rovner, ACS Offers Open-Access Option To Authors, Chemical & Engineering News, September 4, 2006.

Stevan Harnad, The Geeks and the Irrational,  Open Access Archivangelism, September 3, 2006.

American Chemical Society Announces New ACS AuthorChoice Open Access Option.  A press release from the ACS, dated August 14, 2006, but apparently not released until September 4.


Major OA repository projects launch.

There were four big repository developments in September:  (1) the Institute of Physics launched Eprintweb.org, its long-awaited mirror and enhancement of arXiv, proving in the process that at least in physics, journal publishers have more to gain from supporting OA archiving than opposing it; (2) the African Studies Centre in Leiden launched Connecting-Africa to harvest information on African research from 40 OA repositories worldwide; (3) a consortium of international research institutions launched DRIVER (Digital Repository Infrastructure Vision for European Research), which will build a large-scale OA infrastructure across Europe, and hinted at another project beyond DRIVER, EDRI (European Digital Repository Infrastructure); and (4) the Dutch DARE project launched Promise of Science, an OA repository for electronic theses and dissertations in the Netherlands.  On top of that, there were three new software announcements (PocketKnowledge, Ruby-OAI, and a timetable for Eprints 3.0), and five important reviews or surveys of archiving software.

Steve Hitchcock, Publisher 'open choice' is here to stay, should not faze repositories, Eprints Insiders, September 26, 2006.

Eve Gray, An African citation index? The AFC-Codesria conference on digital publishing, Gray Area, September 25, 2006.

Kate Worlock, DRIVER: Repositories take to the road, EPS Insights, September 21, 2006 (accessible only to subscribers).

Eprints announced that version 3 is on the way. A beta should appear in October, a release candidate before Christmas, and the formal release in January

The folks at Eprints have put together a page of exemplary Eprints repositories, Celebrating Our Diversity.  It collects sample repositories showing how to use Eprints to help brand an institution, serve institutional consortia or entire regions, archive data or ETDs (as opposed to journal preprints and postprints), accompany a journal, support multi-lingual deposits, fit an archive into a larger portal, or capture the work of a project or discipline.

Anestis Sitas, CDSware (CERN Document Server Software), Library Hi Tech, 24, 3 (2006).

Richard Wyles and others, Technical Evaluation of selected Open Source Repository Solutions, version 1.3.  A report from the OARINZ project (Open Access Repositories in New Zealand).  Undated but apparently released September 15, 2006. 

G. Sayeed Choudhury, A Technology Analysis of Repositories and Services, D-Lib Magazine, September 2006. 

Karen Markey and five co-authors, Nationwide Census of Institutional Repositories: Preliminary Findings, a presentation at JCDL 2006 (Chapel Hill, June 11-15, 2006).  Reporting the first results of the MIRACLE (Making Institutional Repositories A Collaborative Learning Environment) survey.

The Dutch DARE project launched Promise of Science, an an OA repository for electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs) in the Netherlands. 

EU project to widen access to European research information, September 13, 2006.  The CORDIS announcement of the DRIVER project and the future project beyond DRIVER, the European Digital Repository Infrastructure (EDRI).

For Ruby programmers there is now Ruby-OAI, a Ruby implementation of the OAI protocol for metadata harvesting. I haven't heard of any Ruby-based archiving software yet, but I doubt that will last much longer.

A consortium of international research institutions launched DRIVER (Digital Repository Infrastructure Vision for European Research).

Jennifer De Beer, Bridging the North-South Divide in Scholarly Communication on Africa. Threats and Opportunities in the Digital era.  An email report on the ASC-CODESRIA conference (Leiden, September 6-8, 2006), including an account of the launch of Connecting-Africa.

Connecting-Africa is a new service harvesting information on African research from 40 OA repositories worldwide.  It was officially launched at the ASC-CODESRIA conference (Leiden, September 6-8, 2006).

Maureen Pennock, Eprints Digital Repository Software, Digital Curation Centre, August 25, 2006.  (Thanks to UKOLN News.)   A detailed profile of the features and functions of Eprints, the open-source software for OA archives.

The Columbia University Teachers College has created PocketKnowledge, a new package of archiving software that it's using to archive just about anything --documents, music, photos, video-- created by its faculty and students.

The Institute of Physics launched EprintWeb.org, a new mirror, front end, and enhancement to arXiv.


The NIH retreats from its earlier goals.

The NIH has agreed that when publishers deposit articles on behalf of authors, under the public access policy, then the authors will be in compliance with the policy and the publishers may have a 12 month embargo on request.  The agreement was worked out with the American Society of Hematology (ASH) but will extend to other publishers who wish to take advantage of the option. 

The good news is that publishers may deposit immediately upon publication, and probably will.  The bad news is that, under this option, the embargo will always be 12 months.

To elaborate the good news:  This is a variation on the dual deposit/release strategy, which Stevan Harnad first conceived and I've often recommended.  To move closer to the full strategy, the NIH should release article metadata immediately upon deposit.

To elaborate the bad news:  The NIH is letting publishers strong-arm authors into accepting the maximum embargo.  This may only formalize the status quo, but it's a retreat from several earlier understandings about the policy.  Don't forget (1) that the NIH policy is a request to authors, not to publishers, (2) that the policy "strongly encourages" authors to permit public release "as soon as possible" after publication, (3) that Elias Zerhouni, Director of the NIH, said in a February 2005 press release that authors have a "right" to early release and that the "NIH is committed to helping our scientists exercise this right" and (4) that Zerhouni told the Washington Fax on January 21, 2005, that "we expect 12 months to be the exception, not the rule."  All of this is now obsolete. 

Source for point 2.
..for point 3.
..for point 4.

The NIH's first big retreat was to adopt a request (September 2004) when Congress told it to adopt a requirement (July 2004).  This is its second.

Bottom line, here are two recommendations.

For authors:  either self-archive immediately upon publication or avoid publishers, like ASH, who take the embargo decision from authors and then demand the maximum.

For citizens:  work for FRPAA, which would not only mandate OA to federally-funded research at a range of agencies, including the NIH, but reduce the maximum embargo from 12 to 6 months.


NEH will prefer OA projects.

In August, the Scholarly Editions program of the US National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) adopted a new policy to favor OA projects over non-OA projects.  ("Projects that...offer free online access are encouraged and will be given preference.")  The Association for Documentary Editing and many historians who use NEH funding to prepare scholarly editions of important texts protested the change.  One complaint was that the notice came late in the current application season.  Another was that the new policy would force scholars to choose between NEH funding and publication by a university press.  Another was that many scholars are not in a position to give or secure all the permissions needed for OA dissemination.

The NEH considered the objections and modified its guidelines slightly.  The new policy limits the OA preference to "online projects".  The original policy extended the policy to all projects without qualification (in the Scholarly Editions Grants program).  This may seem inconsequential, since only online projects can be OA.  But it's still a retreat, since it no longer sends the message that applicants preparing scholarly editions should aim to produce online editions.  If an applicant aims to produce a print edition, the OA preference may not apply, depriving most taxpayers of access to a publicly-funded work of scholarship.

A preference for OA projects is a lot weaker than an OA mandate, but it's still stronger than the NIH policy, which goes out of its way to say that there are no penalties whatsoever for refusing comply with its OA request.

I'm pleased that the NEH still prefers OA for NEH-funded online projects, and that it encourages NEH-funded projects to be online.   But I'm disappointed that it weakened its preference after one complaint from one group without inviting public comments from other groups with other interests.  The public deserves OA to publicly-funded research, regardless of the discipline.  It's good for students and scholars not affiliated with wealthy institutions; it's good for authors, who enlarge their audience and impact; and it's good for the funding agency and taxpayers, who increase the return on their investment.

Karin Fischer, Historians and Humanities Endowment Clash Over Changes in Review Process for Grants, Chronicle of Higher Education, September 26, 2006.

Scott Jaschik, NEH vs. Historians, Inside Higher Ed, September 25, 2006.

Scott Jaschik, Harming the Historical Record, Inside Higher Ed, September 18, 2006.

The NEH guidelines for Scholarly Editions Grants.

The full statement of the Association for Documentary Editing at the ADE site.


Are price barriers in the national interest?

Allan Adler is the vice president for legal and government affairs of the Association of American Publishers.  Scott Jaschik quotes him making the following remarkable statement about FRPAA:

[Adler] rejected the idea that taxpayer financed research should be open to the public, saying that it was in the national interest for it to be restricted to those who could pay subscription fees. "Remember — you're talking about free online access to the world," he said. "You are talking about making our competitive research available to foreign governments and corporations."

Scott Jaschik, Momentum for Open Access, Inside Higher Ed, September 6, 2006.

Note that we're talking about published research, not classified research that isn't published.

Thank goodness our enemies can't afford to pay subscriptions or visit libraries.

Thank goodness harming Americans has the side-effect of harming foreigners.  At least our sacrifice is not in vain.

Thank goodness Americans have never benefited from scientific advances made by non-Americans. 

Thank goodness publishers are willing to collect subscription fees for this patriotic purpose.

Thank goodness publishers are willing to shoulder the responsibility of controlling access to our research.   We know that they don't have to.  They didn't conduct this research, write it up, or fund it.

If it really were in the national interest to limit access to peer-reviewed research literature, and to use price barriers to limit access (an absurd counterfactual, but I'll play along), then the money should go to the state, not to the publishing industry.  When the state wants to deter smoking by making it more expensive, then it puts a tax on cigarettes and directs the money to the state treasury for the public benefit.  It doesn't collude with the tobacco industry to let it raise prices to the same level and keep the windfall for itself. 

But of course it's not in the national interest to limit access to knowledge.  On the contrary, it's in the national interest to facilitate access to knowledge and remove impediments to it.  That's why we spend tax dollars on research, universities, and libraries and why we ought to continue.  It's why a huge chunk of our money goes to support subscription-based journals, directly from the funding agencies (for page and color charges and special publishing subventions) and indirectly from public university libraries (for subscriptions) and researchers (whose articles publishers publish without payment).  Taxpayers support journals for the access they provide, not for the access they deny, and would get far more bang for the buck if the literature were OA.

In the past, many publishers who oppose OA have conceded that OA would be better than TA for researchers, and would even be in the public interest, if only we could pay for it.   If Adler is denying that, he's nearly alone and not speaking for many members of the AAP.  So far, I haven't seen any sign that Adler was misquoted or any sign that embarrassed members of AAP disavow his comment.



Here's an experiment.  I used to list all the OA developments from the previous month here in the newsletter.  But there were so many that I had to pull back and focus on just the top stories instead (July 2004).  Over time, however, I've let the top stories grow into the top clusters of stories, and some of them are very long.  In total, the new system is at least as much work as the older one.  Moreover, it leaves out all the developments beyond the top stories which, together, give a better sense of what's happening to OA. 

September was a good month to start tinkering with other possibilities.  It was so full of OA news that the top stories not only contain many stories within themselves but barely scratch the surface of what happened during the month.  So I started listing what *else* happened in September.  I like the effect and would like to do it more often.  However, I know I won't have time to do it every month, at least not without shortening my coverage of the top stories. 

So with no promises about doing it again, here they are:  the September developments not already discussed, in short statements with no elaboration and (usually) just one link, emphasizing action over scholarship, in no particular order.  Despite its length, the list is still selective.  --I know it would be more useful if fit included even those developments already mentioned in the top stories, but I'm still tinkering.

* Chemistry Central (cousin to BioMed Central) announced the launch of Chemistry Central Journal, its first journal.

* PLoS announced the forthcoming launch of PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

* Microsoft (yes, Microsoft, not the Gates Foundation) gave PLoS a $1.1 million grant for PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

* Two British psychologists launched Philica, a new OA journal covering every academic field, charging no author-side fees, and using a form of open review.

* Hindawi added three more OA journals to its list.

* Four more Hindawi OA journals were selected for citation tracking by Thompson Scientific.

* Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica converted from TA to OA.

* Yale and Berkeley released OA course videos.

* The campaign for OA to avian flu data is winning new allies.

* Complutense University of Madrid became the first university outside the English-speaking world to join the Google library project.

* Participants in a February 2006 conference issued the Declaration of Riyadh for Free Access to Scientific and Technical Information, the first OA declaration from the Arab world.  (Available in Arabic and French but not yet in English.)

* Chemists Without Borders released a draft Position Statement on Open Access and Open Source Science.

* French government inspectors recommend OA to public geodata.

* The Commission to the European Parliament came out in favor of open access to publicly-funded geospatial data.

* The European Archive Foundation launched an OA library of music and film.

* Austria's University of Applied Sciences Vorarlberg launched RegisteredCommons, cousin to Creative Commons.

* Public and private groups in Ukraine launch an open access working group to implement the 2005 Parliamentary resolution that called for (inter alia) an OA mandate for publicly-funded research.

* The British Library issued an IP Manifesto.

* The British Academy released a report showing that UK copyright law hinders research in the social sciences and humanities.

* The Open Access to Knowledge Law Project at Queensland University of Technology published a report on the copyright framework needed for OA to Australia's research output.

* The Australian government (DEST) published a major report on the economic benefits that would accrue to Australia if it provided OA to a larger percentage of its research output.

* The Australian government has announced the approval of an OA Learning Object Repository Network (LORN).

* De Montfort University launched an Institute of Creative Technologies, which promises that its publications be on deposit in the De Montfort IR.

* Larry Sanger launched Citizendium, a "progressive fork" of Wikipedia that uses subject-matter experts for quality control.

* Digital Universe launched the OA Encyclopedia of Earth.

* Tenn-Share launched a list of open-access databases and invited readers to help enlarge it.

* Congress approved the creation of an OA database of government grants and contracts.

* OpenDOAR, the Directory of Open Access Repositories, underwent a significant upgrade.

* BioMed Central has released a summary of funding agency policies on open access. 

* Several representatives of the University of California argued for OA to California-funded stem-cell research.

* The Council of Science Editors endorsed the principles on OA to clinical drug trial data promulgated by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE).

* The Open Knowledge Foundation has released version 1.0 of the open knowledge definition. 

* AGORA entered Phase Two, offering free online access to science journals to 37 more developing countries, in addition to the 69 already served.

* SPARC and the University of British Columbia Public Knowledge Project formed a partnership to support PKP's open-source publishing tools.


Coming up later this month

Here are some important OA-related events taking place in October, including some very important events that took place yesterday.

* October 1, 2006.  OA mandates took effect at four of the Research Councils UK:  the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC), and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

* October 1, 2006.  Last year on this date, the Wellcome Trust implemented its OA mandate for all new Wellcome research grants.  This year on the same date, the WT extended the policy from new grants to all outstanding grants, no matter how long ago they were awarded.

* October 1, 2006.  Last year the Dutch DARE project set itself the goal of depositing 100,000 full-text eprints, or tripling the volume, in the DARE network of OA repositories --all in one year. The year ends on October 1.

* October 1, 2006.  Ian Russell started his term as CEO of the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP). Most recently, Russell was the Head of Publishing at the Royal Society, a position he held at the time the RS adopted the hybrid OA model for all seven of its journals (June 2006). Sally Morris, the current CEO, will overlap with Russell until December 1, when she will retire after eight years of leading the organization.

* October 9, 2006.  Application deadline for EU funds to study the EU's digitization needs, processes, and policies.

* October 11, 2006.  An official ceremony will take place at the French National Academy of Sciences to celebrate the signing of a national agreement on open archives.  (Sorry, no link yet for further details.)

* October 31, 2006.  Deadline for comments on the NIH's genome-wide association study (GWAS), which would create an OA database of human genetic data.

* Sometime in October 2006, OARE (Online Access to Research in the
Environment) should officially launch.

* Sometime in October 2006, Thomson's Web Citation Index should launch.  (Sorry, no link yet for further details.)

* Notable conferences this month

Commons of Science Conference: Creating a vision for making scientific data accessible across disciplines (sponsored by Science Commons and hosted by the National Academies of Science)
Washington, D.C., October 3-4, 2006

International Conference on Dublin Core and Metadata Application: Metadata for Knowledge and Learning (OA is among the topics)
Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico, October 3-6, 2006

Transforming Scholarly Communication Symposium (OA is among the topics)
Houston, October 4, 2006

Mass and Matter: Public access to scientific discovery (sponsored by the University of Kansas Medical Center)
Kansas City, October 6, 2006

Sustaining Digital Libraries
Atlanta, October 6, 2006

Capitalizing on Access (Access 2006) (OA is among the topics)
Ottawa, October 11-14, 2006
--Pre-Conference: CARL Institutional Repositories: The Next Generation, October 10, 9:00-4:00, The Westin Ottawa

Impact Assessment of Digital Cultural Heritage Content and Services
Helsinki, October 12, 2006

Governing the Knowledge Society
Hamburg, October 12-13, 2006

World Congress on Internet in Medicine (MEDNET 2006) (OA is among the topics)
Toronto, October 13-20, 2006
--The Future of Open Access Publishing, a panel on October 17, 4:30 PM in RYH Concert Hall

Consultation meeting on WSIS Action Line C3 "Access to information and knowledge" (sponsored by UNESCO and WSIS)
Paris, October 16, 2006

Humanities Content: Usable and Useful (NFAIS Humanities Roundtable V) (OA is among the topics)
New York, October 16, 2006

(R)evolution in Scientific Publishing: How Will it Affect You? (sponsored by the Society for Neurscience Publishing Open Access Group) (OA is among the topics)
Atlanta, October 16, 2006

Internet Librarian International 2006 (OA is among the topics)
London, October 16-17, 2006

Digital Libraries: Advanced Methods and Technologies Digital Collections (Eighth National Russian Research Conference)
Vladimir, Russia, October 17-19, 2006

Disciplines, Documents, and Data: Convergence and Divergence in the Scholarly Information Infrastructure (a public lecture by Christine Borgman) (OA is among the topics)
Knoxville, October 18, 2006

Open Scholarship: New Challenges for Open Access Repositories
Glasgow, October 18-20, 2006

TEL-ME-MOR Policy Conference: The Digital Future of Cultural and Scientific Heritage
Tallinn, Estonia, October 18-20, 2006

Bridging Technology and Content in Digital Archives: 2006 International Conference on Digital Archive Technologies (ICDAT2006)
Taipei, October 19-20, 2006

Improving Access to Publicly Funded Research: Policy Issues and Practical Strategies (sponsored by ARL, CNI, and SPARC)
Washington, D.C., October 20, 2006

Consultation meeting on WSIS Action Line C7 "E-science" (sponsored by UNESCO and WSIS)
Beijing, October 22, 2006

WISE Workshop on Web Information Access and Digital Library (OA is among the topics)
Wuhan, China, October 22, 2006

Scientific Data and Knowledge within the Information Society (sponsored by CODATA)
Beijing, October 23-25, 2006

International Conference on Multidisciplinary Information Sciences and Technologies (InSciT2006) (OA is among the topics)
Mréida, October 25-28, 2006

U.S. Regional Conference on Electronic Theses and Dissertations (part of ETD 2006)
St. Louis, October 27-28, 2006

Controlling Intellectual Property: The Academic Community and the Future of Knowledge
Ottawa, October 27-29, 2006

* Other OA-related conferences



* I've added 28 new conferences to my conference page since the last issue.  In the next few days I'll delete the second asterisk marking them and the new entries will blend into the rest of the collection.


This is the SPARC Open Access Newsletter (ISSN 1546-7821), written by Peter Suber and published by SPARC.  The views I express in this newsletter are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of SPARC.

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