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Editor’s Choice: It’s time for “pushmi-pullyu” open access: servicing the distinct needs of readers and authors

This excerpt by Toby Green originally appeared in LSE Impact Blog  on October 24, 2017

The open access movement has failed. Self-archiving and open-access journals are struggling to deliver 100% open access and probably never will. Moreover, readers, the curious minds it was hoped research would be opened to, have been marginalised from the debate. Toby Green suggests an unbundling of the often disparate, distinct services required by readers and authors; a new model for scholarly communications based on Doctor Dolittle’s “pushmi-pullyu”. The specific needs of authors preparing their papers and data for publication can be serviced on one side of the pushmi-pullyu; while on the other, freemium services ensure research is discoverable and readable by all, without payment, and a premium layer of reader-focused services ensures the evolving needs of readers are met…

Read More…

Elsevier: Ever More Evil (aka Why Do Authors Boycott Elsevier?)

(Note: This post has been updated and expanded to match the post at the Graduate Center Library blog.)

You may have heard of the Cost of Knowledge, a site where researchers publicly express their upset with the business practices of the publisher Elsevier and commit not to contribute to Elsevier journals. As of today, 15,034 researchers have pledged to boycott Elsevier as an author, editor, and/or peer reviewer.

You might wonder: What has Elsevier has done to cause so many researchers to boycott them?

A primary complaint is their exorbitant product pricing — pricing that allows them to profit richly (with profit margins close to 40%) off nonprofit organizations such as academic libraries. (The Graduate Center Library pays dearly for its subscriptions to Elsevier’s Scopus database and ScienceDirect “big deal” journal package (which, yes, includes many essential journals but also includes many journals that are never used). So dearly that our other collection choices are severely constrained.)

Of course, as is the norm in scholarly publishing, Elsevier does not pay its authors — the creators of its journal content — for their work. So they’re reaping huge profits off free labor. And that brings us to another major complaint: their treatment of authors. Elsevier recently released a new article-sharing policy for authors, and it is not good for authors.

To their credit, sort of, they’ve corrected a horrifying problem with their earlier policy — namely, the bizarro policy of allowing authors at universities without open access policies to make their accepted manuscripts open access, but not authors at universities with such policies (i.e., “You retain the right to post if you wish but not if you must!”).

But…instead of introducing better terms across the board, Elsevier’s new policy imposes worse terms across the board. Specifically, their new policy imposes embargoes on ALL accepted author manuscripts, many of them 24- or 36-month embargoes, and some of them 48-month embargoes! This means that authors cannot broadly share (e.g., in CUNY Academic Works) their peer-reviewed manuscripts (we’re just talking about the final manuscript versions, not the publisher’s PDFs) until those very long embargo expires.

Needless to say, many researchers are very upset. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR), and 21 other groups have released this statement of opposition:

On April 30, 2015, Elsevier announced a new sharing and hosting policy for Elsevier journal articles. This policy represents a significant obstacle to the dissemination and use of research knowledge, and creates unnecessary barriers for Elsevier published authors in complying with funders’ open access policies. In addition, the policy has been adopted without any evidence that immediate sharing of articles has a negative impact on publishers’ subscriptions.

Despite the claim by Elsevier that the policy advances sharing, it actually does the opposite. The policy imposes unacceptably long embargo periods of up to 48 months for some journals. It also requires authors to apply a “non-commercial and no derivative works” license for each article deposited into a repository, greatly inhibiting the re-use value of these articles. Any delay in the open availability of research articles curtails scientific progress and places unnecessary constraints on delivering the benefits of research back to the public.

Furthermore, the policy applies to “all articles previously published and those published in the future” making it even more punitive for both authors and institutions. This may also lead to articles that are currently available being suddenly embargoed and inaccessible to readers.

As organizations committed to the principle that access to information advances discovery, accelerates innovation and improves education, we support the adoption of policies and practices that enable the immediate, barrier free access to and reuse of scholarly articles. This policy is in direct conflict with the global trend towards open access and serves only to dilute the benefits of openly sharing research results.

We strongly urge Elsevier to reconsider this policy and we encourage other organizations and individuals to express their opinions.

If you are also upset by Elsevier’s new policy, you can add your name to the statement.

And if the new policy has made you reconsider your willingness to contribute to Elsevier publications, you may want to consider signing the Cost of Knowledge pledge.

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Image is © Michael Eisen, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license

Open Access: What Is It and Why All the Fuss?

(Déjà vu? This is a very slight reworking of a post from the Graduate Center Library blog.)

Image is CC BY-NC-ND from JISC.
Image is CC BY-NC-ND from JISC.

You might have noticed that CUNY librarians talk a lot about open access — sometimes in conversations about dissertation embargoes, sometimes on the topic of authors’ rights, sometimes in the context of Academic Works, CUNY’s soon-to-arrive institutional repository (already up and running at the Graduate Center). But maybe you’ve never really gotten a full explanation of what open access is. Or maybe you know what it is but aren’t convinced it’s a pressing issue. Or maybe you understand how it affects you as a reader but aren’t sure how you should factor it into your actions as an author.

I recently wrote a piece about open access for the “Jargon” column of the sociology magazine Contexts, and it might address some of your questions.

What is open access?

“Even if the term ‘open access’ is not in your working vocabulary, you almost certainly understand the phenomenon of open access, or free online availability, as well as its opposite, placement behind a paywall. Of course, an enormous number of news articles, blog posts, and cat videos are freely available online, but ‘open access’ is not usually used to describe those kinds of online offerings. Rather, the conversation about open access centers on research and academic works—journal articles, scholarly books, textbooks, and dissertations—which are usually available only for a fee.”

But what should I care, and what’s wrong with journal subscriptions, anyway?

“Most social action for open access has focused on scholarly journals, largely because many journal subscriptions are wildly expensive, out of proportion with the costs of publishing. In 2012 the Economist reported, ‘Publishing obscure academic journals is that rare thing in the media industry: a [license] to print money.’ Indeed, seemingly arbitrarily high subscription prices that increase year after year have left readers, libraries, and universities feeling gouged. Furthermore, many authors wish to dissociate themselves from commercial publishers that make huge profits from nonprofit institutions, preferring to participate in a publishing system that better connects readers with research and is more consistent with their values. For these reasons and more, journals are a natural starting point for an upheaval in the academic publishing industry.”

So what’s in it for me?

“[J]ournal publishers do not pay their authors, so authors do not lose any income by making their works freely available. In fact, they stand to benefit from open access: When articles are easy to find and free to read, they attract more readers, generate more discussion, and get cited more in later articles.

Of course, authors aren’t the only beneficiaries of open access. When journal articles are freely available, students can better master their fields; scholars can better perform their research; and teachers, doctors, policy-makers, and journalists can better perform their jobs. As a result, everyone benefits, even those who do not themselves read the articles.”

How do I achieve open access?

“There are two ways for an author to make a scholarly article open access. The first, widely known as ‘gold’ open access, is to publish it in a journal that is itself open access—that is, the publisher immediately and permanently makes the journal’s articles freely available online. There are many open access journals—the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) lists almost 10,000—published by many kinds of entities, including universities, commercial publishers, scholarly societies, and professional organizations.

. . .

Another path to open access is called ‘green’ open access, achieved when an author uploads a work to an open access repository hosted by the author’s institution or a disciplinary repository such as the Social Science Research Network (SSRN). Although many authors do not realize it, most journals allow authors to self-archive some version of their article, either the original submission, the edited text, or the journal’s final formatted version. Furthermore, many agencies and institutions have policies that require the researchers they fund or employ to make their articles open access within some fixed amount of time; these policies help make many thousands of articles open access every year. Some publishers reject such policies and lobby against legislation to ensure that taxpayers have access to the research they fund, but their arguments are transparently self-serving and unlikely to prevail in the end.

Right now, green open access is spotty—common and even de rigueur in some fields, but far from universal and not yet leading to reductions in subscription burdens. However, as more researchers and institutions actively support open access, self-archiving will spread. One hope is that green open access will become so prevalent that subscription-based journals will be pressured to lower their subscription prices or change their business model.”

Want to know more?

Read the full column in Contexts or glance at this overview of the very basics of open access. Or contact me or your librarian to learn more!