Sunday, June 16, 2019

National scholarly societies. Why?

Plan S has caused quite some discussion about what knowledge dissemination is. When it was announced, I was hesitant. But very quickly the opposition of Plan S convinced me that apparently something like Plan S is needed. I think Plan S focuses way too much on journal-channeled publishing, whereas I had rather seen it focus on Open Science (it partly does). We argued that much with cOAlition S recently (doi:10.5281/zenodo.2560200):

The risks brought forward by Plan S opponent are real. I don't always agree on the arguments, or simply just don't understand them. With some I agree, but disagree on the alternative. This has been a difficult position to follow, as some discussions taught me. For example, some claimed that I am in favor of article processing costs. Only in a toxic, black-white world, not being against them equals being in favor of them.

Journals articles have shown to be an expensive exercise of knowledge dissemination. It was the right solution, certainly 200 years ago. The cost has to be paid by someone. Via subscription (the "old" model), via package deals with nationals, universities, etc (upcoming), via a friendly funder (some wealthy foundation), or via the authors. Not accepting that the publishing costs money is utopian, if you ask me.

However, what is essential, and what too few people talk about, is that the open license of the research output. If you cannot share research output without paying again and again (instead of once), we inhibit innovation. If I cannot share literature with students, I cannot properly train them for their job.

So, it feels kinda awkward that I am considered doing something wrong, if I ensure my work is available under an CC-BY license. Check my fail rate at ImpactStory (e.g. a series of poster abstracts in Tox Sci).

Anyway, about two topics I want to clarify. First, APC should be as low as possible. That means the infrastructure should be efficient, reducing the amount of work. Open infrastructures likely have an important role here. Why do we not have open source articles submission platforms? Why don't we have open standard XML formats with matching editors so that we can submit articles in that format, rather than LaTeX or Word? Etc.

Every cent I spend on APC, I cannot spend on other research tasks. One obvious answer then, IMHO, is to return to publishing less in journals, and sharing more via other, better channels, such as open databases. I find it hard to reconcile complainers about the cost of publishing, but insisting on expensive business models.

So, I wondered what the APCs are of CC-BY publishing of the journals I published in. And I started adding this data to Wikidata (#opennotebookscience), with a zero APC:

I did not always pay this. There are reductions, sometimes a co-author pays, etc. But I have no problem paying for services rendered. And when I paid, it was always part of my job, and my employer (or project) pays. Now, there are rumors that scholars sometimes have to pay on their own account, as if it is representation cost. I'm appalled by this. I think the employers are bullying their scholars in an unacceptable way. There was a lot of discussion about academic freedom, but your employer forcing you this way into publishing in certain journals sounds like an example of that. We can discuss who is responsible for this: the funder or the employer. I know my answer.

Scholarly societies
Two other aspects in the discussions are "what about poor countries" and "what about scholarly societies". I like to combine these. I welcome scholarly societies to pick up knowledge dissemination, in an open science way. I wish all scholarly societies would do that. But I am not sure why that necessarily has to be coupled at sponsoring society activities. That particularly feels awkward in the notion that we tend to have national societies. Why?

Why should an African scholar have to fund educational activities held in the United States or Europe via publishing in their journals? What is wrong with me paying a scholarly society APC so that everyone in the world can read my literature? What is wrong with wanting them to have access to all literature?

What is wrong with me wanting to be able to read all literature? Despite The Netherlands not being a poor country, Maastricht University is far from a rich university, and I regularly run into paywalls myself.

Yes, asking the Global South, or anyone (like a small SME) to pay 5000 euro is a lot (hell, for me it is; I'm happy that that is rare). Most publishers are not doing that. There is price differentiation and the Global South doesn't pay the European prices (tho publishers must do better in being transparent about this), which in response, some see as patronizing or even colonial (dividing the world in economic zones is quite common; is it unethical? well, there are more aspects of our economic systems I am not happy about).

I think the bigger problem is why Western scholars (the Global North?) is not publishing in journals published in/by the Global South. Why is that?

If we want a scholarly community to be internationally inclusive, why do we still have national scholarly societies? Maybe we can stop with that, please? What if I was not member of the Dutch chemical society, KNCV, but I was member of the Chemical Society, an scholarly society independent from continent or country?

Now, I am happy to see others are thinking in this direction too. For example, the Metabolomics Society takes this approach and a growing group of universities is rebooting the idea of a university publisher, but not limited to one university of even country (e.g. University Journals, HT Jeroen and Erik).

Because if we keep insisting on publishing in Global North (or western-led) journals (e.g. journals of Global North societies), I think we have a bigger problem than APCs, with respect to the North/South divide (and there certainly is a problem!).

I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts on how we can really reform open science knowledge dissemination.

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