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‘University-business interactions’

Times Higher Education, on UK ‘university-business collaborations’ [paywall]:

Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) show that 76,619 university-business interactions occurred in 2022-23. This was down by 5 per cent from the number registered in 2021-22, and the lowest level since at least 2014-15 – including years that were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The story is pegged, ironically, to financial pressures—that a cash crunch is hobbling university-business “collaboration.” But that’s not what’s striking: The main takeaway, instead, is that entanglements with corporations are so normalized (in the UK, yes, but most everywhere) that there’s a countable “interactions” measure—with 76,619 registered as a disappointment.

Business-university ties go back centuries, but it’s easy to forget that before the late 1970s, such partnerships were rare.

Dataset Sharing, Elsevier-Style

Elsevier’s Judy Verses, in a February interview with The Scholarly Kitchen:

At Elsevier we try to support researchers, librarians, academic leaders, funders and governments by combining quality information and data sets with analytical tools to facilitate insights and critical decision-making. Science is increasingly more multidisciplinary, reproducible and transparent. The volume of research continues to grow, and researchers are increasingly sharing their datasets. These trends mean we have a clear opportunity to help the research community with our journals, our platforms, analytics capabilities, the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to surface what is relevant, make connections and make smart decisions.

The whole interview is press-release pablum, but this paragraph is fascinating. Verses, Elsevier’s president of “Academic and Government Markets,” is trading in a revealing self-contradiction: She’s referring, on the one hand, to Elsevier’s propriety analytics tools, but also—with conflationary jujitsu—dataset-sharing in (open) science. The RELX Group’s data-hoovering is, to the state the obvious, anything but “transparent,” and by “sharing” they mean selling our surveilled behavior back to us—as high-priced prediction products.

‘Does it pay to pay? A comparison of the benefits of open-access publishing across various sub-fields in biology’

Amanda D. Clark, in a February PeerJ study looking at citations in hybrid journals:

…. we found that publishing open access in hybrid journals that offer the option confers an average citation advantage to authors of 17.8 citations compared to closed access articles in similar journals. After taking into account the number of authors, Journal Citation Reports 2020 Quartile, year of publication, and Web of Science category, we still found that open access generated significantly more citations than closed access (p < 0.0001). […] This citation advantage based on access type was even similar when comparing open and closed access articles published in the same issue of a journal (p < 0.0001). However, by examining articles where the authors paid an article processing charge, we found that cost itself was not predictive of citation rates (p = 0.14). Based on our findings of access type and other model parameters, we suggest that, in the case of the 152 journals we analyzed, paying for open access does confer a citation advantage.

The cake-and-eat-it-too business of hybrid-journals—where subscription revenues are joined by per-author APCs—hinges on the presumed citation (and readership) benefits for the OA articles. In theory, authors get the boost of inherited prestige from legacy journals with, as an expensive bonus, OA gatelessness. cOAlition S has, of course, gone after publishers’ hybrid-style double-dipping, but that hasn’t stopped the practice.

Clark and her PeerJ coauthors mention the author-exclusion stakes, but the piece settles for what amounts to author self-help advice: Publish gold if you can, but if you can’t, take the green route. That’s all well and good, but—as the authors claim—“publishing gold OA article in a hybrid journal maximizes citations in most scenarios.” Even if green citation results are better than the closed alternative, it’s still the unjust reality that only well-heeled researchers can, so to speak, reach for the top shelf.

‘An Interview with Tracey Armstrong of CCC’

Tracey Armstrong, in an interview for The Scholarly Kitchen last week:

What keeps me up at night is the unlicensed use of copyrighted material in AI systems and the lack of recognition globally of the critical, foundational, and perpetual role that copyrighted material plays in powering AI systems. I am focused on ensuring that we have viable market-based licensing solutions for the use of copyrighted content in the training of AI systems and on elevating awareness of the critical importance of using quality content in training, and of the fact that copies are being made in that training process.

The publishers that CCC represents aren't kept up at night. No, they're dreaming of licensing revenue from OpenAI and its big-tech peers. It’s almost certainly the case that the marquee LLMs have trained on giant scholarly publishers’ copyrighted content. Last week’s New York Times report on the tech firms’ “cut corners” testifies to their insatiable demand for materials. CCC and its publisher-clients are, no doubt, preparing lawsuits and negotiating—with the aim, either way, to profit yet again off the unpaid scholarship of researchers.

A side note: Armstrong, in The Scholarly Kitchen interview, claims that CCC is a non-profit. That’s misleading at best. In the early 1980s the U.S. courts forced the firm to drop its non-profit status, since it had no “interests of any substance beyond the creation of a device to protect their copyright ownership and collect license fees.” As the Copyright Society notes, “CCC still maintains not-for-profit status in New York, but for federal purposes is a for-profit corporation.”

‘The Cost and Price of Public Access to Research Data: A Synthesis’

Gail Steinhart and Katherine Skinner, announcing a new Invest in Open Infrastructure report on data-repository funding:

Here, we present an initial report on our findings as part of our project to investigate “reasonable costs” for public access to United States federally funded research and scientific data, generously supported by the US National Science Foundation. This paper focuses on research data as one of the key scholarly output types impacted by the Nelson Memo.

The full report is worth reading—there’s good definitional work, as well as an impressive overview of the data-repository landscape. My one qualm is that the report, to the best of my knowledge, doesn’t address the implications of US public-access policies for unfunded researchers. The report is mostly neutral on the various approaches to funding, with direct “structural” support surveyed alongside membership and per-deposit fee models. The problem is that any approach that relies on researchers or their host institutions to pay membership or per-deposit fees will exclude scholars; the only fair and sustainable approach is a direct, collective approach that is free to researchers. If the US adopts a mechanism-neutral policy—akin to its APC agnositicism on the article side—we may find ourselves with a broader, fee-based landscape that leaves researchers (including those from the Global South) unable to share their data.

The Publication is Alive!

Mikhail Gorbunov-Posadov, in a November article in publications:

An alive publication is a new genre for presenting the results of scientific research, where the scientific work is published online, and then is constantly being developed and improved by its author. Serious errors and typos are no longer fatal, nor do they haunt the author for the rest of his or her life.

Gorbunov-Posadov has in mind perpetual revision, and a slew of thoughts for how the publishing world should adapt. And he expects it to happen:

Only absolute geniuses write perfect texts on the first attempt. All other authors will notice this or the imperfection of their publication after some time and will undoubtedly be happy to have a window of opportunity to improve, correct, or update it. A new paradigm for presenting the results of research is the future. Alive publications will replace many of the current forms of publications based on print traditions. In a few years, the scientist’s mind will be transformed. Taking care to keep a publication up to date will become the norm; moreover, it will become a long-term, irresistible, and vital need, akin to a parent’s care for a child’s development.

Alive or not, widespread support for versioning—with less reverence to a version of record—is overdue, especially in kinetic fields like my own.

Jeff Pooley is affiliated professor of media & communication at Muhlenberg College, lecturer at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, director of mediastudies.press, and fellow at Knowledge Futures.

pooley@muhlenberg.edu | jeff.pooley@asc.upenn.edu
press@mediastudies.press | jeff@knowledgefutures.org

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