Thursday, September 19, 2013

PLoS reaches 23% surplus. Time to lower those article processing fees?

Update Nov. 29th - according to Van Noorden in Nature, incoming CEO of PLoS Elizabeth Manicola plans on a revamp...

Public Library of Science has released their 2012 financials. Kudos to PLoS for four years of not raising article open access processing fees. However, now that the PLoS surplus has reached 23%, isn't it time to lower these fees?

Highlights from the PLoS financials:

The 2012 financial year represented a third consecutive year of sustainability for PLOS. Gross revenue grew 57% to $38.8 million (2011: $24.7 million), of which the increase in net assets was $7.15 million (2011: $3.95 million). PLOS’s expenses grew by 52% to $31.6 million (2011: $20.8 million), not least because of the increase in resources required to support the more than 26,000 articles published by the journals in 2012. This represents a 62% increase (2011: more than 16,000 articles); the total number of articles published by PLOS through 2012 was more than 68,000.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Should we protect high cost subscription scholarly journals? Why not support scholars instead?

Dana Roth on the GOAL open access list has raised a question about whether subscription journals like the 'Journal of Comparative Neurology', with a subscription price of $30,860, would be sustainable with green open access. The subject line is Disruption vs. Protection. Following is my response:

A journal publishing 234 articles per year charging $30,860 for a subscription SHOULD be disrupted, on the basis of price. At this rate it would cost 7 times more to provide access to only the medical schools in North America than to provide open access to everyone, everywhere with an internet connection, even at the rates of a for-profit professional commercial publisher's very high impact journal. At the rates of The Journal of Machine Learning, aptly described by Shieber as an efficient journal, all of the articles published in this journal could be made open access for a total cost that is less than 10% of a single subscription.


The Association of American Medical Colleges accredits 141 medical schools in the U.S. and Canada alone. If each one of these schools purchased a subscription at $30,860, that would add up to revenue of $4.3 million per year.

$4.3 million would be sufficient to pay open access article processing fees for 1,657 articles at the rates of the professional for-profit BioMedCentral's very-high-impact journal Genome Biology (U.S. $2,265).

Shieber describes the approach and costs (average $10 per article) of the Journal of Machine Learning on his blog The Occasional Pamphlet:

The question should be how we can protect and sustain high-quality scholarly publishing in an open access environment - not how to protect such mind-boggling inefficiency as journals that charge over $30,000 for a subscription!

Those who think that it is important to sustain scholarly journals so that a surplus can assist with things like education might want to consider whether medical schools should immediately cancel this journal and offer a medical student a $30,000 scholarship instead.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Kudos to the UK Business, Innovation & Skills Committee: important steps in the right direction

The UK's Business, Innovation & Skills Committee just released its report on its inquiry into UK Open Access policy.The conclusions and recommendations are available here. On March 11: the BIS Committee has posted the full set of evidence here. My submission to the BIS Committee is posted on IJPE here.


Following are the Conclusions and Recommendations themselves in full, and my comments. In brief, the BIS report is a welcome correction to the problems brought forward by the RCUK push for gold open access. I would like to highlight the BIS suggestion that more research is needed on the impact of APCs; my preliminary research suggests that a $3,000 APC is equivalent to the full-time salary for an Associate Professor in a country like Ethiopia, for example. The BIS emphasis on market correction is welcome, however two of the most promising approaches for cost-effective scholarly publishing (direct subsidy for publishing and peer-review overlay on repositories) are not included. The RCUK approach actually lends itself to decreasing access by encouraging the development of longer embargoes on free access. Like BIS, I am concerned that the RCUK approach takes needed dollars away from researchers to further fund an already distorted market. Finally, while the BIS committee notes the absence of voices of SMEs, no doubt appropriate for their mandate, I would like to add that the major group whose voices are not heard in open access policy discussions is academics. It is our work, after all.


In the report conclusions are shown in bold, recommendations are shown in bold italics. In this list, recommendations are shown in italics. [Heather: BIS conclusions are in block quotes].

Current open access policy in the UK
1.  The major mechanism through which the UK has achieved its world leading status (Green open access) has been given inadequate consideration in the formation of Government and RCUK policies. Neglecting repositories and consigning them to a relatively minor role in open access policy is likely to see repository infrastructure, which has been established through continued public investment, fall behind through lack of investment and monitoring. (Paragraph 24)
2.  We are disappointed by the Government's conclusion that "development of infrastructure for repositories will primarily be a matter for institutions themselves", not least because the Government has spent £225m on repositories in recent years. We recommend that the Government takes an active role in working with the Joint Information Systems Committee and the UK Open Access Implementation Group to promote standardisation and compliance across subject and institutional repositories. (Paragraph 25)
Comment: it is important for every country's open access policy to support local open access repositories. One basic gap with the open access publishing approach is that it leaves open the possibility that the only copies of open access works will be outside of the country that funded the work. This leaves such works vulnerable to shifting ownership and approaches of publishing companies as well as political shifts over time. These are additional reasons for the UK to follow the BIS committee's recommendation to restore funding and UK leadership in the area of open access repositories.

Strengthening deposit mandates to increase open access
3.  We strongly support author freedom of choice between Green and Gold open access. If implemented, HEFCE's proposals would ensure that the UK's existing network of repositories was used and monitored effectively. We commend HEFCE for its considered approach to developing its open access policy, and support its proposals for the post 2014 Research Excellence Framework, in particular the immediate deposit mandate as a requirement for eligibility. (Paragraph 29)
4.  We recommend that HEFCE implements its proposals, and maintains the strength of its proposed immediate deposit mandate in the appropriate institutional repository as a pre-condition of Research Excellence Framework eligibility. (Paragraph 30)
5.  RCUK should build on its original world leading policy by reinstating and strengthening the immediate deposit mandate in its original policy (in line with HEFCE's proposals) and improving the monitoring and enforcement of mandated deposit. (Paragraph 31) 
Comment: immediate deposit in a local repository is the best means to ensure that the conditions of the policy are met, and to address the need to assure local access to works as described above.

Open access worldwide
6.  Government and RCUK should rigorously monitor global take up of Gold and Green and international developments in open access policy worldwide. This data should be used to inform both the reconvening of representatives of the Finch working group in the Autumn of 2013, and RCUK's review of its open access policy in 2014.(Paragraph 35) 
Comment: in addition to monitoring international developments, I suggest that UK funders consider more carefully the impact of UK open access policy on researchers around the world. A $3,000 article processing fee charged by some publishers for open access would, in many areas of the world, be sufficient to fund either a full-time annual salary for a professor, or a substantial portion of one. This is another reason to consider green or open access archiving as the most basic or generic necessary portion of policy. Institutional repositories everywhere can benefit by paying local average salaries for the necessary personnel.

The transition to open access: costs and hidden costs
7.  RCUK has undertaken to publish data on "how the open access block grants are being used, specifically the numbers of research papers which are being made open access through payment of an APC and the actual APCs being paid to publishers". We recommend that RCUK also requires data on subscription expenditure from UK HEIs to establish the impact of its policy on subscription purchasing and pricing. (Paragraph 41) 

Comment: this is an excellent idea, as it would quantify the likely problem of double-dipping by hybrid journals with the push for gold open access publishing.

Embargo periods
8.  We note the absence of evidence that short embargo periods harm subscription publishers. We have seen evidence that current UK open access policy risks incentivising publishers to introduce or increase embargo periods. This has serious implications for open access in the UK and the rest of the world. We agree with the Government that lengthened embargoes are counter to its aim to increase access. (Paragraph 49)
9.  The stated policy objective of the Government and RCUK is to increase access to publicly funded research. Long embargoes are a barrier to access. We recommend that the Government and RCUK revise their policies to place an upper limit of 6 month embargoes on STEM subject research and up to 12 month embargoes for HASS subject research, in line with RCUK's original policy published in July 2012. (Paragraph 50)
10.  Given the importance of ensuring that UK open access policy does not result in reduced access in the UK or worldwide, the Government and RCUK must monitor and evaluate the impact of their open access policy on embargo lengths imposed by UK publishers. The impact on different subject areas must also be carefully monitored. That information must inform future meetings of the Finch Group and RCUK's reviews of open access policy. (Paragraph 51) 
Comment:  it is a very good thing that the BIS committee has found evidence that the current UK policy creates incentives to increase embargo periods. It is highly unlikely that UK preference for gold will be repeated elsewhere. Thus, if publishers increase embargoes to try to force authors to pay for OA gold in the UK, then everyone everywhere experiences greater delays in access to published works.

Levels of Article Processing Charges
11.  We conclude that the Finch Report, the Government and RCUK have failed to assess adequately the existing levels of APCs that are charged by a range of open access journals, both within the UK and worldwide, and instead formed a plan of expenditure based on payments to publishers that, compared to a range of benchmarks including APCs of the largest "pure" Gold publisher, are rather less than competitive. (Paragraph 57)
12.  We recommend that the Finch working group commissions an independent report on APC pricing, which should include average APC prices of pure Gold journals and hybrid journals, domestically and internationally. (Paragraph 58)
13.  We strongly support the recommendation of the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Lords that the Government undertake a full cost-benefit analysis of open access policy, including the impact on different subject areas. This analysis must include data to reflect actual rather than projected costs during the transition period. (Paragraph 59)

Comment: I fully support the statement of the committee that further research is needed. Economics of transition to open access is one of my areas of research. I am sharing my work openly in the spirit of open research. My very preliminary data suggests that we should question whether an article processing fee approach would work in many countries, even assuming local operations. As for the developing world paying UK level APCs, note that the fee many charge of $3,000 US is approximately the annual salary for an Associate Professor in a country like Ethiopia. This is one of the reasons I urge research funders with an interest in the developing world to require green open access archiving, and not to support gold. Direct the funds to support the researchers, please. See this blogpost for details:

Affordability of APCs for authors and UK research organisations
14.  At a time when the budgets of research organisations and HEIs are under great pressure, it is unacceptable that the Government has issued, without public consultation, an open access policy that will require considerable subsidy from research budgets in order to maintain journal subscriptions and cover APCs. Significant public investment has already been made in institutional repositories, of which there are 120 in the UK, and they could represent a more cost-effective and sustainable route to full open access. (Paragraph 63)
15.  We are concerned that the expectation appears to be that universities and research organisations will fund the balance of APCs and open access costs from their own reserves. We look to the Government and RCUK to mitigate against the impact on university budgets. The Government must not underestimate the significance of this issue. (Paragraph 64) 

Comment: I cannot speak to the UK situation, however from a Canadian perspective, our funding councils in many disciplines can only fund about 20% of applications, and is turning down some that are "approved but not funded".  Diverting funds from research to paying for article processing fees will not result in the acceleration of research that is one of the potentials of open access, because it means that less research will be done. Junior scholars, far from enjoying the full benefits of the OA citation impact advantage, will be disadvantaged in not having support to do the research. Much of this funding is designed to support grad students, so diverting funding from the research per se hurts them, too.

The shared ultimate goal of full Gold open access
16.  The pro-active stance the Government has taken in the formation of open access policy is to be welcomed. However, we are of the view that the Government has failed to communicate effectively that Gold open access is the ultimate goal at the end of a transition phase. Because insufficient attention has been given to the transitional route, the Government has neglected the opportunity to ensure that costs are constrained, and that institutions and research authors are convinced of the merits of open access policy. (Paragraph 69)
17.  The Government and RCUK should clarify that Gold open access is the ultimate goal of, rather than the primary route to, their open access policies. We recommend that the Government and RCUK reconsider their preference for Gold open access during the five year transition period, and give due regard to the evidence of the vital role that Green open access and repositories have to play as the UK moves towards full open access. (Paragraph 70)
18.  RCUK's current guidance provides that the choice of Green or Gold open access lies with the author and the author's institution, even if the Gold option is available from the publisher. This is incompatible with the Publishers Association decision tree, and RCUK should therefore withdraw its endorsement of the decision tree as soon as possible, to avoid further confusion within the academic and publishing communities. (Paragraph 71)
Achieving a functional market
19.  Both the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee's 2004 Report, and the Finch Report, highlighted the fact that VAT currently applies to e-journals, but not to print journals. This creates a clear disincentive for online access, and therefore to open access. Despite this anomaly, the Government has asserted that it does not consider it worthwhile to pursue a reduction in VAT rates with the European Union. We disagree, and believe that the Government should be willing to increase its efforts to remove or reduce this barrier. (Paragraph 76)
20.  If RCUK and the Government continue to maintain their preference for Gold, they should amend their policies so that APCs are only paid to publishers of pure Gold rather than hybrid journals. This would eliminate the risk of double dipping by journals, and encourage innovation in the scholarly publishing market. (Paragraph 77)
21.  The evidence we saw suggested that authors have little price sensitivity when they choose a journal in which to publish. We recommend that RCUK amends its policy to allow grant funds to be used for publishing charges, which is by far the most common model internationally. This would re-introduce price pressure by prompting authors to make an informed decision on where to publish. We recommend that the Government endorse genuine price transparency from publishers so that it is clear to subscribers which services and costs are and are not included in the overall subscription price, enabling subscribers to assess the costs and benefits of purchasing. (Paragraph 78)
22.  We strongly agree with the recommendations of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee and the Finch Report that the Government should work to introduce a reduced VAT rate for e-journals. Given the emphasis the Government has placed on the benefits of increasing open access, the Government should seek a derogation on this point from the European Commission. (Paragraph 79)
23.  We further recommend that the Government indicates clearly that non-disclosure clauses should not be included in publishing contracts which involve public funds. In the first instance, this should be achieved through dialogue between Government, publishers and universities. If the use of non-disclosure clauses persists, then the Government should consider referring the matter to the Competition Commission. (Paragraph 80)
Comment: the recommendations of the BIS Committee here are sound, however there are two notable omissions. First, the model of direct subsidy of scholarly journal publishing that is common in many countries (e.g. Canada, most Latin American countries) is not considered. Second, the peer review overlay with institutional repositories which the  JISC funded Houghton & colleagues study found to have the most potentially transformative effect from an economic standpoint, is not considered. An immediate move to this system would not be possible, however looking out at the next five years it would make sense to at least consider this possibility and fund some pilot projects.

24.  We conclude that the Government must keep an open mind on licensing requirements until the findings of the ministerial roundtable are available. The Government should commission independent research on the implications of the most common licences if necessary. We believe that authors should be able to choose the licence that applies to their work, especially during the transitional period while further evidence is gathered. Mandating the use of a particular licence should not be prioritised over immediate online access to findings of publicly funded research, which is at the heart of open access. (Paragraph 84)
25.  We recommend that the Government reports the outcomes of its further investigations into licensing to us and communicates them clearly through RCUK as soon as possible in order to assuage concerns of authors and their institutions. (Paragraph 85)
26.  RCUK should monitor complaints from authors and/or their institutions about breach of licensing conditions or inappropriate re-use of content, consider these at its review of open access policy, and identify appropriate action if necessary. (Paragraph 86) 

Comment: this is wise. I would add that analysis and experience with the use of open licenses is needed. It is good to monitor author complaints, however at this point in time we do not fully know how people might make use of open licenses, and since no permission is required, authors might not be aware of how their works are being used. Also, some of the potential for abuse comes only when a substantial number of works are openly licensed. For example, commercial re-sale of a single article available via a CC-BY license under toll access conditions is hardly likely to attract the interests of the private sector; but millions of articles is a different matter.

Open access, innovation and growth
27.  We believe that BIS must review its consultation processes to ensure that lessons are learned from the lack of involvement of a broader range of businesses, particularly SMEs, in the formation of open access policy. It is particularly important to ensure that future policies and initiatives (for example Gateway to Research) take into account the specific needs of the communities they are intended to serve, to ensure optimum functionality and a more efficient use of public funds. (Paragraph 91) 
Comment: this makes sense in terms of the mandate of the BIS committee, however I would like to note that the group most absent from open access policy discussions is academics themselves.  Professional staff of scholarly society publishers are not an adequate surrogate for researchers engaged in academic work on a full-time basis.

Comparing OA article processing fees with academic salaries

Update September 12: data added from Ayalew's (2012) research indicating that gross annual salary for an associate professor in Ethiopia is 56,400 Ethiopian birr, or approximately $3,400 US (ETB 16.6 = U.S. $1.00). Assuming that at least the equivalent of $400 is paid in tax, that means that a scholarly publisher charging $3,000 for an open access article processing fee is paying a sufficient amount to cover a full-time salary for an Associate Professor in a country like Ethiopia. My recommendation is that research funders supporting work in the developing world should consider carefully before supporting gold open access article processing fees. Do the math. Instead of paying publishers like Elsevier and Springer $3,000 to make a single article open access, why not require green open access archiving and use the funds to support a full-time academic in the developing world instead? 

My advocacy interests include both open access and sustainable scholarly publishing. One area in need of further attention is the impact of publisher costs (whether subscription or open access) on resources to support academics (salaries and research funding).

One concern that I have with the push for payment of gold open access article processing fees (the RCUK approach) is that publishers are likely to set standards based on the UK approach which then impact scholars around the world, because scholarly publishing is global in nature.

One area of research in need of attention is comparison of open access article processing fees with academic salaries. This is particularly needed in the developing world, but even in the developed world it is worth noting that the $3,000 OA fee charged by some scholarly publishers is more than many adjuncts in the US are paid to teach a course (see for example this table by the American Psychological Association):

Considering the high percentage of voluntary labour involved in scholarly publishing (unpaid writing for research articles, peer review and much of the editing), it is possible to publish using models that involve extremely low dollar costs. See, for example, Shieber's post An efficient journal detailing how the Journal of Machine Learning publishes at an average of $10 per article. Valuable as open access is, the research and writing needs to be done and we academics should be asking ourselves whether we want universities and research funders to be paying a $3,000 article processing fee, or whether we would prefer DIY at $10 or so per article and directing the funds to support academic salaries and research grants instead.

Results of a research collaboration by the "Laboratory for Institutional Analysis (LIA) from the Higher School of Economics (HSE) in Moscow, Russia, and the Boston College Center for International Higher Education (CIHE) in the United States in collaboration with experts from 28 countries around the world" links here finds that even after adjusting for differences in currency using the purchasing power parity (PPP) method, the local equivalent of $3,000 is more than a month's salary for an academic at the top rank for 7 of the 28 countries studies (25%), and more than a month's salary at 11 of the 28 countries studied (more than a third). Even the PLoS ONE fee of $1,350 is more than month's salary at the PPP equivalent at the top academic rank in 3 countries (China, Russia Federation, and Armenia). Method: go to Quantitative Data, download the data for academic salaries (only PPP provided), sort by rank (I used top rank and rank 3).

This is very preliminary data, shared in the spirit of open research and also as an illustration of the kind of research that is needed before global approaches to paying for open access are even considered. This data would appear to suggest that at some countries, not necessarily even the world's poorest countries, even local equivalents of open access using article processing fees at the rates of PLoS ONE or Springer would cost more than a month's salary for a top ranked academic.

As a next phase, I'm thinking of looking into the actual data not adjusted for currency differences to compare the actual academic salaries with open access article processing fees.


Ayalew, E. (2012). Salary and incentive structure in Ethiopian Higher Education. In: Altbach, P. ; Reisberg, L.; Yudkevich, Ml; Androushchak, G., and Pacheco, I. , eds. Paying the professiorate: a global comparison of compensation and contracts.  Routledge: New York and London, 2012. [Note: I have access to a copy of this book through the excellent collection at the University of Ottawa's library. How many academics in less affluent areas would have ready access to a work like this?]

Academically appropriate comments are welcome.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Beginning of the great California Community Colleges sell-out?

All of the California Community Colleges now require that all works funded by the Chancellor's Office be licensed as CC-BY. There is some good news in this, in that these works will now be much more widely available for re-use, and for adaptation. However, there is a real danger in this approach. The Creative Commons CC license grants blanket permission for commercial use downstream, with no obligation except attribution. This means that the private for-profit "education sector" can take these works funded by the public and use them for profit-seeking, with no obligation to make the works or derivatives that they create freely available. Ultimately, this could undermine the whole public college sector. Let's hope that the Chancellors recognize this mistake sooner rather than later and rectify the problem by making works open access, but not CC-BY.

Update: here is a bit of background that may be helpful to understand the danger. The state in question, California, has a reputation of being home to private for-profit "education" businesses with a clear-cut interest in profits and less than clear interests in actually providing education. Probably the best illustration of this is expressed in this Examiner piece, California tops list of US states with most diploma mills.  Kolowich's recent article on MOOCs in the Chronicle of Higher Education, while it focuses on lack of interest in credit for MOOCs, discusses the trend toward introducing legislation requiring public colleges and universities (including in California) requiring acceptance of MOOCs for credit. On the surface, this looks like a great idea - if students can largely learn on their own through low-cost online platforms, why not? However, the problem with this is that the substance behind the MOOCs comes from the largely public and private not-for-profit education sectors. If all of the work produced by faculty on salary in the public sector can be used by for-profit companies without recompense either to the faculty or to the public, and the cheaply built MOOC competitors take away work from the public sector, then ultimately this undermines the public education sector.

There is far more at play here than Creative Commons licensing. However, CC licensed works are distributed and used in a real world where there are many variables at play. Aside from the licenses per se, there are the people and organizations that use them with the full range of motives and purposes of human endeavours.

Monday, September 09, 2013

New course blog: information policy and government publications

Just created: a new blog for my course this fall, information policy and government publications, ISI 5164. This is a seminar-based course with minimal lectures, so posting is likely to be light. The blog will give me a convenient way to share links to readings with students; my approach is to point to open access resources wherever possible.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Open Access Week 2013: Heather's schedule

Open Access Week is coming up October 21 - 27, 2013 everywhere. Here is my schedule for OA Week this year so far - in brief, emerging research at uO on Monday, October 21, and Whose scholarship? Our scholarship! at the University of Regina library on Thursday, October 24.

University of Ottawa - Monday, October 21 (time / place TBA)
(coordinated by University of Ottawa Library)

Making the switch to open access: emerging research at uO, and why and how scholars should get involved

Description:  New research by the European Commission suggests that open access is reaching a tipping point, with about 50% of scientific papers published in 2011 now available for free. The University of Ottawa's Dr. Heather Morrison will talk about her emerging research on keys to the transition to an open access scholarly communication ecosystem that is free to prioritize the needs of scholars, and of scholarship. What does it take to sustain open access scholarly publishing led by scholars and scholarly societies? What are the elements of policy and licensing needed for the knowledge commons (as opposed to publisher profits or administrative efficiencies)? There are discussions underway around the world that will have a profound impact on faculty members everywhere. This session will discuss why the voices of scholars are important, and how scholars can get involved.


EU Commission Press Release: Open access to research publications reaching 'tipping point'

University of Regina Library Thursday, October 24 

Whose scholarship? Our scholarship!

The current system in academia drives scholars to give away the 
visible results of our work. We hand over copyright, often to 
multinational corporations that enjoy an inelastic market - record or 
near-record profits of 30-40% even in recent years after the financial 
crisis when university budgets have been squeezed and programs often 
cut. This doesn't have to continue! This talk is call for scholars to 
take back our scholarship from a system that drives enclosure for 
profit to one led by scholars that can put the priorities for sharing 
where they belong: prioritizing the needs of scholars and the public 
good. Open access advocates and newcomers alike with leave with some 
clear and compelling arguments about why this is necessary, and 
practical steps that will help the transition along.


Thoughts on transforming peer review processes: lessons from funding agency initiatives?

Update September 9: the Open Scholar group in the UK is developing something very much along the lines of what I've described below (thanks to Bjoern Brembs). 

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is in the process of developing a new, streamlined peer review support system. The development process includes testing IT solutions for coordinating peer review. Details can be found on the CIHR website


Could there be lessons from this kind of initiative that would further transition to a completely new form of peer review, for scholarly publications, building an overlay on open access archives? Houghton and colleagues (2009) in a major economic study of scholarly publishing in the UK found that this approach, while more transformative in nature, has the potential to achieve much greater cost savings than a shift to either gold or green open access combined with traditional publishing (both of which were found to lower costs as compared to subscriptions, even for one country moving on its own).

Here is a picture of what I think this might look like:

After a researcher completes a study funded by CIHR, the researcher deposits the preprint into the applicable open access archive (in this case, PubMedCentral Canada). CIHR then would use the technology and processes that they are currently investigating to streamline the peer review process applied at the application stage to coordinate the publication peer review process. When peer review is complete, the final article, with appropriate notice of peer review completion status, is also posted in PMC Canada. Articles can be cross-deposited in the institutional archives of all authors; ideally, this task would be automated.

Why do this? For starters, this ensures that the results of Canadian funded research are preserved in Canada, under the control of Canadian agencies reporting to the Canadian taxpayer. This would be a marked improvement over the current situation where a large portion of publications arising from Canadian taxpayer funded research end up as the "intellectual property"(1) of commercial publishers that report to shareholders, are generally not located in Canada and have no obligations to Canadians.

CIHR and the Canadian universities where the researchers work then have a wealth of published material to assist with demonstrating the value of the work that they do, and to drive website traffic to further demonstrate interest in the work that they do. This in turn can only help funding agencies and universities to receive the support that they deserve.

There are people in the publishing industry whose experience of peer review stems from their own organization's operations who tend to speak as if this was the only, or the most important, form of peer review of scholarly research. Perhaps this is a good time to bring into the discussion the far more complex peer review procedures that go into research before it is even funded - increasingly, research that is not even funded. Currently, for example, the rate of success of applications for Canada's Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) is about 20%, with some applications being returned approved but not funded (due to lack of funding).

For researchers and universities concerned about prestige, the fact of funding agency success is a mark of prestige. If I had to choose between publishing with Elsevier and SSHRC funding, I know what I'd choose (even if I weren't part of the Elsevier boycott).

Are other research funding agencies conducting similar investigations? Is anyone looking into this?


Houghton, J., Rasmussen, B., Sheehan, P., Oppenheim, C., Morris, A., Creaser, C., et al. (2009). Economics implications of alternative scholarly publishing models: Exploring the costs and benefit: A report to the Joint Information Systems Committee. Loughborough University. Retrieved February 7, 2010 from


1. "Intellectual property" is in scare quotes to indicate that I consider this to be a fictional concept of questionable usefulness at best and considerable harm to society at worst. 

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The commerical overlords of scholarship rewrite copyright licenses to suit themselves

As just posted to the openscience list:

What can or cannot be done under CC-BY may quickly become a moot point - according to Elsevier Connect, "the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers (STM) is contemplating the release of a more specific user license designed for scholarly communication. This would likely:
  • Permit scholarly non-commercial use 
  • Prohibit the creation of derivative products 
  • Expressly permit text and data-mining for academic purposes and translation"
The International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers (STM) has a Copyright & Legal Affairs Committee which aims: "To pursue, within the limits of the STM Association's aims and objectives, the highest possible level of international protection of copyright works and of the services of publishers in making these works available".

from: STM / An Introduction to Copyright & Legal Affairs / The Aims of the Copyright and Legal Affairs Committee

Elsevier, Wiley, Springer, and Taylor & Francis all have multiple listings under STM Membership.

In other words, while the academics who do the work of scholarship, writing and editing struggle to understand the legal concepts and present solutions off the sides of our busy desks, the companies that have long been in the business of profiting off our work and our generosity have lots of $ to hire lawyers to change the legal landscape to suit their preferred priorities (profits for themselves / their shareholders).


Dr. Heather Morrison
Assistant Professor
École des sciences de l'information / School of Information Studies
University of Ottawa

ALA Accreditation site visit scheduled for 30 Sept-1 Oct 2013 /
Visite du comité externe pour l'accréditation par l'ALA est prévu le 30
sept-1 oct 2013

This post is part of the Creative Commons and Open Access Critique series

The Elsevier "open access" / exclusive license to publish hybrid

Elsevier has come up with a twist on open access licensing that should give pause to advocates of equating open access with particular Creative Commons licenses such as CC-BY, that is, a version of what they call "open access" that involves an exclusive license to publish.

In Elsevier's own words, from Elsevier Connect:

"for open access articles we use an exclusive licensing agreement, which applies to all our Gold Open Access content. While granting publishing and distribution rights to us, this exclusive licensing agreement means that authors retain copyright alongside the scholarly usage rights we have always supported. - See more at:"

This post is part of the Creative Commons and Open Access critique series

for open access articles we use an exclusive licensing agreement, which applies to all our Gold Open Access content. While granting publishing and distribution rights to us, this exclusive licensing agreement means that authors retain copyright alongside the scholarly usage rights we have always supported. - See more at:
for open access articles we use an exclusive licensing agreement, which applies to all our Gold Open Access content. While granting publishing and distribution rights to us, this exclusive licensing agreement means that authors retain copyright alongside the scholarly usage rights we have always supported. - See more at:
for open access articles we use an exclusive licensing agreement, which applies to all our Gold Open Access content. While granting publishing and distribution rights to us, this exclusive licensing agreement means that authors retain copyright alongside the scholarly usage rights we have always supported. - See more at:
for open access articles we use an exclusive licensing agreement, which applies to all our Gold Open Access content. While granting publishing and distribution rights to us, this exclusive licensing agreement means that authors retain copyright alongside the scholarly usage rights we have always supported. - See more at:
for open access articles we use an exclusive licensing agreement, which applies to all our Gold Open Access content. While granting publishing and distribution rights to us, this exclusive licensing agreement means that authors retain copyright alongside the scholarly usage rights we have always supported. - See more at:
for open access articles we use an exclusive licensing agreement, which applies to all our Gold Open Access content. While granting publishing and distribution rights to us, this exclusive licensing agreement means that authors retain copyright alongside the scholarly usage rights we have always supported. - See more at: