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.

‘The Future of Open – Fully OA Publishers’

From the inaugural post from a new blog, courtesy of the OASPA Interest Group of Fully OA journal organizations:

The aim of the group – and now of this blog – is to provide unity, not by creating a single voice, but by bringing together a diversity of different voices and perspectives. […] For the first piece on the blog, we wanted to explore what we share, and where we differ. Featuring contributions from Frontiers, JMIR Publications, MDPI, The Open Library of Humanities, PeerJ, PLOS and Ubiquity, we wanted to share what we see as The Future of Open, how we envisage getting there, and how we might overcome barriers to an open future. 

Glad to see the new blog, but it’s too bad that only two of the six publishers featured are nonprofit—the same proportion that are owned by the oligopolists (Frontiers/SpringerNature and Ubiquity/De Gruyter).

‘Decoding the OSTP Public Access Memo’

Rob Johnson, writing in LinkedIn about last month’s OSTP “Community Forum,” on the Nelson policy’s apparent indifference to monographs:

[Chris] Marcum [Assistant Director for Open Science and Data Policy] was at pains to stress that it is left up to agencies themselves to ‘designate which of the online digital repositories are appropriate for their specific research communities’, and to determine which scholarly publications fall within scope of their updated policies. He suggests this might include ‘peer reviewed book chapters, editorials, and peer reviewed conference proceeding’ in addition to articles, but notably there was no mention of monographs. The implication is that agencies would be at liberty to include them if they so wish, but I suspect most will put them in the ‘too hard’ box for the time being.

Johnson also got the message that “Uncle Sam won’t be footing the bill for a gold rush.” Way too early to tell, in my view.

‘Open letter to the WHOSTP and Subcommittee on Open Science’

From an open letter to the OSTP:

We are active researchers in different fields who wish to make scholarship more equitable. We wholeheartedly applaud your recent memorandum ensuring free, immediate and equitable access to federally funded scholarship. Your leadership on this issue makes a brighter future possible, but there are significant risks if care is not taken in the implementation. Specifically, if the implementation of this policy reinforces the move towards expensive article processing charges (APCs) and “transformative agreements” (TAs) where institutions pay those charges directly, innovation will be hampered by restricting research dissemination to only individuals or institutions with large or dedicated publishing budgets. The risk is that this memorandum will improve equitable access at the cost of making participation in research less equitable, which could be devastating to research progress.

Over 600 scholars (and counting) have signed.

‘OA Agreement Intelligence’

The Copyright Clearance Center (which has, apparently, rebranded as CCC), announcing a new service for publishers on the hunt for read-and-publish lucre:

CCC, a leading provider of Open Access (OA) workflow solutions, has launched OA Agreement Intelligence, the only agreement modeling solution that enables publishers to prepare, build, and analyze their OA data so that they can create and communicate sustainable and transparent agreements with their partners. […] “Constructing data-driven publishing agreements at scale impacts all stakeholders in the OA environment,” said Frank Pepe, Director, Pricing & Strategic Analysis, IEEE. “OA Agreement Intelligence transforms the agreement modeling process by supporting better visibility and communications to facilitate collaboration with our partners.”m

Yikes—software to oil the read-and-publish gears.

Telling detail: The press release cites the OSTP guidance to pitch the service.

‘Keeping Publishing Infrastructure Independent’

Roger Schonfeld, in a Scholarly Kitchen post on the private-equity sale of publishing platform Silverchair:

Silverchair will not be owned by an investment-oriented private equity firm forever. Sooner or later, it will likely end up in the arms of another owner, perhaps eventually through a strategic acquisition. We can be philosophical about this and recognize that much else will change in the market also over that period of time, so there may be little sense in worrying about this too much right now. Still, in the long run, the independence of commercially owned community digital infrastructure is never fully guaranteed.

That’s why we need our infrastructure nonprofit and community-led—so it can’t be bepress-ed.

‘A New Matthew Effect’

Rachel Miles, writing on The Bibliomagician on the new crop of automated tools that spit out citation recommendations:

The Matthew Effect, in which advantage begets more advantage, is exacerbated by automated citation recommendation tools. These tools’ algorithms are based on current and past citation practices and function similarly to Google’s PageRank, retrieving the most “popular” results rather than the most relevant or accurate ones. In academia, scholarship from the Global North, in the English language, from high impact or top ranked journals, and scholarship with higher citation counts may be further benefited by these recommendation tools whereas publications in non-English languages, from the Global South, and in newer or emerging journals will be disproportionately disadvantaged. 

It’s a great point, about cumulative disadvantage. Miles cites a number of other drawbacks of the tools, black-box algorithms, lazy citing, and confirmation bias.

edX: The Company Formerly Known as 2U

Phil Hill, writing for EdSurge on hard times for the Online Program Management (OPM) industry:

Wiley posted an 8 percent drop in university partner enrollment for its OPM segment, Pearson lost its biggest OPM customer (Arizona State University) and reported falling enrollments (1 percent) and revenue (2 percent), Coursera saw a 4 percent drop in revenue and lowered full-year guidance, 2U dropped its full-year revenue guidance by 10 percent and began an across-the-board 20 percent set of layoffs, and FutureLearn reported that it may not survive another year without new investment.

Couldn’t happen to a better industry.

The piece also mentions that 2U has taken on the name of the once-nonprofit edX that it acquired last year in a major act of betrayal by Harvard and MIT:

The company will reorganize as one entity under the edX brand, and it will increase its focus on sustainability (and profitability) and decrease the focus on growth. This acceleration unfortunately means that 2U will lay off approximately 20 percent of its staff across all functions in the second half of 2022. The claim made to financial analysts is that revenue estimates for full-year 2022 would be down 10 percent, but EBITDA (a popular measure of profit) would be up 30 percent.

cOAlition S on Journal-Independent Peer Review

I missed this important statement from cOAlition S back in June:

Scientific publishing is evolving rapidly. A number of initiatives have moved away from the notion that peer-reviewed articles must be published in traditional Open Access journals or platforms. They provide peer review services that are entirely independent from such journals or platforms. These include Peer Community in (PCI), Sciety, Next Generation Repositories, Notify Project, PREreview, and Review Commons, to name a few. These initiatives give the author the freedom to decide how and when to disseminate their peer-reviewed article.

The explicit point is to help break the journal prestige economy:

In light of the accelerating development of these journal-independent peer-review services, cOAlition S would like to explicitly state that ‘peer reviewed publications’ – defined here as scholarly papers that have been subject to a journal-independent standard peer review process with an implicit or explicit validation– are considered by most cOAlition S organisations to be of equivalent merit and status as peer-reviewed publications that are published in a recognised journal or on a platform.