Evolutions in Scholarship

During October 2013...

Myth-busting and a 6-year disembargo

Wednesday, October 23, 2013 10:27 am

Interesting news stories and projects usually come to light during Open Access Week, and this year proves no exception. I’ve seen libraries around the country host panels of faculty researchers, organize workshops for faculty and graduate students, offer outreach events for undergraduates, and post photos of displays demonstrating the true costs of accessing research. Lots of exciting engagement!

This morning, I call attention to two items that have caught my eye this week. The first is an article by Peter Suber, published on Monday in The Guardian. In his piece, Suber deconstructs 6 myths about open access. Those 6 myths are:

  1. The only way to provide open access to peer-reviewed journal articles is to publish in open access journals.
  2. All or most open access journals charge publication feesl
  3. Most author-side fees are paid by the authors themselves.
  4. Publishing in a conventional journal closes the door on making the same work open access.
  5. Open access journals are intrinsically low in quality.
  6. Open access mandates infringe academic freedom.

I strongly encourage you to go read the article, as Suber’s myth-busting is spot on.

The second item you should check out is Mark Sample’s Disembargo project. Sample is releasing from embargo his dissertation, one character at a time, over the course of 6 years. Earlier this year, the American Historical Association issued a statement strongly encouraging graduate students in history to embargo their dissertations for up to 6 years, claiming evidence – apparently, only anecdotal – that dissertations with shorter embargoes are less likely to be published as books, as publishers consider openly-available dissertations to be previously published. Many, including Sample, found this advice to be off the mark. As Sample explains in his ProfHacker blog post about his project, “Disembargo is an open access dissertation (my own), emerging from a self-imposed six-year embargo, one letter at a time. Every ten minutes Disembargo releases a single character—a letter, number, or space—from my final dissertation manuscript.” Sample goes on to share the questions that ran through his mind as he create his Disembargo project: “How does an academic embargo play out? Who benefits from an embargoed dissertation? How much value does withheld research accrue? And how long is six years when it comes to scholarly communication? To at least this last question Disembargo provides a satisfying answer: publishing six letters an hour is an excruciating pace that dramatizes the silence of a six-year embargo.” Indeed.

Take time to look at both of these items. Then mull over the implications of keeping research locked down and out-of-sight, thinking not of the challenges in changing the scholarly communication system as we now know it, but rather of the risks in not doing so.

Open Access Week 2013

Monday, October 21, 2013 8:50 am

ZSR Library is celebrating the sixth international Open Access Week, October 21-27, with three events to engage our campus community around this year’s theme, “Redefining Impact.”

Join us:
- Monday, Oct. 21 at 12pm for an informal, brown bag lunch conversation with colleagues. Ask questions about open access, and hear what others have to share.

- Tuesday, Oct. 22 at 4pm for a presentation on Altmetrics and Scholarly Impact, which will compare the emerging area of altmetrics with traditional impact measures (e.g., the Journal Impact Factor, Eigenfactor), and explore how altmetrics may be used.

- Wednesday, Oct. 23 at 2pm for an online discussion with Dr. Peter Suber, Director of the Harvard Office of Scholarly Communications and the Harvard Open Access Project, who is an internationally-recognized leader of the open access movement.

Faculty, graduate students, research support staff, and undergraduate students are all encouraged to attend. For additional information about these events, or about open access generally, contact Molly Keener, Scholarly Communication Librarian.

Taking the sting out of the “sting”

Monday, October 7, 2013 4:34 pm

Did you hear the story last Friday on NPR’s Morning Edition about open access (OA) journals and peer review? About the OA “sting” from Science, “Who’s Afraid of Peer Review?” Yeah. The “sting” has angered many OA advocates, me included, and has generated many responses; several of note are linked below.

In the admittedly few responses I’ve had a chance to read now that I’m back in the office (oh, why must such stories break when I’m on vacation?!), most focus on methodological flaws, including no control group, which are important to call out. DOAJ’s response calls attention to its recent work to clarify and tighten its criteria for inclusion. But what I’ve yet to see are a breakdown of numbers that show just how small a percentage of journals listed in DOAJ are actually “proven” negligent by this effort. If you only heard the NPR piece, then you’ll know that seemingly-big numbers of OA journals apparently don’t do peer review: 157, oh my! But what both the NPR interview and Science article fail to do is to put those numbers in useful context. 157 sounds big if you’re talking dollars, but not so big if you’re talking pennies. When it comes to the number of OA journals, this “sting” is counting change, not bills.

As reported in the article, 187 journals of the 304 identified to receive the fake paper were listed in DOAJ as of 2 Oct 2012 (167 in DOAJ, 121 in Beall’s list, 16 in both). That accounts for only 2.27% of all DOAJ journals on that date (the article notes there were 8250 titles in DOAJ). In the results, the real researcher behind the fake paper, John Bohannon, notes that 157 accepted the paper, but he does not continue to give DOAJ/Beall’s list/both breakdowns in the text of the article at this point. Of those 157, we don’t know how many are in DOAJ without digging into his data (which, frankly, given that I know how small a percentage we’re talking about, I’m not going to expend energy doing); all we know is that “for DOAJ publishers that completed the review process, 45% accepted the bogus paper.” But apparently only “106 journals discernibly performed any review.” From the article, we don’t know how many of that 106 were DOAJ titles, so that 45% sounds bigger and badder than it may be. Generously presuming all 106 were DOAJ titles, then 48 DOAJ journals appear to have faulty peer review. Those 48 journals account for a mere 0.58% of all DOAJ titles a year ago; as of last Friday, when DOAJ had 9948 journals, that’s only 0.48%. Turns out, the numbers are available: from a graphic in the article, it shows that 35 journals in DOAJ apparently accepted the paper without any peer review; 38 performed some level of peer review and still accepted the fake paper. So 73 journals in DOAJ have peer review problems. That’s a mere 0.88% of all DOAJ titles a year ago; as of last Friday, when DOAJ had 9948 titles, that’s only 0.73%. That’s not good, but it’s also not alarmist.

But even if all 157 journals (now, 158, per the author’s NPR interview Friday morning) that accepted the fake paper were DOAJ titles (again, I’m being intentionally generous), that’s still only 1.58% of all current DOAJ titles. I daresay in the traditional publishing realm, there are more than 1.58% of print journals that would be “proven” to have shoddy-to-no peer review, too.

Oh, and the journal behind this “sting,” Science? Yeah, it published the discredited and widely-maligned arsenic DNA paper in 2011, which slipped through its own peer review process (h/t, Michael Eisen’s response below). That lessens the sting a bit, doesn’t it?

Finally, a few final quibbles – and one concession – with the NPR piece, as that was my first introduction to the controversy, as it was for many:

  • The total number of journals listed in DOAJ was never noted, so the numbers context above was lost on the audience (and it’s murky enough in the actual article);
  • At no point in the interview it is mentioned that journals owned by Sage, Elsevier, and Wolters Kluwer – big name publishers of primarily traditional journals – were among the 157 accepting the fake paper; and,
  • To be fair, Bohannon did make a clear effort not to malign all OA journals while discussion his “sting,” which I appreciate, but unfortunately, most researchers who’ve been resistant to OA likely only half-heard that defense.

As Bohannon rightly pointed out during his NPR interview, we do need to identify disreputable publishers who are taking advantage of the low-to-no capital needed to launch an e-journal using the OA article processing fee model, who through negligence are casting OA publishing in poor light. But more than that, we need to address issues in the peer review process for all journals.

Responses worth reading:

Updated 8 Oct 2013 to correct numbers above, and to link to the following, many of which unpack the flawed “methodology” behind the “sting”:


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