2023: The Year of Nonprofit, Diamond OA

From the Open Access Week announcement:

“Community over Commercialization” is the theme for this year’s International Open Access Week (October 23-29). This theme encourages a candid conversation about which approaches to open scholarship prioritize the best interests of the public and the academic community—and which do not. […] Adopted by its 193 Member States, the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science highlights the need to prioritize community over commercialization in its calls for the prevention of “inequitable extraction of profit from publicly funded scientific activities” and support for “non-commercial publishing models and collaborative publishing models with no article processing charges.”

The huge diamond OA gathering in Mexico is, of course, the same week—with Europe coming to Latin America. In more ways than one, as it turns out: Once the world’s center of APC activity, Europe is now (or so it seems) charting an open-authorship future. And it’s explicitly calling for nonprofit infrastructure, here again coming home to Latin America. Also in gestation: cOAlition S pulling the plug on transformative [sic] deals, and U.S. Nelson Memo implementation.

I’m heating up the popcorn.

‘Ivy Plus Libraries weigh in on OSTP guidance on access to federally funded research’

The Ivy Plus Libraries have come out swinging against APCs in their Nelson Memo statement:

It is in that spirit that we want to highlight the dangers of allowing the interests of commercial publishers to dictate the paths available to implementing this bold new guidance on open scholarship. We refer here to the pay-to-publish model of open access to research publications, as exemplified by individual APC (article processing charge) fees charged directly to authors, and/or institutional Read and Publish agreements where libraries pay bulk APCs on behalf of their scholars and unlock institutional access to read pay-walled content. […] Implementing the Nelson memo via an APC model is antithetical to the equity goals so clearly articulated in the guidance memo and the values of our institutions.

The institutions—which include MIT, Stanford, Chicago, and Duke, among others—cite the exclusion of authors:

Locking in a norm where an author, funder, and/or institution must pay an opaque and often costly fee for the right to publish an article risks locking out scholars from less resourced institutions and less well funded disciplines. The equity issue in the APC model extends globally for authors and researchers in lower-income countries who must navigate publishers’ convoluted and demeaning APC waiver procedures that may result in denial of the waiver or discounted APC fees that are still unaffordable. Equitable opportunity to contribute to scholarly literature is as important for the integrity and usefulness of scholarship globally as is the open accessibility to read.

The open-authorship movement continues to grow.

‘Performing Openness in Academic publishing’

Alex McLean, writing for on his blog about the treasure hunt required to find OA copies of his new book, despite a $15,000 subvention to MIT Press:

Although all copies of the book are openly licensed into the creative commons, some are nonetheless paywalled. Indeed, the ebook is has wide digitally distribution to the kindle, apple, google, kobo etc ebook stores where you can buy access to this creative commons license for $25.99. Unfortunately, the digital rights management (DRM) imposed by the store makes it difficult to benefit from the freedom to share and modify the text that the open license grants you. So really, you are paying $25.99 to lose benefits.


Worse, the MIT Press website steers you towards these digitally-rights-managed, $25.99 paywalls and away from the otherwise identical free-to-download ebook that we paid the subvention for. If you click the big ‘ebook’ button, which tantilisingly has no price next to it (screen shot below), you are directed to the Penguin Random House commercial distribution of it:

To track down a free ebook,

you have to instead click on the ‘resources’ tab, and find a link to the epub or mobi ebook download there. Of course, this isn’t a mere resource for the book, but the actual book, so that’s a bit like hiding the free download behind a door that says ‘beware of the leopard’.

The PDF version is on still another page, where it’s divided into 15 separate chapter downloads.

McLean considers this buried-OA a “kind of performance done to placate” funders—a fair read. MIT, which is rightly praised for its fee-free OA initiatives, cites the need to recoup costs and promises some minor fixes to their standard layout. Good. McLean’s point still holds: the full PDF (single download) and ebook versions should be at least as prominent as the paid options.

‘A free toolkit to foster open access agreements’

Alicia Wise and Lorraine Estelle, writing in Insights:

The realization of a transformative deal can be a complex and time-consuming process. Success is not only determined based on the results of the negotiation process, but also in the execution of the contract. To help all parties involved in this journey, this document describes the process in all its phases from initial contact to signing the agreement, and from the implementation of an approval process, to monitoring and evaluating the fulfilment of the contract. The Workflow task and finish group identified the roles and the key information needed during the process.

This is like handing out drug-dealer kits: Transformative [sic] agreements are locking in the author-excluding APC-model, displacing the only fair alternative—collective funding.

‘Public access is not equal access ‘

A good statement from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (publisher of Science):

Gold OA journals, for which authors pay publication charges, work for senior scientists who are well-funded, tenured, and overwhelmingly male and white, but not so much for early-career scientists who may be poorly funded, not yet tenured, and much more diverse. Also disadvantaged are scientists at smaller schools, including historically Black colleges and universities, and in underfunded disciplines like math and the social sciences.

But the AAAS statement implies that its (mostly) subscription model is the equitable alternative. But that’s willful ignorance: direct, collective funding removes the barriers for readers and authors.

‘Introducing Nature Research Intelligence solutions’

More surveillance publishing from Springer Nature:

Demonstrating research impact and setting a comprehensive strategy are critical tasks for any research organisation, but gathering trustworthy insights can be difficult and time-consuming. To support organisations in reaching their strategic goals, we are launching Nature Research Intelligence

The announcement has a bingo win: “solutions,” “holistic benchmark,” “AI powered,” and “forward-looking insights” all appear.

Dystopian Headline of the Week

From AZ Inno: “VR edtech company connected to ASU raises $20M in series A funds”. The lede:

An immersive learning educational technology company developed in collaboration with Arizona State University has raised $20 million in series A funding as it continues building its virtual reality-enabled coursework and platform and putting them to work in classrooms. Dreamscape Learn, which is based in Santa Monica, California, was developed through a two-year partnership between ASU and VR company Dreamscape Immersive. That included input from ASU faculty in the development of materials that add a cinematic and emotional element to the learning, as well as the ability to give students a view beyond the classroom.

We college teachers have been asked to add cinema and emotion to our courses for some years now—but these “beyond the classroom” goggles should pick up the pace.

‘The APC-Barrier and its effect on stratification in open access publishing’

Thomas Klebel and Tony Ross-Hellauer, reporting in Quantitative Science Studies on their analysis of 1.5 million articles in the DOAJ:

The observed forces clearly perpetuate the system of cumulative advantage inherent to academia, as well-funded research groups are better able to secure OA publications in prestigious journals with high APCs, leading to citation advantages and further funding down the line. We believe that this demonstrates the impact of APC pricing on the scholarly landscape and that these charges may have a chilling effect on opportunity and equality for researchers from less prestigious or less wealthy institutions. Such stratifications in publishing, favouring traditionally-advantaged actors, will only exacerbate historical inequalities…

It’s getting harder and harder, with every study, to ignore that APCs are excluding authors in patterned, North-South ways.

A Commonplace for Scholarly Communication

From Sarah Kearns’ just-published editorial manifesto for Commonplace:

The landscape of knowledge sharing and dissemination is expansive. […] Moreover, critique floods the ecosystem partially rightly so given the many challenges and limitations of current infrastructures. There are few publications in the scholarly communications space that seek explicitly to focus on emerging models and to spark the inspiration and sustain the momentum needed for change. Through curated and co-created essays, series, podcasts, and other formats, Commonplace aims to be movement toward knowledge sharing futures and the cultures that sustain them.

The outlet, edited by Kearns, is published by the nonprofit Knowledges Futures,1 on its PubPub platform (of which I’m a fan). Kearns’ manifesto comes on the heels of Commonplace’s announcement that it will pay contributors and expand its pallet of formats, itself not long after Kearns and co. released a new style guide.

  1. Just as The Commonplace appears to have dropped its The, the Knowledge Futures Group seems to have lopped off its third word. 

Responsible AI Has a Working for Profit-Maximizing Companies Problem

This late-October MIT Technology Review story hasn’t aged well:

[Rumman] Chowdhury says that working as part of a well-resourced team at Twitter has helped, reassuring her that she does not have to bear the burden alone. “I know that I can go away for a week and things won’t fall apart, because I’m not the only person doing it,” she says. But Chowdhury works at a big tech company with the funds and desire to hire an entire team to work on responsible AI. Not everyone is as lucky. 

Four days later—less than a week, in fact—things had fallen apart: “Welp, There Goes Twitter’s Ethical AI Team.”

Responsible AI may have a “burnout problem,” as the MIT headline has it. But the community’s bigger problem is its belief that profit-making companies will ever use “ethical AI” teams for anything more than PR window-dressing.

TAs: The Normalization of Pay-to-Publish

Murray State University’s A.J. Boston, writing in C&RL News on so-called “transformative agreements” (TAs, aka read-and-publish deals):

On balance, any upsides that TAs may present are negated by the normalization of paying-to-publish, posing huge problems for equity. […] Suffice to say, this is not the sort of librarianship that I want to play a part in, where we spend vast sums of money to provide knowledge access for a select few in such a way that ends up excluding the many.

Boston’s is one voice among a growing chorus of librarians speaking out against the author-excluding read-and-publish deal. (MIT’s Chris Bourg is another.)

Boston’s own alternative, dubbed “Read & Let Read,” is mostly about tweaking the fairness of the existing subscription regime. It isn’t, as he admits, a route to diamond OA—but it has the signal virtue of leaning open while not, at the same time, paving the road for the conglomerates’ APC-based OA capture.

‘The Internet We Could Have Had’

Smart piece by Christopher Kelty:

What is even weirder, and harder to explain, is that the internet we do have was caused by the internet we could have had. Elements of the figuration of that internet we could have had turned out to be motors of political domination. Free speech, for instance; at least a certain extremist version of it. Openness, for instance; at least a certain neoliberal version of it. Hackerspaces, for instance; at least a certain tech-bro version of them. Participation, for instance at least a certain advertising-revenue driven version of it. […] If we call today for more openness, freedom, participation, collective action, commons, or community, doesn’t that mean we risk getting more of what we have gotten already?

The whole piece is worth reading.

‘How Africa is overcoming ‘knowledge colonialism’’

Reggie Raju and Auliya Badrudeen, writing for 360ino on “transformative” [sic] read-and-publish deals:

The nation-wide agreements, conceived in the Global North, have shifted the prejudice from reading to publishing: communities can now read the research but cannot publish their own research because they cannot afford the up-front fees. This pay-to-publish model shifts the accessibility problem from the end of the publication process to the beginning. In essence, those without the funds to pay publication fees are further disenfranchised. Paywalls have been substituted with publication walls. The new and growing business model of open access and up-front fees is milking the Global South. 

The piece goes on to highlight a new pan-African open platform, created by Raju and his University of Cape Town colleagues. More on the platform (built atop PKP’s OJS and Open Monograph Press) here and here. Exciting stuff.

‘Are we undervaluing Open Access by not correctly factoring in the potentially huge impacts of Machine Learning?’

Librarian Aaron Tay, writing on Medium about the potential benefits of OA for machine learning–based projects:

one other benefit that tends to be overlooked, or at least seldom mentioned in my experience particularly by librarians, is how in an Open Access World, we can use machines to plough through the world’s research literature to look for patterns and even possibly do a synthesis of knowledge, leading to vastly greater effectiveness and efficiency in the way we do research…

It’s a smart, well-informed piece, with a nice gloss on the current status of models fed by academic papers. But “vastly greater effectiveness and efficiency”? Careful what we wish for. Among other things, models trained on existing literature risk generating a new Matthew Effect—a faster dynamic of cumulative advantage for the already visible and well-heeled.

Tay identifies emerging projects that attempt to, for example, aid literature searching and paper summation. He mentions Elicit, SciSpace, and Consensus, all three leveraging OpenAI’s GPT3. They’re fun to play with, but Tay doesn’t say that two of the three (SciSpace and Consensus) are for-profit startups. But that matters a lot: The companies are after profits, not knowledge, and they’re sitting ducks for acquisition by Elsevier et al.

‘Not all that shines is Diamond’

Marcel Hobma, writing in the Journal of Trial and Error on the APC scourge:

There is evidence that article processing costs give older, more resourceful male researchers and prestigious institutions an advantage over authors from developing countries and early-career authors that are not backed by strong institutions […] this process can amplify certain publication biases that favour topics and viewpoints that are backed by rich organisations and industries, and therefore distort certain fields of research and possibly steer scientific research away from public interests.

The piece is the best overview of the mounting evidence on the APC regime’s exclusions and distortions.

‘The Humanities’ Scholarly Infrastructure Is in Utter Disarray’

Steven Mintz, writing for Inside Higher Ed on selfish colleagues in the humanities:

[I]f I were to point to a single factor that is most consequential, I’d draw attention to a dramatic shift in humanists’ professional identity. For better and worse, many and perhaps most humanities scholars, from the 1960s onward, identified first and foremost with their discipline, not with their institution or their department, let alone their students. […] I fear that we are witnessing the rise of a more extreme individualistic “out for themselves” ethic among humanities scholars. In my own department’s building, the hallways are empty except for a handful of students, office doors are closed and locked, and almost all their lights are out. Colleagues teach their classes, then depart to destinations unknown.

The piece—with passing nods to other factors like workload—blames faculty narcissism for what is a structural problem. The swinging 1960s aren’t the reason faculty won’t review manuscripts. It’s profiteering publishers, admin bean-counters, careerist students, and metricized review—academic capitalism—that have stamped out the collective project Mintz mourns.

‘Amsterdam Declaration on Funding Research Software Sustainability’

From the statement:

The crucial role of software in research is becoming increasingly apparent, as is the urgent need to sustain it and to invest in the people who develop and maintain it. Research software sustainability is vitally important for the reproducibility of research outcomes and has a direct bearing on the process of research, including the efficient use of financial and human resources. Funders can play a crucial role in ensuring software sustainability by structurally supporting it. Over the past few years, a variety of methods for sustaining research software have been explored, including improving and extending funding policies and instruments. During an international workshop held on 8-9 November 2022 in Amsterdam, funding organizations joined forces to explore how to effectively contribute to making research software sustainable. This resulted in the Amsterdam Declaration on Funding Research Software Sustainability

There’s lots here on “sustainability” and even open-science standards (“as much as possible”), but not a word—nothing—about the commercial publishers’ acquire-and-stack software strategy.

‘Many Top AI Researchers Get Financial Backing From Big Tech’

Wired, reporting on an AI doctoral student’s recent paper:

The Abdallas examined the CVs of 135 computer science faculty who work on AI at the four schools, looking for indications that the researcher had received funding from one or more tech companies. For 52 of those, they couldn’t make a determination. Of the remaining 83 faculty, they found that 48, or 58 percent, had received funding such as a grant or a fellowship from one of 14 large technology companies: Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Nvidia, Intel, IBM, Huawei, Samsung, Uber, Alibaba, Element AI, or OpenAI. Among a smaller group of faculty that works on AI ethics, they also found that 58 percent of those had been funded by Big Tech. When any source of funding was included, including dual appointments, internships, and sabbaticals, 32 out of 33, or 97 percent), had financial ties to tech companies. “There are very few people that don’t have some sort of connection to Big Tech,” Abdalla says.

97 percent.

‘Higher Ed Is a Public Good. Let’s Fund It Like One.’

James Nguyen H. Spencer, writing for The Chronicle [paywalled], on a public-financing scheme for U.S. higher education:

Wall Street and Silicon Valley invest in companies expecting financial returns from these expenditures; moreover, they invest in multiple companies anticipating that some will result in returns and others in losses, and that the overall portfolio will generate lucrative profits. Start-ups and other businesses happily overcome upfront financial costs by promising investors a share of future benefits. If a college degree is a great benefit in the marketplace — as it surely is in aggregate — why would students needing financial resources not feel the same way? What if the university itself — with its 100-plus-year history of successful graduates, functional support structures, rigorous admissions processes, and enthusiastic and employed alumni bases — truly saw itself as investing in its students with the expectation that it is building a lifelong financial relationship? I’ve done the math, and initiating a sustainable model is less fantastical than you’d think.

It’s an interesting proposal, but doomed to fail on its own public-good terms. By giving away the game—by explicitly treating a college degree as a personal, lucrative asset—the whole scheme guarantees that the enterprise (to use a loaded word) will still look like a private good.