‘COPIM releases free code for Open Access project sign up system’

From the UK-based open monograph project COPIM:

Available on Github at https://github.com/BirkbeckCTP/otf-signup, features of the system include order tracking, billing management, notification of new sign ups, and access control for backlist packages of books.

The open source code—developed for the CEU Press initiative to use back-catalogue access membership to fund current OA publishing—should be adaptable to any consortiable funding model. Can’t wait to dive in.

‘Look to the commons for the future of R&D and science policy’

Sam Moore, in a LSE Impact post on research and the commons:

Simply put, policymakers should reorient their focus away from mere open access to the outputs of scientific research and instead nurture the commons across the research lifecycle. It would mean less of a winner-takes-all strategy to research funding – away from huge grants dictated by bogus ideas of ‘excellence’ – and more of one that encourages small, careful, collaborative research by and between diverse groups of scientists. This could be facilitated through basic research income, grant lotteries and other non-competitive methods, with the outputs from each grant owned in common by scientists across the globe.

The idea of a basic research income (presumably analogized from basic income schemes)—paired with a grant lottery, for example—is a mind-bending departure from the conventional reward systems that (in theory) link distinction with funding. Moore elevates cooperative knowledge-making over the norm of universal access—”communism” in Merton’s original, perhaps infelicitous term.

‘A World Elsewhere: PLOS’s Community Action Publishing Model’

Joseph Esposito and Michael Clarke, in a November Scholarly Kitchen post on PLOS’s new Communication Action Publishing (CAP) funding scheme:

It is our constant refrain to society publishers, among many not-for-profit organizations, that despite their IRS status, they will have to learn to operate in the marketplace directly against for-profit firms whose primary mission is to benefit their shareholders. CAP is a rebuke to this perspective. While it will operate in a business-like way (the strategic analysis and business modeling that went into its creation is impressive), it is built upon a platform of community cooperation. In this it is of the same spirit as calls for the academy to “take back” publishing from commercial firms. It is thus not only a business model or a publishing service, but a social experiment. What would the world look like outside the rigors of the marketplace? Perhaps there is a revolution brewing in the PLOS offices in San Francisco and a generation from now we will look back and say, that is where it started.

I am less optimistic, but hope to be proven wrong.

The basic idea of the CAP scheme is to shift the cost burden from authors to institutions. Member universities pay an annual fee based on their faculty’s publishing over the previous five years. To prevent free riders, PLOS is graduating APCs for non-members at an aggressive rate, so that, in two years, the fees will jump about 50 percent.

PLOS, to its great credit, recognizes the injustice of an APC system that, ironically, the nonprofit helped to inaugurate in the early 2000s. In defense of the new plan, see the sophisticated reasoning of PLOS’s Sarah Rouhi, in a recent interview with Richard Poynder.

I am, however, wary of the scheme, which at its core is a variant on the read-and-publish deal. In 2019 the term “pure publish” was coined to designate a read-and-publish style deal that, however, featured an already-OA publisher like PLOS. In fact Lisa Hinchliffe’s overview of “pure publish” was pegged to the University of California’s early 2020 agreement with PLOS along these lines.

The problem with CAP/pure publish is the problem with read-and-publish: Most of the world’s institutions won’t be able to pay the membership charges, even with the tiered, author-count pricing. These institutions—and all unfunded scholars that work at them—certainly can’t afford the escalating APCs that, in the CAP scheme, are intended to force membership. The likely outcome, in some ways, is even worse than the read-and-publish deals with traditional tolled publishers, since at least in those scenarios tolled-access “free” submission remains an option for hybrid journals. In the PLOS model, scholars around the world are likely to be excluded from authorship altogether.

The key problem with the CAP is the membership charge calculation—based authorship counts. That metric presumes, holding authorship constant, that every institution has an equal ability to pay. But this assumption is profoundly wrong. So the CAP will have a similar (if differently patterned) effect to the APC itself: Shifting barriers to access from readers to authors.

The virtue of collective funding schemes like Open Library of Humanities‘ is that contributions are based, in large part, on ability to pay. Though there are obvious logistical challenges, it is easy to imagine a contribution scheme scaled to wealth measures like per capita national GDP and budget per student. Every institution, under an ability-to-pay formula like this, would contribute to the pot according to its means. The otherwise excluded—which is to say, most of the world’s scholars—would retain the right to authorship.

‘Our first six months using Shareyourpaper.org for Libraries’

Montana State librarian Leila Sterman, on switching to Shareyourpaper.org for repository processing:

While we haven’t perfected all of our internal processes yet, the introduction of Shareyourpaper into our workflow has decreased the time spent sending out article requests and doing copyright clearance from nearly 2 1/2 days (for about 100 articles) to close to 2 1/2 hours!

I often nudge scholars in projects I’m working on to submit to nonprofit repositories, without much success. Now I point them to Shareyourpaper.org, and they actually follow through.

‘A Big Science Publisher Is Going Open Access. But at What Cost?’

Grigori Guitchounts, writing last week for Undark on the usurious Nature APC:

Only the wealthiest universities in the wealthiest countries will be able to foot these bills. As a result, the range of researchers able to publish open-access papers in Springer Nature’s top journals will be narrow. The ivory tower, already full of inequalities, will only grow more divided. The “haves” will be able to publish openly in widely read and cited journals, which will in turn allow them to secure coveted research funding and academic posts. The “have-nots” may still choose to publish in Nature, but their work will remain hidden to much of the world, behind a paywall. The rich will get richer.

Maybe it will take a revolt of the privileged to weaken the APC scourge. It would be ironic if intra-elite inequality dented a system whose status quo—$3,000 APCs—has long gated off OA publishing for most of the world’s scholars.

To repeat the obvious, with Nature as late-arriving exclamation point: APC pricing has nothing to do with production costs. Almost two years out from the decision, Plan S’s doubling down on cost transparency as an APC-taming device seems more naive than ever.

‘The 360° Competitor’

From Joseph Esposito’s Scholarly Kitchen post on the trade book industry, back in October:

It is a remarkable fact that publishers have succeeded over the past two decades in reaping 100% of the efficiencies from digital media and workflows and shared none of that with authors. This will continue.

The observation, an apt one, is buried in an intelligent, insidery discussion of the mainstream industry. Esposito’s main move is to analogize to scholarly publishing—with Elsevier as sector counterpart to Amazon (and maybe Berelsmann, in the future) as a potential “360° company”. Esposito does not, however, extend the analogy to the “remarkable fact” above, so here it is:

It is a remarkable fact that scholarly publishers have succceded over the past two decades in repeating 100% of the efficiencies from digital media and workflows and shared none of that with university libraries. This will continue.

(Bertelsmann’s Penguin Random House, of course, did end up buying Simon & Schuster—an object of informed speculation in Esposito’s October column.)

Sciety: ‘eLife Team Discusses Agile Development of New Community-Driven Platform’

eLife’s Paul Shannon, in an interview with Scholastica on its new Sciety service:

So we started to develop features where you could see content in a Twitter-like feed and then follow different communities that you could come back to regularly. We’re effectively building social networking features into an aggregation service and that’s what Sciety is now. New users come to view a peer review on a preprint and then they’re encouraged to stay or come back to follow all of the work being shared in the different reviewing communities.

Sciety basically brings together existing preprint reviewing initiatives like PREreview and Review Commons, and serves up new preprint reviews in a feed. It’s getting released and iterated at the same time—the agile process discussed in the interview—so it’s threadbare for the moment. But it’s a promising tool in the march to a more robust publish-then-review model built on preprints.

Knowledge Unlatched Strikes Again and Again

With a hat tip to the indispensable Richard Poynder, here is a quick follow up to yesterday’s post on Knowledge Unlatched’s latest move to disguise its for-profit status. I focused on KU’s Open Research Community (ORC), launched last year as an implied nonprofit. In yesterday’s post, I focused on ORC’s “Community Manager” Pablo Markin and KU head Sven Fund.

The plot is quite a bit thicker, though I won’t do the topic—KU and Sven Fund’s persistent failure to disclose—justice in this short follow-up. I hope that a journalist like Poynder will pick up the trail.

It turns out that Fund’s use of an astroturf blog goes back to at least 2012, when he was De Gruyter’s managing director. Through a newly acquired subsidiary, De Gruyter launched openscience.com—a site with no trace of its corporate origins. Back in 2013, Poynder began digging into who owned the blog. With typical doggedness, he uncovered that Fund’s De Gruyter was its undisclosed backer. Poynder, however, had to muck through weeks of obfuscation to establish that fact, as he painstakingly detailed at the time. Fund, on initial contact from Poynder, professed ignorance of the blog, though he admitted to having acquired the openscience.com domain. Only later did Poynder learn that Fund had outbid the Open Science Federation for the domain. Two days after Poynder’s account was posted, the OpenScience blog added a one-line disclosure of its ownership by De Gruyter’s subsidiary (with no mention, initially, of the parent company).

Fund’s De Gruyter colleague at the time was none other than Pablo Markin, the current KU employee and ORC “community manager.” Markin joined De Gruyter in June 2012, a month before OpenScience launched. Markin wrote regularly for the site until December 2019, when he left for Knowledge Unlatched. Two months later, he announced the Open Research Community (ORC).

Markin, for years now, has been posting voraciously to a handful of apparently independent OA blogs, all of them hosted on the Francophone Hypotheses platform: Open Access Blog, Open Economics Blog, Open Culture, and Discussions Générales Open. A spot-check shows that most, if not all, of these blogs’ posts are authored by Markin. Many, but by no means all, are dated after his move to KU (and most of these are cross-posted from KU’s ORC).

In a fascinating twist, the fourth Hypotheses blog, Discussions Générales Open (DGO), is an acronymic shuffle from its previous name, De Gruyter Open (DGO), as the Wayback Machine shows. So the blog’s current title—its nod to French readers (though its content is in English)—appears to be a clumsy scrubbing of its De Gruyter origins. More to the point, Markin was writing for the same linked network of generically named Hypotheses blogs (each featuring sidebar links to the others) when he jumped to KU. To state the predictable, nowhere do the newer posts note Markin’s KU employment, even though his posting work is noted on his KU employee profile.


Two depressing codas. I noticed that the longstanding, well-respected blog No Shelf Required had been running puff pieces about KU, in the course of researching this post. See, for example, its writeup of the 2019 launch of KU project Open Research Library—an initiative widely criticized at the time. Marked an “NSR Editorial,” the piece‘s headline was “Knowledge Unlatched and partners launch Open Research Library, an innovative platform with an ambitious goal to host open access books in one place.” The subhed: “Congrats, Knowledge Unlatched and its partners on this major achievement.” The post reads like a press release.

I soon figured out why, after a quick Google search for No Shelf Required’s current director, Mirela Roncevic. (The blog was started by an academic librarian in 2008, but transferred to Roncevic at some point.) You guessed it: Roncevic is in PR and marketing for KU—a fact nowhere acknowledge on No Shelf Required.

The second coda circles back to yesterday’s post: I had noted that KU’s new “Open Research Community” was run on a venture-backed SaaS platform, with Elsevier, Wiley, and Springer Nature as other clients. What I didn’t know yesterday, but stumbled across today, is that KU’s Sven Fund is one of three venture investors in the company. This, of course, is nowhere disclosed on the ORC site, nor even in the KU press release touting the platform.

All of this, including the key 2016 stealth re-launch of KU as Fund’s for-profit, is shady at best. Fund repeatedly commits sins of omission in his companies and initiatives, KU above all. The initiatives wrap themselves in the cloth of mission-driven nonprofit-dom, down to .org and .community domain names and—in the case of KU—a genuine nonprofit pedigree. It takes detective work to discover these projects’ for-profit status.

Reasonable people can disagree about the place of profiteering in OA publishing and infrastructure. The same can’t be said for hiding for-profit status, repeatedly and after several call-outs. KU needs to start disclosing—early and often—its profit-seeking form, as a minimal step toward transparency. As Poynder phrased the question in his original post: “To what extent should we expect publishers who profess a commitment to Open Access (OA) to be open in other ways too?”

Knowledge Unlatched Strikes Again

Pablo Markin, in a recent post touting the Open Research Community‘s 2020 reach:

In the course of 2020, 153 posts and 151 documents have been added to the Open Research Community (ORC), which reflects its intention to serve as a resource for expert knowledge and content in the domain of Open Access.

What Markin does not mention is that the Open Research Community (ORC) is yet another initiative of the stealth for-profit Knowledge Unlatched (KU). Nor does Markin, identified as the ORC’s “Community Manager,” disclose KU’s backing in his original ORC announcement post from a year ago. Nor is there any mention of KU in the platform’s FAQs.

This is not a new pattern for KU. Founded as a nonprofit in 2012, the core of Knowledge Unlatched was acquired by Sven Fund’s for-profit consultancy in 2016. The organization’s new, profit-making status was, in effect, a shadily kept secret which—when revealed—caused an outcry. To this day, despite multiple pleas to Fund and his board, it is still almost impossible to unearth its for-profit status on KU’s flashy .org website.

Recall, too, that in 2019 Fund launched the Open Research Library, which effectively—in its first version—scraped OA books that it arguably had no right to host (for those with “NC” licenses, at least). KU was roundly criticized at the time. ScholarLed, the coalition of nonprofit publishers, issued a scathing statement. KU’s moves since Fund’s acquisition, the group wrote, “increasingly look like OA platform capitalism and rent-seeking”:

There is a worrying drift here in KU’s operations from a community-minded, non-profit initiative invested in helping libraries and publishers to work collaboratively to open front- and back-list book titles, to an aggressively competitive commercial firm intent on pursuing a centralized platform for the delivery of multiple varieties of OA content and associated “services” (KU has also recently moved into journal flipping and analytics).

Which brings us back to KU’s Open Research Community, launched almost exactly a year after Fund’s 2019 gambit, the Open Research Library. KU’s official press release does identify the ORC as a KU “initiative.” But nowhere does the release disclose KU’s for-profit status, not even in its ID footer. Quite the contrary.

So it’s no surprise that the ORC is built on the venture-funded SaaS company Zapnito‘s platform. Zapnito’s other clients, touted on its landing page, include Elsevier, Springer Nature, and Wiley. CEO and co-founder Charles Thiede started the company (“Powering expert communities”) after a long career at Informa, the conglomerate owner of Taylor & Francis.

So yet again, and without repetence, Fund and KU have made a stealthy move to monetize OA infrastructure.

‘How the Pandemic Is Imperiling a Working-Class College’

This big Times story on Indiana University of Pennsylvania buries the lede. The 41st paragraph:

When the 2008 recession hit, many states decimated the budgets for regional campuses of state schools. From that point through 2018, Pennsylvania’s funding per student for higher education fell 33.8 percent, among the steepest declines in the country. In inflation-adjusted terms, the state gives these schools about $220 million less annually than it did in 2000-1. To make up the difference, base tuition rose steadily beyond the cost of inflation: to $7,716 in 2018-19 from $5,358 in 2008-9. In a nutshell, the burden for supporting the system shifted sharply — from the state to the student. In the 1980s, the state paid 75 percent of a student’s load. Now the student pays nearly 75 percent. In Pennsylvania, the average student debt taken on by graduates of state schools rose 35 percent between 2011 and 2018.

It’s a moving piece of narrative journalism on an American style of class warfare—the accelerating disinvestment in the regional public universities that serve a huge if invisible share of students.

‘I’ve Never Seen a Great Business Model Not be Disrupted’

Wiley’s Judy Verses, in a Scholarly Kitchen interview on the firm’s acquisition of OA publisher Hindawi:

I’ve never seen a great business model not be disrupted. At Wiley, we force ourselves to look around the corner, even if it takes us out of our comfort zone, to continue adapting and evolving to meet customer needs. That pattern is evident with Wiley’s recent acquisitions — zyBooks, Knewton Alta, Atypon, and now Hindawi. […] This transformation toward open research has really added oxygen to our thinking about who we are serving and what they are trying to accomplish.

Wiley has been somewhat less brazen in its OA bear-hug than, say, fellow oligopolistic Springer Nature. So Verses on Wiley’s business-model pivot is an interesting public statement.

There’s a lot to digest here, but one unspoken (and unasked about) dimension is the average APC discrepancy between the acquired and acquiree. Wiley’s mostly hybrid business rests on the $3,000-plus APC, while Hindawi grew fast on the strength of its much lower ($650 to $2,000-ish) charge. That’s a major (and completely unstated) reason for Wiley to keep the brand’s separate.

‘Publication as Curation’

eLife head Michael Eisen and his colleagues, announcing its ‘publish, then review’ model:

The growing popularity of preprints has enabled researchers to make their papers freely and immediately available to anyone with an internet connection. Many eLife authors were early adopters of preprinting, and support within our community continues to expand: a recent internal analysis showed that nearly 70% of papers under review at eLife were already available on bioRxiv, medRxiv or arXiv.

Eisen et al—in an eLife article, fittingly—conclude that the life sciences nonprofit, for all practical purposes, is “no longer a publisher.” eLife, they explain with a shade of cheek, has evolved into an “organization that reviews and certifies papers that have already been published.”

The paper announces a major strategic shift, one that is plainly meant to serve as a model for the rest of the industry. eLife says it will henceforth review only already-posted preprints, with the aim to manage the (public) peer review. The whole idea is “publication as curation,” very much in keeping with the idea of the overlay journal and the call for “next generation repositories”.

eLife’s long-term goal—a good one—is to kill the 350-year journal format itself.

The Novel CEU Press OA Transition Model

Speaking of COPIM, here’s Martin Eve on a novel OA model that Central European University Press (CEUP) is piloting:

CEUP is creating a sustainable OA publishing model that will give members access to a selection of the extensive backlist, DRM-free and with perpetual access after three years. In return, this membership revenue will then be used to make newly-published books openly accessible to anyone. When the revenue target is met and the entire monograph frontlist is openly accessible, future membership fee rates can be lowered.

It’s a brilliant idea, reminiscent of the creative funding models that Eve has pioneered at Open Library of Humanities. CEUP will work with COPIM to roll out the initiative, dubbed “Opening the Future”—with the support of LYRASIS, OAPEN, and book hosting from Project MUSE.

An interesting twist is that CEUP’s executive chair is none other than Frances Pinter, the Knowledge Unlatched founder who (around the same time as Eve, in the early 2010s) helped pioneer library-support schemes for OA. Pinter had co-founded CEUP 30 years ago.

‘A Tricky Balancing Act’

Joe Deville, writing for the COPIM team on working with academic libraries:

What this means for us as a project, however, is that our answer to the question ‘how can open access books be better integrated into libraries?’ has to perform a tricky balancing act. On the one hand, it has to be mindful of […] the uncomfortable practices of instrumentalism which many of our stakeholders find themselves having to engage in. On the other hand, it is vital for us that we avoid ourselves succumbing to instrumentalism

Deville is reporting from COPIM’s three remote workshops with librarians. By “instrumentalism,” he means a transactional approach to OA support, whereby libraries only pony up for projects and services that directly benefit their institution. He attributes the instrumentalist stance to the broader marketization of the university—in Britain, especially. It is, alas, a fact on the ground, and hence the “tricky balancing act.”

The update is well worth reading. The UK-based team captures, among other things, how stratified the US library system is, with a narrow band of rich institutions open to funding OA projects and the rest—poorer and smaller—more instrumentalist by budgetary necessity. New to this reader, too, was that Cast Iron Coding (of Manifold fame) is on tap to produce a COPIM-sponsored “platform.”

‘2020 with OABN’

Lucy Barnes, Tom Mosterd, and Agata Morka, on the recently established Open Access Books Network (OABN):

We have come a long way from what started as a post-conference conversation in a bar in Marseille back in the summer of 2019, where the idea of creating a network for the OA books community was first discussed. The Open Access Books Network was formally launched in September and, as this strange year comes to a close, we wanted to have a look back at some of the OABN 2020 highlights. 

OABN was one of the only good things to come out of 2020.

‘All of these research conferences are heavily funded by industry’

Timnit Gebru, in a VentureBeat interview:

A lot of people have been talking about that. All of these research conferences are heavily funded by industry, so right now what is computer science research? It’s like you’ve got the military and you’ve got corporations. What are our other options? Like sometimes there’s NIH, but there just needs to be stuff that’s not associated with the military or corporate interests that funds research because inherently there is a conflict of interest. I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be research at corporations. I think there should be, but when you have the kind of things like what you’re seeing with me, and especially with the [research] censorship, and then you see the types of influence they have in these conferences, I think it’s something that people really need to think about.

The problem is that when you do research that requires a lot of resources, this becomes even more of a problem. That’s a little bit of what we talked about in the paper too.

This is the crux of the issue—the deep entanglement of big tech in the AI ethics world. It’s a problem across the digital research landscape.

‘Saint Rose to discontinue academic programs as part of proactive plan to address financial challenges’

Another Catholic shoe to drop:

As part of a multi-year financial plan for the College’s long-term financial sustainability, the Saint Rose Board of Trustees has approved a plan to reduce academic expenses by $5.97 million, including the closure of 16 unique bachelor’s degrees, six unique master’s degrees, and three certificate programs

The Saint Rose press release doth protest too much:

These changes will not impact the Saint Rose mission of graduating students with critical thinking and writing skills and a deep understanding of how to look at the challenges of our world through the lens and construct of social justice.

The evidence:

In recent years, Saint Rose has relaunched its Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and launched undergraduate degrees in sales management and cybersecurity, a Master of Science in Social Work, a new delivery model for its MBA called the Flex MBA, and 2-in-4 programs, which allow students to earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in four years, saving them time and money.

‘U of Vermont to Cut 12 Majors, 11 Minors’

University of Vermont Dean of Arts and Sciences, quoted in Inside Higher Ed to justify the elimination of 12 “low-enrollment” majors:

“This decision has been extremely difficult […] It has been informed by data and guided by a strategy to focus on the future success of our college by consolidating our structure and terminating programs that can no longer be supported without jeopardizing programs with more robust enrollment.”

Seeing (and talking) like a GE middle manager.

‘Colleges Grapple With Grim Financial Realities’

Speaking of “program prioritization,” this piece on rough college finances in today’s Chronicle features University of Scranton president Edward Steinmetz:

“If it’s a $12-million hit, that’s huge,” he says. “We’ve had negative variances in the past, but never to that extreme.” In late March, the university got a sense that the pandemic could be long and damaging. “We started to alter our plans, because our fiscal year begins June 1. It allowed us to say, The world has changed. What can we impact right away?” The university eliminated salary increases, reduced pension contributions, and eliminated some positions.

Now the university is going through a longer and more difficult process of examining the enrollment, revenues, and costs of various academic programs, and analyzing which could be cut.

“It forced us to have conversations,” Steinmetz says, “which I think was a sea change for campuses like ours and a lot of academic leadership. They’re not used to those conversations.”

Steinmetz sounds suspiciously giddy that this crisis won’t go to waste.