Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Open Access: Good for Business!

The primary benefit of open access is that it is the best means of disseminating the results of research, thus speeding the process of research, and the impact of the individual researcher or research funder. Open access, however, does a great deal more, and this is just one example.

Providing open access to the scholarly research literature makes it readily available to the whole business community. All have access to the latest knowledge, on which to build new business ideas - based on the soundest knowledge we have.

Picture open access to all of the literature relating to environmental sciences, for example. What opportunities will emerge for the creative entrepreneur, to find new ways of producing goods and services that help us to protect and enhance our environment?

If any of our research finds new forms of producing energy, that are renewable and non-polluting - why not share them with everyone, so that we can devise means of applying the solutions as rapidly as possible?

It makes a great deal of sense that business would have access to research which is funded through taxpayer dollars, and conducted at universities. Businesses, after all, do pay taxes. Many also contribute to universities in various ways. For example, many businesses are corporate donors. Would a full institutional repository - providing many leads to new business ideas - help a university attract more donors of this sort?

Corporations produce research as well. Some research, of course, is applied and a trade secret, and cannot be published. Many corporate researchers do produce publishable articles, however, and when they do, it makes sense just as much sense for the corporate as the university researcher to publish their articles as open access. The OA impact advantage (50% - 250% more citations to open access articles), well documented in Steve Hitchcock's The effect of open access and downloads ('hits') on citation impact: a bibliography of studies, works just as much in the favor of the corporate as the university-based author. That is, when you make it easy for people to access your article - they are more likely to access, read, use, and cite your article. Go figure!

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, September 25, 2005

Open Access, Funding Agencies, and Incentives

In addition to the obvious and necessary step of requiring that results of funded research be made openly accessible immediately on publication, if not before, here is another step that funding agencies might wish to consider.

Assuming that a very good indicator of future behavior is past behavior, why not recognize researchers with a history of open access publishing when awarding grants? For example, if a weighting criteria approach is used in evaluation, why not assign a few points based on researchers' prior open access history?

In addition to increasing the likelihood of open sharing of the research under consideration for funding, there will be conveniences for the evaluators as well. That is, if prior studies are presented as clickable URLs, this will make it easier for any investigator to evaluate the researchers' history.

Here are two examples of how this might be implemented:

Weighting criteria: rewarding open access history approach
Allot 3 points (assuming 100 totals) to open access publishing history, as follows:

  • 3 points: full open access history
    all works of all researcher applicants are fully open access (published in OA journals, or self-archived on or before publication)
  • 2 points: substantial open access history
    recent research of all researcher applicants is openly accessible
  • 1 point: some open access history
    some research results of researcher applicants is openly accessible

Recognising administrative efficiency approach
This approach would work well with an electronic approach to applying for funding. Fast-track applications where examples of prior research are fully openly accessible, as evaluators will have immediate, cost-free access to this research for evaluation purposes.

Perhaps information about this aspect of evaluation could be accompanied by information on how to make one's works openly accessible. One easey way would be to point to Peter Suber's Open Access Overview. Or, depending on the funding agency, it might make sense to provide pointers to lists of open access publishers, disciplinary archives, or lists of institutional repositories or general repositories (such as the one run by Bioline International for authors in developing countries) that may be available.

To accomodate researchers who have lesser opportunities for making their work openly accessible, perhaps alternatives could be considered. For example, a researcher might supply a copies of letters to their universities, learned societies, and/or publishers in their field explaining their need for open access. Funding agencies could make sample letters available for the convenience of these applicants.

This approach is meant to supplement the more direct approach of requiring immediate open access to the results of research actually funded by the agency, of course.

See Stevan Harnad's Maximising the on the UK's Public Investment in Research for a well-thought-out, if conservative, analysis of the economic benefits of open access for the research funder.

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, September 12, 2005

Usage statistics as an economic factor in scholarly communications

Among the more compelling reasons for open access in scholarly communications are...the alternatives. One such is employing usage statistics as an economic factor, whether in purchase or cancellation decisions, or per-use pricing. To paraphrase Andrew Odlyzkow: usage based pricing can be very effective: the trouble is, you might not like the effects. Among the potential effects of usage-based pricing are disincentives to use, less diversity and more conservatism in scholasticism.

This theme is explored in detail in my book chapter (preprint, final copy): The implications of usage statistics as an economic factor in scholarly communications, forthcoming in "Usage Statistics of E-Serials" by David Fowler (editor). Published by the Haworth Press [2005]. Part of the "Haworth Series on Serials Librarianship and Continuing Resources".

"Usage statistics for electronic resources are needed, and highly desirable, for many reasons. It is encouraging to see the beginnings of quality, reliable usage data. This data can form the basis of economic decisions (selection and cancellation) that make a great deal of sense in the context of the individual library. However, the cumulative effects of such decisions could have serious implications for scholarly communications. For example, the journals of small research communities could easily be vulnerable to mass cancellations, and might fold. Fortunately, open access provides an alternative. The question of whether the impact of local decisions on scholarly communications as a whole should be taken into account in collection development policies is raised. The possibility that usage statistics could form the basis for a usage-based pricing system is discussed, and found to be highly inadvisable, as usage-based pricing tends to discourage usage.

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, September 10, 2005

Embracing the medium 2

This is the second in a series on how and why we need to embrace the potential of the medium (electronics, world wide web) to transform scholarly communication.

The new media make it possible to greatly expand and speed up the dissemination of knowledge. An article in electronic form can be posted to the web just as soon as it is complete, for immediate downloading by anyone, anywhere in the world (open access).

One of the challenges involved in switching to open access is figuring out the economics. It is important to understand that much of our traditional publishing practices actually emerged from the demands of the print medium. Where it makes sense to continue producing print, it will make sense to continue print-based economic models, such as subscription sales. However, many new journals are starting up as electronic only, and for traditional publishers, too, dropping the print version might be desirable at some point for economic reasons.

Some of the costs relating to print are obvious: the cost of paper and mailing, for example. Others are less obvious, but quite substantial. How much editing, copyediting, formatting, etc., is actually based on the high cost of the printed page, meant to squeeze as much information as possible into as small a space as is consistent with readability and aesthetics?

Think about any paper you have written. Compare the work involved in simply posting the paper to the web as it is, as compared with typesetting for a print environment where every page adds to the cost. Posting a paper to the web is very easy when you know how; it takes seconds. Typesetting for the print environment, on the other hand, is much more complex; special software may be needed, and training.

What about the costs of creating and maintaining a list of subscribers, invoicing and accounting?

In my view, any analysis of the costs of open access need to take into account that OA is only possible in the electronic realm. It does not make sense to project print-based costs for OA.

Embracing the Medium 1

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, September 05, 2005

Open Access: For Maximum Value, Share With All

One of the reasons why open access to the scholarly research articles just makes sense is because much of the research is funded by taxpayer dollars. At first glance, it might appear to make sense to provide access only to the taxpayers in your own country. However, there is a very special quality about scholarly knowledge; it gains in value the more it is used. There are many reasons why our scholarly research articles provide the most value to us, when we share them with everyone around the world.

For example, if people in a neighbouring country read what our researchers have learned about how to protect or repair the environment, there is a good chance that the winds and waters that cross our borders will be a little cleaner.

Most science advances as a series of steps, like building blocks or putting together a puzzle. One researcher conducts an experiment and learns a little; others build on this knowledge. Let's say our goal is to cure a particular type of cancer. We fund some research on the topic. We give away the results. A researcher in another country reads the results, and conducts more research. By sharing our research results openly, we have in effect expanded the research team - at no additional cost to our own taxpayers. Open sharing leverages the tax dollars, so that what we invest in research yields more - for everyone, including for us. By sharing the results openly with all, we all move forwards to the cure for that type of cancer just a little faster.

Knowledge is something we all build together. The mapping of the human genome occured in record speed, precisely because researchers in many countries shared their knowledge openly, and worked collaboratively. What might happen if we used the same approach to some of the other puzzles we all face in common, such as figuring out what to do about global warming? Given the urgency of this particular puzzle, why not openly share all the results of any relevant research, just as soon as they are available?

Update September 6:

This update reflects and builds onPeter Suber's writings on the topic of the National Research Council's program of free access for Canadians to NRC Press journals - recommended reading - in Issue # 65, Sept. 2003 of the SPARC Open Access Newsletter.

First, I would like to add to Peter's comments that the NRC's provision of access to NRC journals to Canadians through the depository services program was never meant to be an experiment in open access. Rather, it is an extension of the depository services program itself (which provides free or very low-cost information of various kinds produced by the Canadian government, to designated depository libraries, as a services to Canadians) to the electronic realm.

In strictly economic terms, at first glance it might appear as if a subscription-based approach would cost less. A more careful analysis, however, is needed. As Peter points out, the apparent cost-recovery of a subscription-based approach needs to take into account the costs of authentication and subscription tracking. That is to say: it costs money to have and develop systems which keep track of who is and is not allowed to use a resource, and it costs money to troubleshoot when authentication mechanisms fail. For example, in order to allow access to all Canadians, Canadian libraries must supply IP addresses, and resubmit whenever their IP addresses change. Anytime an IP address changes and the database has not been updated, Canadians experience difficulties in connecting. A subscription-based system requires tracking subscriptions, invoicing and much more complex accounting than an open access subsidized (single payer, most efficient accounting) system. So, even in cost/benefit terms, this analysis needs to be done before we can ascertain for certain whether it does actually cost the taxpayer more.

Let's look at this on a global basis. What is the cost of subsidizing open access to Canadian publications, in comparison with the cost of purchasing access to the results of research conducted in every other country? I would be very surprised if cost-recovery (if indeed, there is cost recovery after the administration costs are deducted) from external subscriptions to Canadian journals would meet the costs of purchasing by subscription the research results of even one other country - never mind the world!

Secondly, as noted above, the dollars of the Canadian taxpayer are leveraged when our research results are given away. We get help with the research problems of interest to Canadians (others build on what we have started); when others apply what we have learned, we too live in a better world (e.g., less pollution for us when our neighbours employ what we have learned about protecting the environment); when Canadian researchers have more impact, receive more prizes, etc., Canada as a whole benefits from the enhanced prestige; and giving away our research increases the odds of attracting investment, to operationalize those good Canadian ideas.

To sum, my conclusions are that open access to the world, not just our own country, is the most economically efficient approach (by far), also, open access is essential to deliver optimal value to the taxpayers who have funded the 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.

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, September 03, 2005

Open Access, Terrorism, and the Nonviolent Example

In his September 2005 Open Access Newsletter, Peter Suber talks about one of the strongest endorsements of open access to date, from the National Research Council. This group examined the possibility that open access could provide information that could be used by bioterrorists, and concluded: "Open access is essential if we are to maintain the progress needed to stay ahead of those who would attempt to cause harm".

Here are my thoughts on open access and terrorism.

The debate so far appears to have focused on whether open access would increase the threat of terrorism. The fact that the debate has focused on the negative (can open access increase the risk) and not even looked at the positive (can open access decrease the risk), is to me an indication that this is a strategic argument brought forward by persons wishing to protect a privileged financial or other status, and not at all an honest debate about what makes the most sense for our security.

This argument has never made sense to me. Even looking at information which could be used to create harm, what is it we want - to be sure the terrorists have paid for their subscription or pay-per-view? This is ridiculous - if information is too dangerous to share, it should not be published, period. Then, too, restricted access is much more likely to effectively mean no access for the law-abiding people who might be victims of terrorists, rather than the terrorists themselves. That is, if people are capable of murder, why would anyone assume they would balk at piracy?

What strikes me most today, however, is how much this debate has focused on the negative - the case for or against increased risk - and not the positive - the potential of open access to reduce the risk.

There are many complex reasons why I believe open access has the potential to greatly reduce the risk, which hopefully I - or others - will elaborate on in time. Picture, for example, education under the Taliban in Afganistan, in contrast with the potential of open access to our scholarly knowledge to advance education at all levels, everywhere.

Here is one thought how OA can increase prospects for security, starters:

If we are in agreement that violent, terrorist style protest is wrong: why not do everything we can to provide examples of how people have effectively used nonviolent techniques to effect great change? It is likely to take some time before all of our knowledge is openly accessible, particularly retrospective works. Why not prioritize sharing openly as much as we know about people like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Junior, Rosa Parks, and many, many more? There is some good freely available information in Wikipedia. Why not fill our institutional repositories with all the scholarly articles that have investigated the lives, histories and works of people such as this - or create special repositories for this purpose?