An open access invitation to innovation

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

December 18, 2014

“There are so many opportunities and – if we’re honest – challenges for innovation in digital publishing it’s hard to pick one and stick with it, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do because some things are worth sticking with.”

So declares Cecy Marden, open access project manager at the Wellcome Trust, in a post on the New York Academy of Medicine’s Books, Health, and History blog ahead of her involvement in discussions of digital publishing innovations at the American Historical Association’s annual meeting next month.

Unsurprisingly, she is ardently sticking to open access – “the biggest opportunity for innovation in digital publishing”.

“Publishing research open access means anyone in the world with an Internet connection can read it, instead of just the comparatively infinitesimal group of people who have access to a reasonably wealthy university library,” she says. “Opportunities don’t get much bigger than that.”

Ms Marden says that the research funded by the Wellcome Trust “is outstanding, and…everyone should be able to access it (and build upon it)”, which is why the charity “recently extended our open-access policy to include monographs (and book chapters)”.

However, what concerns Ms Marden is not finding the money to pay for open access “but rather flipping the way money enters the publishing system to enable publishers to innovate sustainably”.

“Libraries currently keep academic monograph publishing viable,” she continues. “Somehow we need to take the money already being spent on closed-access monographs and publish that same research open access.”

Researchers, publishers, librarians and funders, she says, “must experiment with how to get research to audiences, how to empower audiences to engage information, and how to pay for it”.

“The best things in life aren’t free, but they are freely available,” she concludes.

Separately, the publisher Macmillan Science and Education recently launched an initiative that will allow subscribers to 49 journals (including Nature) to share papers for free with other researchers via a web link to a read-only copy.

A number of people on Twitter saw this as a chance to make access to the titles more open than Macmillan might have intended.

Michael Eisen (@mbeisen), professor of genetics, genomics and development at the University of California, Berkeley, tweeted his intention to “create a database of links” as soon as the new Macmillan system came into effect, and then to add this database to PubMed Commons, a network that allows authors to share opinions and information about scientific publications.

Grace Baynes (@grace_baynes), who works in Nature’s public relations department, said that if Professor Eisen were to do that, “we’d politely ask [him] to stop”.

The new functionality, she went on, was “intended for reasonable personal use”. “We knew there would be some abuse (we know there is anyway). But frankly am a bit disappointed.”

On his it is NOT junk blog, Professor Eisen remained unmoved. “I’m sure the people at Nature want as many people as possible to read their articles,” he writes. “But this move is really about defusing pressure from various sources to provide free access.”

Send links to topical, insightful and quirky online comment by and about academics to chris.parr@tesglobal.com

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