Sunday, May 21, 2006

The financial folly of pay-per-view, for the funder


Some of the best arguments for open access, can be found by simply looking at the alternatives, such as pay-per-view. It is hypothesized that the costs to a funding agency of reviewing the previous work of a grant applicant, following the pay-per-view model, could quite easily average $12,000 US per grant application, or more. This makes the payment of a very modest fee, such as the PLoS $1,500 US per article, for top-notch open access publishing for access to everyone, everywhere - not only a good idea, but an incredible bargain, too. Reviewing the works of the self-archiving author provides significant benefits in terms of both costs and time for the funding agency, that perhaps it makes sense for the funder to prioritize or expedite such applications. It is hypothesized that even without conscious intent, expediting of grant applications by self-archiving authors may be a natural phenomenon, due to the time savings and simplicity of review of previous work.


Let's look at pay-per-views, or purchase of article on a one-at-at-time basis, from the point of view of the research funding agency.

An application for a research grant is received. The application is reviewed by a committee. (As an aside - publishers sometimes think the funding agencies don't properly appreciate peer review. Nothing could be farther from the truth - the scrutiny the final article receives is nothing compared to the careful review before a funding decision is made).

For the sake of simplicity, let's assume that the researcher has previously published 20 articles, and there are 5 people on the review committee. Note that a great many researchers will have many, many more articles than 20, and many a review committee includes more than 5 people.

For the price of pay-per-view, let's take the $30 US that Elsevier charges for an article that I published in 1997, "Information literacy skills: An exploratory focus group study of student perceptions", Research Strategies, Volume 15, Issue 1, Winter 1997, Pages 4-17. (If anyone would like to read this article, please let me know - that would give me needed incentive to dig up an author's version for self-archiving).

5 reviewers each retrieving 20 articles on a pay-per-view basis at a rate of $30 US per article results in direct costs of $3,000 US to review the researcher's previous work. Factor in the indirect costs - 20 invoices each X 5 researchers - and this amount could easily double ($6,000 US per application).

Funding agencies need to review all applications, of course, not just the successful ones. If the rate of acceptance is 50%, the cost per funded applications doubles again ($12,000 US per application).

All this, just to pay-per-view for the application, and not a soul has seen the results of the funded research! Doesn't this scenario make the idea of paying one modest fee - such as the PLoS $1,500 US for top-notch publishing services, for access to everyone, everywhere - seem like not only a wonderful idea, but an incredible bargain, too?

Compare this pay-per-view scenario with the time and cost-efficient review of the works of the self-archiving author. See, for example, my own works in the SFU Institutional Repository, or E-LIS. Not only are there NO costs - either direct or indirect - but this approach takes an absolute minimum time for the busy reviewer of applications, too.

Given the vast difference in time and costs for full review of grant applications - perhaps funding agencies should prioritize, or expedite, review of applications from self-archiving authors? Or, is the expediting of such applications merely a natural phenomenon - after all, if the author's work is openly accessible, accessing previous work takes no time at all, right?

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.

FRPAA: some benefits and cost savings for the U.S. taxpayer

As things stand, government departments, much like universities, must pay twice for research results - once, to fund the research, and again, to read the research results (or do without). Among other things, FRPAA will mean better access to the research literature for staffers at government agencies, at no cost for the research funded by the government agencies themselves - as it should be. For the taxpayer, this means better service (through a better-informed civil service), at less cost. This also eliminates the probability that the taxpayer is actually paying for the results of the research not just twice, as previously thought - but often thrice, or more (as explained below), without the taxpayer actually having access to the results at all! A situation that FRPAA will most definitely alleviate.

One of the ironies of scholarly publishing is that the producers of the research are also the customers. This is true not only in academia, but for the research funders, too.

How things work now is that a U.S. government department may provide the funding that makes research possible, but the results of the research are published in a scholarly journal - which is not available to the staff at the government department, unless they pay, either by subscription or on a per-article basis.

What this means is that, like universities and the taxpayer in general, government departments are often paying twice for the same research results - first, to conduct the research, and then, to pay to read the results. For the taxpayer, this means that access to research results is often paid for several times over, not just twice as we have been thinking. That is, the taxpayer pays to fund the research, then contributes to university subscriptions so that researchers can actually read the results of the research, then often pays again so that the staff at the government department which funded the research can read the results. The taxpayer may be paying more than thrice, of course, if the research results are needed by more than one government department. And - even after paying thrice, as things stand, the taxpayer still does not have rights to read the results of the research, unless the taxpayer pays yet again!

While the prime benefit of FRPAA will be enhanced access to research results for the researchers themselves, free access for the government staff means better tools for them to do their work, at less cost.

More information about the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006 can be found at the Alliance for Taxpayer Access web site. See also Peter Suber's excellent overview in the May 2006 SPARC Open Access Newsletter, and keep up on developments by following Open Access News.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Necessity is the mother of invention: open access, the developing world, and the cost-efficient solution

As authors and publishings in the developing world rapidly adopt open access publishing models and self-archiving practices, there are early signs that we are beginning to bridge the south-north knowledge gap.

Here is an hypothesis about a particular benefit of OA in less fortunate countries, which will be very useful in the developed world as well.

When it comes to the applied sciences, it stands to reason that scientists in the developing world have much more incentive to seek cost-effective solutions, than scientists in the developed world.

For example, many medical researchers in the developed world, particularly those who are funded or partially funded by for-profit companies, have reason to seek profitable interventions. Profit at a rate of percentage X of a high-cost intervention, is more profit than the same percentage of a low-cost intervention.

As an example, let's assume a 10% profit rate. Imagine you are a for-profit company selling medical products and tests. Your researchers come to you with two proposals. One is a medical test that will cost $1,000 per test (profit: $100). The other is an intervention with negligible costs (see below, listening to musics reduces the need for sedative medication). The total cost might be the shared cost of installing equipment to play music in a sterile environment, plus the cost of a one-page informational handout per patient - perhaps the total cost might be $1.00 per patient, the potential profit $.10.

If the purpose of your business is to make a profit - which research project are you likely to prioritize?

Scientists in less fortunate countries may not have access to the high-cost equipment needed to test costly interventions, and the people who fund them may be much less interested in finding such solutions.

If this hypothesis is correct, this does not mean that people in the developed world do not wish cost-effective solutions. In this area, the desires of those in businesses that will make use of the research are not the same as the desires of patients, public and private health administrators, all of whom would like to have the best possible interventions at the least cost.

One example of a study in India that illustrates this potential: Harikumar et al. found that Listening to music decreases the need for sedative medication during colonoscopy, as reported in the Indian Journal of Gastroenterology. (Note: it is important that the patient choose the music). What a wonderful approach! A low-cost, low-risk intervention that will reduce complications (including fatalities), and speed recovery. Better outcome at less cost! As a follow-up to this study, I am wondering whether this approach could also improve the morale of the health-care professionals and other staff, contributing to their good mental and physical health, too!

This is only one of the many potential benefits from bridging the south-north knowledge gap. Here is a second hypothesis, assuming the first is proved: would very modest investments in research in the developing world and/or open access in the developing world, be a prudent financial investment for health administrators in the developed world?

For that matter, is this a good reason for providing ample public funding for the operating costs of universities, so that researchers can do most of their research without special funding? To put this another way - if we are judging our medical researchers on the basis of the size of the grants they receive, should we be surprised at a tendency to seek high-cost solutions? Researchers who wish to focus on cost-efficient solutions - might not need the million-dollar grants, after all.

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.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Canadian Institutes of Health Research OA Policy: Comments Due May 15, 2006

Canadian Institutes of Health Research / Instituts de Recherche et Santé du Canada : is seeking input via survey to their Draft Policy in Development Access to Products of Research. Comments are due by May 15, 2006. Following are the survey questions, and my suggested responses. Thanks to Andrew Waller of University of Calgary for reviewing and commenting on these suggestions. Suggested responses are in bold.

Survey Questions

1) Please identify your affiliation

Journal and journal editors
Scientific society
Libraries and library associations
Other (please specify)

If you selected other, please specify:

CIHR Policy in Development - Consultation on Access to Products of Research

2) Are there any specific research resources, tools, and products that you think should be included in this policy (e.g. software or protocols)?

OAI-PMH (Open Archives Initiative / Protocol for Metadata Harvesting)

3) How can we ensure that a policy increasing access to the physical products of research does not negatively impact the intellectual property (IP) rights of inventors, and the commercialization of IP?

There are two separate points here.

First - does it make sense for taxpayers to fund research for the economic benefits of a few? My suggestion: taxpayer-funded research belongs in the public domain.

Second - if some situations (such as co-funded studies) are considered consonant with IP of inventors and the commercialization of IP, it is still completely reasonable to require that any published peer-reviewed research article, be published as open access. Protecting trade secrets means either not publishing at all, or publishing as a patent rather than as a research article.

4) When is it appropriate for researchers to put restrictions on products of research?

Restrictions on products of research should be limited to protection of individual privacy rights.

5) Can you suggest appropriate restrictions that will minimize harms (or maximize benefits) to further research?

This question is backwards! It is restrictions that cause harms, and open access that maximizes benefits.

6) Is there a specific type of data (not mentioned above) that should be covered with this policy statement?

7) Would you support a policy statement that involved sharing research data obtained with the help of CIHR funding? Please elaborate on your answer in the comments section.

Yes No


8) If you answered No to question number 7, please explain

9) Do you think this policy should cover products other than peer-reviewed publications, such as book chapters, editorials, reviews, or conference proceedings?

Yes No


Additional comments:

Any publications produced as a result of taxpayer funding, should be openly accessible.

10) Do you support self-archiving of peer-reviewed research publications in an Institutional Repository (IR) at a Canadian university?

Note that not all universities in Canada currently have an IR.



Additional comments:

There are other options for researchers who do not yet have an IR.

All CIHR-funded researchers can deposit in PubMedCentral for now, and copy articles to an IR as soon as one is available.

There are good reasons why depositing in more than one archive is optimal - for purposes of preservation, and enhanced impact. Canadians should deposit their in PubMedCentral to ensure that their work is retrieved by anyone who uses this resource exclusively. Copying to a Canadian repository is also advisable, for additional discovery as well as preservation purposes. Canadian works should be deposited in at least one Canadian repository, as soon as practical, to ensure ongoing access for Canadians.

There are open repositories, for example at the University of Tampere in Finland.

There are other disciplinary repositories that may be useful for some researchers, such as arXiv or E-LIS.

11) Would you prefer self-archiving of research publications using your personal website?

Note that personal websites are not interoperable. An advantage of IRs is that they use interoperability standards, such as those of the Open Archives Initiative.



Additional comments:

Education is needed here. There are advantages to IRs in terms of preservation as well as interoperability; also, this is not an either-or situation. Authors can post to their personal websites, too. Open access archives, whether institutional or disciplinary in nature, can provide authors with a single, clickable link to all of their works, one that is automatically updated with each new work. This mean if someone has copied a link to their works, anytime the link is accessed, new works will appear along with the old.

12) Would you endorse archiving of peer-reviewed results in the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central?

Yes, absolutely. This is the best option for preservation and searchability.

Or, would you prefer that Canadian peer-reviewed results be archived in a Canadian repository, such as a national repository of the kind which the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI) is positioned to develop for the National Research Council. (See the CISTI Strategic Plan for 2005-2010,

Yes, this too. But let's not wait - let's deposit in PMC right away, then copy to a Canadian repository as soon as one is available.

13) If you are a journal editor, or representative of a professional scientific society, what are potential positive or negative impacts that you see with the implementation of a policy requiring CIHR funded researchers to follow one of the aforementioned mechanisms?

For Canadian researchers - those who are served by local journals and professional scientific societies - the benefits of enhanced impact from open access should make open access an imperative. No Canadian journal can provide the kind of access to anyone, anywhere that open access can; the academic publishing market is simply too competitive internationally. Compare, for example, the difference in access between an article in a journal purchased by Canada's research libraries and a few international research libraries, with an article that is immediately openly accessible to anyone, anywhere. If Canadians want to make an impact on the world, we need to make our work available.

14) While considering IP rights and the commercialization of IP, what should be the minimum time required for release of these forms of data into the public domain?

Three months
Six months
Other (please specify)

Immediately. Publicly funded research should be readily available to all without delay.

As a second option, some of the major policy initatives (Wellcome Trust, Federal Research Public Access Act in the U.S.) are allowing a maximum 6 month delay. If you would like to suggest this option, please note that the policy should state immediate open access as the preferred option.

If you selected other, please specify:

15) If CIHR were to mandate self-archiving of peer-reviewed publications, how long after publication should this occur?

Three months
Six months
Other (please specify)

Immediately - see above.

If you selected other, please specify:

16) Can you think of any responsibilities or obligations for those requesting CIHR materials? (e.g. acknowledgements)

Authors should retain moral rights such as attribution. This can be clarified using a creative commons Attribution license.

17) How do you see co-funding influencing access to physical products of research?

Co-funding does complicate matters. However, I would suggest that any public funding should come with some obligations for open public access - the more the public funding, the greater the obligation. For example, a 100% publicly funded study might be required to be immediately open access. A 50% publicly funded study might be made available after a 6-month delay, and so forth.

18) Please comment on any experiences with other organizations, both nationally and internationally, regarding sharing or access to resources, data, and publications? Do you have suggestions or comments that CIHR should consider during policy development?

Based on the experiences of the U.S. National Institute of Health, it is clear that the policy must require, not recommend, deposit of research results for open access. The timeline must be very clear as well.

19) Other comments or suggestions:

Two excellent models for policy:

The U.S. Cornyn-Lieberman Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006 Bill. Information can be found at:

The Wellcome Trust Position Statement in Support of Open and Unrestricted Access to Published Research

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, May 06, 2006

SSHRC to Actively Promote Open Access to Research Results

From the SSHRC March 2006 Council Meeting:

SSHRC to actively promote open access to research results

Following on Council’s October 2004 approval in principle of open access—permanent, free, online access to the results of federally-funded research—staff consulted with the social sciences and humanities community and reported on the options available to make open access a reality.

The idea of open access to all research is widely accepted, but presents a number of implementation obstacles, and the community is by and large cautious.

Rather than imposing mandatory requirements on researchers to publish via open access, Council chose to increase awareness of open access, pursue discussions with major stakeholders, and gradually incorporate open access provisions in research support programs.

Comments: encouraging and promoting open access are laudable goals. However, experience has shown that a mandate is necessary - for example, the NIH Public Access Policy which "requests and strongly encourages" open access, has had an absolutely dismal compliance rate, of 3.8%, as reported to Congress January 2006, and blogged by Peter Suber. This low compliance rate contrasts with the research of Swan and Brown, which found that 81% of authors would willingly comply with a mandate to deposit.

Hopefully, SSHRC will revisit the mandate issue in the near future, perhaps after the U.S. Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006 passes. See the SPARC site for a FAQ for University Administrators and Faculty on FRPPA.

Meanwhile, SSHRC's commitment to increase awareness about open access and gradually incorporate open access provisions in research support programs will help to move us forward towards open access.

One question I have for SSHRC is whether the rule requiring 200 subscriptions for an academic journal to qualify for subsidy has been modified, as this provision actively discriminates against full open-access electronic journals.

There are many ways in which SSHRC could increase awareness about open access. One very simple means would be to prominently post SSHRC's Open Access Policy on the SSHRC web pages - if not on the home page, perhaps on the "About SSHRC", perhaps with a link not too far from the "Apply for Funding" link. The Open Access page could include links to key educational resources, such as Peter Suber's Open Access Overview, or his Very Brief Introduction to Open Access.

It would be a good idea to highlight Canadian resources and intiatives, such as the Canadian Association of Research Libraries' Institutional Repository program and Metadata Harvester. Or, how about a list of Canadian open access journals, or Canadian researchers and librarians with expertise on open access? The latter could be a self-service type of education - people could look up the writings of the many Canadian open access experts, or perhaps even invite us to speak.

Supporting technology learning to support open access initiatives should do a great deal to promote open access. In particular, it would be helpful to support learning about institutional repository software, and new journal publishing platforms such as Open Journal Systems. Supporting these kinds of initiatives now would mean that SSHRC could plan to review its policy in the near future, knowing that there would be fewer obstacles to OA.

Thanks to Peter Suber and the University of Toronto's Open Source | Open Access Project for the news about the SSHRC Council meeting, and also to Jean Claude Guédon on the American Scientist Open Access Forum for some inspiration on this topic.

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, May 05, 2006

Peer Review in the Google Age: Transcript

A transcript of my presentation, Beyond Peer Review: Collaboration, February 23, 2006, has been posted on the Drexel CoAX E-Learning Transcripts page. Thanks to Jean-Claude Bradley & colleagues at Drexel for transcribing the screencast.

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.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Congrats to U.S. Senators Cornyn & Lieberman!

Congratulations to U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Joseph Lieberman for setting the standard for open access policy, with their "Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006", introduced in the U.S. Senate today, May 2, 2006.

This bill builds on the leadership of the U.S. National Institute of Health with its Public Access Policy, and reflects lessons learned since the NIH policy was enacted a year ago. Experience has shown that a request to deposit research articles is not enough; this led to a dismal 4% compliance rate. A clear-cut mandate to deposit is what is needed, and what the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) of 2006 accomplishes. FRPAA also clearly sets the standard for timing of deposit of research, with immediate deposit being the ideal, and 6 months after publication the maximum delay.

The scope of FRPPA is broad, encompassing a number of U.S. federal funding agencies.

Thank you for FRPPA, Senators Cornyn and Lieberman. May this Act pass speedily and effortlessly, and may it become a model for other governments to follow. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research are currently considering their own Access to Products of Research policy, and I will certainly recommend looking to FRPPA as a model.

Peter Suber has posted a number of links on FRPPA. For Peter's thoughtful analysis, see the May 2006 SPARC Open Access Newsletter. More information can be found on the SPARC web site.

Even though the bill was only introduced this morning, enthusiastic endorsements are already coming in! The Alliance for Taxpayer Access and the American Association for College Libraries have already endorsed the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006.