by Jeremy Richards
Thoughtful people must not cede all power to politicians and business interests; we must make our voices heard across the full range of professional, social, and civic circles.
(p. 95: Karr, J.R., 2008, Protecting society from itself: Reconnecting ecology and economy, in Soskolne, C.L., ed., Sustaining Life on Earth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, p. 95-108)

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tri-Councils to require open-access publishing?

The Canadian Tri-Council funding agencies are proposing to require researchers to publish in open-access journals (or make their accepted manuscripts available in online archives) starting in September next year. Information on this proposal is provided here, and a pdf of the proposal can be downloaded here.

While I am not opposed to open-access publishing, downloading the cost of publishing onto researchers (who will have to pay up to several thousand dollars per paper) will have a major impact on research budgets, at a time when the size of Tri-Council grants is shrinking for most researchers. It will also limit which journals we can publish in (many journals do not offer open-access publishing options).

It would of course be na├»ve to expect that the savings made by having researchers pay for their own publishing costs (as opposed to readers) would be passed down to researchers to help pay for these new costs. As usual, this is a one-way transfer of funding and benefits.

By the time my shrinking NSERC Discovery grant has been used to pay for increased graduate student costs and now the costs of publishing my and their work, there won't be much left of it. I suppose I should be happy that I still have a grant — 50% of my colleagues now do not. (Yes, I know the percentage is higher for SSHRC and CIHR researchers.) Without a grant, this new policy would presumably mean that you cannot publish anything, which will ensure that you never will get a grant!

Feedback on this proposal is being sought by NSERC until December 13 at: openaccess@nserc-crsng.gc.ca
Let them know what you think.

UPDATE:
I had an informative chat with the people at the UofA's Education and Research Archive (ERA), who clarified some of the issues for me. My take on this is that everything depends on the publisher, and some publishers simply do not allow open-access publishing or archiving of accepted manuscripts. The proposed Tri-Council policy would effectively prohibit publishing in such journals (at pain of investigation under a breach of the "Responsible Conduct of Research Framework"). Speaking personally, this would mean that I could not publish in the top peer-reviewed journal in my field (of which I am also an Associate Editor).

30 comments:

  1. An interesting policy indeed. And of course, sitting about midstream in my current NSERC grant I have no means of increasing my NSERC grant to account for dramatic increase in publishing expenses this cause. I suggest everyone use that section of the grant application that asks for reasons in delays in progress to cite the sudden, expected jump in publishing expenses as a reason for any drop in publication number. I would then also add a comment in the HQP section of the drop in grad student support available given the money siphoned off to pay for open access publishing.

    ... I guess it is too late to take that VSP, huh?

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  2. Jeremy,

    Many institutions are buying open access agreements or memberships with various publishers. In this way, the institution covers the cost of publishing in OA formats. For example, UofC is listed as a member of the OA group at Springer (http://www.springeropen.com/inst/16350). But notably, UofA is not. Perhaps it would be worth our supposedly flagship, research intensive institution to join the 21st century and change the way we do business with publishers?

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    1. The library has experimented with subsidizing open access author charges. The question arises whether library funds are better spent promoting UofA research(ers) to the world (i.e. paying author fees) or ensuring that UofA scholars have access to the important research out there in the world (i.e. paying subscriptions).

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  3. Use the UoA's Education and Research archive to get your publications available free and open access. So few people know about this but it is fantastic:

    https://era.library.ualberta.ca/public/home

    It is a repository into which you can post your articles to satisfy the Tricouncil requirements for the vast majority of journals. It costs nothing and allows you to meet their requirements. Kudos to the libary staff for driving this.

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    1. Does the journal publisher need to agree to you posting your paper here first?

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  4. This policy does not necessarily mean we will have to publish in open-access journals; it is not just a matter of cost, it is also a matter of reputation of journals. Note that the PDF file at http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/_doc/Policies-Politiques/Tri-OA-Policy-Politique-LA-Trois_eng.pdf provides two options under Section 3.1. You can use option #2.

    I once had a paper accepted in a journal that was not open access. My former university negotiated with the publisher to place the paper in the public domain via an institutional online repository. The university had to do this to abide by the terms of NIH funds (in the U.S., I think that is a Congress law). The university's open-access regulation amended the regular publisher's copyright agreement to allow for digitally depositing the paper in the university's open-access repository (http://dash.harvard.edu/). The publisher was happy to make readers pay for the article within the first 12 months. So, option #2 worked for me but the backing of a special university office certainly helped.

    Perhaps NSERC and Canadian universities need to take the initiative here and inform major publishers that they'd better release papers after 12 months, or few NSERC-funded research will appear in them. Of course, this is assuming this policy proposal is approved.

    Not withstanding the cost issue, this could be a good thing for faculty members. Larger citations numbers is the main advantage.

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  5. I think we're privileged to watch the dominate G7 (not G8) economies and production begin this free fall. We have front row tickets to witness the fall of the current "powerhouse" countries as the 3rd world and others (G20) invest in knowledge & research while we pull back. It is unbelievable that we are unable to convince the powers that be that this commitment to education & research is why we are a powerful economic entity in the global frontier. This is all "Chicken'n'egg" semantics and the symbiotic relationships that are to be nurtured for success will be dismantled.

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  6. It is wrong to ask taxpayers to pay for research twice, and open access is needed. Transitions from the status quo always upset some, but individuals and funding models will adapt.

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    1. How would you propose to disseminate the information from research paid for by taxpayers? In order for the research to be trusted in must be peer-reviewed. Part of the publication process of respected journals is peer-review. The cost of a subscription to a journal is the cost of publishing that research. The alternative then surely is some government run repository of the research paid for by government. Will government then take on the responsibility of the peer-review process? Will they then take on the costs of managing and maintaining this repository? Would these costs not then be asking the taxpayers to "pay twice" for the research? And how much trust would you have of placing all government funded research into a repository controlled by the government? We have already seen the manipulation and interference of good science being corrupted by government influence at places like the NRC. I shudder at the thought of giving the government of the day that much control over the dissemination of research findings.

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  7. It depends on the publisher. I am the administrator of ERA. We use an inventory database of publisher conditions called SHERPA/RoMEO (http://www.sherpa.ac.uk/romeo/) and we investigate publisher websites to determine conditions, and where archiving policy is not clear, we will contact a journal publisher for clarification/permission if a faculty member authorizes us to do so. Anyone can email erahelp@ualberta.ca for assistance.

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  8. In our field, we used http://arxiv.org/ for as long as I remember (15 years, a more?). Even Nature and Science allow to post there. So I totally do not see what could be the problem.

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  9. "The bottom line is that everything depends on the publisher, and some publishers simply do not allow open-access publishing or archiving of accepted manuscripts." It's not like you to accept a counter-productive situation just because it is held in place by an existing power structure! This isn't the bottom line; it's a rock we need to remove from the field so we can get on with the ploughing.

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    1. Well, I hope someone removes this particular "rock" before I am unable to publish in the top journal in my field.

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    2. "some publishers simply do not allow open-access publishing or archiving of accepted manuscripts. " The devil is in the detail. Publishers do not allow to post manuscript in *their* format (as if you download the pdf file from their site). I do not know any publisher that does not allow to post a manuscript in the *author's* format (you make a pdf from your latex file yourself and post it).

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    3. Your not knowing something does not mean it does not occur. The top journal in my field does not allow this (in the case of "final peer-reviewed full-text manuscripts", which is one of the requirements of the Tri-Council proposal).

      Perhaps this issue is not a concern for you and many others -- in which case I am happy for you. But your smugness is no comfort to me.

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    4. Again, what you think is require is gold open access. What Tri-Council requires is green open access (you do have a copy of the final peer reviewed version as it is you who submit the final version back to the journal, what you do not have is journal's formatting). Check if your top ranked journals support green open access: http://www.sherpa.ac.uk/romeo/browse.php?colour=green

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    5. Wow, everyone is cranky today. Must be the weather. As I said in my post: "I am not opposed to open-access publishing." What is at issue here is the implementation.

      And yes, I have checked on SHERPA and the top journal in my field is RoMEO White -- there are actually quite a lot of yellow and white journals, which would not meet the Tri-Councils' proposed criteria.

      Apparently many other open-access policies implemented in other countries allow exceptions where publishers refuse open-access. Maybe the Tri-Councils will moderate their policy a little in response to feedback.

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  10. That's a great initiative but I worry that they have not thought this through at all. For example some of us work in large, international collaborations and publish papers jointly with groups around the work. Canada cannot simply dictate publication policy to international collaborations like these - the result is that Canadians will either be unable, or at least restricted, in working as part of such groups in the future.

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    1. Good grief. Canada is a follower here, not an outlier, nor an innovator. Why do you think ROMEO is housed at a UK institution? Others have dealt with this, and the sky has not fallen.

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    2. If others already require this then I expect they must have exemptions for large collaborations then because many of the ones I know do not publish under open access.

      As I understood it there has been a lot of talking about this (at least in my field) but as far as I know nobody has implemented it or at least if they have it has been done in a way that has had zero to little impact on publication policies.

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  11. Many funding agencies have had similar policies in place for years. Some publishers have responded by creating reasonable options for OA for the authors and others have even gone the length of automatically making articles OA after a certain embargo length. NIH and MRC-UK have had these policies for a while and many (but definitely not all) of the leading journals have created policies to match the need. I see two things coming out of this trend a) those with buckets full of money will pay to have their papers published in the highest ranked journals and b) the average researcher will seek out the options they can afford with whatever resources and assistance is available to them. Any publisher that doesn't provide some option for OA will eventually either have to change or see their IFs etc. disappear as researchers will be seeking OA options.

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  12. I see a future where scientific data are uploaded to a Facebook-like website and the peer-review process is done online and live. Sort of like this blog, with comments rendered openly (moderated of course) and a scoring system, possibly with 'stars', much like TripAdvisor or some such thing. Call it ScienceAdvisor. Then all of our data, even the negative results (shockingly!!) can all get published, but the value of the work is judged by all of our peers as they need it, rather than some subset (usually 2 or 3 at the most) of individuals. FEC then can look at our 'star-factor' to determine the merit of our research productivity. A bit of tongue in cheek, but not really. Social media is changing expectations of how information is shared. Research data, especially publicly funded research, will become that much more transparent and accessible. It is only a matter of time.

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    1. Yikes -- "pub by pop"

      The system you describe sounds wide open to abuse and manipulation. The "subset of 2 or 3 peers" that undertake to do full reviews invest far more time in evaluating a paper than someone casually perusing it. We rely on those peers to undertake a detailed review on our behalf, both as authors (to save us the embarrassment of publishing crap) and readers (to save us having to read through piles of other people's crap).

      IMHO, there's already far too much crap being published: see article in the Economist:
      http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21588069-scientific-research-has-changed-world-now-it-needs-change-itself-how-science-goes-wrong

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    2. Like "rate-your-professor.com" type website?

      double-yikes....

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  13. "Speaking personally, this would mean that I could not publish in the top peer-reviewed journal in my field (of which I am also an Associate Editor)."

    The publishing policy of a journal is not handed down from god, but instead typically a business decision. In for-profit journals, it will be more difficult to use influence as an AE to get policies shifted. In a societal journal, processes change based upon editorial feedback regularly.

    An obvious outcome of a move across countries to OA will be shifts in journal rankings - these two are highly dynamic. The top journal in my field 10 years ago is now barely in the top 20 ... its editorial practices stayed static, turnaround times long, and page charges high.

    Change isn't bad, certainly not change that can increase the ability of others to use the results of research.

    As for fears about impacts at NSERC ... its like students worrying about a 50% average on an exam. Everyone is dealing with the same landscape, and thus there shouldn't be differential harm.

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  14. The question I posed to NSERC was... What problem are they trying to fix??

    I'm in the same boat as Jeremy. None of the top-5 journals in my area are open-access...

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  15. Publishing is just another one of the games that we, as academics, must play. If the rules of the game change, we adapt. 'Cause we have to play.

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    1. This approach to publishing drives me crazy. Publishing the findings of research and creative activities is not a game; it is instead the mechanism by which knowledge is built throughout society.

      To imagine that taxpayers should fund our research activities, yet we hold no obligation to them in terms of dissemination of the information in a rigorous manner, devalues the scholarship that we perform.

      Publishing is not a choice, it is instead part of the moral contract we agree to by taking public dollars.

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    2. Anon @ 9:02 AM:

      I agree completely with your statement that we have an obligation to disseminate the results of publicly funded research. But what Anon @ 10:18 PM was probably pointing out, at least as I interpret the sentiment, we are restricted by several factors as to how to do that. The "Game" is that the publishers hold the cards in this process and we are somewhat at their mercy. It is very frustrating that in our "industry" the authors of the work must pay to have their work published. The publishers do very little of the creative or intellectual part of the process, yet reap the vast majority of the financial benefits of the work. We are now in a very odd situation where most libraries have gone the route of purchasing electronic subscriptions to journals. This means that for as long as we need access to the journals we must continue to pay subscription fees to those journals... forever. Yes, with the advent of OA journals one might suggest that the need will eventually vanish... but not really. Anything that is published in a non-OA format needs to be accessed through continuing subscriptions. So the publishers have very conveniently created a double-billing process. We pay to have articles be OA. But then still have to pay subscription fees to have access to everything that got caught between print copy and OA. The simple fact is that all libraries should have continued to purchase print copy subscriptions. This then allows the termination of the subscription, without loss of the product already purchased. But now we are in a mess and the publishers are getting rich off of it.

      The other major problem with OA publishing is that there is no guarantee that research published in OA format will be accessible in the future. If a publisher goes out of business then their stable of OA and electronic material will potentially vanish from existence. A problem that would not happen if libraries had maintained the practice of buying and archiving print copy.

      The alternative is to move dissemination of research results away from the grips of publishing companies. But this is a very complex problem, particularly given performance evaluations, grant reviews and "social status" hinge so heavily on where we publish our data. It would require a complete and total shift in mindset and an overhaul of the fundamental practices that have taken centuries to develop. The publishers have the entire system over a barrel. The policy to have all publicly funded research disseminated through OA is playing into their hands. We need to publish to further our careers. We need to publish within certain rules to meet government policies. We have few choices but to "play the game". And quite frankly, the publishers are winning... hands down.

      On the surface, OA for publicly funded research seems logical and reasonable request. But in practice, it will mean more taxpayer dollars are funneled to multinational corporations and the public will receive less bang for their tax buck.

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  16. Perhaps Tri-Council could offer Option 3. I seem to recall, in the not-so-distant past, receiving reprints of my papers. Sometimes these were compliments of the publisher while other times we had to pay for a stack. Why, I still have a few stacks kicking around, for old times sake. Do you remember these? We would receive lovely notes from colleagues around the world requesting a copy of our latest works, often signed with a personal comment. We would then send the requested article in the mail, usually accompanied with a personal comment or note. It was collegial and it fostered good relations and PR. I, for one, would be more than happy to return to these simpler times. What better feedback than to receive a request for our papers from our peers? And if anyone from the general public ever requested a copy I would be tickled pink and would love the opportunity to open a dialogue about my work with the public. How great would that be? So if Tri-Council is at all interested in opening the dialogue, then lets do something more concrete than simply dumping the stuff into some non-descript electronic repository. Otherwise, it reeks of being purely a politically motivated nuisance.

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