Open Science Initiative issues new paper, recommendations

OSI-report-Feb-2015-coverIn early September of 2014, nSCI recruited and organized over 100 thought-leaders from around the world into a three month long online conversation—named the Open Science Initiative (OSI) working group—to begin looking into viable ways to reform the scholarly publishing system. The outcome of this conversation will be a working paper (the most recent version is linked here) which summarizes the many important facts and perspectives that were discussed on this issue, and also outlines recommendations for a new series of initiatives to push for workable reform measures.

What are the problems with the current system of scholarly publishing? What are the different perspectives on these problems? What are some possible solutions? What should our goals and our guiding objectives be regarding improving access to research information? Should we even bother worrying about this issue (is the current state of affairs adequate)? What would a future with more open science look like? What might a future without more open science look like? How do we get from where we are now to where we need to be, considering there are so many competing interests and entrenched positions? Why might it be important to act now?

The OSI working group discussed these issues and many others at length. The group also made these three important recommendations (the first two being majority viewpoints):

  1. Convene an annual series of high-level conferences between all key stakeholders over the next 10 years to discuss, implement, adjust, and track major reforms to the scholarly publishing system. The first conference is currently being planned for early 2016. The delegate list will be an invited group of 200 decision-makers representing every major stakeholder group in scholarly publishing, participating with the understanding that they will try to reach an agreement on the future of scholarly publishing and will then work to help implement this agreement. The United Nations will be backing these conferences (through UNESCO) and will help mobilize broad and ongoing international support, participation, and funding. Very broad participation from US stakeholders—publishers, authors, federal agencies, companies who use research, institutions that produce research, and more—is critical to getting this effort up and running. While scientific research is certainly a global interest and enterprise, the US is the largest single producer and consumer of this research information, so without strong US participation, global adoption will be difficult to achieve.
  2. Find answers to key questions related to reform, as detailed in the summary document. What do we really mean by “publishing” today? Are self-archiving mandates practical? Are impact factors accurate? Do embargoes serve the public interest? Are there better ways to conduct peer review? Why isn’t open access growing faster? These and many other questions have been identified in this report as starting points for discussion.
  3. Investigate the possibility of constructing the world’s first all-scholarship repository (ASR). Our initial discussion regarding this repository is included in Annex 4. Conversations are currently ongoing on this matter. The Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) will explore building the prototype ASR. We are currently preparing a briefing paper for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy so they can consider aligning upcoming federal compliance efforts with this LANL repository. A number of OSI working group members feel that creating the world’s first all-scholarship repository will need to be a precursor to truly comprehensive journal reform, and creating it the right way may end up having a greater impact on science discovery than anything ever attempted to date.

As we push forward with this initiative, the OSI group will need the following kinds of help: Broad buy-in and participation from research agencies, companies and institutions; more input and perspective from publishers, research institutions, government agencies, the public, and other stakeholders; subject matter expertise (such as programming, database construction, user interface design, customer experience, and so on), hardware/hosting support, data integration support, conference support (facility support, logistics, etc.); outreach/PR expertise; and finally, backing by policymakers and major funders. Building this support base will be the only way to achieve effective and long-term sustainable reform.

The budget for the first conference will range between $150k and $500k depending on how many of the costs we can cover for participants (more coverage is better—we don’t want people declining our invite on account of budget reasons). The repository effort can begin modestly but will eventually require millions of dollars annually, although much of the eventual operating cost can be recouped through sponsor support, advertising, and value-added services. A start-up budget of $10 million would help get a critical mass of experts working full-time on this project right away.

This initiative already has a broad range of stakeholder support, but as we move forward we want to make sure that everyone has a seat at the table and also make it clear that we’re not just spinning our wheels to produce another white paper for discussion. OSI, nSCI, UNESCO, LANL, and others have committed to undertake an effort to actually shape the future of how we as a society value, share and use science. Care to join us?

“A Crossroads”(chapter excerpt from the OSI Working Paper, in progress, Mapping the Future of Scholarly Publishing)

With the proliferation of ideas, models, opinions and needs, scientific publishing—and by extension, open access—is at a crossroads today. This crossroads can be described as a nexus of four different perceptions about what open access is and is not.

  • The moral imperative. Not everyone agrees that society has a moral imperative to share knowledge, or at least to share it freely, immediately, and without copyright restrictions. There are those who contend that research paid for by governments belongs to the people, and others who contend that the marketplace of ideas and innovation simply wouldn’t function without secrecy and the right to protect ownership and discovery.
  • Public versus open. The essential difference between “public” access and “open” access is that in the public access model, authors or publishers retain copyright, which means that the liberal reuse of content can be limited (or at least not as rich and instantaneous as in open access). Some advocates for freer information are seemingly content to simply have more public access to information available regardless of price, license type, or timing.
  • Who are the stakeholders in this conversation? Where are the disagreements about OA occurring? A general observation from our working group (not backed up by survey data of broader opinions) is that there is little disagreement inside the core of the OA movement. Peter Suber notes that “the OA movement has been at this crossroads, or has contained these intramural disagreements, for at least 10 years,” and William Gunn, the Head of Academic Outreach for Mendeley, agrees that “there’s also a general consensus view that is held by pretty much all the major thought leaders and that serves the majority.” However, it is the position of most in the OSI working group that OA perspectives and policies among the broad array of OA stakeholders are fragmenting now more than ever, and that a widespread understanding and agreement between the stakeholders in scholarly publishing is needed as soon as possible before this fragmentation produces undesirable outcomes for OA (or even regression due to confusion and disagreement), before more opportunities for discovery are missed, more articles get locked away behind paywalls, and new access models take shape that could ultimately deepen the information access rift between upper-tier economies and the rest of the world.
  • Where are we going? Different stakeholders in the publishing reform conversation have clearly different goals and perceptions, and these differences are sowing confusion, inaction, and even hostility toward more cooperation and collaboration between researchers and publishers to develop workable and mutually beneficial solutions. The differences of opinion about the goals of OA are numerous, and range from questions about whether Creative Commons licensing is required, to what the pace of reform should be, to whether the end goals of open access include the elimination of subscription journals—the scorched earth model—or the fertile garden model of creating a world of more information that will provide vast new opportunities for many.

With regard to the public versus private disagreements, David Wojick, formerly a senior consultant with the Department of Energy’s Office of Scientific and Technical Information, describes that from a policy perspective, a “bifurcation…has certainly occurred at the national policy level, with the UK (and EU) going for open access and the US choosing public access. Moreover the OA movement seems to be largely silent on this pending policy schism. So…some urgency is called for, lest public access become the default solution.”

Joyce Ogburn agrees with Suber that this crossroads isn’t necessarily an impasse—that there are various avenues and options available regarding licenses, formats, and so on—but also agrees with Wojick that public access may be emerging as the settling point for the moment—that “this is as far as OA can be pushed right now under the current circumstances.” Ogburn also describes the efforts to pass the US medical research public access law of 2008 that ended up creating the NIH PubMed repository. “I can attest to how hard it was to get public access,” says Ogburn. “It took a lot of time, alliances, and compromises to achieve this step. Pushing for total OA was not feasible at that time.” Adds Wojick, “There is a very real danger that US public access is not just a small step, rather it is the last step. Once established, US policy will be very hard to change and it is a potential model for other countries.”

Not everyone agrees whether this bifurcation is real or imagined, permanent or temporary, acceptable or not acceptable. William Gunn and Jean-Claude Guédon, a long-time scholarly publishing expert and professor at the University of Montreal, suggest that this split, if it exists, exists only among those who are trying to implement open access policies and not within the OA advocacy community itself. Further, Guédon is confident that the emerging public access model is only a way station on the path to full open access, and that in the meantime, having some public access is at least better than having no access.

Rick Anderson agrees that it would be an exaggeration to say that there is a “split” or “bifurcation” in the OA community, but that there is certainly a diversity of beliefs in that community as to what constitute suitable goals for reform of scholarly communication. Some groups and individuals see public access as an acceptable end goal, while other see it only as a step in the process towards OA; some see some role in the future for nonprofit scholarly toll-access publishing, while others believe that anything less than universal OA would constitute failure. Some are willing to accept embargoes as a permanent feature of the OA landscape, while others are not; some hold strongly to the view that OA is not OA unless it includes CC BY licensing (or the functional equivalent thereof), while others strongly oppose mandatory CC BY while still considering themselves supporters of OA.

Wojick expresses reservations about whether the 2013 White House Office of Science and Technology Policy directive mandating public access is also a stopping point on the way to open access or simply an end in itself. “The OSTP public access program just extends the long existing NIH model to the rest of the funding agencies, so in a way it is a step sideways not forward. Once a program like this is established it is very hard to change, plus it can become a model for others. I have been surprised at the lack of objection to the OSTP public access program from the OA community.“ Wojick, who was part of the interagency work group that led to this OSTP directive, concludes that there is “no Federal sentiment that this public access policy is just a stopping point on the way to full OA.”

Anderson notes that this public access stopping point has not been limited to government agencies. “Every library that provides an institutional repository that does not require CC-BY licensing is also offering what amounts to a public access solution, rather than a fully OA solution. I’m not aware of any library that has plans eventually to require BOAI-compliant licensing of the papers placed in its repository.” Guédon suggests that library policies are being shaped more by the fact that they have archives filled with copyrighted materials than by a reluctance to embrace OA.

This CC-BY licensing issue is one of the larger issues in the “Where are we going?” split. Some feel that open access doesn’t necessarily need to be tied to Creative Commons licensing to function well. Others feel that Creative Commons licensing is a core requirement of open access and that real OA can’t happen without it.

The CC-BY question is only one point of confusion and disagreement. Another is that different institutions, fields and organizations who are advocating for more open access—such as SPARC, ACRL, the Alliance for Taxpayer Access, Create Change, the IFLA Open Access Taskforce, OASIS, the OASPA, the Open Data Foundation, Public Knowledge, PLoS, and the Right to Research Coalition, and others—have different end goals in mind, which therefore makes working together toward solutions problematic.

On the one side are those who firmly believe the goal of open access is to eliminate subscription journals and that subscriptions are intrinsically incompatible with universal access. On the other side are those who say the goal of open access is simply to make information more accessible to researchers, not eliminate subscription journals. And somewhere in the middle are those who say this isn’t about open access at all but how journals and scholarly societies (who publish many journals) will adapt to change and whether we will end up seeing a net gain for science as a result.

“If there is/was a consensus” between these groups, says scholarly publishing expert and journalist Richard Poynder, “I suspect it is beginning to weaken as the practicalities of implementing open access come more sharply into focus.” Furthermore, he says, “many of the views espoused by OA advocates may not be representative of the larger research community. As such, the larger research community might reasonably ask: ‘Why should we accept that you know best and do what you say?’”

This disagreement has created more acrimony than necessary, with those who see open access as being inherently hostile to pay models of access either rallying to the defense of subscription journals (or requiring more proof that open access works), or hastening to bid journals adieu. The reality is that at some point this issue became owned by the public, and in doing so, perceptions splintered and this splintering has meant that not everyone who wants more open access feels the same way about the goals of OA, or even the meaning. There are now many “owners” of this issue and they are speaking with different voices, so there is a lot of misunderstanding (or more accurately, different understandings), mistrust, confusion, and sub-optimal efforts.

Indeed, notes Anderson, “all of these entities are not, in fact, getting behind the same thing. The NIH and NSF have gotten behind public access, not OA. SPARC sees embargoes as something that should be allowed for now (as a compromise measure during what it believes is a period of transition to universal OA), but says that embargoes are not acceptable in the long run. By contrast, the latest revision of the RCUK mandate provides structurally for embargoes of various lengths. Wellcome allows embargoes as well, and does not require CC-BY (though it encourages it), whereas RCUK does require CC-BY. And then, of course, there are thought leaders like Robert Darnton who explicitly disagree with other thought leaders who take the position that universal OA is the only acceptable future outcome for scholarly communication. None of this is to mention the wide diversity of thought and opinion that exists within the global community of scholars, whose work is the lifeblood of the scholarly communication system.”

At least part of what the OSI working group is hoping to accomplish by publishing this paper and coordinating future conferences on this issue is to air these different perspectives and lay the groundwork for a better, common understanding so we can all come together and move forward toward more effective, more workable solutions.

Finally, with regard to the timing of reforms, Anderson suggests that three broad categories of perspective have emerged in OA circles:

  • Universal OA Now: All scholarship should be available on an OA basis and without embargoes, and we need to achieve this reality immediately or as soon as possible.
  • Universal OA Eventually: All scholarship should be available on an OA basis and without embargoes, but it’s okay if we get there incrementally over time.
  • Blended Solution Indefinitely: We should always work to expand the public’s access to scholarship, but it’s okay if some embargoes, some traditional copyright restrictions, and/or some varieties of toll access remain a feature of the landscape indefinitely.

These categories seem to exist even where all are in agreement that OA means free public access plus the equivalent of CC-BY licensing. However, it’s also true that despite the fact that the OA definitions offered earlier have been widely accepted, not everyone who thinks of him- or herself as working for OA is working from the same understanding of what “open access” means. So in fact there are also multiple subcategories of perspective on this issue.

A fourth broad category of perspective—and not an insignificant one—is “No Significant Change Is Needed.” For many, the current system seems to be serving their needs just fine, or they are skeptical of or disinterested in OA. Those who hold this view aren’t included in the schema above, which is intended to address categories of orientation within the OA movement. The OA attitude surveys included in Annex 6 suggest that about half of all researchers fall into this “neutral” category, including economist Joshua Rosenbloom. “Philosophically,” says Rosenbloom, “I think I can see the appeal of full OA, but practically I am not convinced that it is in fact feasible or that imposing it would indeed be desirable. Can we do better than the current system given the massive changes in technology that have taken place in the last two decades? Certainly. But I would prefer to look for a solution that explicitly articulates and seeks to promote all the goals of scholarly communication, and recognizes that there may in fact be trade-offs across them, rather than pursuing a single-minded focus on open access.”

*This working paper is still undergoing final review and edits by contributors. A final version will be posted online by March 1, 2015. Outside comments and edits are welcome. Please email your contributions to

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