‘Ten Prerequisites to Securely Fund Open Infrastructure’

Vanessa Proudman, in a post for ScholarLed:

The scholarly communication community needs to call for an open, sustainable infrastructure that is community-owned — one that speaks to our open and academic values. It must be open; not closed off by vendors creating a situation where the academy becomes dependent on a suite of products that are likewise dependent on essential infrastructure, often built by the academy in the first place. For this to truly work and to offer a viable and sustainable solution, we need to develop an interconnected rich and diverse ecosystem of open infrastructure where many flowers bloom upon which a plethora of for- and not-for-profit services can be built.

The list itself is all good things. And vague, perhaps unavoidably so.

‘The Second Wave of Preprint Servers: How Can Publishers Keep Afloat?’

Consultants Rob Johnson and Andrea Chiarelli, in a Scholarly Kitchen post:

Journals with strong brands, or in fields that have yet to show much interest in preprints, may therefore find that a wait-and-see strategy serves them best. It remains unclear how many of the new crop of preprint servers will be able to develop a sustainable business model, and the recent decision by PeerJ to stop accepting new preprints lends credence to a cautious approach.

It’s eerie to overhear, in effect, publisher trepidation about the preprint surge. The nonprofit, community-governed world of preprints is an enigma for the big for-profits, since they can’t easily skim 37% off the top.

‘Privacy hurdles thwart Facebook democracy research’

From a story in Nature on the SSRC’s mostly stalled Facebook research program:

But issues with the data quickly emerged: Facebook has been able to share some information with researchers, but providing them with more sensitive and detailed data without compromising user privacy proved technically more difficult than the project’s organizers expected.

The whole Nature piece is far too credulous. Facebook lies, delays, obstructs, and then lies some more–and has long used its internal research unit as a PR sidekick. Protecting user privacy is the last thing on Facebook’s mind.

Martin Eve wins Leverhulme Prize

From Martin Eve’s exciting announcement that he’s won the Leverhulme Trust Prize in Literary Studies:

I still need to work out the best way to use the prize fund to give me more time to do research work, but I have a number of research projects that I will bring to final fruition under the Prize: * An edited book, forthcoming in an open-access form with The MIT Press, now titled: Reassembling Scholarly Communications: The Histories, Infrastructures, and Global Politics of Open Access, which is nearly complete/on the final push. * co-authored book: Reading Peer Review, due for delivery next March to Cambridge University Press, and also funded by the Mellon Foundation. This will be open access.

I’m thrilled for the award—Eve is a personal hero—and also, selfishly, glad to see these two projects land with Leverhulme-enabled haste.

‘Student tracking, secret scores’

The Washington Post, in a story on prospective student tracking at U.S. colleges and universities:

The admissions officer also received a link to a private profile of the student, listing all 27 pages she had viewed on the school’s website and how long she spent on each one. A map on this page showed her geographical location, and an “affinity index” estimated her level of interest in attending the school. Her score of 91 out of 100 predicted she was highly likely to accept an admission offer from UW-Stout, the records showed.

The piece hints at this, but the most pernicious aspect of the tracking–in theory, and almost certainly in practice–is feeding the data into financial aid algorithms. The yield management software in use by most admissions offices can spit back financial aid recommendations that, in many cases, offers multiples of demonstrated need–and in others nothing close.

‘An expensive but possible way to do Society OA’

Martin Eve, on a professional association’s struggle to go OA:

A Learned Society spoke to me last week about what they could do to move to an open-access model. They currently receive about 100,000 EUR per year from their subscription/hybrid-OA publisher but were willing to jettison this (!) if they could go OA with no author fees.

The problem was that implementing a new business model was a total pain. They did not have the resources on the ground to change from their current model to a new way of doing things, although they had thought about it extensively.

I then pointed out that the 100,000 EUR that they receive from their publisher – and that they were going to lose – was enough to cover APCs for everything published in a single year of the journal. They could simply use this to cover the APCs and they would have a gold OA journal with no author-facing charges.

This is, basically, subscribe-to-open through the back door.

‘Why Scholarly Societies Are Vitally Important to the Academic Ecosystem’

Robert Harington, in a new Scholarly Kitchen post:

The Plan S transformative agreements have essentially created institutional lock-in businesses on a grand scale. Only publishers who have significant publishing scale may effectively form transformative Publish and Read agreements with institutions (a category that can include governments). This is a problem, not just for societies looking to be as open as possible, but even for fully open access publishers such as PLOS. As Alison Mudditt (CEO of PLOS) recently pointed out, if you are already in full compliance with Plan S you are essentially shut out of the monies attached to transformative deals as publishers move from subscription to gold open access.

It’s a good point about scale and read-and-publish deals. The reference to PLOS, though, raises an even bigger problem, one that plagues the various subscribe-to-open initiatives too: If current library budgets are diverted to flip the existing gated content to open, where will funds come from to support existing OA initiatives like PLOS? The answer can’t be APCs.

The MIT Press monograph grant

From the press release announcing a three-year, $850,000 grant to MIT Press from Arcadia:

Amy Brand, director of the MIT Press and principal investigator for the grant, sees it as an opportunity to explore alternatives to the traditional market-based business model for professional and scholarly monographs. “Until the mid-1990s, most U.S. university presses could count on sales of 1,300–1,700 units, but today monograph sales are typically in the range of 300–500 units,” says Brand “Many presses make up this difference with internal subsidies or subventions from institutional or philanthropic sources, but this is not sustainable and oftenfunde unpredictable. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, this generous award from Arcadia will allow us to develop and test a flexible OA sustainability model that can then be adapted to the needs of our peers.”

The sheer scale of the sales drop-off is startling.

MIT Press, with its PubPub parternship and long OA track record, is the right place to experiment. There are other like-minded projects in the works: the ARL’s Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem, the Mellon-supported Sustainable History Monograph Pilot, and the Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs, funded by Research England.

The two key issues are cost and author access. The scholarly monograph can’t survive the current $30 to $50 thousand per title spending (the estimate range from a 2016 Ithaka S+R study). Nor can university presses adopt the ruinous APC practice from the OA journal article economy—$15,000, to take the UC Press example, is an egregious nonstarter, excluding all the world’s scholars beyond a handful of wealthy Western institutions.

‘The Research Data Sharing Business Landscape’

Roger Schonfeld, in a Scholarly Kitchen post on the emerging data sharing “business landscape”:

On July 17, Dryad and Zenodo, two leading generalist not-for-profit data repositories built on open source platforms, announced a partnership supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The partnership focuses on “supporting researcher and publisher workflows as well as best practices in data and software curation” via new open source code and “integrations between our systems.” 

Schonfeld’s neutral overview contrasts the nonprofits—Dryad and Zenodo—with the for-profit offerings from Springer Nature and Elsevier. The stakes are high in what really is a battle for the future of infrastructure. The Dryad-Zenodo cooperation agreement is a very promising development.

‘Leaving behind the silly arguments about what is an acceptable profit margin or surplus’

Angela Chochran, in a new post on the Scholarly Kitchen:

Leaving behind the silly arguments about what is an acceptable profit margin or surplus, and who decides what kinds of activities one is allowed to do with those surpluses, I want to explore a bit about what I see as “publisher added value,” look at some numbers that are complicating the issues, and imagine a future world in which these services or activities cease to exist as we collectively race to the bottom in order to cut expenses.

Silly arguments? That 37 percent Elsevier profit margin is our congealed labor. The whole premise of the post—that “downward pressure on pricing” threatens scholarly communication—is absurd given the contrast between the whale-blubber of prices and the membrane of “value” added.

‘My University Is Dying’

Sheila Liming in a short essay for the Chronicle Review, on relentless budget cuts at the University of North Dakota:

I’m talking about the nonmaterial consequences of material resource depletion, which can last for generations and make earnest attempts at normalcy appear shot through with undercurrents of gloom. But the feeling isn’t unique to campuses like mine — campuses that have already met and locked horns with the new, ascetic order. If you build it, they will come; if you tear it down due to a maintenance backlog, they will go somewhere else — if they possibly can. But austerity is an infection. It spreads with those who run from it. As Karl Marx, writing in England but speaking to his native Germany, warns in the preface to his famous Capital, “De te fabula narratur!” The story is about you. 

The subhed to the “My University is Dying” headline is “And soon yours will be, too.” What the piece is missing is a theory of why we should all expect North Dakota-style austerity.

‘Plan S: take Latin America’s long experience on board’

Humberto Debat and Dominique Babini, in letter published in Nature:

We share the spirit of Plan S to achieve full open access to scholarly publications (see go.nature.com/2hszsaf), but we disagree with its implementation guidelines. The plan’s design ignores more than 20 years of widespread experience in open-access publishing in many developing nations, as well as Latin America’s widespread ethos of free-to-publish and free-to-read research.

‘Publication is not enough, to generate impact you need to campaign’

Toby Green, writing in the LSE Impact Blog:

In a recent case study, I describe how I drew attention to three of my papers published since 2017. This required a change to my normal routine in order to dedicate a little bit of time every day over a period of months to develop opportunities to engage using social media. I learned what worked and what didn’t by using two tracking and reporting tools: Kudos and Altmetric. However, getting hold of some data, especially download data, proved difficult and publishers could certainly up their game here. For me, these efforts paid off, both articles are among the journal’s most-downloaded and have Altmetric scores in the top 5% of all research outputs. As a result, I have received invitations to speak at conferences and write blog posts (like this one) which, in turn, develops my audience and increases my chance of making an impact.

Green is right that translating scholarship for the public—and working to make it visible—is worth our time. But that effort doesn’t need to be framed, as Green’s explicitly is, in terms of REF-style “impact”—with its top-down, metric-tide market ethos. The tools he recommends are also problematic for an open-scholarship future: Altmetric is owned by Springer Nature, and Kudos is an independent for-profit—a sitting duck for a bepress-like Elsevier acquisition.

‘So What’s the DEAL?’

Springer Nature’s Dagmar Laging, in an inteview for the Scholarly Kitchen:

But with not only transformative deals but the need to secure sustainable funding for fully OA equally critical to supporting the transition to OA, it was important to us and Projekt DEAL that any solution encompassed both hybrid journals and fully OA journals.

There are a host of problems with read-and-publish deals like this, notably around North-South inequalities (even within Europe). But the effective lock-in of extortionate APC levels and the preservation of hybrid journals are terrible too.

‘The Criminologist Accused of Cooking the Books’

Tom Bartlett, in his investigative piece for the Chronicle [paywall] on an apparent criminology research fraud case:

But in an interview, the editor in chief of Criminology, David McDowall, seemed less than eager about getting to the bottom of what might be wrong with this particular paper. He confirmed that he had seen the letter Pickett sent but says that he “didn’t read it in great depth.” As for the possibility of retraction, which Pickett has requested, McDowall was dubious about the concept. “I don’t even quite know what retraction is,” McDowall says. “I imagine that it could occur. I would think there would be legalistic implications.” 

This is the field’s flagship journal?

‘Author discusses his book on the purpose of college’

Johann Neem, in an interview for Inside Higher Ed:

I also don’t think vocational and liberal education can be done well in the same course of study. First, they often have very different ethical orientations, so if part of what constitutes a good college education is a commitment to thinking as a worthy activity on its own terms, studying primarily to learn a trade does not develop students’ character in the right way. Second, often vocational/professional programs have courses that are narrowly tailored to train people for specific tasks, rather than broadly oriented to providing insight in the world for its own sake. In this sense, a good college education is foundational and general, and that is OK.

Neem’s right about this, but the whole liberal arts world is moving in the opposite direction.

‘The Accident of Accessibility: How the data of the Teaching Excellence Framework creates neoliberal subjects’

Liz Morrish, writing for the LSE Impact Blog on the UK Teaching Excellence Framework measures:

These metrics are not simply benign and have serious implications for academics whose labour is being evaluated along new and unforeseen dimensions. For instance, they must now privilege the potential popularity of a subject before proposing to teach it. They must justify both new and current courses on the grounds of ‘employability’. And so, innovation in teaching and research is determined by appeals to economic value and the capricious choices of 18-year olds, rather than by the advance of knowledge or professional judgement of academics.

Morrish notes that the UK government uses “providers” in place of “universities”.

‘Tenured faculty laid off at St. Cloud State’

Inside Higher Ed:

President Robbyn Wacker notified faculty members last month that despite ongoing efforts to manage the university’s budget, “we have come to the conclusion that we need to retrench eight tenured and probationary faculty positions from three academic units.”

When “retrench” becomes a verb.