Archive for: October, 2010

That new ACS Author Publishing Agreement

Oct 13 2010 Published by under Open Access, Research Data

There seems to be quite a bit of discussion about the newly announced ACS Publication Agreement policy in the last week. Thanks to all who responded and clarified on the some of the points I raised: Teri Vogel, on the NIH Submission policy information, and Rich Apodaca, who gave 2009 ACS data on income from subscriptions and licenses versus member dues.  Also thanks to Peter Murray for providing the ACS policy requiring ACS-endorsed programs to subscribe to Chemical Abstracts (or Scifinder Scholar) online.  Overall there seems to be consensus online that the new agreement is an improvement over the previous Copyright Status form, but could go further in supporting author rights, data management issues, and funding mandates. I agree but have some thoughts of my own.

One curious idea is the situation that allows authors to post in institutional repositories with OA policy mandates, but not for non-OA policy institutions. It seems strange to limit posting in this way, especially when there are subject repositories that can post work as well. One of the problems with Chemistry is that there are few subject repository options available. PubMedCentral, Nature Preceedings, and possibly are the main options now, all of which are still considered prior publication with the ACS. Considering the number of places with OA agreements (less than 100 in the US), this new policy would have limited impact on increasing access to the literature.

Another thought is how having an OA mandate may give a chemist an advantage over a colleague at an institution without one. Is this a big advantage? It's hard to say in Chemistry since there are fewer channels available for posting preprints. I will day, given the interest in new free tools like ChemSpider within the chemistry community, there is a restless, increasingly vocal group that will demand more free content and easier access to the literature. I predict the immediate impact might be small but the OA advantage for authors will increase dramatically once these researchers discover and share pathways to this repository content. Perhaps this is what the ACS is afraid of - distribution is almost always more profitable than the initial publication, especially when you can repackage content and resell it.   

To me the most interesting part of the agreement is what is now considered OK to reproduce: supplemental materials and possibly data. While this is a positive step, I still thinik their position on data-sharing is not that clear, especially since scientists are certain to have questions in creating Data Management Plans for NSF projects. All publishers (not just the ACS) will need to consider how they will support this within their existing infrastructure and/or provide policies on supporting and sharing  data created from publications. Personally I think the ACS isn't sure how to handle this new NSF policy, and while that's OK for now, come January 2011 there will be questions coming from scientists. It begs the question that perhaps the ACS is deliberately framing the conversation to their benefit. I think it's a little too soon to tell.

To me the dealbreaker, and most distressing item of all, is the requirement that authors relinquish copyright for their final manuscript. This is a scholarly society, one of the largest professional organizations in the world, saying to their members (and non-members that choose to publish in their journals) that they can't own their work once they publish it with them. No posting in repositories, except in limited cases and when the ACS can get additional nomey from the author (above and beyond subscription money they already get from libraries and individuals) and throwing a carrot to authors that they can use a table or supplemental data. It makes true innovation and sharing impossible, as the final version is locked up and controlled by the ACS and silences the voices and concerns of individual authors. 

This is especially distressing when other areas of the sciences are making very different decisions. In Physics (the AIP) recently decided to make their journal articles freely available to public libraries. Mathematics has already had prominent prize winners refuse to publish in traditional journals because the work was already available in pre-print form. SCOAP3, from the high-energy physics community, is creating an OA model that will make literature from core journals available to all.  Even my own profession, librarianship, has made progress in establishing author rights for individual articles. I was able to retain copyright on a co-authored article in College & Research Libraries earlier this year. If these groups can do this so can the ACS.

My final verdict: there's a little bit of good but still a lot potential bad in this agreement. Let's hope the ACS membership and governance will listen to its members and the broader scientific community to realize this position is detrimental to the long-term sharing of information and advancement of science.

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Open access: the world is your consortium

Oct 12 2010 Published by under Open Access

I promise I'll get back to datablogging after the end of next week, but right now Open Access Week is eating my brain like a demented zombie, so…

I had an odd thought last night, partly in response to Eric Hellman's idea of an open-access rights-purchasing consortium for ebooks. (I think this is a fantastic idea, by the way, and I hope it's tried!)

Over time, the academic literature has been bought less individually and more collectively. Libraries weren't the initial market for scholarly journals; Henry Oldenburg didn't even know if libraries would buy such things, though he must have hoped so. No, the market was the individual gentleman-scholar who would otherwise be stuck reading third-hand letters that other gentleman-scholars had gotten their grubby hands all over.

Eventually this market expanded, even as the research enterprise did, and the individual scholar had to stop pretending he could—or even wanted to—buy every journal there was. Typically he still bought some, whether via individual subscription or as a perk in a scholarly-society membership, but if he wanted to look at a greater breadth of journals, he went to his nearest academic library, the collective operating on behalf of him and all his institutional colleagues.

Then the serials crisis happened, and even libraries couldn't individually get their hands on any appreciable swathe of the journal literature any more. So collectives expanded. On the demand side, libraries banded together into consortia to multiply their buying power. On the supply side, publishers and aggregators started banding journals together into what we librarians now call the "Big Deal."

So, looked at in this light, the open-access movement is just one more step into collectivity of journal production and acquisition. We're buying everything for everyone, this time.

Makes sense to me…

One response so far

Do they know it's broken?

Oct 11 2010 Published by under Open Access

It's no news to most librarians that the academic community generally has a pretty shaky handle on the politics and economics of information—even the information they themselves produce. Given that, it's not terribly surprising that the serials crisis has gone on for thirty-some-odd years without a great deal of comment or action from the academic community. After all, the housing bubble told us something about bubbles: they go on and on and on, despite doomful forecasts, until they suddenly don't.

So what's happening with the journal bubble? Is anyone cottoning on?

Well… yes, I am starting to think so. The resulting thought processes aren't what I would have them be, but more awareness being better than less, I'll take what I can get.

What I see going on as I peruse academic weblogs, as I listen to academics on Twitter and Friendfeed, as I watch mainstream higher-ed periodicals, as I pay attention to conversations I hear at conferences and elsewhere, is the start of a sort of bargaining with the publishing establishment. Academic folk aren't getting what they want or need, and certainly not what they think they deserve. That doesn't mean they're storming the bastions. At the moment, it seems to mean they're looking for the postern gate into the castle, hoping it's unguarded.

Academic samizdat is booming, and indications are that academics don't think this is in any way a problem (though many publishers would disagree). Here, there, and all over the place, I hear researchers at institutions with less-well-funded libraries sighing, "if only I worked at a Research I," and not only sighing, but trying to find ways to get themselves into the e-journal candy stores there. (Barbara's right, of course, that researchers did it to themselves and therefore have mostly themselves to blame. But again, they don't know this, because like some sort of strange information-fish, they don't understand the water they swim in.)

Most of those ways aren't going to fly (trust a librarian on this; we know what's in the contracts we sign with publishers and aggregators), even as academic samizdat has its limits. Still, I can't manage to be surprised at folks trying to work around the system rather than reform it. It's a big system, and a threatening one.

Which brings me to the cautious rejoicing that must be going on at Georgia State University around now; electronic reserves appear safe, unless what's left of the lawsuit takes a strange and unheralded hairpin turn. Barbara Fister has a rundown of the situation, as does Duke's Kevin Smith. I have to be happy about any victories for fair use in this copyright-maximalist age, and I am happy, but I can't help feeling regret as well.

I'm a bit of a revolutionary at heart, you see. I get tired of putting my heart and my career on the line only for slow, plodding progress. I want a Boston Tea Party! I want to storm the Bastille! And people and systems being what they are, I know that won't happen unless something prominent breaks outrageously. Sage and Oxford and Cambridge had better be happy the Georgia State lawsuit is going how it is, if you ask me, because ruling electronic reserves copyright infringement would in my estimation be just the kind of outrageous breakage that would make academics themselves rip the system to pieces with their bare hands.

Ah, well. No revolution today. Back to the slow, plodding salt mines. Back to building a little more awareness of breakage every single slow, plodding day.

3 responses so far

Tidbits, 7 October 2010

Oct 07 2010 Published by under Tidbits

I never could get the hang of Thursdays. So have some tidbits:

As always, drop a comment if you see something interesting.

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ACS: The Perfect Storm

Oct 05 2010 Published by under Praxis

Chemistry and scholarly communications issues have a difficult, stormy relationship. Why?

Part of the problem is the disconnect between industry and academia. This exists in all areas of science but can particularly bad in big pharma and profitable trade secrets.

Another part of the problem is that professional societies, with the American Chemical Society (ACS) as a notable example, use income generated from journal subscriptions and literature index licensing costs to fund other society activities. Has the society quantified this? I'm not sure - I can say as a local section officer our small section was able to obtain several programming grants and other supplemental funds to host Science Cafes, seminars, outreach activities and the like. As an incoming local section officer I was able to attend a weekend leadership institute with free hotel, meals, and transportation costs. This was not a trivial amount of money - I estimate this totalled approx. $3,000 - $4,000 in my year as President. And I'm not counting the money our section recived from the ACS as our allotment of  member dues - these "grants" all came directly from ACS HQ programs and presumably from journal profits.

While our section hosted worthwhile activities that promoted science to the general and local public, I question handing out funds this easily when libraries are struggling to pay subscription costs and maintain access to the literature. Isn't having a usable local library collection part of my outreach to my users? How can I but new ACS journals when I can't afford the ones that currently exist?

A third example of  the gathering storm clouds is the New Publishing Agreement for ACS Journals released this week. It allows authors to retain copyright for copyrightable material in the article's supplemental information - generated tables, graphs and illustrations are some examples. That's about it though, for author rights. The author still has to transfer exclusive copyright to the ACS for the manuscript, as well as "all versions in any format now known or hereafter developed." It seems the ACS has tried to retain as much control as possible to protect future revenue streams.    

In addition to copyright transfer there is a lengthy section on appropriate use of materials in repositories, personal websites, and classroom use. Does the ACS not realize in-classroom use is already covered by the existing rules for reserves and fair use? Apparently not, as it goes into great detail about how students can access articles for their classes using passwords and when access will end. Their stance on prior publication appears little changed, with basically any activity considered prior publication. Better be careful with those preprint submissions and precedings posts on the Nature Publishing Group website! 

Want to put your ACS papers and manuscripts in the local repository? Better get out the letterhead - authors must receive written confirmation from the appropriate ACS journal editor that posting a submitted manuscript doesn't conflict with that journal's prior publication policies. They will let authors post materials mandated by funding agencies, but you better get out the checkbook, as the only route is still the Author Choice program. Last time I checked this was $3,000 an article. But hey, you'll get to fund some of our local section activities for a year. It's a bargain! 

Is this progress? Yes, in that this is better than the previous ACS Copyright Status Form. Is it still protecting the revenue and the profits?  You bet it is. I'm curious to see if this will be further amended with the implementation of the NSF Data Management Plans.  It seems they are not sure how to support it, although I think even they realize they can't own the data. Let's hope so anyway.

14 responses so far

Crowdsourcing methodology: Who's publishing gold at your institution?

Oct 05 2010 Published by under Open Access

I need some help thinking this through, folks. If (for the sake of argument) you wanted to know who at your institution was publishing in gold-OA journals, how would you go about finding out?

Hindawi makes it fairly easy; they do institution-specific pages. PLoS has nothing public, though it's possible to ask PLoS staff for the rundown at your institution. BMC has an articles-by-institution search box, though if your institution is of any size at all, wading through the results is a killer.

That's only a partial sampling of what's out there, though. Assuming a campuswide survey is impossible (and I suspect such a thing would have a pretty low response rate), how would you try to capture local gold-OA authors who aren't publishing in the big OA houses?

10 responses so far

NSF data-management plan language out; more directorates reporting in

Oct 04 2010 Published by under Research Data

Big news on the data-management front: the NSF's actual language on data-management plans in grants is out. I will take the liberty of excerpting:

Plans for data management and sharing of the products of research. Proposals must include a supplementary document of no more than two pages labeled “Data Management Plan”. This supplement should describe how the proposal will conform to NSF policy on the dissemination and sharing of research results (see AAG Chapter VI.D.4), and may include:

  1. the types of data, samples, physical collections, software, curriculum materials, and other materials to be produced in the course of the project;
  2. the standards to be used for data and metadata format and content (where existing standards are absent or deemed inadequate, this should be documented along with any proposed solutions or remedies);
  3. policies for access and sharing including provisions for appropriate protection of privacy, confidentiality, security, intellectual property, or other rights or requirements;
  4. policies and provisions for re-use, re-distribution, and the production of derivatives; and
  5. plans for archiving data, samples, and other research products, and for preservation of access to them.

Data management requirements and plans specific to the Directorate, Office, Division, Program, or other NSF unit, relevant to a proposal are available at: If guidance specific to the program is not available, then the requirements established in this section apply.

So far, we have plans from the Engineering, Geological Sciences, and Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorates. There is also a FAQ list which I am still perusing.

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Print-on-demand journals

Oct 04 2010 Published by under Open Access

We have any number of print-on-demand book shops, from the big dogs Lightning Source and Lulu to university-sponsored ones like Michigan's reprints series. The black-box model for these is relatively simple: camera-ready copy goes in, fulfilled individual-copy orders come out.

Here's what we don't have: print-on-demand journal shops. I'm not sure why; I believe there's a demand.

The HP service MagCloud comes close, but it fails in two specific respects: it only prints glossy mags (rather than the sober matte archival paper journal readers expect), and it doesn't handle subscriptions, only single-issue purchases.

Maybe I'm missing something, but at base, without all the weird bells and whistles magazine publishers have created over the years, managing subscriptions doesn't strike me as impossibly hard. You keep addresses and build an address-change mechanism. You build in a multiple-issue price-discount mechanism. You keep track of how many single issues a given customer has paid for. You send them. End of story. Not so?

Perhaps not. I welcome correction in the comments. I do think, though, that the simplistic system I've outlined would hit a fairly important 80/20 point for many open-access journals, who would like to put out a "print edition" but are stuck with the book-focused POD vendors. I'm a little bewildered that this doesn't exist, honestly.

Business opportunity, anyone? Anyone? PLoS? BMC? Anyone?

4 responses so far

Friday foolery: This is a blog post about a news article about a scientific paper

Oct 01 2010 Published by under Miscellanea

In the first sentence I link to the article, making sure not to use the verboten "click here" as the link text. I also make a meta-remark on why the linked-to article is worthy of notice, and summarize it if I have not done so already.

A piquant quote often follows:

In this paragraph I will state in which journal the research will be published. I won't provide a link because either a) the concept of adding links to web pages is alien to the editors, b) I can't be bothered, or c) the journal inexplicably set the embargo on the press release to expire before the paper was actually published.

And I end with a one-line zinger.

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