What was missing in Australia’s $1.9 billion infrastructure announcement

This article by Ginny Barbour was originally published on The Conversation

When we think about infrastructure it’s most often about bridges or roads – or, as in this week’s federal government AU$1.9 billion National Research Infrastructure announcement, big science projects. These are large assets that can be seen and applied in a tangible way.

It’s not hard to get excited over money that will support imaging of the Earth, or the Atlas of Living Australia.

But important as these projects are, there’s a whole set of infrastructure that rarely gets mentioned or noticed: “soft” infrastructure. These are the services, policies or practices that keep academic research working and, now, open.

Soft infrastructure was not featured in this week’s announcement linked to budget 2018.

Read more:
Budget 2018: when scientists make their case effectively, politicians listen

Ignored infrastructure

An absence of attention paid to soft infrastructure isn’t just the case in Australia, it’s true globally. This is despite the fact that such infrastructure is core to running the hard infrastructure projects.

For example, the Open SSL software library – which is key to the security of most websites – has just a handful of paid individuals who work on it. It’s supported by fragile finances. That’s a pretty frightening thought. (There’s another issue in that researchers doing this work get no academic credit for their efforts, but that’s a topic for another time.)

There are other high profile, globally used, open science infrastructures that also exist hand to mouth. The Directory of Open Access journals which began at Lund University relies entirely on voluntary donations from supporting members and on occasional sponsorship.

Similarly, Sherpa Romeo – the open database of publishers’ policies on copyright and self-archiving – came out of projects at Nottingham and Loughborough Universities in the UK.

In some ways these projects’ high visibility is part of their problem. It’s assumed that they are already funded, so no-one takes responsibility for funding them themselves – the dilemma of collective action.

Read more:
Not just available, but also useful: we must keep pushing to improve open access to research

Supporting open science

Other even more nebulous types of soft infrastructure include the development and oversight of standards that support open science. One example of this is the need to ensure that the metadata (the essential descriptors that tell you for example where a sample that’s collected for research came from and when, or how it relates to a wider research project or publication) are consistent. Without consistency of metadata, searching for research, making it openly available or linking it together is much less efficient, if not impossible.

Of course there are practices in place at individual institutions as well as national organisations. The soon-to-be-combined organisations -Australian National Data Service, the National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources project and Research Data Services (ANDS-Nectar-RDS) – are supported by national infrastructure funding. These provide support for data-heavy research (including for example the adoption of FAIR – Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable standards for data).

But without coherent national funding and coordination, specifically for open science initiatives, we won’t get full value from the physical infrastructure just funded.

Read more:
How the insights of the Large Hadron Collider are being made open to everyone

What we need

What’s needed now? First, a specific recognition of the need for cash to support this open, soft infrastructure. There are a couple of models for this.

In an article last year it was suggested that libraries (but this could equally be funders – public or philanthropic) should be committing around 2.5% of their budget to support open initiatives. There are some international initiatives that are developing specific funding models – SCOSS for Open Science Services and NumFocus for software.

But funding on its own is not enough: we need a coordinated national approach to open scholarship – making research available for all to access through structures and tools that are themselves open and not proprietary.

Though there are groups that are actively pushing forward initiatives on open scholarship in Australia – such as the Australasian Open Access Strategy Group, the Council of Australian University Librarians, and the Learned Academies as well as the ARC and NHMRC who have open access policies – there is no one organisation with the responsibility to drive change across the sector. The end result is inadequate key infrastructure – for example, for interoperability between research output repositories.

We also need coherent policy. The government recognised a need for national and states policies on open access in its response to the 2016 Productivity Commission Inquiry on Intellectual Property, but as yet no policy has appeared.

Read more:
Universities spend millions on accessing results of publicly funded research

It’s reasonable to ask whether in the absence of a national body that’s responsible for developing and implementing an overall approach, what the success of a policy on its own would be. Again, there are international models that could be used.

Sweden has a Government Directive on Open Access, and a National Body for Coordinating Open Access chaired by the Vice-chancellor of Stockholm University.

The Netherlands has a National Plan for Open Science with wide engagement, supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. In that country, the Secretary of State, Sander Dekker, has been a key champion.

The EU has had a long commitment to open science, underscored recently by the appointment of a high-level envoy with specific responsibility for open science, Robert-Jan Smits.

Private interests might take over

Here’s the bottom line: national coordinated support for the soft infrastructure that supports open science (and thus the big tangible infrastructure projects announced) is not just a “nice to have”.

One way or another, this soft infrastructure will get built and adopted. If it’s not done in the national interest, for-profit companies will step into the vacuum.

We risk replicating the same issues we have now in academic publishing – which is in the hands of multi-billion dollar companies that report to their shareholders, not the public. It’s clear how well that is turning out – publishers and universities globally are in stand offs over the cost of publishing services, which continue to rise inexorably, year on year.

The Conversation

Read more:
Publisher pushback puts open access in peril

Virginia Barbour, Director, Australasian Open Access Strategy Group, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

All the flavours of FAIR, fair & F.A.I.R

The word fair can mean many different things to many different people, but it’s generally a description of activities or processes which are just, equitable and reasonable. Within scholarship it’s been used as an acronym FAIR (Freedom of Access to Information and Resources) for the ongoing campaign for an open democratic society where everyone can access information. In 2015, fairness was found in another acronym in the F.A.I.R. Data principles (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable). Created to support knowledge discovery and innovation and to promote sharing and reuse of data, these principles informed the development of the F.A.I.R. Access policy statement in 2016 for all Australian publicly funded research outputs.


The concept of fairness has implications for how journals should be run. “Fair Open Access” has been a rallying cry for researchers seeking to achieve fair, low-cost journal open access. In 2017 a group of researchers and librarians formalized Fair Open Access principles for journals and the Fair Open Access Alliance. The basic principles are:

1. The journal has a transparent ownership structure, and is controlled by and responsive to the scholarly community.
2. Authors of articles in the journal retain copyright.
3. All articles are published open access and an explicit open access licence is used.
4. Submission and publication is not conditional in any way on the payment of a fee from the author or its employing institution, or on membership of an institution or society.
5. Any fees paid on behalf of the journal to publishers are low, transparent, and in proportion to the work carried out.

The Fair Open Access Alliance is currently working on disciplinary organizations aimed at helping journals flip from a subscription model to Fair OA, and have so far started LingOA, MathOA and PsyOA. The Alliance includes independent journals already practising Fair OA principles, flipped journals, and other institutional members with a strong belief in FairOA. The idea is to share resources and harmonize journal practices. In working towards spreading Fair journal practices, it’s hoped the debate about Green vs Gold OA is forgotten and the movement yields a way forward towards a goal of the conversion of the entire body of scholarly literature to Fair Open Access.

Drafted in 2015, the FAIR Data Principles are a framework for thinking about sharing data in a way that will enable maximum use and reuse.  The principles have been recognised by organisations including FORCE11, NIH and the European Commission.  The Australian National Data Service (ANDS) says they are useful because they:

  • support knowledge discovery and innovation
  • support data and knowledge integration
  • promote sharing and reuse of data
  • are discipline independent and allow for differences in disciplines
  • move beyond high level guidance, containing detailed advice on activities that can be undertaken to make data more FAIR
  • help data and metadata to be ‘machine readable’, supporting new discoveries through the harvest and analysis of multiple datasets.

ANDS says not only will researchers benefit professionally by making their data FAIR, the entire research community will be better off.  Benefits include:

  • gaining maximum potential from data assets
  • increasing the visibility and citations of research
  • improving the reproducibility and reliability of research
  • staying aligned with international standards and approaches
  • attracting new partnerships with researchers, business, policy and broader communities
  • enabling new research questions to be answered
  • using new innovative research approaches and tools
  • achieving maximum impact from research.

The example below shows what it looks like when the components of F.A.I.R. for research outputs are applied to an Australian research project comprising a thesis, paper and data set – on penguin poo in the Antarctic!










In the first webinar of our 2018 series we discussed the future of all types of FAIR in scholarly publishing. Joining the AOASG’s Ginny Barbour were Keith Russell, Partnerships Program Manager from the Australian National Data Service (ANDS) and Alex Holcombe, Associate Editor of Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science.










Not just available, but also useful: we must keep pushing to improve open access to research

This article by Virginia Barbour was originally published on 27/10/17 on The Conversation.

There is a huge appetite for science and other research – so why aren’t more academic publications truly ‘open access’?

Stephen Hawking’s PhD thesis became freely available online this week, and promptly crashed a server following massive public interest.

It’s a clear example of the public appetite for open access scientific information, and of the potential reach when articles are available.

But most of the world’s academic literature is still only legally available behind a paywall.

It’s time we brought the idea of open access publication truly to fruition: not just so more people can read research, but also to improve the application of academic work to address issues such as health inequity and poverty.

Read more: How the insights of the Large Hadron Collider are being made open to everyone

A brief history of open access

The example of Hawking’s thesis backs up what we know already from the numbers: work that is freely available is at least two to three times more likely to be read than closed access articles, and is 47% more likely to be cited in Wikipedia.

Defined simply, “open access” publications refer to work that is freely available, licensed in way that allows broad use and reuse, and which is permanently archived in a public repository or open publishing platform.

This week marks the tenth anniversary of Open Access Week, and 15 years since the Budapest Open Access initiative (one of the first definitions of open access) was launched.

In the past 15 years open access has morphed somewhat. It started as a fairly niche proposal, with small numbers of open access publishers in operation and ad hoc networks of repositories. Now it’s a truly global movement. Thousands of open access articles are freely available either through publishing in open access journals, or via the many open institutional repositories globally.

There were 32.4 million accesses of content from Australian academic research repositories in 2014. But compared with the pace of change in the online newspaper or music industry, the adoption of open access to academic research is slow. Why? A few factors come into play.

Read more: Your questions answered on open access

Commercial agendas

One fundamental problem is that universities pay vast sums of money to support academic publishing through subscriptions. Most of this goes into the bank accounts of a small number of commercial publishers who have a powerful interest in not supporting wholesale change in business models.

This handful of publishers has been systematically buying up smaller publishers and journals, creating an oligopoly. They have now moved into ways of collecting revenues for open access via article processing charges (APCs) – payment for publication once a research paper has passed peer review.

APCs are levied by many, but not all, open access publishers (including not-for-profit ones). However, the highest APCs are seen at commercial publishers especially in their journals that are not fully open access – so-called hybrid journals, where costs can be up to US$5,000 per article.

Different definitions

Different descriptors of open access can be confusing.

Research made open in a journal is referred to as “gold”, and in an institutional repository it is “green”. Work made open illegally has been called “black”. But open access is also often used as a synonym for just free access of a static version of a paper PDF, with no right to reuse.

True open access takes the form of a fully digitally interoperable article, electronically marked with rich metadata that indicates who wrote it, and with a licence that allows use and reuse. Such papers can be used in teaching, included seamlessly in other academic work, and much more – all with clear attribution and credit to the original author.

These ideas have been consolidated into the “F.A.I.R.” principles to describe research that is findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable. A statement laying out these principles for Australian research was developed last year.

Read more: Bored reading science? Let’s change how scientists write

Leadership matters

The importance of strong leadership in pushing the case for open access is evident in the Netherlands. Dutch science minister Sander Dekker has taken on open access as a cause, which has resulted in a national plan for open science.

In Australia, open access policies are predominantly repository-based at the two big funders: the Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council.

An overall national position would be immensely valuable. Positive first steps were made towards this when the Productivity Commission made a recommendation for national and states open access policies in the 2016 Inquiry into Intellectual Policy Arrangements. In August 2017 the federal government accepted this recommendation.

A vision and a pathway

Even if all the above issues were dealt with, open access will continue to advance piecemeal, unless we have a long-term clarification of what we’re aiming for and how to get there.

It’s important to note that increasing open access is not the end goal in itself. We need open access in order to fulfil other urgent priorities such as maximising collaboration, improving global health, and reducing poverty, and this is the theme of this year’s open access week.

It’s worth noting here that caution may be needed around open access to sensitive data, for example relating to patients or threatened species, or some commercial work.

An effective open access scholarly ecosystem requires a collaborative, long-term commitment to policies and infrastructure by key players. Examples of how this can take place were detailed this week by a publisher and COAR, the global repository association.

The ConversationIn 2017 it’s high time to look beyond narrow definitions of open access. Let’s focus on infrastructure planning and building for the next decade, where research outputs are available not just for reading, but also for effective application.

Virginia Barbour, Director, Australasian Open Access Strategy Group, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Open access medical content and the world’s largest encyclopedia

Authors & Wikipedians: Thomas Shafee, Diptanshu Das, James Heilman & Gwinyai Masukume

Wikipedia aims to make a free and accessible summary of all human knowledge and is therefore one of the most well known open access efforts. The cumulative efforts of its volunteer writers (Wikipedians) has resulted in it dwarfing all previous encyclopedias in scope and depth. Additional collaborations with members of the open access community are taking this further. Many of these ideas are globally relevant, however a number of initiatives exist in Australia and New Zealand. A pair of recent papers in Science and JECH make the case that there has never been a better time to help shape the world’s most-read information source.

An open access encyclopedia

A few decades ago, an encyclopedia was a luxury that few could afford. Now, all with Internet access have free access to an encyclopedia larger than could fit in most homes, if printed. Wikipedia is extensively used by the general public, as well as doctors, medical students, lawmakers, and educators.

Indeed, it’s the primary free information source in many countries, especially for biomedical content. For example, during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, the rapid updating and translation of relevant Wikipedia into more than 115 languages lead to these articles being read nearly 100 million times that year. Access to Wikipedia without data charges is also available in over 50 countries via the Wikipedia Zero project, covering more than 300 million people. The offline medical Wikipedia app and Internet-in-a-box initiatives offer greater accessibility to those with limited connectivity. With over half of the world’s population not online, and many more with only intermittent access, these efforts are critical.

Wikipedia and the open access movement strengthen each other

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, and therefore can only summarise existing knowledge. It therefore depends on citing reliable and verifiable reference sources to support its statements. Since it is editable by anyone, it is particularly important that anyone be able to cross-check the stated ‘facts’. Indeed, Wikipedia is the 6th highest referrer of DOI links (the unique hyperlinks assigned to academic articles).

However, most Wikipedia readers (and many of its writers) do not have access to paywalled articles. How then can references be checked? Some journals provide access to Wikipedians through the Wikipedia Resource Library. This allows details within paywalled sources to be duly summarised and distributed, but it’s an imperfect solution. Readers wanting to check a source or read deeper into a subject hit the wall, and images can’t be easily replicated. Wikipedia articles commonly cite open access articles, however there are often no open access alternatives to paywalled articles. Currently, there is no perfect solution for which sources to cite, but any efforts that strengthen open access benefit the encyclopedia.

What can be done to help?

Any advances in the open access movement aid Wikipedia, as well as more targeted efforts.

On an individual level, teaching people how to directly edit Wikipedia enables them to get involved on the ground-level. There are widespread Australian examples, including universities, conferences, libraries, and  societies across the country. Similar events in New Zealand have been hosted by Royal Society Te Apārangi and Whanganui museum. The editing interface has been updated to be as easy to use as a Word document. People may contribute for a specific event (an edit-a-thon), or become regular contributors. The writer community organises itself into groups  called ‘WikiProjects’ with shared topic interests. Efforts include adding or improving text, copy-editing, reviewing new edits, and adding images or other media.

Encouraging professional bodies to formally recognise Wikipedia editing as a service to the academic community and wider world will help legitimize it as a worthwhile use of time by busy professionals. Greater involvement by subject experts can improve Wikipedia’s quality. As yet, no Australian or New Zealand funding body formally recognises Wikipedia editing for grant or fellowship applications.

We also strongly support the expansion of dual-publishing of peer reviewed articles by academic journals (e.g. by PLOS, Gene, and Wiki.J.Med). This process creates a citable ‘version of record’ in the journal (providing academic credit for the authors) and the content is then used to create or overhaul the relevant Wikipedia pages. Through Wikipedia, health professionals can massively impact public health literacy (even obscure Wikipedia pages usually get hundreds or thousands of views per day). Academics similarly gain a public impact that is matched by few other platforms. In return, the encyclopedia benefits from the accurate and expert-reviewed information and the journal gains greater exposure.

Larger groups and organisations can also be mobilised to contribute to Wikipedia as an open access outlet. For example, Blausen Medical and Osmosis.org have contributed galleries of open access images and videos, which are used to illustrate the encyclopedia. Institutions such as the Cochrane, Cancer research UK, and Consumer Reports have teamed up with experienced Wikipedians and trained their members to add information and references to relevant Wikipedia articles. Journals can also be encouraged to release their back-catalogues under open access licenses, unlocking vital sources. Studies at Australia’s Monash University also recommended integrating Wikipedia editing into university courses, and several universities, such as the University of Sydney, do just this.  Even database services can integrate their data into Wikipedia’s structured knowledge database, WikiData (e.g. on genes and RNA families).

By Marcos Vinicius de Paulo (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

The big picture

Although the recent articles in Science and JECH focused on the biomedical field, these are examples of a much wider phenomenon. For instance, there have been several ongoing collaborations between Galleries, Libraries and Museums around the world to add their knowledge to Wikipedia under open access licenses.

Wikipedia also has the potential to be a knowledge access platform for the 4 billion people who are not currently online. Its open license allows people to translate, build upon, and distribute its content in new and innovative ways with no requirements beyond attribution and releasing what they create under a similar license.

Wikipedia and the open access movement are already intertwined. Open access publishing provides information needed for growing, improving and updating Wikipedia. Meanwhile, Wikipedians search, summarise and combine that vast sea of information into free articles. Each benefits from the strengths of the other, and can be helped by specific collaboration efforts.

The Wikimedia Foundation, the organisation that hosts Wikipedia, is currently formulating its strategy through to 2030 and has identified collaboration with the wider knowledge ecosystem as one of its key themes.


Shafee, Thomas; Masukume, Gwinyai; Kipersztok, Lisa; Das, Diptanshu; Häggström, Mikael; Heilman, James (2017-10-29). “The evolution of Wikipedia’s medical content: past, present and future”. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 71 (10). doi:10.1136/jech-2016-208601.

Shafee, Thomas; Mietchen, Daniel; Su, Andrew I. (2017-08-11). “Academics can help shape Wikipedia”. Science. 357 (6351): 557–558. doi:10.1126/science.aao0462.

Lead image (white books):   Michael Mandiberg (CC BY-SA 4.0), via Wikimedia Commons

This work is licensed by AOASG under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Competing interests:

All authors have contributed to Wikipedia articles, are current participants in WikiProject Medicine, and are on the editorial board of WikiJournal of Medicine. Thomas Shafee is on the editorial board of PLOS Genetics. James Heilman is a former and current member of the Wikimedia Foundation board of trustees. The authors do not receive financial compensation for their contributions to these projects.

Follow the authors on Twitter:

Gwinyai Masukume
James Heilman
Diptanshu Das

Tuwhera whakaahua: can indigenous perspectives help to transform scholarly communication?

Luqman Hayes, Scholarly Communications Team Leader, Auckland University of Technology

Luqman Hayes

The scholarly communication/open access discourse is not short on voices, which makes writing anything on the topic a somewhat fraught exercise.

It seems at times as though no amount of strong argument, lobbying and initiative is able to shift the discussion to a more transformative position offering viable, sustainable alternatives in the face of the status quo.

So why add another voice? Especially if it is to tell the story of setting up an open access journal publishing service at a university. This is not new, right? But what if the process of doing so revealed another way of considering the concept of open access?

Horopaki (context)

In October 2016 Auckland University of Technology (AUT) launched its journal hosting service with two peer-reviewed titles edited by AUT academics. The decision to do so had been in response to calls from academics within the University to provide such a hosting. Those calls led to a feasibility study by the Library in 2014, some University funds and a project which set out with fairly modest objectives and a narrow focus (You can read the full story here.)

Tuwhera (opening up)

Perhaps it was the thinking around the naming of the platform which enabled the aperture of those aims to broaden. Tuwhera is a te reo Māori word which can be translated as a stative verb (be open) or the modified noun forms (open, opening up). In choosing a Māori word for our service we wanted to acknowledge the Treaty of Waitangi as well as to consider that the work we do and the way in which we do it can have a bicultural aspect to it.

Mindful of tokenism, we consulted with Māori members of academic staff at AUT around the naming of the service and when we launched, we did so with significant Māori elements or tikanga, as part of the ceremony, such as waiata (song) and karakia (blessing or prayer) to celebrate and bless Tuwhera.

The launch was held around the time of Open Access Week in 2016 when events and conversations taking place catalysed some of those wider possibilities: using Tuwhera for lay summaries of new and ongoing research or for launching entirely new publications to expose scholarship unique to the Pacific region not being disseminated elsewhere.

The definition of what we understood Tuwhera to be evolved. Our criteria for selecting journals was fast becoming outdated and we were presented with the opportunity of reconfiguring the platform so as to incubate new publications and offer new and non-traditional publishing opportunities to emerging and early career researchers alongside their more established peers. Tuwhera was taking on a kind of whānau (family) role, being a support and a guide and providing a home. An open home, if you will.

Akoranga (learnings)

It seemed as though there were lessons here from the Māori concepts underpinning our work, an insight which was echoed elsewhere, such as by Mal Booth in a blog post on ‘Revolutionising Scholarly Publishing’ in which he made similar observations about learning from indigenous approaches to sharing knowledge.

Such concepts in the context of Aotearoa might include Mātauranga Maori (Māori knowledge) – a complex and “open” system of knowing the world passed on through the layering of stories, wisdom and narratives and expressed via elements such as whakapapa (genealogy), kōrero (discussion), waiata (song) and whakatauki (proverbs).

Further evidence of how looking to indigenous worldviews might influence the scholarly communication environment can be found in Chris Cormack’s 2015 talk at Open Source Open Society on the application of Marae-based consensus building in developing free software as part of creating a commons-based future. Cormack cites several of the underlying principles of the marae (or Māori meeting house) and refers to a range of whakatauki which may usefully guide us away from the perspective of knowledge as residing with the individual.

Whakaahua (transformation)

As a team we have sought to bring shared values into the way in which we work, such as the African term Ubuntu (a person is a person through other people) which has similarities to the Maori concept of mana tangata- to be a person is not to stand alone but to be one with one’s people.

Might such a philosophical reassessment of the largely meritocratic, individualistic values and motivations which currently drive academic output help to shape a sustainable, culturally relevant, holistic and communitarian scholarly communication landscape?

The answer may be all of ours to discover, as the whakatauki states:

Nā tō rourou, nā taku rourou ka ora ai te iwi
With your food basket and my food basket the people will thrive

You can hear more about Tuwhera and the influence of te Ao Maori (Maori worldview) on our work by listening to my webinar presentation from 15th August 2017.

“Is copyright an immovable barrier? Taking up Poynder’s call for strategic thinking in the OA Movement”

Mandy Henk, (Public Lead, Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand) and Nerida Quatermass (Project Manager, Creative Commons Australia at QUT) explain the background to their webinar on copyright, licensing and open access.


Mandy Henk


Nerida Quatermass

In February of this year Open Access scholar Richard Poynder, wrote an article calling out Open Access advocates for failing to appreciate the importance of copyright; for not “offer[ing] an effective strategy for achieving open access”; and, in doing so, “playing into the hands of legacy publishers.”

Is this a fair critique? And if so, how can we, as a movement, rethink and redevelop so that we are addressing the failures of strategy Poynder identifies.

Is his claim that we have failed to “win the hearts and minds of most researchers” true?

And if it is, is copyright really subverting our cause–or is it just one of many challenges that the movement faces?

All movements benefit from critiques–the jibs and jabs that help us to hone our thinking and revise our strategy.  Richard Poynder has long served the Open Access movement as such a critic and his most recent article offers considerable food for thought on how we have approached some of the stickiest barriers the movement faces.

The core of his argument is that copyright itself, and the failure of Open Access advocates to fully realise its importance, is an “immovable barrier” to achieving open access. He musters a range of arguments and a case study to support this claim–but he brings precious little data to the table.  That said his arguments do have a certain ring of truth to them.  Certainly we haven’t won as many hearts and minds as we need.  Certainly, the mess that is hybrid open access, APC fees, and double-dipping makes many of us cringe with frustration.  After over 15 years of effort, library budget problems continue, legacy publishers are as powerful as ever, and the strong Western bias of our scholarly record continues.

But his claim that the root of these failures is found in copyright law seems a bit too glib. Yes, CC-BY has not been a panacea. Yes, publishers are still insisting on de facto exclusive control, even when articles are being published under an open access model.  But Poynder himself identifies a range of other challenges as well– the association of open access with increased administrative control; researchers’ continued focus on impact factor and prestige; preservation in the digital environment.  It seems hard to square these challenges with the argument that the real problem is copyright.

But that doesn’t invalidate his critique of the effectiveness of our strategy.

If anything, it strengthens the idea that we need a fresh approach, that we need to face the challenge of strategy, of developing an effective and executable plan to realise our vision.

Green or Gold? Open or Hybrid? Funder mandated or researcher controlled?  A movement divided against itself cannot stand. Perhaps this too highlights that we haven’t really settled on a shared vision for the scholarly communications system. Perhaps what is really needed is a new mode of analysis, a new way of looking at the problem.

Systems thinking offers a fresh approach–one that can help us to develop broader analyses and perhaps suggest new strategies and tactics, while helping us to identify downsides in our current approaches. What would a systems based model of the scholarly communications system look like? How could we go about directing our movement, diverse and dispersed, to undertake such an analysis? And how should we as advocates work together to take these analyses and turn them into effective action?

Open Access has been a long journey for many of us and maybe it’s time to step back, listen to our critics, and rethink our approach for the next 15 years.

Join Mandy Henk, (Public Lead, Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand) and Nerida Quatermass (Project Manager, Creative Commons Australia at QUT) today at 3:00 pm (NZ time), 1:00 pm AEST and 11:00 am AWST  for a discussion that encourages participants to think about the Open Access movement and strategy development at a whole-system level.



Fair Open Access Principles for journals

By Mark Wilson & Alex Holcombe

That scholarly communication should be “Fair” is an increasingly common concept  for both data and research outputs more widely, including the F.A.I.R. framework which articulates a set of specific principles to enhance the discoverability, use and impact of Australia’s research outputs.

Here, Mark Wilson & Alex Holcombe describe another specific use of Fair: the Fair Open Access Principles for journals.

In March 2017 a group of researchers and librarians interested in journal reform formalized the Fair Open Access Principles.

The basic principles are:

  1. The journal has a transparent ownership structure, and is controlled by and responsive to the scholarly community.
  2. Authors of articles in the journal retain copyright.
  3. All articles are published open access and an explicit open access licence is used.
  4. Submission and publication is not conditional in any way on the payment of a fee from the author or its employing institution, or on membership of an institution or society.
  5. Any fees paid on behalf of the journal to publishers are low, transparent, and in proportion to the work carried out.

Detailed clarification and interpretation of the principles is provided at the site.

Here, instead, we put these principles into context and explain the mFAIRoaPrinciplesotivation behind them.

Our basic thesis is that the current situation in which commercial publishers own the title to journals is untenable. Many existing journals were begun by scholars but subsequently acquired by Elsevier, Springer, Wiley, Taylor & Francis and other commercial publishers. These publishers now have a strong incentive to oppose any reform of the journal that would benefit the community of authors, editors and readers but not help the short-term interests of its own shareholders. We have seen several examples of this in recent years the Wikipedia entry for Elsevier, for example, collects many examples of malfeasance.

The evidence is now overwhelming that the interests of large commercial publishers are not well aligned with the interests of the research community or the general public. Thus Principle 1 is key. Changing a journal to open access but allowing it to be bought easily by Elsevier, for example, would be a pointless exercise. We must decouple ownership of journals from publication services. This will allow editorial boards to shop around for publishers, who must compete on price and service quality rather than exploit a monopolistic position. In other words, a functioning market will arise. Also, journals will have more chance to innovate by not being locked into inflexible and outdated infrastructure.

Principle 2 (authors retaining copyright) seems obvious. Large publishers have claimed that having authors assign them copyright to articles protects the authors. We know of no case where this has happened. However, publishers have prevented authors from reusing their own work!

Open access is of course the main goal and thus the associated principle (Principle 3) needs little explanation. Some authors appear to believe that posting occasional preprints/postprints on their own website is as good as true open access. This is not the case – some of the reasons are licence issues, confusion about the version of record, lack of machine readability, inconsistent searchability, and unreliable archiving.

APCs (Article Processing Charges) are a common feature of open access journals and a main source of income, particularly for “predatory” journals whose sole function is to make money for unscrupulous owners. Large commercial publishers have responded to pressure by offering OA if an APC is paid. These APCs are typically well over US$1000. The fact that over 60% of journals in DOAJ do not charge any APC, and the low APCs of some high quality newer full service publishers (such as Ubiquity Press) shows that there is much room for improvement. In many fields there is considerable resistance to authors paying APCs directly. For example in a recent survey of mathematicians that we undertook, published in the European Mathematical Society Newsletter,
about a quarter of respondents declared APCs unacceptable in principle and another quarter said they should be paid by library consortia. We do not deny that there are costs associated with OA publishing, and are not advocating every journal run using self-hosted OJS and volunteer time (although there are many successful and long-lived journals of that type, like Journal of Machine Learning Research or Electronic Journal of Combinatorics, and we feel it still has untapped potential). We aim to ensure that unnecessary barriers are not erected for authors, in particular fees – Principle 4. Any payments on behalf of authors should be made in an automatic way – the idea is for consortia of institutions to fund reasonable operating costs of OA journals directly.

Principle 5 (reasonable and transparent costs) will automatically hold if the journal is sufficiently well run and independent as described by Principle 1, and is included in order to reinforce the point that a competitive market is our main goal rather than wasting public money to maintain the current profits of publishers. Recently, initiatives such as OA2020 have emphasized large-scale conversion of subscription journals to OA. We believe that if the ownership of the journals isn’t simultaneously changed, there will remain little incentive for publishers to keep prices down. If a researcher believes that a paper in Nature will make her career, will she be denied this by the APC-paying agency if Nature choose to charge a premium APC? In addition, if journal ownership is not taken from the publishers, they can lock us into their existing technologies, which hinders innovation in scholarly communication.

We are presently working on disciplinary organizations aimed at helping journals flip from a subscription model to Fair OA, and have so far started LingOA,  MathOA and PsyOA. We plan a Fair Open Access Alliance which will include independent journals already practising FairOA principles, flipped journals, and other institutional members with a strong belief in FairOA. The idea is to share resources and harmonize journal practices. We hope that these activities will yield a way forward that avoids sterile debates about Green vs Gold OA. We welcome feedback and offers of help in our wider effort to convert the entire scholarly literature to Fair Open Access.

Mark C. Wilson is Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at University of Auckland, and founding member of MathOA Foundation.

Alex O. Holcombe is an Associate Professor of Psychology at The University of Sydney and is a founding member of PsyOA (PsyOA.org).

In their own words: academics talk about open access


Richard White. Portrait in green’ by Catriona McKillop, used with permission.

By Richard White –  Manager, Copyright & Open Access Vice-Chancellor’s OfficeUniversity of Otago.

Many of you reading this post will – like me – be dedicated advocates for open access to research.  To us the benefits are plain and it can be frustrating that we still, after fifteen or more years of OA as a movement, hear comments like:

“I have been told by my [head of department] that publishing in OA has less status because you are paying to get published – I am not sure that this is true but it seems to be a prevalent idea.”
This is an actual response from an early-career academic to a survey on OA publishing we conducted at my own institution, the University of Otago.  It’s a particularly illustrative comment: the eager youngster finding his or her way as a researcher goes to the senior colleague for advice, who with a sweeping generalisation writes off OA as a legitimate option; the respondent seems to want to believe that making his or her research as findable and readable as possible is A Good Thing but demurs to the head of department’s opinion, and the myth that OA journals have some sort of monopoly  on poor quality is continued.


OK, I’m over-dramatising this for effect but at Otago we knew that, although this comment describes the prevalence of this attitude, many of our staff were publishing in open access avenues and that many were extremely well-informed about OA, hence undertaking the survey.  While we could read the plethora of research now available on researchers’ attitudes to open access, this commonly presents a Euro- or US-centric view.  Here, at the bottom of the world, we are operating in an entirely different political and organisational context so a survey seemed a good means of not only understanding our researchers’ attitudes towards and practices in OA publishing but also of facilitating a more informed debate about our institutional policies and practices.


What did we learn?  On the face of it, our results mirrored those of surveys carried out in other places and on different scales.  Otago researchers believe that Research articles should be freely available to all, with 86% agreeing or strongly agreeing with this statement and several comments of this nature being made:


“If research is publicly funded, then the results should be accessible to the public without cost/delay/other barriers.”


“We research in areas of health equity and indigenous health. Open Access publishing is a way of reducing the inequity in access to research for marginalised populations.”


Almost exactly the same proportion said that Obtaining funding to publish OA is a barrier that prevents adoption, with 84% agreeing/strongly agreeing.


“Open access publishing is a good thing and some of the journals are very good. But, the cost is an enormous barrier which we have no answers to at a Dept level.”


“Good ‘non-funded’ work gets blocked unless a cake stall is held!”


Several respondents explicitly acknowledged the difficulties of these divergent factors:


“I’m undecided on whether I should pay for my work to be published.  I support OA, in principle I do not support publishers profiting from the products of publicly funded bodies.  There are inappropriate drivers to publications for academics and these undermine the academic mission.”


This bifurcation is pretty typical, as was the fact that respondents indicated heavy use of academic social networking sites for sharing their research (64% using such services) and limited use of our own institutional research repository or other Green OA options (only 12% having practised some form of Green OA in the previous two years).


What was more instructive was the level of engagement with OA.  82% indicated that they provided peer-review or editorial services to ‘traditional’ journals but as many as half said they did so for OA journals.  Moreover, almost half had published at least one Gold OA article in the previous two years, with about one-fifth of all Gold OA articles being published without cost.  And there was clear evidence of the chilling effect of fees – or the perception that OA must cost money – on publishing choices, with almost one-third of those who hadn’t published any Gold OA articles indicating that they chose not to because it was “unaffordable” for various reasons.


“Too expensive.  I publish about 2-3 articles per year on open access and that’s all I can afford.”


“In my field many of the journals with the highest impact factor are open access so I would very much like to publish in them but the university won’t pay for the article charges.”


All this is a reminder that it’s easy to lose sight of what the average researcher thinks about open access, informed as it will be by their own experiences and the OA climate within their own discipline and even their own department.  We need to keep plugging away to dispel myths surrounding open access, informing and educating people about the benefits so that they can make informed decisions about their publications.  And perhaps most importantly these sorts of comments remind us that we need to build the infrastructure of openness around academics to make it easier for them to be open than not.


This survey was the topic of discussion at AOASG’s webinar on 8th May, 2017.


Visit our project page on Figshare to read the full report on the findings of our survey – including a vast number of comments like the above – or to download the survey questions and/or results data.


You can even take the survey yourself if you’re interested in the tool we developed.  Everything is licenced with Creative Commons for reuse, of course.


Not the Beall and end-all*

Assessing quality publications from multiple perspectives

By Dr Andy Pleffer & Susan Shrubb

MQ Lib_Bamboo garden_SS

image by Susan Shrubb CC BY

In the wake of the Scholarly Open Access blog shutting down (January 15, 2017), many commentators have focused on its author Jeffrey Beall and the now defunct blacklists he once maintained on ‘predatory’ publishers and journals, ‘misleading’ metrics and ‘hi-jacked’ journals. Adding to the mystery, Beall’s typically active Twitter account was recently dormant for over two months, with until recently the only public statement on the matter being supplied by his employer, the University of Colorado. Beall now says that “there was pressure from my university to stop”.

Regardless of whether you considered his work divisive, an essential service to the academic community, or somewhere in between, these opinions are beside the point. No single person or source is equipped to bear the responsibility of being the ultimate authority on what constitutes as a best (or poor) practice scholarly publishing outlet. And nor should we – as a community of academic researchers and support staff – be so willing to bestow such authority on individuals, lists, metrics or indexing databases alone. Outlets need to be assessed in the context of many measures of quality and this will always require some level of additional work.

Assessing reputable places to publish is a shared responsibility; one that should (ideally) be dispersed among academic authors and their institution(s). Those who have a stake in such assessment may include – but by no means be limited to – researchers and trusted colleagues, students and supervisors, research administrators and research librarians.

Beall’s work has most certainly shone a light on some of the most deceptive publishing practices to take place in recent years. However, his work is only a small part of the landscape. Positive attributes of scholarly publishers cannot be adequately identified through examples of negative behaviour alone, nor can they be determined in isolation from any positive measures of quality. Comprehensive decisions on quality can only be achieved when authors are widely informed. Therefore, in order to obtain a sense of the bigger picture, we must first ‘zoom out’ by consulting a broad range of sources – just as you would when investigating any research topic.

There is a wealth of reputable resources to be drawn on when critiquing suitable publishing outlets for your scholarly research. Many such resources have been established for some time (e.g. DOAJ, Ulrich’s, Scimago and SHERPA/RoMEO), while other credible initiatives continue to emerge (e.g. Think Check Submit). The usefulness of each of these for your own situation may vary depending on your motives for publishing, your research topic and any time constraints or pressures. What is of greater importance though is the series of questions we ask alongside the collective information that can be gathered on a publication outlet.

Is the scope of the outlet clearly defined on its official website? Does the outlet transparently list an editorial board (with institutional affiliations) comprising recognised experts from relevant fields? Are the peer review, copyright and Article Processing Charge (APC) policies easy to find and understand?

While Beall’s sudden departure from this discourse has been met with some suggestions for others to fill the void and take up his mantle, this again misses the point. The time is ripe for the academic community to encourage users of his blacklists – or, for that matter, users of any other list attempting to rank or articulate quality outlets – to actively adopt a broader suite of indicators and thereby build a stronger evidence base with which to make informed decisions on where to publish.

This approach has been the central to Macquarie University’s Strategic Publishing statement: a wise publishing strategy is supported by informed decisions about an outlet prior to publication. When you have invested many months or years thoroughly researching and writing your scholarly work, make sure you also take the time to ask and investigate some basic questions about a publishing outlet’s operations.

Regardless of whether we, as a community, support retiring the term “predatory publishing” or opt to replace it with another phrase altogether, we must agree to focus less on what constitutes poor (or ‘parasitic’) practices and instead facilitate a shared commitment to continuous learning, sharing knowledge among colleagues and educating each other about how to navigate the current publishing landscape together.

Dr Andy Pleffer (a research administrator) and Susan Shrubb (research librarian and budding photographer) lead the Strategic Publishing initiative at Macquarie University, Sydney.

Macquarie University is a member of AOASG.

*Thanks to Emma Lawler for inspiration behind the title.

Webinar recording & slides now available here

Measuring the openness of research

by David M. Nichols & Michael B. Twidale

NOTE:  This blog was the basis of webinar #3 in the AOASG’s 2017 Webinar series.  You can listen here to the webinar which was presented on 20th June, and see the slides here. 

As academics we are measured in many different ways, in particular our research is often characterised through the venues in which we publish and the citations to our works. Roger Burrows observes that when the value of academics is quantified, represented and framed through metrics then our “academic values” are likewise transformed. Stacy Konkiel comments that “most institutions simply measure what can be easily counted, rather than using carefully chosen data to measure their progress towards embodying important scholarly values.”


Photo: Sean MacEntee CC by 2.0

As researchers wanting to advocate for open access, we decided to explore openness from the perspective of designing a metric. Doing this made us realize that metric design is a socio-technical problem, involving considering what is easy to count, what is important to count—and what to do when these are different. A further consideration is the strange issue that a real-world metric can affect what it tries to measure. If people know you are measuring them them may change what they do. If it is a score and they are competitive they may try to increase that score. Normally this is an annoying problem for social scientists: but as social engineers we want to embrace this feature. We definitely do want to design metrics whose very existence makes people want to change their score by increasing access to information. Fortunately for this aim, we suspect that many academics are rather competitive and even the mere mention of a new metric starts some people thinking about their personal score, that of their peers and what they might do to improve their score.

In order to regard openness itself as a valued quality we need metrics that directly reflect the accessibility of all the diverse aspects of scholarly communication. In Getting our hands dirty: why academics should design metrics and address the lack of transparency Chris Elsden, Sebastian Mellor and Rob Comber argue that academics should “complement critiques of metrics with getting our hands dirty in reflectively and critically designing metrics.” We have attempted to create an alternative list of openness-oriented metrics in our paper Metrics for Openness.

In addition to directly expressing the proportion of works that are open (as ImpactStory now does) we suggest it is important to consider the nature of the online location: is the work on a personal web site or in a managed repository? Explicit metrics around such practical facets of openness can serve to validate and recognise the, often invisible, practical work of making outputs freely available.

A corollary of work behind paywalls is that there is cost for access. We suggest these costs can be personalised in the same manner as an h-index: how much does it cost for someone to access all your work? As with h-indices, such metrics can be directed at different sets of outputs; from individuals to institutions to countries. We hypothesise an avid reader who wishes to access all the non-open outputs of an institution. What would this reader have to pay to read all the 2016 outputs of a university? And how does that cost align with the often lofty vision of the institution to spread knowledge to the world?

The nature of scholarly outputs has changed and it is now widely recognised that supporting information such as data and code are important for interpretation and reproducibility. Consequently, these output types also need openness metrics and we extend our previous work to represent these facets of scholarly communication. Additional interpretations of openness are also amenable to the same approach.

We close by quoting part of the conclusion from the paper:

The simple act of measuring current practice can be a powerful incentive to alter that practice: we suggest authors could start with calculating their own Practical Openness Index. Where that measurement is impeded by a lack of metadata an explicit statement of potential benefits can support moves to enhance metadata provision.

A further benefit to quantifying concepts relating to the openness of published research is to provide a basis for management and policy decision-making. The frequently repeated maxim; that to control something you must first measure it, applies here. We might add that measurement also has a publicity component: one way to raise the profile of an issue is simply to measure it: what gets measured gets noticed. Indeed, it may well be that what gets measured gets to frame the argument. From an open access advocacy perspective, we suggest that it should be just as common for authors to publicise their Openness Indices as it is to publicise their h-index.

As part of the writing of the paper we subjected our own CVs to an openness-centric analysis and we can report that even this simple action creates an incentive to improve. Why not try them on your own works?

Nichols, D.M. and Twidale, M.B. (2016) Metrics for openness. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology. https://doi.org/10.1002/asi.23741

Accepted repository version.


David M. Nichols    Department of Computer Science, University of Waikato, New Zealand

Michael B. Twidale School of Information Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA

No competing interests declared.