Saturday, August 23, 2008

IEEE and Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society OA Panel


This post is a brief summary of an open access panel discussion at the Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS) meeting in Vancouver, August 22, 2008. EMBS is a part of the IEEE (international engineering association). IEEE has been a leader in green self-archiving policy since 1995, allowing authors to self-archive on their own web pages or institutional repositories, with no embargos, and even the publisher's PDF - but oddly enough, not disciplinary repositories such as PubMedCentral. IEEE is now, like many publishers, considering a gold open access option for authors. This could be a very interesting discussion process! Based on yesterday's meeting, IEEE should probably assume that if they ask their authors to pay article processing fees, they can expect in-depth questions about why the fees are so high. Naturally, engineers will have many, many ideas about how to do things better, and for less, too!

I look forward to hearing more as engineers progress towards open access; I have a hunch the ingenuity of this group has much to contribute to scholarly communications, for the benefit of all of us.

My advice to EMBS, and IEEE: keep the great green policy - and add disciplinary repositories, with no embargo. Ask the advice of your members; they have lots to contribute! If you come up with an optional OA program, consider allowing members to offset fees with their volunteer work. Be sure to lower library subscriptions to reflect revenue, and develop library membership schemes so that libraries can pay some, or all, of the fees for their authors.


Yesterday I participated in a panel discussion on open access at the
along with Andrew Laine, EMBS Vice President of Publications, Brian Owen, Public Knowledge Project / Associate University Library, Simon Fraser University Library, and Bruce Wheeler, Editor, IEEE Transactions in Biomedical Engineering. The discussion was moderated by Jennifer Flexman, who prepared a useful overview of open access and some key resources.

Some highlights:

In some ways, IEEE has been a leader in green open access since 1995! IEEE's leading-edge green Electronic Information Dissemination policy allows author self-archiving - of preprints, postprints, and even the publisher's PDF, on the author's or company's servers (which would include institutional repositories). There is no embargo, and the only stipulation is an appropriate acknowledgement and pointer to the publisher's site. Oddly, IEEE stipulates a 12-month embargo on self-archiving in PubMedCentral. This is just silly!

IEEE is in the process of planning on moving to the next phase, into gold. Based on Andrew Laine's talk, clearly the IEEE has heard that their current author agreement which requires full copyright transfer is rather outdated. Watch for a libre aspect to IEEE open access, as clearly there has been discussion on topics such as data mining.

My talk covered the basics of what OA is, including green & gold, gratis and libre, and brief highlights of open access policy, such as the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Wellcome Trust Open and Unrestricted Access, the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences granting a worldwide, nonexclusive license to their works to Harvard, and, to illustrate that this is just the tip of the iceberg, the European Universities Association unanimous commitment to an OA policy in every university in Europe, with yesterday's Ireland Higher Education Authority being but the latest example. I wrapped up with some thoughts on author's rights, using a License to Publish and leaving copyright with the author, and Creative Commons options.

Brian Owen talked about his work with the Public Knowledge Project and Open Journal Systems. PKP is working on a new count of journals using OJS, and anticipates confirmation that the numbers are now above 1,900 in the near future. Perhaps some of the OJS features might be of interest to the IEEE, particularly the Lemon8 automatic conversion to XML, and advanced reader features?

Bruce Wheeler talked about his work with Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, the flagship journal of the EMBS, outlining the editorial process, highlighting the thoroughness of the reviewers. Bruce talked about the food chain of expenses. His time is paid for by his employer, or taken from personal time. Like many EMBS journals, Transactions on Biomedical Engineering is produced in both print and electronic form. As an IEEE journal, Bruce nevers need to worry about the subscription tracking. Andrew Laine explained that society revenues are determined by hits on the different society journal packages. This is no doubt a complexity of OA for the society; if usage is through open access copies rather than the publisher's website, IEEE will need to figure out a different way to split monies between divisions.

The real highlight, for me, was the discussion. The IEEE is considering offering an open access choice alternative for authors, and a possible fee was discussed. At first, I very politely declined to comment on this fee, although to me it seemed rather high. I was delighted when both Brian Owen and Bruce Wheeler said exactly what I was thinking, that the fee was too high, and that $500 would be much more realistic! I didn't even mention the Imaginary Journal of High-End Chemistry, a series in which exactly this point is made!

The audience had some great questions and suggestions, such as:

Will this fee cover perpetual access to my work? Do we even know how to preserve information in electronic format?

What about credit for volunteer work to cover the cost of publishing? This could be copyediting, reviewing, editing, or scanning those older monographs (IEEE would like to make all monographs more than 3 years old OA, once a means can be found to do this). EMBS was just having a discussion about how to recognize such volunteer work, so it is very timely for this discussion.

Why not have authors do their own copyediting?

Can't papers in electronic form be different - more content, audiovisual, etc.? One of the challenges for IEEE is that libraries continue to want print as well as online, particularly for the images for which this society is known.

If IEEE moves to article processing fees, won't there be competition? Absolutely! It's a good thing IEEE is planning to keep their green leading edge. Most open access publishers don't charge any fees at all, and others have competitive fees. Competition is a good thing; the serials crisis came about, in part, because of an inelastic market, and the readers being sheltered from payment was a factor.

There were many other good questions and suggestions, I only captured a few.

This post is part of the Transitioning to Open Access Series.