FTC takes on predatory journals

Inside Higher Ed reports that the FTC has filed a complaint against the OMICS Group, publisher of over 700 open access journals.

Ioana Rusu, a staff attorney with the FTC, said in an interview that the commission is responding to a growing number of calls from people in academe for some sort of action to be taken against publishers that take advantage of scholars wishing to publish in open-access journals.

OMICS, the commission alleges, does not adequately disclose that authors have to pay a publication fee, falsely claims that its journals are frequently cited and lists academic experts with no connection to the journals as editors.

Rusu stressed that the FTC is not passing judgment on open-access publishing in general. “We take no sides between the traditional subscription model and the open-access model,” she said. “We believe both of them can be done in a fair, open, clear and lawful way. What we have a problem with here is people who are trying to benefit from the open-access model to scam people.”

Opening the Textbook: new report

OER2A new research report on faculty awareness, use and attitudes toward open textbooks is now available. Opening the Textbook: Educational Resources in Higher Education, 2015-2016.

Among other findings:

Most higher education faculty are unaware of open educational resources (OER) – but they are interested and some are willing to give it a try. Survey results, using
responses of over 3,000 U.S. faculty, show that OER is not a driving force in the selection of materials – with the most significant barrier being the effort required to find and evaluate such materials. Use of open resources is low overall, but somewhat higher for large enrollment introductory-level courses. …
The most common factor cited by faculty when selecting educational resources was the cost to the students. After cost, the next most common was the comprehensiveness of the resource, followed by how easy it was to find.
There is a serious disconnect between how many faculty include a factor in selecting educational resources and how satisfied they are with the state of that factor. For example, faculty are least satisfied with the cost of textbooks, yet that is the most commonly listed factor for resource selections.


New SocArXiv



Richard Poynder has a very informative post about the recent takeover of SSRN by Elsevier and the timely, concurrent launch of a new preprint server for the social sciences, SocArXiv. The new service is built on the Open Science Framework platform.

So what is SocArXiv? As the name suggests, it is modelled on the physics preprint server arXiv, and describes itself as a free, open access, open source archive for social science research. Authors are able to upload their preprints to the service and make them freely available to all. The papers will be provided with permanent identifiers to allow them to be linked to the latest version, or to versions published elsewhere. They can also be made available under Creative Commons licences, and analytics data will be provided to show how often papers have been accessed.

Learn more on SocOpen, the SocArXiv blog.

What does Brexit mean for OA?

eu Among the many questions about the impact of Brexit: What will this mean for OA in the UK and what will the UK’s exit mean for OA in the EU?

Both the EU and the UK have been leaders in the Open Access shift for some time. In April the EU, currently led by the Netherlands, published a very ambitious plan (the Amsterdam Call to Action for Open Science) to shift all scientific publications to OA by 2020 and to make all publicly funded research data openly available.

Two blog posts look at the possible effects on OA progress of the budget pressures and the structural changes the Brexit will cause:
Open Access and Brexit
Brexit: Risks to the Knowledge Economy and the Money Scrum

Knowledge Unlatched Usage

In its successful pilot phase, Knowledge Unlatched worked to secure pledges from at least 200 libraries in order to unlatch (that is, make freely and openly available) a collection of 28 front-list titles from recognized scholarly publishers. 297 libraries from 24 countries pledged, including the Boston College University Libraries.
Usage stats are now available for this collection and the breadth of use and numbers  of downloads (80,000!) make the Boston College investment seem very worthwhile. We have also contributed to unlatch the next round of publications. This is an interesting alternative publishing model to watch.

VP Biden calls for Open Access

oa_or_front-3~s600x600Heather Joseph reports that, in a speech to the American Association for Cancer Research, Vice President Joe Biden calls for more Open Access to research results in order to speed up the development of new cancer treatments and cures:

Noting that “we should measure progress by improving patient outcomes, not just publications,” the Vice President addressed the need for not only making open access the norm in cancer research, but also rewarding researchers for making their papers openly available.

He continued: “What you propose and how it affects patients, it seems to me, should be the basis of whether you continue to get the grant. And scores of your colleagues — scores — said make publications more readily available.”

“Right now, you work for years to come up with a significant breakthrough, and if you do, you get to publish a paper in one of the top journals,” the Vice President said. “For anyone to get access to that publication, they have to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars to subscribe to a single journal. And here’s the kicker—the journal owns the data for a year. Your outfit does this.“

“And by the way, the taxpayers fund $5 billion a year in cancer research every year, but once it’s published, nearly all of that taxpayer-funded research sits behind walls. Tell me how this is moving the process along more rapidly.”

eReserves and Fair Use Again

You may remember that the Georgia State e-reserves case resulted in a District Court ruling largely favorable to libraries, but with a bright line 10% standard applied for fair use. The publishers appealed and the higher court sent the case back to the District Court for a new fair use analysis.

The new ruling, yesterday, is still quite favorable to libraries and does away with the 10% rule. It does apply a financial analysis to each posted excerpt based on data available to the court after the fact, but not to the library or professor beforehand.

Both Keven Smith and Brandon Butler have written helpful analyses.

Some bottom-line advice from Smith:

 All we can do, then, is to continue to think carefully about each instance of fair use, and make responsible decisions.  We still have some rules of thumb, and also some places where we will need to think in a more granular way.  But nothing in these rulings need fundamentally upset good, responsible library practice.

The second takeaway from this decision is that we should resort to paying for licenses only very rarely, and when there is no other alternative.  The simple fact is that the nature of the analysis that the Court of Appeals pushed Judge Evans into is such that licensing income for the publishers narrows the scope for fair use by libraries.  To my mind, this means that whenever we are faced with an e-reserves request that may not fall easily into fair use, we should look at ways to improve the fair use situation before we decide to license the excerpt.  Can we link to an already licensed version?  Can we shorten the excerpt?  Buying a separate license should be a last resort.  Doing extensive business with the Copyright Clearance Center, including purchase of their blanket campus license, is not, in my opinion, a way to buy reassurance and security; instead, it increases the risk that our space for fair use will shrink over time.

And, from Butler:

Her new analysis, stripped of its bright lines and clear arithmetic, seems to amount to nothing more than her opinion about whether the use will substantially harm the market value (actual and potential) for the works used. How much harm is “substantial”? Well, in several places Judge Evans says the harm must be so extensive as to risk undermining the publishers’ entire motivation to publish the work. So, it would need to eat their entire profit margin (or enough that they decide it’s not worth the bother to publish). And in at least one place she seems to suggest that, because there is no marginal cost for a publisher to offer to license use of excerpts from a work, there is no real harm when GSU decides not to pay the license. This is heady stuff, and could offer a very wide berth for educational fair use of electronic excerpts.

Voting with Our Collection Dollars

Our colleague, Ellen Finnie, of the MIT Libraries, has written an inspiring blog post about values-based collection spending. She admits that MIT is in a fortunate position to be able to explore this. The whole post is worth reading, but here’s a taste:

In making a more holistic and values-based assessment, we will be using a new lens: assessing potential purchases in relation to whether they transform the scholarly communication system towards openness, or make a positive impact on the scholarly communication environment in some way, whether via licensing, access, pricing, or another dimension. Of course, like shoppers in the supermarket, we’ll need to view our purchase options with more than just one lens. We have finite resources, and we must meet our community’s current and rapidly evolving needs while supporting other community values, such as diversity and inclusion (which I will write about in a future post). So the lens of transforming the scholarly communications system is only one of many we will look through when we decide what to buy, and from what sources. How we will integrate the views from multiple lenses to make our collections decisions is something we will be exploring in the coming months – and years.


Who pays for Open Access?


Library Journal includes a brief article about the Article Processing Charge model of open access publishing. This is by no means the only business model for open access publications, but it does account for approximately half of open access articles.

The article indicates that grant funding is increasingly being made available to pay these charges:

Claus Roll, Publishing Editor at EDP Sciences, also believes that available funding for Open Access is increasing, albeit slowly. This is a reflection of changing public policy. “Public and private funders like the NIH or the Wellcome Trust have a say in how their money is used,” he said. “They make Open Access publishing a requirement because they want to give the public insight into their funded research that may have a societal impact.”

Roll noted that while the OA model places a cost requirement on the author and his or her employer (typically absorbed by STEM grant providers), it also provides a tangible financial benefit. Researchers building on the work of others—a fact of life in the scientific community—are less encumbered by costs when accessing others’ OA articles. The “pay it forward” notion is particularly attractive.


Combating the double-dip

The Scholarly Kitchen blog has an interesting post today about the new “total cost of access” deals that some universities/libraries are striking with publishers. The post takes issue with the lack of transparency and a perceived  me-first attitude, but the deals do begin to chip away at what has been, up to now, a practice that benefited only the publishers’ bottom lines.

These deals may represent a shift from global offsetting to local offsetting. Avoiding “double dipping” has been a requirement for publishers with the rise of OA. When an author pays for an article to be made OA, subscription prices are expected to be reduced a proportionate amount, as subscribers should not be made to pay for free content. The added revenue from the author is “offset” by globally reducing the revenue a small amount from all subscribers. But local offsetting deals seek to keep the savings at the institution paying the OA fee. Institutions argue that their total cost should remain flat, so the added APC revenue from the author’s institution should be offset by a reduction in that institution’s subscription price. Offsetting is thus “local”, rather than spreading the savings around to all subscribers.