Open Access: an administrator’s perspective.

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Today’s post describes open access from an administrator’s perspective.  Claire Evans is Senior Executive Assistant in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol.

I’ve been working as a Senior Executive Assistant at UOB for several years – most recently in the School of Biological Sciences; previously in Social and Community Medicine (the largest School in the University) where I worked closely with the Head of School and School Manager.

As well as Open Access, I am responsible for managing the admin team, providing project support, staff recruitment and financial management and I am PA to the Head of School.  Open Access has become a central part of my remit since the arrival of a government mandate to make all publicly funded research accessible to everyone.

We were faced with the challenge of developing standard procedures for everyone to follow – based on the HEFCE workflow process.  It is basically a simple 3-step process: when a paper is accepted for publication the author needs to create a record in our research repository, Pure, with the basic details (authors, title, journal, etc) and add their accepted manuscript to the record, then forward their acceptance email with the Pure ID to the library open access team who will do the rest.

Despite this simplicity, there has been a tremendous amount of resistance, particularly amongst some academics who felt it was ‘time-consuming’ and ‘complicated’ – whereas the admin staff just get on with it!  I think there’s also a certain amount of fear – “it’s a big scary thing” – like it was worse than it actually was.  People didn’t understand just how simple it was.

We’ve tried all sorts of ways of getting the word out to researchers that Open Access is not that difficult!  There is plenty of support available – from us, from the Library and from the repository team – and training sessions have been provided in a number of locations at different times.

At the beginning of 2016, because busy academics were increasingly relying on their friendly local administrative staff to help them with the Open Access tasks, we decided to commission a training course especially for support staff in the School.   Many were already adding publications to Pure on behalf of academics – or whole research groups – while others were destined to do so in the near future! It was a new task to add to our already complex workload and at first seemed quite daunting.

The course was run by staff from the library and repository team and was designed to give us a good grounding in the principles of gold and green OA, and specifically in the procedures required to make the School’s publications compliant with the HEFCE policy.  That way we could provide practical support and advice to busy researchers.

Some administrators felt a bit apprehensive about the responsibility this implied – would they do something to jeopardise the School’s chances in the next REF by inadvertently making a publication non-eligible for submission?  They felt it needed to be clearly stated that the responsibility should lie firmly with the academics – both for notifying the relevant person that their article had been accepted for publication, and ensuring that the manuscript was added to Pure within the 3-month timeframe.   We encouraged academics to keep an eye on the process – and their publications – to make sure they were happy with the details.

This has been endorsed by the senior management in the School, particularly the Head of School and Faculty and School Research Directors.  It is in the interests of individuals to make sure their publications are up-to-date and accurate in Pure, and that they’ve followed the correct procedures.  If not, their REF submission – and ultimately the School’s performance and funding are all at stake – not to mention the potential impact on their individual careers!

When Bristol published its Institutional Mandate for Open Access (based on the HEFCE policy) the library started to record each School’s compliance with open access on a monthly basis by checking a list of published articles against the publications in Pure – to see how well we were doing.  It was early days, and it’s a very big school, but we were dismayed to find that our compliance rate was only 19% – worryingly low!

The Faculty Research Director is phenomenally busy but took it all in her stride and managed to galvanise and motivate people to ‘act on acceptance’.  The last compliance report showed a distinct improvement – up to nearly 70%.  There are about 18 ‘repeat offenders’ who are receiving regular reminders.

The more junior researchers – sometimes more IT-savvy and used to learning new things – have been able to help others to get to grips with the systems and start integrating open access into their workflows. Those academics ‘in the middle’ of their careers were in the worst situation – not so ‘clued-up’ with the systems – and without secretarial or admin support to take on the tasks on their behalf.

One of the best bits of Open Access has been the support and help we’ve received from the library team – and their liaison and communication has been all-important in spreading awareness and emphasising the importance of the HEFCE policy.

We’ve been working hard to publicise the Open Access mandate through a wide variety of routes – the staff intranet – linking to the library Open Access and Pure web pages, items in regular newsletters, emails to the all-School email group, posters and fliers on people’s desks and in their pigeonholes, short presentations at school meetings, research forums and training events.

It’s true that staff have a myriad of things to do, not least a full teaching schedule throughout the academic year and the increasingly complex requirements of research funders – ResearchFish, Impact Case Studies, Data Management to name just some of them.

Admin staff play a key role in supporting these activities, and the work we do in relation to Open Access publishing – advising on the policies and procedures, chasing up authors for their acceptance emails and manuscripts, uploading the correct version to Pure on their behalf and sending reminders to the non-compliant ones – even training staff in the simple 3-step process – are all vital.

In addition, senior management have clarified to staff aspects of the policy and the consequences of non-compliance – ie that key publications will not be eligible for REF submission, thus losing vital income for the School. Ultimately the lead University of Bristol author on the paper is responsible even if the lead or corresponding author is abroad.  The original, accepted manuscript must be in Pure within 3 months of firm acceptance from the publisher.

Through our contacts with administrators in other Schools, we’ve found that the knowledge and expertise developed over the past 18 months has really helped speed up the progress of engagement with Open Access and also keep track of the Schools publications and ensure their compliance.

Experiences of OpenCon

Today’s post is by Jon Chappell, a former PhD student in the History department at University of Bristol and now a Teaching Fellow at New York University.

I attended OpenCon, the Right to Research Coalition and the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition’s annual conference promoting Open Access Publishing, Open Data and Open Educational Resources, from 14-16 November 2015 in Brussels, Belgium.  I found the conference both extremely interesting and useful.  In the course of the three days I attended conference sessions covering all three areas.  Through meeting librarians and academics from all disciplines I developed my understanding of the importance of open access, data and education.

In the field of open access, I attended a keynote speech by Bjorn Brembs, a Professor of Neurogenetics at the University of Regensburg who highlighted research suggesting that scientific papers in top flight journals such as Science and Nature are less academically rigorous than less prestigious journals.  He pointed out that the number of papers retracted after publication by these journals is far higher than is the case for other journals in the field.  This suggests that scientists may be exaggerating or skewing their findings specifically to secure publication in these journals.  He noted that this trend was on the increase, suggesting that the current system of basing articles’ quality on the impact factor of the journal in which they are published is encouraging manipulation of data and thus disrupting scientific research.  An open access model of publishing with articles being given an impact factor rather than journals would put a stop to this growing trend.

A number of conference speakers, including Salvatore Mele, the Head of open access at CERN, raised the importance of Open Data in science.  This was discussed not just in terms of the need for scientists to publish their data openly in order to advance scientific research but also in terms of the processes by which this is done.  Speakers stressed that data should be stored in sustainable centralised repositories and should be delivered in machine readable formats.  This will allow other scientists to build on the data or use it in a different way, promoting faster scientific advance.

Finally, I attended a keynote speech by Martin Eve, a Senior Lecturer at Birkbeck College, University of London, introducing the Open Library of the Humanities (OLH).  The OLH is a Birkbeck-led international consortium of libraries which has launched an online publishing model for humanities scholarship.  In the last year 11 journals have flipped to publishing open access through the OLH.  The OLH does not require Advanced Publishing Charges and instead is paid for through library subscriptions to the consortium.  The journals published through OLH include revolutionary functions such as publishing a tool allowing online readers to contribute by translating articles into different languages, further widening the scope of the material the OLH publishes.

OpenCon changed my perspective on the possibilities of research.  Even in the humanities the twentieth century model of sharing research only through conference papers and then to two peer reviewers before an article is published is no longer sufficient.  Humanities scholars increasingly recognise that the potential benefits of sharing research widely before publication are great.  Since attending OpenCon I have tried to share my research at all stages as widely as possible.  Attending OpenCon also made me very conscious of submitting my research only to open access journals.  Not only is this a requirement of UK funders but it ensures that my research is open to the widest possible audience of scholars.  In my own field, Chinese history, this is essential because I want to be able to communicate with scholars not just in Europe and America but also in China where it is by no means a given that universities will have paid subscriptions to English language journals.

Finally, attending OpenCon encouraged me to be particularly aware of the ways I can share my research without violating the copyright restrictions necessitated by some open access models, such as green open access.  Even using this model, it is still possible to share a final peer reviewed, but not type-set, word document version of an article on your own websites or blog, thus encouraging as wide a readership as possible.  I believe open publishing will help to break down some of the barriers created by the subscription model.  As academics, writing is not enough.  We must also be read.  Since OpenCon I have graduated from my PhD at Bristol and taken up a teaching fellowship at New York University’s campus in Shanghai.  While I have left Bristol behind, the lessons of OpenCon 2015 have stayed with me.

Jon Chappell
Global Perspectives on Society Teaching Fellow
New York University, Shanghai

Busting the Myths about Open Access

Today’s blog post comes courtesy of Mark Purvis of IOP Publishing.

Saint George slaying the dragon
Image via Pixabay CCO Public Domain

Open access is a relatively new approach to scholarly communication. The premise is simple: knowledge can advance more quickly if it can be shared without barriers. Why then have we not embraced the concept of open science more enthusiastically? Why is there such scepticism about open access, fuelled by misconceptions and myths? This guest blog post from Mark Purvis looks at a few popular misconceptions about open access and aims to set the record straight.

Myth: Open Access journals are of a lower quality than subscription ones

There are many ways to define the quality of a journal but in my mind, the quality of a journal is determined by the three things: (1) the quality of the work submitted to the journal, (2) the quality of peer review and (3) the quality of the copy editing and typesetting. None of these is affected by whether a journal is open access or not. There are, without doubt, many open access journals that are of low quality and seek to capitalise on an author’s desire to get published. You can find a blog and list dedicated to such “predatory journals” here.  But there are many excellent open access journals and many terrible subscription access journals. There is nothing intrinsic in the open access business model that compromises quality.

Some like to point a finger at the so-called megajournals . These journals operate a distinct approach to peer review, which has been interpreted by some as being of lower quality. These journals select articles based on an objective assessment of the scientific rigour of the research rather than a subjective assessment of significance or importance. I don’t agree this necessarily implies lower quality. It removes bias against negative results and helps prevent repetition of failed experiments. Most of these megajournals are open access but the question of their quality is nothing to do with the method of access. In fact there are many subscription journals that operate equally or less selective peer review processes (often without advertising the fact).

Myth: Open Access encourages plagiarism

Victim blaming is a recurring theme amongst populist commentators on modern life.  We are told that leaving doors unlocked invites burglars to enter our homes and steal our precious goods. Nonsense! Unethical behaviour is not the fault of the victims. It occurs because morally corrupt individuals try to exploit the endeavours of others to benefit themselves.  The real encouragement to plagiarise comes from a scholarly reward system that measures academic achievement based on numbers of publications, rather than the quality of research done. Plagiarisers don’t steal the work of others because it is easy to access the content. They do so because they want to cheat the system.

In practice, I would suggest that open access might actually discourage plagiarism, because it makes such misconduct much easier to detect.

Myth: The general public won’t understand my research

My first reaction when hearing this is to wish the researcher good luck getting the general public to fund that research! In practice, the real reason for publishing on an open access basis is not informing the general public.  It is removing potential barriers to knowledge sharing and collaboration. If the general public wants to read your research, great, but if a fellow scholar wants to read your work and collaborate on moving it forward, so much the better!

I still think authors should write with expectation that a member of the general public may want to read their work, however challenging that may be in technical fields. I’ve worked on journals publishing research in some of the most esoteric areas of theoretical physics, where the number of specialists around the world who  truly understand a paper can probably be counted in single figures. That doesn’t excuse the authors from the responsibility for setting their work in context and making it as accessible as possible. The best authors achieve that regardless of the complexity of the subject.

Myth: Open access adds to the author’s workload

This is a harder myth to bust. Open access can add to the author’s workload. It also adds to the workload for librarians, funders and publishers. However it is achieved, open access requires a change from the well-oiled workflows that have been established through the twentieth century. But it is important to remember that open access is a new phenomenon. The concept has only been around for twenty years, and meaningful take up has only come in the last five years or so.

New funding streams have had to be established, new staff have been hired in libraries and research offices; committees have spent months consulting and drafting policies at national and institutional levels; repositories have been built; and publishers have changed their submission systems and introduced new charging services to collect OA fees.

Change comes at a cost but the highest cost comes during the change. In the medium term, as open access becomes a normalised part of the scholarly communications process, the additional workload will disappear. Publishers are already working hard with librarians to modify workflows and eliminate unnecessary steps for authors. Where possible, publishers want to shift the responsibility for payment away from authors and back into the hands of the institutions and funders issuing open access mandates.

Finally, we must remember that any extra workload has an immediate payback in terms of easier access to research and easier collaboration. Open access is good for authors too!

Myth: Open access costs too much

The fees charged for open access publishing vary a great deal from nothing to several thousand pounds. Why is there such a difference? Ostensibly, open access charges are set at a level that will enable all the costs of running journal to be met. Those costs vary from journal to journal and depend on a wide range of parameters: the number of staff working on a journal, the IT infrastructure required to run the journal, the production and typesetting services offered and the rent of the premises etc. To calculate the article fee, add all those up and divide by the number of accepted papers. (Note, for highly selective journals the costs per article are likely to be higher than those for a less selective journal because the accepted articles have to cover the costs of processing all the rejected articles as well.)

I chose the word ostensibly with care because it is extremely rare for revenue to balance costs exactly in any enterprise. A good number of journals operate at a loss. This happens for three main reasons: (1) incompetence, (2) investment (with the aim of making a profit at some stage in the future), or (3) charitable subsidy (including volunteer labour). Because open access is a relatively new phenomenon, many purely open access journals fall into category 2. So, while fees may appear to be low today as a journal seeks to attract authors and build market share, at some stage the fees will have to rise to balance the books.  Those in category 3 may also face the prospect of higher fees in the future if a charitable subsidy is reduced or voluntary labour is withdrawn.

A sustainable business model requires the journal to make a surplus of income over costs. The size of that surplus will depend on the objectives of the publisher. Many society publishers, like IOP Publishing, use any surplus to support the activities of the parent society to promote the development of their subject area and support education, inclusion and outreach. Some publishers, like Elsevier for example, are commercial organisations that reinvest some of their surplus in improving the business and return any remaining profit to their investors in the form of a dividend. Other publishers, like PLoS, use the surplus achieved on one journal to subsidise other loss-making journals.

Now the good news. Not everyone has to pay the full quoted article charge for open access. First of all, there is a good chance your institution or funder will pay it for you. (RCUK has ear-marked £14 million to support its open access policy in the UK this year.) Secondly, you may be eligible to a reduced rate through membership of a learned society or through a deal your library has negotiated. Some publishers (including IOP Publishing) offer authors discounts in recognition of their work in peer reviewing manuscripts or serving on editorial boards. If you are concerned about where to find the funds ask your librarian or your publisher. We’re both here to help.

Mark Purvis is Open Access Publisher at IOP Publishing, the publishing arm of the Institute of Physics.

Open Science and Research Reproducibility

 

Our series of posts for Open Access week kicks off today with a post from Marcus Munafò, Professor of Biological Psychology at the University of Bristol.

marcus-m-photoOpen access publishing is an established and familiar part of academia, but other aspects of open science are less widely appreciated. Open science is an umbrella term describing efforts to make various aspects of the scientific research process accessible to anybody. This can include publications (i.e., the open access part of open science), but also study materials (open materials) and data (open data). The Facilitate Open Science Training for European Research (FOSTER) project has developed a full taxonomy of open science.

Over the last few years, my group, the Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group, part of the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, has been gradually moving towards an open science model. Since we receive Research Council and Wellcome Trust funding we have been making our publications open access for some time. We also pre-register studies that involve collection of new data on the Open Science Framework, and share the resulting data via the University of Bristol Research Data Repository.

Why do we do this? One important reason is that we receive most of our research funding from either Research Councils (i.e., public money) or charities (such as the Wellcome Trust), and therefore have an obligation to be as transparent as possible, and also to maximize the efficiency and reach of our research output by enabling others to use our materials or data. But there’s another reason – we believe it improves the quality of our work, by introducing additional quality control procedures into our research pipeline.

There’s a great deal of interest in research reproducibility at the moment, particularly in the behavioural and biomedical sciences. We would hope that the majority of published research findings would be reproducible – in other words that a similar study would obtain similar results. However, there is growing evidence that this may not be the case. A recent attempt to replicate 100 psychology studies (the Reproducibility Project: Psychology) found that in only about 40% of cases did the replication study produce the same result as the original study.

How does open science improve research reproducibility? In our opinion, in a number of small ways, all of which may add up to a substantial improvement. For example, pre-registering study protocols (i.e., open materials) means we have to think hard about exactly what we’re expecting our study to show, and can’t move the goalposts after the data are in (a process known as HARKing – hypothesizing after the results are known). In principle, anybody could check what we report in our eventual published article against what we said we’d do in the first place.

There are other benefits. Making the data underlying our analyses available (open data) means that (again, in principle) anybody could check to see that they obtain the same results as us, or use a different analytical method that they think is more appropriate. This in itself is valuable, but it has resulted in unexpected benefits – researchers check their data files even more carefully when they know they’ll be available for public scrutiny, checking things just one more time to be certain. This introduces an extra level of quality control to the research process.

Of course, researchers are trained to be careful and meticulous. But researchers are also under enormous pressure, to publish articles and obtain grants, as well as often having to deliver teaching, complete administrative roles, and so on. Science is a human endeavour, and honest error is inevitable (witness typographical errors in published manuscripts, despite multiple rounds of peer review, proof reading, and so on). To protect against this, we need to embed processes in our work that help catch these errors. Open science has helped us to do this.

It’s easy to underestimate how much work is involved in adopting an open science model. For example, if we want to make the data we collection open, we need to ensure that participants in our studies have consented to this. As a result, we have had to modify our informed consent procedures, in consultation with our Faculty research ethics committee. The process has been a gradual one, and is still ongoing – we are now working to make our study materials open, beginning with our laboratory handbook. We feel the effort is worth it for the benefits.

Marcus Munafò
Professor of Biological Psychology

Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group
MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit
School of Experimental Psychology
UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies

Welcome!

Welcome to our new blog!  In advance of Open Access Week, 2016, we have decided to set up a blog to record our thoughts, observations and experiences relating to our work as Research Engagement Librarians, supporting researchers within the University.  We plan to officially “launch” our blog in Open Access Week with a blog each day from a different guest blogger.  Our guests will include academic staff, a publisher and some of those who work so hard behind the scenes to make research open access.  Join us, starting Monday 24th October!

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