Sunday, January 29, 2006

Trends in refereed journals / open and toll access

Data on scholarly, peer-reviewed journals from three sources is presented and analyzed. Ulrich's reports 1,253 scholarly, peer-reviewed open access journals, about 5% of the journals in this category. The number of new journal start-ups recorded in Ulrich's since 2001 appears to be fairly steady since 2001, both for all scholarly, peer-reviewed journals, and for open access scholarly peer-reviewed journals. The largest number of open access peer-reviewed journal start-ups recorded was in 2004, the last year for which data is likely complete, with a total of 99. DOAJ includes a total of 2,009 open access journals as of today. One possible source of the discrepancy in numbers could be an english-language bias in Ulrich's; of the academic journals listed in Ulrich's, almost 90% are in the english language, while DOAJ appears to represent a much broader linguistic spectrum.

Both DOAJ and Ulrich's list considerably fewer open access journals than are found in Jan Sczcepanski's list, over 4,700 journals as of December 2005. There are several possible reasons for this. One is that many academic journals are not necessarily peer-reviewed; for example, only about 40% of the journals listed as academic / scholarly in Ulrich's are peer-reviewed. If we assume that 40% of the journals in Jan Szczepanski's list are peer-reviewed, the total would be 1,880 - very close to the DOAJ figure of 2,009.

There are reasons to think that all available figures for open access journals are underestimates. Jan Sczcepanski's, the longest list available, for example, focuses on social sciences, humanities, and math; it is also primarily the work of one individual working on a volunteer basis, albeit with assistance with others around the world. DOAJ and Ulrich's figures both depend on discovery, and a vetting process. With freely available open source publishing software readily available, it is quite easy for anyone to set up a peer-reviewed journal. Independent start-ups are quite likely not to be immediately noticed by listing services, particularly ones in languages not understood by staff at listing services. For example, staff at a listing service with an english background and some knowledge of European languages might not be able to identify a chinese-only open access journal, even after discovery.

Data from Ulrich's Periodicals Directory (subscription access)

Ulrich's includes a total of 56,777 academic / scholarly journals. Of these, 24,340, or a little over 40%, are identified as refereed, or peer-reviewed journals. Of these, 21,463, or nearly 90%, are in the english language. 1,253 (about 5%) are open access (I haven't found Ulrich's definition of open access).

Academic / scholarly, refereed journals by start year:

2001: 360
2002: 324
2003: 297
2004: 340
2005: 248*

Open Access:
2001: 98
2002: 90
2003: 68
2004: 99
2005: 64*

* It is likely that data from 2005 is incomplete, due to the time required for discovery and reporting of new journals. It would be premature to decide that the number of new journals had decreased in 2005.

Directory of Open Access Journals
2,009 journals, all fully open access, academic / scholarly and peer-reviewed. DOAJ does not provide any easy means of searching by journal. There does not appear to be any easy means of searching by language either, however, several quick random searches easily demonstrate the broad linguistic spectrum of DOAJ. For example, looking in the alphabetical index under "K", the languages of the first 10 journals listed are english, japanese, portuguese/spanish/english, german/french/english, croatian, and english/french. In other words, about half the journals include non-english language content. Similar results are found by scanning for the subject "history" in the middle of the list of 75 titles, or by scanning the bottom of the title list starting with "S".

Jan Sczcepanski's list: 4,705 titles (humanities, social sciences and math open access journals) as of Dec. 2005.

This post reflects my personal opinion only and does not represent the opinions or policy of the BC Electronic Library Network or the Simon Fraser University Library.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Value of Style

One of the components, and hence one of the cost elements, of the scholarly communications process is style. There are elements that make up style. Today, I would like to talk about two of these elements, quality of writing and journal style, and inquire whether these elements could benefit from some fresh thinking in today's environment. Are they truly desirable, necessary, and worth every penny? If so, is the current approach optimal, or could there be new ways that might make more sense? Or, are there times when the expenditure is not only unnecessary, but undesirable and counterproductive?

Quality of Writing
At surface, it may appear obvious that quality of writing is extremely important, and a very valuable service provided by publishers. I have no doubt that this is generally correct. The work of even the best authors can be improved with high-quality editing.

Here is a thought, however, from personal experience: my own work has benefited quite a bit from the assistance of editors. However, with rare exceptions, these people have not been my publishers, but rather people like my professors, colleagues I consulted with before sending in work for publication, supervisors, co-workers and listserv moderators. Some of these people may have commented on other writing - listserv pieces, business writing, etc., moreso than works for formal publication - but nevertheless, their explanations of what I needed to do to make my written ideas more understandable for people helped me to write works for publication, too.

One way of looking at this, is that my work is peer-reviewed before it is even submitted for publication. I am not the only person who does this; as a peer-reviewer, I have seen one person whose pre-submission consultation was even broader than mine. The only comment I had on the writing on this piece was: wow! It was great!

As we transition to a production-based economic model for scholarly communication, perhaps this is a good time to rethink this element. Some things to think about:

If funding agencies, libraries or universities are paying for publication on a per-article processing fee charge - does it make sense that the work of the author submitted in a near-perfect form should incur the same fees as that of an author that might need a good deal more work?

For the authors whose work does indeed need this kind of help: does it make more sense for the university to pay a publisher for this kind of assistance, or are there advantages to providing one's faculty with this kind of help at the university itself? For example, if a university has a communications department that helps with wording of grant applications and public relations, would it make more sense to add a bit of staff here to have some help with wording and formatting for formal publication, too? There could be opportunities for synergies and cost efficiencies here - for example, if one person were assigned to help with the grant application, help with the writing for formal publication, then they would have in-depth knowledge to bring to public relations promotion of the completed research. This might be a good position for a graduate of the university - somone with writing and disciplinary experience, who already knows the faculty and the university.

Another approach, which might be particularly suitable for today's large, interdisciplinary, collaborative research project - why not have a communications specialist as part of the team?

Yet another approach - if a university is working on providing writing support for students (to help them learn to be good writers) - why not provide the same support to faculty, too?

Journal Style
Academic journals edit not only for quality of writing, but for consistency of style.
I have mixed feelings about consistency of style - perhaps because I am both a writer and an editor. As a writer, I care a very great deal about style - MY style, that is, not any journal's!

When people look at collections of my work, such as Poetic Economics, Heather's E-LIS, or Heather's SFU D-Space - I would indeed like them to see consistency of style. If my works are edited to be consistent with the styles of a variety of journals - this creates inconsistency in the collection that is more important to me.

Another way to look at this: time spent tweaking my work to make it consistent with the style of a particular journal is is not only a waste of time, it is counterproductive to a goal that I consider important. If the funding for this portion of the work were coming from a budget I had some say in, and the work was optional, I would choose not to have it done. Even if the service was complimentary, that would still be my choice.

Universities, departments, disciplines, and funding agencies, once they begin to look at their own collections in institutional and subject repositories, may have their own thoughts on consistency, too. Their views on the subject could be quite different from both the traditional journal's, and the author's view. This could make for some interesting discussions a few years hence.

This post reflects my personal opinion only and does not represent the opinions or policy of the BC Electronic Library Network or the Simon Fraser University Library.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Peter Suber on Unauthorized Translations

Here is Peter Suber's view on unauthorized translations: from an e-mail, posted with permission:

Less than a month after I posted my Very Brief Introduction to Open Access online, I encountered the first translation. No one asked my permission. But I was delighted and said so on my blog:

INIST-CNRS has produced a French translation of my Very Brief Introduction to Open Access. (PS: This is a great example of what can happen when OA removes permission barriers. INIST-CNRS didn't ask for "translation rights" and didn't have to. I pre-authorized this and other scholarly uses of the text by making it OA. I'm delighted and welcome other translations.)

As soon as I publicized my delight, I started hearing about other translations, none of them with prior permission. The introduction now been translated into 14 languages, vastly increasing its audience and usefulness, and all without the delay or hassle of seeking permission. I link to the translations at the bottom of the English edition.

I know that authors of non-OA work, esp. royalty-producing work, might resent this and require permission and royalties. They're differently situated and I support their desire to control translations. (My latest book is now being translated into Chinese, with permissions and royalties carefully negotiated by my publisher, and I'm happy with the whole arrangement.) But authors of OA work should encourage and celebrate spontaneous, OA translations.

[HM: I, too, was delighted to see these translations of A Very Brief Introduction to Open Access - which came so soon after the work itself! For any OA advocate looking for a one-page handout explaining OA for that presentation - I highly recommend this work - now in 14 languages! As for Peter's book that is being translated into Chinese - could this be The Case of the Speluncean Explorers: Nine New Opinions? What an intriguing title!

This post reflects my personal opinion only and does not represent the opinions or policy of the BC Electronic Library Network or the Simon Fraser University Library.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Unauthorized translations: differing views on intellectual property

Imagine that you are an academic author, who writes articles and publishes them without expectation of payment. Imagine finding out that someone has translated one of your articles, published a copy, and self-archived for open access a copy of the translation. This actually happened to someone I know, recently.

What would you think about this? How would you feel?

You might think that they should have asked your permission to translate your article. But then again - can you be sure that they didn't? Is it possible they read your language well enough to translate, but don't speak it as well? Could someone have approached you at a conference in the past, told you they loved your article, and would like to share it with colleagues in their country? Could you have said something someone else interpreted as permission to translate, without realizing it?

Or is it possible that this situation came about because different peoples have different ways of understanding intellectual property? What is obviously mine in my society might be obviously ours in a Latin or Native American culture. This is a foreign concept to people from my culture - the idea that everything belongs to everyone. It certainly is a foreign one to me - but a pleasant one, an idea that grows on me the more I think of it.

As for my work, anything on Poetic Economics can be translated by anyone, without asking permission. This is part of what is meant by the Attribution - Noncommercial - Share Alike Creative Commons License. If anyone ever does translate my work, I would very much like to hear about it - to place a link on Poetic Economics for the benefit of anyone else who speaks that language, too.

This post reflects my personal opinion only and does not represent the opinions or policy of the BC Electronic Library Network or the Simon Fraser University Library.