Saturday, January 20, 2018

Should Public Access go global?

The following is adapted from the January 19, 2018 issue of my newsletter: Inside Public Access.

Synopsis: In the long run Public Access may be the most viable form of government OA and the best way for OA to go for now.

Building on last week's discussion, it has always seemed to me that the US Public Access model might be one for other countries and regions to follow. There does not seem to be much consideration of this, but that may simply be because the OA movement is still pretty radical. In the long run PA may be the most viable form of government OA.

This issue actually arose five years ago, when Britain went one way and the US went the other. Britain opted for mandatory gold OA while OSTP went for embargoed green. I was puzzled then, and remain puzzled, why this fundamental policy choice has not been widely debated.

As I suggested last week, this absence of discussion may be because the OA movement simply does not like PA. One big wing of that movement wants to end commercial publishing, so PA does nothing for them. A related but less radical OA goal is to dramatically reduce subscription rates, which PA also does not do.

For that matter PA does little to help university librarians, other than make content OA. The problem here seems to be that basic OA does not seem to be the goal of the OA movement.

This may be a case of the perfect being the enemy of the good. A lot of what the OA movement is calling for strikes me as Utopian, especially the elimination of the journal publishing industry. As a strategic planner, I have often found that while Utopians are great at motivating change, they are less so when it comes to picking next steps. This is because their gaze is on a distant horizon, while next steps are all about the here and now.

In any case the choice still lies before the world. As a strategist I really like Public Access. It is simple, efficient and it does the job of making subscription content OA.

There are far fewer countries than there are universities. If a dozen or so major research funding countries were to adopt Public Access then a great deal, probably most, of research publication would become OA. I am pretty sure that most basic research is at least partially government funded.

Nor is there any reason why private funders, such as foundations, could not opt into government PA programs via their own mandates. Of course the government PA programs would need to be open to this, which is not presently the case with the US program. This may be an innovation waiting to happen.

PubMed Central has a nascent precedent as far as going global is concerned. They have both Canada PMC and PMC Europe. But to my knowledge neither the Canadian Government nor the EU has considered making these repositories mandatory.

The PAGES model certainly has international connections, via and other global OSTI activities.  The other PAGES users -- NSF and DOD -- no doubt also have international contacts, as do the stand alone agency PA groups like USDA.

But I expect that the State Department would have to get involved, in order to sell the US Public Access model to the rest of the world. The OA movement is not likely to do it at this time.

Public Access going global would go a long way toward meeting the basic OA challenge.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Looking ahead at Open Access and US Public Access

The following is adapted from my newsletter -- Inside Public Access, January 11, 2018

Synopsis: The New Year is a time for reflection and Richard Poynder has provided a good hook for reflecting on the US Public Access Program. He has posted a number of structured interviews with various open access thought leaders, basically asking where do we go from here? I have added some reflections on the US Public Access Program.

One of the striking features of the Poynder interview responses (see links below) is that there is no mention of Public Access Program, despite it being by far the biggest mandatory repository system in the world. It covers a significant fraction of all physical, medical and computer science publications, perhaps 20% or more. In some research areas US federal funding is dominant.

This lack of acknowledgement, or interest, is despite the fact that Richard specifically asks about the roles of (1) funders and (2) government. Public Access is all about government funders who build and operate extensive journal article collection systems and infrastructure to provide open access. What is not to like?

So having studied both public and open access for over five years now, I thought to reflect on this striking situation.

There seem to me to be at least two different things going on. First, the US Public Access Program is distributed, unnamed and not publicized. Second it is ideologically not popular with the OA movement, for various reasons.

To begin with, I have found in numerous discussions with OA people that there is a general lack of understanding of the Public Access Program.

It does not help that this large federal program has no actual name. I call it the "US Public Access Program" but that is just me. As a result, there is no simple way to reference or even to talk about it. Attempts to do so usually involve references to the 2013 OSTP memo, which is both awkward and sounds like something that happened a long time ago.

The fact that the Program is distributed among numerous funding agencies also makes it hard to see. Individual Public Access websites and guidance are all agency focused. There is almost no sense of this being an important government wide program.

I also see the agencies doing very little to publicize their parts of the Program. This may well be because these are not separately funded. Publicity efforts are often part of the funding cycle. The agencies are more interested in publicizing their research program successes and opportunities. Plus Public Access operates on a shoestring internal budget.

Lack of interest by the OA movement also has several sources. When NIH launched Public Access over ten years ago, that was big news. Extending the Program to the rest of the Federal Government is seen by many OA advocates as something of a lateral move, not as progress.

In particular, the 12 month embargo is now often seen as an obstacle, not an accomplishment. In this regard it is puzzling that no one that I know of has petitioned an agency for a shorter embargo period. One would think that such an action, which would get lots of publicity, is a natural accompaniment to the FASTR bill's 6 month embargo mandate.

Here I think that the deeper issue is that the open access movement is largely focused on the university community, not the funders or governments. Many, perhaps most, of the activists are university librarians.

So for example the focus is on building university repositories. This stands out clearly in the Poynder interviews. That the Public Access repositories probably dwarf the US university repositories is irrelevant. It is the mechanism, not the outcome, that is the focus of the movement.

More broadly there is the ideological idea of the university community owning open access. This is a fundamental reform, to which funder or government action is something of an outsider. That open access is up to the researchers and their institutions stands out in the Poynder responses, especially those from the university sector.

Despite the apparent indifference of the open access movement, the US Public Access Program does seem to be secure for now. The biggest strategic need is inter-agency integration. Now that the agency repositories are mostly up and running, there is a tremendous opportunity to provide government wide visibility. This could be very useful, both to the agencies and to the researchers.

In fact one can argue that the universities are far too independent, numerous and distributed to undertake strategic initiatives. This is actually one of the big reasons why there are governments. If so then while the Public Access Program may not be highly regarded by the open access movement, it may well be the best way forward for open access.

Here are the Richard Poynder interviews:

Poynder says this:

I have posted a number of responses to my question asking people what they think the stakeholders of scholarly communication should be doing now to fully realize the vision outlined at the 2002 meeting that led to the Budapest Open Access Initiative.

Below are the links to those responses:

 Danny Kingsley: Open Access: What should the priorities be today?

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe: Achieving the BOAI Vision: Possible Actions for Realization

Richard Fisher: Open Access and its Discontents: A British View from Outside the Sciences

Alison Mudditt: Realising the BOAI vision: The view from PLOS

Dominique Babini: Realising the BOAI vision: A view from the global South

Peter Suber: Realising the BOAI vision: Peter Suber's Advice

Thursday, December 7, 2017

OMICS ruling may govern all journal publishing

In last week's IPA I began to discuss the possibility that the OMICS ruling in Federal Court might apply to all journals. Below are some relevant excerpts for possible discussion.

I do not know much about journal publishing but I know a lot about federal regulation, since it has been my field for over 40 years. This may be the beginning of a complex situation for the community. It certainly bears watching.


Inside Public Access
December 2, 2017

OMICS ruling may govern all journal publishing

By David Wojick, Ph.D.

Synopsis: The recent Federal Court Order in the OMICS case targets new wave journals, but it probably applies to all journals (and conferences) and the compliance issues are far from simple.

The US Government has taken another step toward regulating scholarly journals. We recently had NIH's pointed recommendations regarding where its grantees should not publish. Now the Nevada District Court has issued an injunction against OMICS that lays out numerous rules that journals must follow.

The OMICS case was brought by the Federal Trade Commission and they view this injunction as a precedent for all journals. A Retraction Watch article cites the FTC attorney saying "This is certainly our message to the academic world that, we are monitoring and on the lookout for predatory publishers." Anyone who thinks this is just about OMICS does not grasp the scope of the situation.

That the FTC actually uses the term "predatory publishers" is unfortunate, but indicative of US policy. What role the federal Public Access Program will play in all of this remains to be seen. They clearly have the lead at NIH, because they are the POC for the directive.

The FTC may well now issue its own rules, especially if they win the case, citing the Court order as authority. Even without the FTC, this Order establishes federal case law to some degree. The three branches of government each make rules. Congress passes laws, the Agencies promulgate regulations and the Courts make case law.

Mind you this is just a preliminary injunction, so the precedent may be weak. But the discussion section of the Order sounds like the Court is likely to rule against OMICS. Note too that the discussion section is itself an important part of the rule making. It needs to be read with care.

The journal industry should carefully consider the relatively detailed rules laid out in the Order. These rules primarily apply to advertising, especially (1) email calls for papers and (2) what is on the journal website. But the business practices are also deeply affected, because these requirements go well beyond just what is said, to what is actually done.

As with many disclosure regulations, you have to say what you do and do what you say. Plus there are rules about what you can and cannot say, and what you must say.

For example, the Court is working toward defining the term "peer review" to mean what the rich journals do. This is lengthy review with detailed reviewer comments and author revisions, which is very expensive. The rule seems to be that a journal cannot say that it does peer review unless it meets this standard.

In fact the discussion seems to suggest that multiple rounds of review are required, which many journals probably do not do. This is a regulatory definition issue that will require a lot of articulation to resolve.

The regulation of scholarly journals is something that the entire industry should be concerned about. Thinking that it is just about some minor predatory journal problem would be a great mistake. The entire industry is now in the Federal cross-hairs.

Any journal can be out of compliance. The discussion section of the Order makes it clear that intent to deceive is irrelevant. All that matters is what is actually done.

So, for example, if a prestigious gold OA journal sends out a call for papers that does not properly disclose its APCs then it will probably be out of compliance. This raises the issue of what counts as proper disclosure? It may be a special problem for journals that charge different APCs, for different authors or institutions or for other reasons. There is also the question of the extent to which these rules apply to APCs in hybrid journals? What about fees other than APCs, including those charged by subscription journals?

Some years ago I did a lot of work with new consumer disclosure regulations laid on the banking industry. These issues can get very hairy. Disclosure of journal (and conference) fees could be a complex beast.

Proper disclosure of fees is just one of many complex issue areas raised by this federal Order. All publishers and journals need to be concerned.

There are also a number of rules governing conferences. These apply more to scholarly societies than to commercial publishers. The central rule looks to be that advertised speakers must show up. Of course this is not always possible, so the question is how to handle that possibility? This too could be a hairy compliance issue.

End of excerpts.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Does Trump's Reg Review threaten Public Access?


August 17, 2017

Does Reg Review threaten Public Access?

By David Wojick, Ph.D.

 Synopsis: The Administration's massive regulatory review efforts might threaten those Public Access repositories that lack a statutory mandate.

Executive Order 13771 -- "Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs" -- was quickly issued in February 2017. Regulatory review is a traditional Presidential gesture, but unlike previous "feel good" efforts, this one has big teeth. In fact it has two provisions that are so strong they might be illegal.

First there is the "2 for 1" rule, which is not about bargain prices. It says that a federal agency cannot issue a new rule unless it has repealed two existing rules. Two repeals for every one new rule. In this case a rule can be either a formal regulation or a guidance document, basically whatever orders people to do stuff. .

Then there is the regulatory budget rule. It has long been the case that every significant regulation comes with a cost estimate. Thus there is also an estimated total cost for all of an agency's existing (significant) regs. The budget rule basically says that new rules cannot increase this total, which is now the agency's regulatory cost budget.

The intended result is that in order for an agency to issue a new rule, which has a given cost, it will have to cut the cost of its existing rules by an equal amount. It can do this either by repealing existing rules or by revising them to reduce their cost.

These two provisions are each far more sweeping than anything done before. Taken together they could change the way regulatory agencies operate, in effect requiring constant prioritization. Not surprisingly, these rules have already been challenged in Court, especially the 2 for 1 rule. Here the primary argument is that the agencies have statutory obligations to issue regulations, which the President cannot block.

Our concern here is not with the litigation, but with what might happen to Public Access if these reg review rules become truly effective. The primary concern is that regulatory agencies need to issue new rules, so they will be looking for rules to cut or gut.

Each Public Access agency has Public Access rules. Some are called plans, others called policies, but all are rules as far as reg reform goes, because all tell researchers that they have to do something. (Note that the original OSTP memo is probably not a rule because it only directs federal agencies to do something.)

It is also the case that many of the Public Access agencies issue a lot of regulations. DOE, USDA, Commerce and EPA are big examples. Others are primarily science agencies like NSF and NASA. But even these agencies have rules that govern funding, including their Public Access rules. "Agency" is defined at the Department level so the giant NIH falls under HHS, which is also a big regulatory agency. Mind you all of this has to get worked out, along with myriad other details.

The Public Access rules do not cost much to comply with, so they are probably not likely targets for regulatory budget cuts. The big threat is the 2 for 1 rule.

Suppose an agency wants to issue an expensive rule. It first finds a big cost saving by repealing an existing rule. But then it needs a second rule to repeal to meet 2 for 1. Even worse, if it meets the budget rule by modifying an existing rule then it still needs to repeal two other rules. The size of these repealable rules does not matter, which probably makes small rules a better target. They are often easier to repeal. The Public Access rules meet this criterion.

In fact the agencies may well try to game the 2 for 1 rule by breaking guidances and regulations down into small pieces, then counting them separately. In the Public Access case this could mean counting the publication and data parts as two different rules. There is some guidance for reg review but the size issue is not addressed. Plus guidances are a lot easier to repeal than formal regulations.

PubMed Central is probably safe because it has a detailed statutory requirement. But most of the other Public Access repositories have little in the way of statutory support.

As far as I know, few 2 for 1 reg repeals have been announced and the relevant internal agency negotiations are still going on, out of sight. In fact one of the arguments against litigation is that nothing has happened yet.

Expect this issue to become very large, very fast, if significant proposed repeals begin to emerge. Most federal rules have strong, vocal supporters. Let's hope Public Access does too. It may need them.

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Beall-based Indian turmoil?

The following is adapted from the February 9 issue of my subscription newsletter: I think it is important enough to make OA.

Beall-based Indian turmoil?

By David Wojick, Ph.D.

Synopsis: New data sheds light on Indian researcher's use of low cost journals. The Indian Government's attack on these journals, based on Beall's list, could adversely affect the Indian university science community.
Three weeks ago we reported that an Indian agency was using a whitelist to ban the use of unlisted journals for the purpose of evaluating researcher performance. The Agency is the University Grants Commission (UGC), which apparently plays a major role in university based Indian science. I know little about this realm, but it seems to include setting the criteria for hiring and promotion, perhaps as well as granting PhD's. 

The Commission staff says it started with the Scopus journal list, which probably rules out most of the Beall's list (BL) low cost OA journals, the dramatic growth of which we have been reporting on. This growth has been centered in India, on both the publisher and author sides. It may have been driven by earlier UGC criteria that make publication the major form of evaluation. If so then the UGC ban may well be a backlash to something the Commission itself engendered.

A new research article provides important data on the use of BL articles by Indian researchers. It shows that these journals have come to play an important new role in Indian science. Thus the UGC ban could have serious consequences, if it is effective.

The article is "India’s scientific publication in predatory journals: need for regulating quality of Indian science and education" G. S. Seethapathy, J. U. Santhosh Kumar and A. S. Hareesha in Current Science, December 10, 2016.

The title shows that the authors consider the widespread use of BL journals to be a bad thing. They do not distinguish actually predatory journals from simply low cost journals, just as Beall did not. (This is an error that is widespread.) In fact they do not mention cost.

What the data show, however, is very interesting. India, like the US, really has two tiers when it comes to doing research. The top tier is a small number of prestigious research universities, which get most of the grant money. In the second tier are the many lesser universities and colleges, which have lots of science faculty and graduates, but do relatively little funded research.

Simply put, it is the second tier faculty and grad students who are publishing hundreds of thousands of articles a year in the Beall's list journals. Moreover, the sample data show that the vast majority of these authors are paying the journal APCs out of their own pockets, not from grant or university funds.

The explosive growth of low cost BL journals makes perfect sense if there is great pressure on second tier researchers to publish. The characteristics of these journals fit the needs of the authors.

The BL journals publish less important research, often written in less than perfect English. Most of this probably could not get published in the rich journals. They provide rapid publication, often in weeks or a few months, while the rich journals often take a year or more. Even worse, the rich journals have high rejection rates, which lead to multiple lengthy submission times prior to eventual publication.

And most importantly the BL journal APCs are just a hundred dollars or so, compared to the thousands of dollars charged by the rich journals. All of this means the low cost BL journals are ideal for meeting second tier publication needs.

In fact one piece of data is astounding if correct. The article mentions that PhD candidates may need to publish one to three articles in order to graduate. To my knowledge no US PhD candidate is under this sort of pressure. The first article is usually mined from the thesis and submitted after getting the degree.

Given this situation, banning the use of BL journals for evaluation could seriously disrupt the world of second tier Indian science. If forced to submit to rich journals, many researchers probably could not get published. Those that could would face huge personal APC charges, typically thousands of dollars per article, amounting to potentially billions of dollars a year in publication charges. There would also be great delays, potentially years per promotion, compared to the present system, which is quite efficient.

This combination of rejection, delay and cost could wreak havoc with the present system of graduation and promotion. I see no evidence that the UGC has considered this adverse possibility. Most likely they have viewed the situation as others have, namely that BL journals are a bad thing. The benefits of rapid, low cost and tolerant publication have been lost in the widespread damning of so-called predatory journals.
Perhaps the second tier universities and colleges will simply ignore the UGC ban. Or they might relax the publication requirements. Or the UGC could expand the list to include the low cost journals that are presently publishing over a hundred thousand articles a year by Indian researchers. Recognizing the existing publishing system is the ideal solution.

If not then Indian researchers and universities may be in for a period of serious and disruptive turmoil. We are talking about onerous new rules potentially affecting hundreds of thousands of researchers, presently publishing in low cost Beall's list journals. Where are they supposed to publish and at what cost? They cannot just suddenly switch to the rich journals.

Something has to give.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Tracking Trump

December 1, 2016

By David Wojick, Ph.D.

Synopsis: We begin the process of tracking the new Trump Administration (as well as Congress) with regard to the uncertain future of the US Public Access Program.

The transition team

To begin with, the Trump Administration has gotten off to a very slow start. The transition team did very little work prior to the election, which is unusual. Federal funding is available to both major candidates as soon as they are nominated. Romney's transition team spent a reported 8.9 million dollars before the election. The Trump team has spent very little.

The transition team has a lot to do. To begin with it is supposed to vet applicants and job holders for about 4,000 federal positions which are held "at the pleasure of the President." About 1,000 of these positions require Senate approval, so the vetting is not trivial.

There is a transition team for each Cabinet Department and the major non-Cabinet agencies, like EPA and the SEC. In addition to vetting applicants, the teams are supposed to meet with the senior civil servants of each Dept. and agency, to be briefed on how these huge and complex organizations actually operate. Something as small as Public Access may not be noticed.

Each team is also supposed to begin to formulate specific policies for their organization. Given how vague Trump as been on policy specifics, this may not be easy. Or it may mean that the teams have pretty broad latitude when it comes to specific agency policies. There seems to be little information as to who makes up each agency team, so their views on public access are unknown at this point.

Moreover, the head of the Energy Department transition team was recently replaced, which has to slow things down a bit. DOE has been a leader in developing the Public Access Program.

But in the long run the fate of Public Access is in the hands of the Department and Agency heads, and their deputies, not the transition team. Science related nominations have yet to even be announced.

The Science Advisor and OSTP

Then there is the issue of OSTP and the memo creating the Public Access Program. The Office of Science and Technology Policy is part of the Executive Office of the President. It is headed by the President's Science Advisor.

At one extreme the memo might simply be rescinded. President Obama issued a great many orders and executive memos, in direct defiance of the Republican led Congress. Many of these orders seem likely to be rescinded and Public Access might get caught in the wave and wiped out. Then too, Republicans tend to be pro-business and the publishers may well lobby against the Public Access Program.

On the other hand, a public access policy is relatively non-partisan, as well as being politically attractive. The new OSTP head might even decide to strengthen the program, especially because Trump is being labeled as anti-science by his opponents.

The OSTP situation is also quite fluid at this point. No Science Advisor has even been proposed at this point, that I know of. The vast majority of academic scientists are Democrats. The last Republican president took a year in office before nominating a Science Advisor, and he was a Democrat.

The American science community is watching this issue very closely, even though the Science Advisor and OSTP have very little actual authority. The Public Access Program is really something of an exception in this regard, but it is after all largely an administrative program. In the interim, OSTP has over a hundred employees so it will keep operating. So will the Public Access Program if the memo is not rescinded.

In fact the slower the Trump people are in taking over, the longer the Government will be run by civil servants who will favor the status quo. This will be true of all the Departments and Agencies. The worst case scenario would be if OSTP were eliminated altogether. There is some discussion of this, but it seems unlikely as a political strategy. It would be viewed as a direct attack on science and it has no upside.

On the other hand, given that their internal Public Access Programs are well established, the agencies could decide to continue them, absent the OSTP memo, or even OSTP.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Predatory versus low cost?

September 8, 2016

Predatory versus low cost?
 By David Wojick, Ph.D.

Synopsis: Low cost journals listed as predatory have taken off and are publishing a huge number of papers. The concept of "predatory journal" may incorrectly include a lot of legitimate low cost journals, masking a major change in scientific communication.

Last week we raised the issue of whether the the US Public Access agencies should screen the journals whose articles they post, as PubMed Central does. In discussing this issue with industry experts we discovered a recent report which presents some amazing, even revolutionary, numbers.

The report is Shen and Bjork, "‘Predatory’ open access: a longitudinal study of article volumes and market characteristics," BMC, 2015. What they did was study a sample of the roughly 11,000 journals on Beall's list of so-called predatory journals, and then they project the results to the entire list. This is crude, so the results are admittedly rough estimates and we will treat them that way by rounding them off a lot.

Here are the stunning numbers. First, the number of articles published in 2014 is over 400,000. This is an enormous number of articles. Second, the number published in 2010 was just over 50,000, so the growth has been explosive. So has the growth in the number of active journals over this short period, going from 2000 to 8000. And if the reported growth has continued there should be well over half a million articles published this year alone.

I think this is actually good news, masked by a colossal conceptual confusion.

Specifically, the so-called "predatory" net is actually capturing a lot of simple low cost journals. Note that they classify about 11,000 journals as predatory. Last I knew there were an estimated 30,000 indexed journals. So they are classifying roughly one third to one quarter that number of journals as predatory. Not likely. The total number of published articles may be as high as two million so the rough fraction is the same, one third to one quarter. Are we to believe that this many articles are somehow being published fraudulently? Surely not.

The key datum is the average APC of less than $200. Here is what I think is happening. The developing countries, especially China and India, are pouring a lot into research, hence generating a lot of articles. (Last I knew China was overtaking the US as the leading generator of scientific articles.) In pace with this we are seeing the rapid growth of the low budget APC journal, to serve the low budget researcher market. This makes economic sense and there is nothing predatory about it.

On the contrary, many OA advocates see the end state as one of very low APCs. Well here it is, in part anyway. The thing is that a $150 APC journal cannot look like a $1500 journal, which is very fancy. Back when Beall's list first gained prominence I studied it closely. My conclusion was that it was picking up low budget journals per se, the predatory ones being just a small fraction. My favorite example is a journal that seems to have been classified as predatory just because the mailing address was an apartment, not an office (in Montreal).

These numbers suggest that I was right. If so then what we are seeing is actually part of the globalization of science, which I consider a good thing. Poor researchers publishing in low cost journals.

My point is that if these journals are publishing on the order of half a million articles a year then they are not predatory. They are an extensive and fast growing new literature. And if they are not being indexed then that in itself is a major access problem.

To be clear, I am not claiming that there are no fraudulent journals. If fact I am sure there are. I just do not think that fraudulent journals can publish such a huge amount. My conjecture is that low cost journals have been wrongly classified as fraudulent.

As for peer review, it may be too expensive for this low cost business model. For that matter I have never been impressed by peer review. It is not a necessary condition for a scholarly literature. Perhaps it is a luxury.

What we seem to have here is a rapidly emerging new world of scholarship, which we know little about. I assume it is mostly science and thus it should be properly indexed and made accessible. This includes posting the relevant articles via the Public Access Program. These journals should not be screened out.


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