Best excerpts from Poynder’s “The State of Open Access” interviews, Part 1

Still catching up from my summer hiatus, I wanted to make sure you didn’t miss Richard Poynder’s The State of Open Access interview series over on his Open and Shut? blog. Richard Poynder, an independent journalist hailing from the UK, began posting interviews in early July 2013 with advocates and other relevant stakeholders around these basic questions: Open Access: Where are we? What still needs to be done?

The interviews have been continuing into the fall. As of this writing, Poynder has conducted and posted 16 interviews on his blog. I commend these to your reading as they provide an illuminating picture of the growing influence of open access on the world-wide scholarly communication and publishing landscape. Below I pulled an excerpt or two from each interview that I found informative/insightful, particularly for formulating thinking and action around open access within theological and religious studies. Following each excerpted interview I offer my take-away from this perspective. For manageability, I divided this post into two parts. This is the link to Part 2.

Michael Taylor, paleontologist and open access advocate (July 1, 2013)

If the name Michael Taylor sounds familiar, it may be because, coincidentally, I previously posted about a piece he wrote on his blog about the John Bohannon/Science open access ‘sting’. Taylor points to a key moment toward his becoming an open access advocate. He was reading Scott Aarronson’s review of John Willinsky’s The Access Principle:

[Aarronson wrote:] “In my view, once we’ve mustered a level of anger commensurate with what’s happening, we can then debate what to do next, which journals are overpriced and which aren’t, what qualifies as ‘open access’, and so on. But the first step is for a critical mass of us to acknowledge that we are being had.”

This is right on target. It’s why I’m so frustrated by the compromises that researchers, librarians and even funders make to the legacy publishers. Those publishers are not our partners, they’re our exploiters. We don’t need to negotiate with them; we don’t even need to fight them. We just need to walk away.

In response to Poynder’s opening question, “What is your definition of open access?” Taylor replied:

The term “open access” was given a perfectly good definition by the Budapest Open Access Initiative back when it was first coined: free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose”. Immeasurable confusion has resulted from people proposing alternatives—either through ignorance or malice. Let’s stick with the original and best meaning of the term. (link original, emphasis added)

To Poynder’s question, “What in your view is the single most important task that the OA movement should focus on today?,” Taylor answered:

Education. Without exception, every single researcher, librarian, university administrator, government official and funding-body executive who understands open access is in favour—how could they not be? The great barrier to universal open access is not opposition but inertia. It’s true that there is a whole industry doing its best to preserve ignorance of, and promote falsehood about, open access. But this deliberate damage is insignificant compared with the sheer weight of tradition. (emphasis added)

Speaking of inertia and tradition, as part of his answer to an earlier question, Taylor said:

Once we hear the end of “I’d like to publish in Journal X, but I have to publish in Journal Y for my career”, everything will get much saner very quickly. I hope that today’s new undergraduates won’t even have to think about these issues.

My take-away: I agree with Michael Taylor that inertia is the basic problem and education is the most important task. I have read that scientists are pretty conservative when it comes to research publication choices. If this is true of scientists then it must be doubly-true of humanist scholars generally, and maybe trebly-true of religious studies scholars! We value deep, long-standing, and proven traditions. But do these traditions still serve us, especially now that there are viable alternatives? Do these traditions create unnecessary and unacceptable barriers to access? 

Stevan Harnad, cognitive scientist and open access pioneer (July 2, 2013)

Poynder’s second interview was with Stevan Harnad, one of the pioneers of the modern open access movement. In 1994, Harnad posted his ‘Subversive Proposal,’ calling on scholars and scientists to post research articles to online archives and websites so as to make them freely available for all. Harnad has been a particular advocate of “Green OA,” that is, the self-archiving of research articles in online archives and repositories, which then become discoverable via a search engine. Harnad was also one of the original signatories to the Budapest Open Access Initiative (2002) alluded to above by Mike Taylor. Poynder asked Harnad what open access has to offer the developing world. He replied:

Exactly the same thing it offers the developed world—maximal research access, uptake, usage, applications, impact, productivity and progress—except that the Have-Not nations need it all the more desperately.

Let us not forget, though, that there are plenty of Have-Not institutions in the developed world too—and that even the Harvards cannot afford access to all the journals their users might need; nor does the research output of Harvard authors reach all of its potential users, in either the developing or the developed world.

OA is win-win for the entire global research community.

My take-away: Scholarly research in theological and religious studies particularly need and would be greatly enriched by truly global conversations. Open access can dramatically reduce the barriers to the opening-up of those conversations.

Fred Friend, librarian and open access advocate (July 8, 2013)

Like Stevan Harnad, Friend was one of the original signatories to the Budapest Open Access Initiative (2002) statement. Poynder began the interview by asking Friend about the achievements of the open access movement since the Budapest event in late 2001.

We proved to be the “butterfly effect” that has led to the winds of change blowing through scholarly communication, not because we planned it that way but because what we proposed in the BOAI chimed with the until then unexpressed hopes of hundreds of thousands of researchers to use the Internet in ways which benefit human society.

The BOAI was only the catalyst for change. The real achievements of the OA movement lie in the way the ball we threw in 2002 has been picked up by others who have made freely available the huge volume of content now in open access repositories, despite considerable pressure to do nothing about open access. The story of BOAI can be a source of encouragement to any who feel depressed by the power of vested interests to block changes needed to release the power of human endeavour.

When asked, “Will OA in your view be any less expensive than subscription publishing? If so, why/how? Does cost matter anyway?,” Friend replied:

Cost does matter, but not on its own. Cost always has to be related to benefit.

I do believe that repository-based OA and non-APC gold OA will be less expensive than both APC-paid gold OA and the current subscription/ licensing model for research publications, but the important point is that the cost-benefit from publisher-led models will be poorer than the cost-benefit from the academic-led models. The reasons are the high overheads and high profit levels in the current publishing infrastructure, and equally important the ability of the research and teaching communities to grow the benefits from internet-based technology. (emphasis added)

My take-away: In the print-era, the division of labor and acquired expertise provided by publishers for research dissemination was essential because it was largely unavoidable and the costs of entry were high. But now, network technology and low-cost tools exist as a viable alternative for scholars to assume control of the scholarly communication system. I am thinking primarily of smaller scholar- and library-as-publisher efforts. But even larger university-led publishing efforts (with libraries and university presses playing key roles) should be able to reduce costs by restoring the focus on knowledge creation and dissemination and leveraging/scaling technological and support systems already in place, rather than needing to manage high overheads, profits, and keeping shareholders happy. The question in this context isn’t whether publishers making profit is wrong but whether it’s necessary.

Heather Joseph, Executive Director for the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) (July 12, 2013)

As Poynder notes in his introduction to the interview, SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition was established in 1998 as an outreach program of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). It’s original mission, which developed as a response to the “serials crisis,” was to “use libraries’ buying power to nurture the creation of high-quality, low-priced publication outlets for peer-reviewed scientific, technical, and medical research.” Since 2005, particularly under the leadership of Joseph, SPARC has developed primarily into an open access advocacy group. Poynder began by asking Heather Joseph what, in her view, have been the major achievements of the OA movement since she joined SPARC as director in 2005. Among her responses was this reflection on the sheer growth of open access:

I pulled a presentation I gave back in 2005; at that point, we were talking in terms of a few hundred OA journals, and a few dozen OA repositories as options for scholars. Now we are looking at nearly 10,000 viable OA journal outlets and more than 2,000 OA repositories in play around the world! This has made it almost impossible to dismiss OA as simply a fringe movement.

Responding to Poynder’s question: “What in your view is the single most important task that the OA movement should focus on today?” Joseph said:

I think it is critical for us to recognize that the moment is in our hands when we need to stop thinking of Open Access as fighting to become the norm for research and scholarship, and to begin acting in ways that acknowledge that Open Access is the norm. There comes a time in every movement when the underdog becomes the leader; recognizing that moment and effectively capitalizing on it is imperative.

It sounds like a simple task, but I think it’s one of the hardest challenges our movement will ever face. For more than a decade, we’ve been fighting a specific fight; many of my colleagues have used the very apt Ghandi quote to describe our progress: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you—and then you win.”

It’s what comes after winning that we have a collective responsibility to be deliberate about considering right now.

My take-away: It is important to remember that the open access movement sprang-up in response to the “serials crisis”—where libraries were losing the affordability battle with publishers, who had found in their institutional subscribers a captive market from which to profit. Again, this captivity was enabled from lack of a viable alternative. We have seen remarkable growth in open access in the last 10-15 years. But it does seem to me that considering what comes after “winning” is a crucially needed deliberation. Publishers are adapting quickly to consolidate and set an agenda for open access that may land us back in their pockets. Co-opting Ghandi, as it were, we risk again losing the affordability battle as costs are simply shifted from the reader to the author. This might work in well-funded research departments of science, technology, and medicine. But the humanities in general, and theological/religious studies in particular would be severely disadvantaged by such a cost shift. 

Joseph Esposito, publishing consultant and former publisher (July 17, 2013)

In this fifth interview, Richard Poynder spoke with publishing consultant Joseph Esposito. In his introduction to the interview, Poynder noted that he hasn’t interviewed many publishers on his blog about open access. He hopes he can yet get a publisher to respond to his questions. Esposito steps-in as someone who can speak from a publisher’s point of view, though he denies that he represents any publisher’s point of view. Regarding open access, Esposito sees himself as a pragmatist, not an idealist. He feels that open access idealism is naive, and should be taken out of the discussion. When asked to reflect on changes in open access since he first wrote about it in 2004, Esposito replied:

My view of OA then and now is that it is a useful, marginal activity that opens up a new class of customers through the author-pays model and that it would be subject to the laws of market economics like any other thing. And that’s what has happened. It is additive, not substitutive. And it’s a great development. It’s just not a revolution. (emphasis added)

Indeed, the tone of the interview is best summarized by Poynder in the introduction, when he writes: “[I]n their frequent complaints about ‘greedy publishers’ OA advocates tend to assume that publishers inhabit the same moral universe as they do, one in which things like fairness are key principles. Esposito reminds us that publishers operate by a different set of rules—the rules of the market place.” This comes across strongly when responding to Poynder’s question about what the role of “hybrid open access” should be. “Hybrid open access” is where a publisher allows an author the choice to make an individual article open access—after paying an article processing charge—but the journal itself remains subscription-based. Esposito says:

What is sometimes called “double-dipping” [in regards to hybrid open access] is known in other contexts as an aspect of two-sided markets. Rather than deplore the greed of people who find more than one market for a product or service, why not celebrate their ingenuity? Does anyone disparage a library because it decides it wants to set up its own publishing program? I just don’t see where all this moral urgency comes from. (emphasis added)

My take-away: It can be argued whether open access should be conceptualized as a fundamentally moral movement, where concerns about creation of and access to knowledge are rooted in human rights, fairness, equality, and justice. I for one am not prepared to give up on idealism. But Joseph Esposito provides a helpfully unambiguous picture that commercial publishers do not see open access this way. They are focused pragmatists. While certainly not suggesting that they are unethical in their business practices, publishers do operate by different rules. We shouldn’t be naive about this. If publishers come to roll open access options into their publishing portfolios they will do so because and in a way that serves their purposes and enhances their bottom lines. 

Eloy Rodrigues, librarian, university repository director, and open access advocate (July 19, 2013)

Rodrigues is library director and director of of the institutional repository at the University of Minho in Portugal. When asked to characterize the state of open access in Portugal and globally, Rodrigues replied:

[W]hile I am convinced that OA is the future, I’m not completely sure whether it will be a “research-driven OA”, or a “publishing-driven OA”. Both scenarios are still possible, and the way in which we will transition and implement OA will make a world of difference.

When Poynder asked what still needed to be done and by whom, Rodrigues’ answer included:

The other priority relates to advocacy, dissemination and cultural change. “Open” is not yet the “default” in the research community, and there are still many old habits, beliefs, misconceptions, and fears, both among researchers and research organizations. These are real obstacles to moving to Open Access and Open Science. Making “open” the default, as defined in the Budapest meeting last year (BOAI10), and changing the dominant research culture, will require a lot of advocacy work, and a lot of education and training, in the coming years. (emphasis added)

When Poynder asked if open access publishing will be less expensive than traditional subscription publishing, Rodrigues returned to the theme of who controls the open access transition:

If we have a “research-driven” transition—where research organizations and researchers assume a greater role and responsibility for disseminating and publishing their own results, there should be sufficient pressure to squeeze down publishing costs and publisher profits to a quasi-optimal level. In such a scenario I am pretty confident that OA will be much cheaper.

If, on the other hand, the research community accepts a “publishing-driven” transition, where costs, prices and profit margins all remain primarily in the control of publishers, there will be little incentive to reduce costs and prices, and OA could end up being little cheaper than the current model. (emphasis added)

My take-away: Again, there is a deeply established scholarly communication culture in the research community based upon the traditional publishing model. There is now an alternative, and that established culture needs to be shaken. Rodrigues says, “‘Open’ is not yet the ‘default’.” As open access increasingly transitions into the mainstream, we need to choose whether that new “default” will be “research-driven,” or “publisher-driven.” If, as has been suggested above, open access defaults (again) to publishers, advocates might claim a small victory for reader access, but could end-up losing if it doesn’t really solve the affordability problem. Shifting costs to the author side could jeopardize research production, especially for poorly-funded academic disciplines.

Danny Kingsley, Executive Officer of the Australian Open Access Support Group, former university repository manager, and open access advocate (July 21, 2013)

Poynder asked Kingsley what her greatest disappointment has been since becoming an open access advocate:

The lack of engagement by the research community with Open Access is a continual disappointment. My personal experience has found that one-on-one conversations with people is highly effective, but clearly inefficient for large scale implementation. Open access discussions happen within the library community. This makes sense, librarians started the debate decades ago and continue to be the on-the-floor practitioners of Open Access. But we need to stop talking to ourselves and work out the best way to engage the researchers. (emphasis added)

Asked about the respective roles of “Green” (article archiving) and “Gold” (articles published in journals) open access, Kingsley affirmed the role for both:

The benefit of Green Open Access is that it does not force academics to publish in a specific place—they can continue to publish where they wish. Placing a copy of their work into a repository means that the broader community can find out about the research. … Green Open Access also allows access to a broad range of grey literature—an important part of the academic discourse. …

Gold Open Access offers an alternative way to publish work. Gold journals published by fully OA commercial publishers … have demonstrated that Open Access journals can be high impact. [Meanwhile,] the majority of OA journals that are free to publish and free to read represent the academic community taking back responsibility for the publication process. (emphasis added)

When asked, “What in your view is the single most important task that the OA movement should focus on today?,” Kingsley replied:

The real game changer will be altering the reward system. The publishers have been able to maintain the status quo because the reward system backs the outdated and inappropriate Journal Impact Factor as a measure of quality. Apart from measuring the vessel (journal) rather than the content (article), it is becoming clear that this type of measure is being ‘gamed’, rendering this kind of assessment even less useful.

We need to instead value & reward article level metrics. A focus on these rather than the journal not only makes it more difficult to game (as there are multiple factors) but it also means there will be a push away from the journal as a measure of value. That’s when we can really start looking at revolutionising the scholarly communication system. (emphasis added)

My take-away. I agree that as advocates we need to improve our engagement with scholars and researchers. Part of the problem is that these primary users of scholarly communication products (journals and books) are not the ones who pay for them. Consequently, they sometimes wonder what all this open access fuss is about. Further, many scholars assume that open access means that authors will have to start paying to have their research published. This is almost certainly true with commercially published open access journals. But, in fact, the majority of open access journals—which are often published by scholars and libraries—do not charge authors to publish. This word needs to get out. Too, the reliance on established journals as surrogates for research quality is another aspect of that scholarly communication culture that is particularly strong among theological and religious studies scholars. I loved Kingsley’s metaphor that an obsession with impact factors in tenure and promotion is like measuring the vessel (journal) rather than the content (article). The vessel can be important. But research should be measured on its own merits, not from its halo-effect.

Please continue to Best excerpts from Poynder’s “The State of Open Access” interviews, Part 2.

Posted in "The Hat Tip", Book/Article Review, Commercial Publishing, Economics & Business Models, Intellectual Property & Copyright, Interviews (Publishers), Interviews (Scholars), Libraries & OA, OA Policies, Open Access, Peer Review, Scholarly Associations, Scholarly Journals
One comment on “Best excerpts from Poynder’s “The State of Open Access” interviews, Part 1
  1. […] This is Part 2 of my post, Best excerpts from Poynder’s “The State of Open Access” interviews. If you missed it, here is the link back to Part 1. […]

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