Posts Tagged ‘open access’

Will Open Access promote “plain junk”?

February 23, 2008

In the March 2008 issue of the Notices of AMS, the executive director of AMS, John Ewing, has a two page piece (to which I have linked in my previous post too) that argues (using rather strong language), that Open Access publishing is a bad idea (pdf).

Ewing lists four problems that he sees with Open Access business models (in which author’s pay to publish their papers). They are as follows:

  1. The author pay model is not simple;
  2. In the subscription model, the financial transaction happens between users/libraries and publishers, while, in the author-pay model, authors and publishers negotiate the deals; hence, scholarly publishing will become vanity publishing;
  3. In the author-pay model, the financial transaction happens before the piece is published, which (I do not understand the arguments well here), somehow, will promote plain junk; and,
  4. The author-pay model will promote large publishers (and that is the reason why they are promoting this model).

Ewing goes on to say

It is not how we pay, but rather how much we pay!

And he ends his piece eloquently, with a dig at Open Access journals and its proponents — especially, the biomedical journals — in the last two paragraphs (and mentions PLoS by name earlier in the piece):

We are therefore heading in the wrong direction. Scholarly journals are sick and they need attention. But instead of following a regimen of reasoned and disciplined remedies–instead of driving down prices by the steady, concerted actions of  authors, editors and librarians–we are bleeding the patient with open access models. (…)

It is ironic that those leading us down this path of folk remedies and faith healing come from the biomedical sciences.

Fortunately (and, rather ironically), Notices of AMS itself is a sort of Open Access publication (though, it is not the authors who pay the charges):

The Notices is supported by dues paid by AMS members, who have provided access for all mathematicians throughout the world.

In any case, as I noted in my previous post, I do not agree with Ewing, and here is why.

Ewing, surprisingly, does not seem to take into consideration the most important process involved in scholarly publishing, namely, peer review. Once peer review is taken into consideration, we see that his points 2-4 are flawed (and his first point, as he himself agrees is just a statement about complexity and has got nothing to do with quality of publishing). Scholarly publications derive their prestige based on the credentials of the editors, the peer review process, the impact factor (which, in some sense, indicates how seriously the publication is considered by the community), and, what importance evaluation committees pay to the publications based on the three factors listed above. If a journal is edited by leaders in a field, and if the peer review process is known to be rigorous, if the impact factor for the journal is high, and, if “Wow! You have a paper in Journal X!” is the general response, then, the users/librarians have no option but to buy the journal. Thus, it is ridiculous to pose the problem as if it is a pure business transaction and equate Open Access author-pay models with vanity publishing or to argue that they would somehow promote junk, or to say that established publishing houses would get monopoly.

Thus, a bit of reflection indicates that the most important question is not about how or how much we pay (to which questions, to my mind at least, the answer is simple — the answer to how much should be less, and how we pay is important), but, what quality. In other words, are there strong reasons to believe that the Open Access publications will improve the quality of publications? The answer is yes — as long as the peer review process is made more transparent, and as long as there is an active community and discussions surrounding the publications — both of which can be implemented rather easily in the Open Access model, provided the journals are also e-Journals. In that sense, I believe that journals like PLoS and their discussion boards, as well as online communities like iMechanica are already giving strong indications that Open Access would not only be successful, but is the only reasonable way to go.

Some mathematical links!

February 23, 2008

The March issue of American Mathematical Monthly is full of wonderful reading material:

Take a look!

Open access in the Indian context

February 21, 2008

Arunn at Unruled Notebook has some thoughts:

For instance, shift the entire journal online. It costs pittance to maintain a server space and host web domains and could be incurred life long in one philanthropic nod. Open source software can take care of the entire peer reviewing and publishing process with the editors needing to know how to operate one or two such software. Monetizing with appropriate Google ads on such web journal portals are a way to become self reliant.

Another way to do this is to have local consortium of research schools to maintain web spaces for journals in which their employees are participating as editors or reviewers or even authors. There could be an agreement between the journal editorial board and their respective academic institutions on the extent of financial support in magnitude and time. Guidelines could be charted for suitable cap for preventing any monopoly of institutes and representatives while maintaining the democracy of the publishing activity.

One way I could think of is, to start every open access journal with an editorial board and peer review group that already participated actively in the existing editorial boards of other reputed but closed access journals controlled by middleman publishers. This ensures the fledgling open access journal to quickly gain reputation amongst scientists of that field, once they are informed of the illustrious stars that deck the editorial board of that journal. If this process could thaw a few top scientists in that field to send their work to the open access journal, its future and reputation is ensured in the ensuing avalanche.

Another way I could think of is, instead of setting up a new open access journal, an existing closed access journal could be made into an open access one. This could happen with or without the agreement of the publisher. If the publisher agrees to work with one of the models of open access, then that is a start. We should immediately try that angle. For instance, the publisher could be negotiated to release into open access or the internet, the content of an issue, after two or three ensuing issues have appeared. This model could work for academic research publications with reasonable success.

Else, the journal subscriptions could be bought by academic consortium annually and made available open access.

For instance, in India, the institute of technologies can form a consortium and support open access journals. Annual subscriptions can be paid to maintain the open access status of journals served and participated by their employees.

If the publisher doesn’t agree for any sort of open access, the entire editorial board of a reputed journal could decide to boycott and resign their positions and perhaps start a new journal under a suitable name. The editorial board will provide the required credibility for such a venture to be supported by the scientists in that field to contribute to the journal and its reputation.

Take a look!

HowTo: improve peer review

January 30, 2008

Grrlscientist has a must read post on how the current single-blind review process of papers makes it easy to discriminate against authors based on their gender; the post is based on a study carried out by some researchers at University of Toronto, and here is Grrlscientist’s conclusion:

Instead of hand-wringing and asking “Why are there so few women in science? Why are they leaving?”, it is time for the community to begin reflecting on the behavioral data they are being confronted with. Basically, the scientific community makes it very difficult for women to remain in the sciences, and one way in which they do this is through a demonstrable bias against women in the review process. In my opinion, it would take very little effort for the scientific publishers and granting agencies to change their review policies to incorporate the double-blind process, knowing that women (and scientific progress in general) will greatly benefit.

While I do agree with her, and am all for double-blind reviews, that is only my second choice; the first choice would be open review where both the authors and the reviewers are known to the entire world with the review also published (online, for public consumption). Any case, go take a look at the post as well as the comments on it.

PS: Hat tip to Abi for the pointer