Archive for the 'acad lib future' category

The Donald Trump War on Science: Save Net Neutrality!

Net Neutrality is under attack by the Donald Trump administration. It's important to learn what's going on and for Net Neutrality supporters to mobilise. But what's the fuss all about? And what's Net Neutrality to begin with, you ask? The Wikipedia definition is pretty good.

Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers must treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication.[1] For instance, under these principles, internet service providers are unable to intentionally block, slow down or charge money for specific websites and online content.

In other words, the telecommunications infrastructure that makes up the Internet treats everybody and every kind of information the same. No favourite classes of data or penalised classes either. Video is treated the same as text is treated the same as voice is treated the same way as static images.

Why is this important?

1. free and open internet enables equitable access to information.
2. free and open internet helps prevent unfair and discriminatory pricing practices.
3. free and open internet protects freedom of speech.
4. free and open internet promotes innovation.

Without an open internet, big corporations would have tight control over how we access information. Please do your part to keep the internet a cornerstone of freedom and opportunity. Get involved by supporting local municipal networks and fighting for net neutrality and Internet Freedom.

What would happen if we lost Net Neutrality?

What would happen if we lost Net Neutrality?

The internet without Net Neutrality isn’t really the internet. Unlike the open internet that has paved the way for so much innovation and given a platform to people who have historically been shut out, it would become a closed-down network where cable and phone companies call the shots and decide which websites, content or applications succeed.

This would have an enormous impact. Companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon would be able to decide who is heard and who isn’t. They’d be able to block websites or content they don’t like or applications that compete with their own offerings.

The consequences would be particularly devastating for marginalized communities media outlets have misrepresented or failed to serve. People of color, the LGBTQ community, indigenous peoples and religious minorities in the United States rely on the open internet to organize, access economic and educational opportunities, and fight back against systemic discrimination.

Without Net Neutrality, how would activists be able to fight oppression? What would happen to social movements like the Movement for Black Lives? How would the next disruptive technology, business or company emerge if internet service providers only let incumbents succeed?

Why is Net Neutrality crucial for communities of color?

The open internet allows people of color to tell their own stories and organize for racial and social justice. When activists are able to turn out thousands of people in the streets at a moment’s notice, it’s because ISPs aren’t allowed to block their messages or websites.

The mainstream media have long misrepresented, ignored and harmed people of color. And thanks to systemic racism, economic inequality and runaway media consolidation, people of color own just a handful of broadcast stations. The lack of diverse ownership is a primary reason why the media have gotten away with criminalizing and otherwise stereotyping communities of color.

The open internet allows people of color and other vulnerable communities to bypass traditional media gatekeepers. Without Net Neutrality, ISPs could block speech and prevent dissident voices from speaking freely online. Without Net Neutrality, people of color would lose a vital platform.

And without Net Neutrality, millions of small businesses owned by people of color wouldn’t be able to compete against larger corporations online, which would deepen economic disparities.

Why is Net Neutrality important for businesses?

Net Neutrality is crucial for small business owners, startups and entrepreneurs, who rely on the open internet to launch their businesses, create markets, advertise their products and services, and reach customers. We need the open internet to foster job growth, competition and innovation.

Net Neutrality lowers the barriers of entry by preserving the internet’s fair and level playing field. It’s because of Net Neutrality that small businesses and entrepreneurs have been able to thrive online.

No company should be allowed to interfere with this open marketplace. ISPs are the internet’s gatekeepers, and without Net Neutrality, they would seize every possible opportunity to profit from that gatekeeper position.

Without Net Neutrality, the next Google or Facebook would never get off the ground.

 

A few general resources

 
And the story of what's going on right now in the US, with the FCC promising to end Net Neutrality. The list below has lots of resources and opinions and arguments, all of which are well worth at least taking a look at. If I've missed something important, let me know.

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How can publishers help academic librarians? Let's all count the ways!

The STM Publishing News Group is a professional news site for the publishing industry which bring together a range of science, technology and medicine publishing stakeholders with the idea that they'll be able to share news amongst themselves as well as beyond the publishing world to the broader constituency of academics and librarians and others.

You can imagine how thrilled I was to see a post with the words, "How can publishers help librarians?" in the title? I was a little disappointed to find the entire title of the post is "How can publishers help librarians? Cambridge University Press leads the way with a metadata revolution."

Nothing wrong with metadata revolutions, of course, I'm all for them. But the promise of those first few words lead me to believe that perhaps the post had some sort of loftier revolutionary purpose in mind. That somehow publishers were finally considering ways that they could be truly helpful to academic librarians as a whole, and by extension, to our constituents of students, faculty and staff at our institutions.

Sadly, since I'm not a metadata librarian, I was disappointed. (And even if I were a metadata librarian, isn't state-of-the-art metadata part of what we pay publishers for in the first place, not some sort of "revolutionary" extra?)

But that doesn't mean I can't dream big dreams. Nor does it mean that you, my faithful readers, can't dream big dreams.

The original post begins with the line, "It’s no secret that library budgets have been slashed in recent years, and the burdens of trying to do more with less are growing for librarians and information professionals." Which is certainly very true. However, not one single idea in the rest of the post has anything to do with helping librarians with their budgets. Almost as if helping us with metadata issues will distract from those other kinds of problems.

Let's see if we can't come up with some ways that publishers could help librarians with those other kinds of problems, ones to do with budgets and licenses and sustainability and openness and fairness. I have a few ideas, of course, but I'd love it if all of you could pitch in with some more in the comments.

  • So many of libraries' budget problems are due to publishers' unsustainable pricing increases. How about you help librarians by stopping those pricing practices.
  • Stop over-reacting to "predatory publishers" as a way of distracting from your own far more serious predatory pricing behaviour
  • Hey, rational and sustainable ebook licensing models. For public libraries too, please.
  • Non Disclosure Agreements are bad for libraries and librarians. Stop requiring or even suggesting them.
  • Stop playing chicken with Big Deal negotiations as a way to pit librarians and their researcher communities against each other.
  • And a big one here, why not partner and engage completely and wholeheartedly with all the various scholarly communications stakeholder groups to build a fairer and more open scholarly communications ecosystem.
  • Your answer here

What are your ideas and suggestions? Certainly this topic would be a good one for an upcoming Society for Scholarly Publishing meeting.

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Around the Web: A future where records won’t matter and other tales of the music business

May 24 2016 Published by under acad lib future, around the web, music

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Librarians, institutions, soldiers, revolutionaries

One of the central tensions of modern librarianship is how to allocate limited resources to both make the whole world a better place and to serve our local communities by providing them with the services and collections they need to support their teaching, learning and research.

The particular way we try and change the world that I'm talking about here is working to create a fairer and more equitable scholarly communications ecosystem. We do this by both advocating for increased openness in the publishing system and working to actually create that fairer system via our own local open access publishing and support activities. (There are also other ways we work towards making the world a better place, for example, through our instruction activities. Not mention that there is an aspect of making the whole world a better place via serving local needs.)

Rick Anderson's recent piece A quiet culture war in research libraries – and what it means for librarians, researchers and publishers has certainly reignited this conversation in the online librarian world in the last couple of weeks, sparking a lot of commentary and discussion in blogs and on Twitter.

The core of the piece is those two tensions. Being soldiers and taking care of our communities versus being revolutionaries and trying to change the system. Anderson mostly attempts to play it right down the middle and not really fall on either side of the issue. And he certainly acknowledges that it's unlikely that any person or institution will fall completely on one side or the other, that a mix of both roles is natural and desirable. But in the end he seems to favour the role of soldier over revolutionary.

Take the final paragraph for example,

This fact has serious implications for the ultimate outcome of the culture war that I believe is currently brewing in the research library community. We are now working in an information environment that makes it possible for each library to exert a global influence in unprecedented ways. The desire to do so is both praiseworthy and solidly in keeping with many of what most of us would consider core values of librarianship. However, even as we experience varying levels of agreement amongst ourselves as to the proper distribution of our time and resources in pursuit of these two different orientations, virtually all of us continue to be supported entirely by funds that come from institutions that expect us to use those funds to support local needs and an institutionally defined mission. As long as it remains impossible to spend the same dollar twice, we will have no way to avoid choosing between programs that support local needs and those that support global ones and, as long as we depend on local resources to do so, we will have an ultimate obligation to act more like soldiers than like revolutionaries. Libraries that fail to do so will inevitably lose their institutional support – and with good reason. (Bold is mine -- JD)

Where do I fall?

First of all, at the institutional level academic libraries (and librarians) have no choice but to take care of local needs. Our patrons and communities need the collections we purchase and licence and we must take great care to spend our institutions' funds wisely.

At the same time, we would also be betraying our profession and failing our patrons if we did not also keep our eyes on the long-term needs of our patrons and communities. That long term need being to play a role in building a system that just works better, that spends their money more wisely and more equitably on making their scholarship more rather than less accessible to the rest of the world. On making the scholarship they need to access from the rest of the world more rather than less accessible to them.

Hogwash, you say, there's no way I can justify this. My job is support the mission of my institution and nothing else. Resources are limited. It's clear how I have to allocate them.

The mission of my institution.

A lot of the discussions seem to revolve around those words.

So I looked up the mission statement of my institution. York University.

The mission of York University is the pursuit, preservation, and dissemination of knowledge. We promise excellence in research and teaching in pure, applied and professional fields. We test the boundaries and structures of knowledge. We cultivate the critical intellect.

York University is part of Toronto: we are dynamic, metropolitan and multi-cultural. York University is part of Canada: we encourage bilingual study, we value diversity. York University is open to the world: we explore global concerns.

A community of faculty, students, staff, alumni and volunteers committed to academic freedom, social justice, accessible education, and collegial self-governance, York University makes innovation its tradition.

Tentanda Via: The way must be tried. (Bolding is me again. )

[P]ursuit, preservation, and dissemination of knowledge. Check. That's what building a fairer scholarly communications ecosystem is all about.

We cultivate the critical intellect. Check. It's part of our mission to think deeply and critically about the world. Which can lead to thinking of ways that it could be better.

[C]ommitted to academic freedom, social justice, accessible education. Check and bingo! My institution's mission actually includes working to make the world a better place.

The way must be tried. Check and mate. Just do it.

Of course, I work at York, one of the leftyest, most progressive universities out there. So the kind of language that we in the library (as a whole and as individual librarians) can use to justify building and advocating for a better world is all over the place.

But I invite everyone else who might be tempted to take a pass on devoting time, energy and other resources to making the world a better place to take a look at their own institution's mission statement. I've looked at a few around academia recently and from what I've seen most places have something in there about giving back to the community or making the world a better place.

Take a look for yourself. I hope your institution has something in its mission statement that you can work with (though I recognize it might not). And think about joining the revolution.

(This is about balance in resource allocation, of course. Every place and every situation will be different and local administrators will need to make different calculations about resource allocation. This isn't a call for librarians and libraries to shoot themselves in the foot. What I hope is to maybe expand a little bit how we look at our mission in relation to our institution's mission when we make those decisions.)

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As is my wont I've gathered together some of the recent commentary sparked by the original Rick Anderson article. There are lots of different takes on the soldiers vs. revolutionaries issue and several of the items I'm pointing to make similar points to my own but perhaps a bit more eloquently.

As usual, if this issue continues to have legs, I'll probably update this list. If I've missed something, please let me know either in the comments or at jdupuis at yorku dot ca.

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Reading Diary: The People's Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age by Astra Taylor

I am not trying to deny the transformative nature of the Internet, but rather that we've lived with it long enough to ask tough questions.
...
I've tried to avoid the Manichean view of technology, which assumes either that the Internet will save us or that it is leading us astray, that it is making us stupid or making us smart, that things are black or white. The truth is subtler: technology alone cannot deliver the cultural transformation we have been waiting for; instead, we need to first understand and then address the underlying social and economic forces that shape it. Only then can we make good on the unprecedented opportunity the Internet offers and begin to make the ideal of a more inclusive and equitable culture a reality. If we want the Internet to truly be a people's platform, we will have to work to make it so. (p. 8, 10)

Astra Taylor's The People's Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age is easily one of the best Web culture books I have ever read, if not the best. It takes the onrushing revolution in art and culture and journalism head on. Of the books I've read recently it compares and contrasts very nicely with Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age by Cory Doctorow. Like Doctorow's very fine book it's about what may be the central artistic/commercial tension in the Internet age: consumers of information (art, scholarship, journalism, etc.) want it to be free but the creators and distributors of that information (artists, scholars, publishers, writers, etc.) want the information to be expensive.

As the original quote from Stuart Brand goes, "On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other" with Brand's follow up, "Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. ...That tension will not go away."

And what's interesting of course, is just how ingrained this tension is. While looking for a link to the publisher's page I started typing into my search window "astra taylor the people's..." and what should the type ahead show me? Yep, you guessed it: "astra taylor the people's platform pdf." It's ironic that a book that makes the case for financially supporting creating expression in the Internet age is, well, a book that a lot people on the web don't seem to want to pay for.

Paying for culture is a hard case to make sometimes, in a world where it seems more normal to pay for the gadgets that deliver the culture and rely on the creators of that culture to trade their work for "exposure." The commonly accepted devil's bargain is that at some point in the hopefully not-too-far-distant-future they will be able to trade that exposure for something that will pay the bills.

Which is all a bit odd for me, given my current vantage point. I'm writing this in Paris. Where there's a book store on every block and a record store on every other block. And this is only a very slight exaggeration for effect. The French are very protective of their culture, to an extent that seems a bit unhinged to we ruthless count-every-penny North Americans. Amazon and it's ilk discounting books is actually a controversy in France. Bande dessinées are expensive. Print books are expensive, CDs and records are expensive. Yet the shops are crowded and people seem to be willing to trade some cash for knowing that the arts are taken care of. If Silicon Valley disruptors are storming the cultural Bastille, the French are having nothing of it. Even Uber has to play by the rules, no race to the bottom here. Or at least a much slower race.

Astra Taylor might find her ideas have more resonance in Europe than in the land of disruption and discounting and dog eat dog.

[W]e should strive to cultivate the cultural commons as a vibrant and sustainable sphere, on ethat exists for its own sake, not to be eploited by old-media oligarchs, new media moguls, insatiable shareholders, for-profit pirates, or data-miners and advertisers. (p. 176)

This book makes the case -- that a truly democratic culture is worth directly supporting in the online world in the exact same way as the offline world. And it is worth supporting culture both by the everyday choices of the average cultural consumer as well as through the levers of various government agencies. In other words, a sustainable model for cultural support. Culture is a commons, one that needs to be supported. The new "tragedy of the commons" is not one of enclosure but of under-investment. A commons shouldn't be built on exploiting free labour on social media sites where the users are actually the "product" for advertisers or laying waste to the environment to mine precious metals to manufacture gadgets. We have to build in equity. We need free culture in the sense of a public library, not corporatized "free culture" like YouTube videos or Google Books or Facebook or Twitter.

(Fear not, Taylor does mention her support of a sustainable, open scientific commons.)

Appropriately, the conclusion of Taylor's book is subtitled "In Defense of the Commons: A Manifesto for Sustainable Culture."

And the first paragraph of that chapter reads,

It may seem counterintuitive at a time of information overload, viral media, aggregation, and instant commenting to worry about our cultural supply. But we are at the risk of starving in the midst of plenty. A decade ago few would have thought a book like In Defense of Food was necessary. Food, after all, had never been cheaper or more abundant; what could be wrong with the picture? A similar shift of perception needs to happen in the cultural realm. Culture, even if it is immaterial, has material conditions, and free culture, like cheap food, incurs hidden costs. (p. 214)

Techno Uber Optimists beware. Taylor isn't afraid of saying bad things about the Internet (or good things, for that matter). She doesn't treat is like some sort of anthropomorphized overly sensitive person who can't deal with any even mild criticism. She treats gurus and pundits of all stripes with the same critical respect. She asks the tough questions and reasons carefully to work towards some answers, or at least ideas that might lead to some answers.

This is a great book, read it, argue with it, agree with it violently and disagree with it just as violently but give it's arguments a fair hearing. Recommended for all libraries and anyone interested in the future of culture.

Our communications system is at a crossroads, one way leading to an increasingly corporatized and commercialized world where we are treated as targeted customers, the other to a true cultural commons where we are nurtured as citizens and creators. To create a media environment where democracy can thrive, we need to devise progressive policy that takes into account the entire context in which art, journalism, and information are created, distributed and, preserved, online and off. We need strategies and policies for an age of abundance, not scarcity, and to invent new ways of sustaining and managing the Internet to put people before profit. Only then will a revolution worth cheering be upon us. (p. 232)

Taylor, Astra. The People's Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2014. 288pp. ISBN-13: 978-1250062598

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Elsevier's new sharing policy: A step in the wrong direction

Elsevier has released a new scholarly article sharing policy which is definitely more disappointing than really any cause for cheer.

Basically the crux is that the only place that authors are allowed to have the final publication version of an article in a non-open access Elsevier publication is on the Elsevier website itself. Of course, after any embargo period has elapse or if the author has paid an author processing charge and published in a hybrid or gold open access journal, they are allowed to post the article on their own webpage or institutional repository.

During the time that the article is most important for scholars to access, it's Elsevier only. Which is not a surprising policy in many ways for a publisher to have, after all they want to maximize their subscription fees as well as APCs not to mention traffic to their sites.

But an issue that I (and many others) have with this new policy is that it may very well be in direct contravention to what authors are required to do to meet various institution and national open access policies. Canada's new policy requires open access to the final version within 12 months of publication, much shorter than many journal's embargo period.

As such, this policy is potentially setting authors against their funders. And will no doubt cause many authors to either ignore the policy or put pressure on the government to water down the requirements.

The requirement for a CC-BY-NC-ND license is also much too restrictive, forcing authors to adopt a licence that isn't the generally accepted (particularly in STEM fields) open access license of CC-BY.

And I could go on. The policy is very long and very detailed, more than probably most people want to wade through. This length and complexity is an issue too. Pressed for time in a publish or perish world, it's tempting to skip to the end and just forget about sharing -- because it's just easier to do nothing and leave the article as is on the Elsevier site! The pain and anguish involved in sharing are a disincentive.

There is a way to fix this, and it's not even hard. The policy does mention the physics/math/CS/etc preprint server arXiv by name (and RePEC for economics): "Preprints may be shared, and on arXiv and RePEC they may be refreshed with accepted manuscripts." It's easy. Allow all scholars the courtesy and convenience that those that use arXiv & RePEC have. Allow preprints posted to a disciplinary or institutional repository to be refreshed with accepted versions upon publication. If that isn't a deal breaker in some fields, why is it a deal breaker in all the rest?

As is my habit, I've collected a fair bit of recent commentary on this new Elsevier policy. Many of the authors below go into far more detail than I have here about the various issues.

I'm including a bit on the STM principles for article sharing on scholarly collaboration networks, which were the basis for the new Elsevier policy. STM is a STEM publisher industry group. I've also included a couple of recent ones on Elsevier that aren't specifically about this issue for some wider context.

As usual, if I've missed anything significant please add it in the comments. If this issue continues to have legs, I'll probably update this post at some point.

Update 2015.05.28. This story does seem to have legs, so I've added a bunch of items.

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Reading Diary: Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design by Lisa Welchman

What is digital governance in the first place?
Digital governance is a discipline that focuses on establishing clear accountability for digital strategy, policy, and standards. A digital governance framework, when effectively designed and implemented, helps to streamline digital development and dampen debates around digital channel “ownership.”
-- From the Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design website.

Universities
Intellectual autonomy and stubbornness of staff
-- From the index, Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design, p. 229

Time to take a little medicine! All those digital projects, all those digital projects teams, all those digital projects strategies. Libraries, academic libraries, we know them well, don't we.

Chaos is a good word. Lots of stakeholders, limited resources, competing priorities. Governance is a good word too, for libraries, as it tends to imply less a top-down, less hierarchical, more collegial way of making decisions. And when it comes to deciding how an organization should make decisions about their digital presence, finding a way to makes those decisions more effectively is very important.

Which is exactly what Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design by Lisa Welchman is about -- how to set up internal structures that will help organizations make decisions about digital strategies, policies and standards. Note that the book isn't about what decisions to make or even really how to organize the decision-making process. It's about what structures can facilitate and inform and govern a decision-making process that results in strategies, policies and standards.

It's that twice-removed aspect that is both the book's greatest strength and the source of some frustrations as well.

It's a strength because it provides a level of abstraction between the content of the decisions and the process of deciding that can take a bit of heat out of the whole thing. Frustrating because the occasional lack of grounding in reality of all the talk of policies and whatnot make it hard to see how it all ties back to reality. The endless talk of process this and committee that is sometimes like grasping at smoke. There are fairly detailed case studies at the end, but perhaps some of that content should have been distributed a little better up front -- or at least some more real world examples.

Building a governance structure where none existed before or overlaying one on an existing chaotic situation are challenging tasks to say the least. Basically it requires defining the appropriate structures and then figuring out how to overlay those bureaucratic structures on an organization that needs it but may not realize or recognize it needs it.

And Welchman does a terrific job of going through how to define those processes and even how to talk about implementing them. She's very deliberate and patient, setting everything out in words and charts, step by step, how to figure out who defines, who has input, who has final authority. And the things we're talking about deciding about (see how circular and vague and smokey this gets...)?

Digital strategies, digital policies, digital standards. And not in any concrete way, of course, but as those higher-level abstractions that will be different for every industry or sector and which will be different for each organization within those industries.

And yes, higher education is one of the sectors that get a case study at the end. The example is a university's central web team in charge of managing and integrating the school's web presence across all the various units. (The case studies are anonymized versions of experiences in her own consulting practice.)

Governance can be a good word for higher education, of course. But the challenge in the modern higher education landscape is distinguishing between governance and "governance" or governance-washing. Setting up a digital governance strategy for institutions that are as decentralized and multi-faceted as universities is doubly challenging. What's being governed in digital strategy anyways? Just marketing and communication? Data and scholarship resources? MOOCs and online education? Faculty and departmental web-presences? To what degree is the marketing and communications tail wagging the educational and research mission dog? Someone has to keep an eye on what universities are really for -- teaching and research. And not marketing. We don't have universities so we can market them -- as the tail sometimes seems to think.

Welchman trods this fine line not always successfully in the higher ed case study. Too much emphasis on top down from the senior admin and provost and not enough grassroots bottom up from faculty, staff and -- yes -- students. For governance to be legitimate in a higher education environment, the decision-making needs to flow upward, not downward, as inconvenient and frustrating as that can seem sometimes on the inside. The digital part of the university serves the teaching and research mission of the university, not the other way around. Autonomy and stubbornness are virtues, not inconveniences to getting input on long, tortuous processes.

Overall, this is a very good book, if a little dry and disruption business web hallelujah jargony at times. The digital/web teams are perhaps too often portrayed as the misunderstood heroes of the various tales rather than part of complex organizational ecosystems where heroes and villains don't really exist. References to "disruption" and "digital natives" and "digital campus" don't necessarily inspire complete confidence, but there is also an incredible amount of wisdom here when it comes to creating collegial governance. Your mileage may vary, but it's hard to imagine that anyone involved in digital projects at any level won't find something here to help them navigate creating better processes at their institutions.

This book belongs in any library/information science, technology or business library collection in academia. Probably only quite large public library systems would find an audience for this book, but branches in technology hub neighbourhoods should probably put a copy in their window display. Also, buy a copy for everyone on your digital team, up and down the hierarchy all the way to the CIO.

Welchman, Lisa. Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design. Brooklyn, NY: Rosenfeld Media, 2015. 248pp. ISBN-13: 978-1933820880

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Around the Apocalyptic Web: Why thinkpieces on STEM education are dangerous and more

Apr 02 2015 Published by under acad lib future, around the web

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Some perspective on "predatory" open access journals

Predatory open access journals seem to be a hot topic these days. In fact, there seems to be kind of a moral panic surrounding them. I would like to counter the admittedly shocking and scary stories around that moral panic by pointing out that perhaps we shouldn't be worrying so much about a fairly small number of admittedly bad actors and that we should be more concerned with the larger issues around the limitations of peer review and how scientific error and fraud leak through that system.

I'm hoping my methodology here will be helpful. I hope to counter the predatory open access (OA) journal story with a different and hopefully just as compelling narrative. Fist of all, after gathering together some of the stories about predatory OA journals, I will present some of what's been written recently about issues in scientific peer review, it's problems and potential solutions.

Then I'll be presenting a more direct counter narrative to the predatory one. First of all, I'll present some information about the fantastic resource Retraction Watch. Then I'll present some concrete case studies on how traditional peer reviewed commercial publishing fails in all the same way that supposedly predatory publishing fails.

Finally, using the incredible work of Walt Crawford and others, I'll gather some resources that will further debunk the whole "predatory" open access moral panic and further suggest that perhaps it isn't the bogus OA journals that are the main source of "predatory" publishing, but rather that the big commercial and society publishers perhaps deserve that label more.

I want to be perfectly clear. My issue isn't with the necessity of peer review and it's importance in science. Issues like climate change and vaccination panics highlight why trusting in peer reviewed science is most responsible thing to do. After all, “Research misconduct accounts for a small percentage of total funding”. I think it's probably safe to say that at the end of the day, peer review and scientific publishing work fairly well as far as fraud and general quality levels go.

But.

Both peer review in particular and the scholarly communications ecosystem in general are human systems with all the potential for the full range of human weaknesses that implies: folly, error, bias, fallibility and bad faith. This post will explore some of the dimensions of folly, error, bias and bad faith in scholarly communication.

Let's start our adventures with some media stories and cases studies of bad faith -- true predatory open access journals.

Predatory journals are a real problem, of course, as we can see from the list above. However, I think the moral panic about their extent and impact tends to be exaggerated. I would really love to see more balance in reporting about predatory journals that contrast the real issues with scam journals with what I think are the far more pressing issues in scholarly communications. In other words, the flaws and limitations in the peer review system and the far more "predatory" traditional system of scholarly publishing that's controlled by the big commercial and society publishers. It's those publishers that are the leeches affecting the system.

These stories and anecdotes about predatory journals tend to acquire the mythic stature of the stories and anecdotes about vaccination that drive the anti-vaccine movement. Those tragic, personal stories take on a weight and social impact that's disproportional to the actual scientific and statistical significance.

 

Time to explore bias and human fallibility a little bit. Here are some resources about the general state of peer review, talking in general about the issues around peer review and the potential for reform. This list is meant to contrast the moral panic about "predatory" open access journals with a sober discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of peer review across all of science publishing, not just some fairly specific issues with a limited number of open access journals.

General Resources on Quality in Scientific Publishing, particularly on Issues with and Reform of Peer Review

(The Shit My Reviewers Say tumblr is a lighter-side exploration of some of these issues.)

 

More importantly perhaps, there is another set. There is no shortage of fairly well publicized cases of significant retractions or scientific fraud that got past the peer review process in traditionally published, peer reviewed journals, mostly from the big commercial or society publishers. In other words, where peer review was the issue, not the subscription model.

The brain child of Ivan Oransky, Retraction Watch is an amazing resource in this area, so before we get to the main event here are some advanced reading from and about that fine resource.

If you want to know about the failing of the big publishers when it comes to quality control or about researcher perpetrating scientific fraud, Retraction Watch is the definitive site on the web.

Resources by and about Retraction Watch

The site Science Fraud was taken down by various legal threats. While it existed, it was an amazing resource for uncovering practices such as falsified images or tables. Some posts are retrievable via the Internet Archive.

SCIgen is a website that allow anyone to automatically generate a bogus paper. It is often used to generate garbage papers for predatory open access journal stings. SCIgenDetection is one site that detects SCIgen papers. The SCIgen page has a number of examples and other resources related to automatically generated bogus scientific pages.

Springer has recently teamed up with Université Joseph Fourier to release the a generalized open source software package SciDetect which tries to detect fake scientific papers such as those generated by SCIGen.

 

And yes, the main event where we explore a different dimension of bad faith and human folly and weakness. This time on the side of the supposedly "good guys."

Bellow are examples where big commercial or society traditional, subscription-based peer review have fallen short, either due to careless or insufficient review or fraud on the part of scientists. Of course, peer review will rarely catch genuine fraud as the books are cooked. But even fraud cases demonstrate the limits of peer review across all scholarly communication, not just in "predatory" open access journals.

I would like to emphasize that this list is extremely selective. I'm mostly only highlighting particularly egregious examples that have made their way into the mass media or onto popular blogs. As above, for much much more, please visit Retraction Watch for more complete coverage. For example, The top 10 retractions of 2014.

This list is meant to contrast in number and severity to the list of examples of "predatory" open access publishing crisis and stings above.

Failure in Scholarly Communications Ecosystem through Stupidity, Error or Fraud

As noted above, this is the tip of the iceberg. Please see Retraction Watch for the rest of the iceberg.

And here are some books about academic fraud.

 

And as a bit of a desert, let's take a brief look at who we should perhaps be considering predatory journals, those big commercial and society journals that soak the library world for every penny of obscene profit.

Oh yes, some resources from this blog and beyond that highlight some of the issues with the big, traditional journals, some of which are society, some of which are commercial. And finally, some resources about the real predatory publishing, the big commercial and society publishers who control so much of scholarly publishing.

This list is extremely partial. Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

Hearing complaints and panic about predatory open access journals? Send them here for a hopefully more complete and honest picture.

(As usual, if I've mis-characterized or misunderstood any of the incidents or if I'm missing any significant items for any of the lists above, please let me know in the comments or by email at jdupuis at yorku dot ca. Hey, think of this as post-publication open peer review on this blog post. The wave of the future!)

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Reading Diary: Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age by Cory Doctorow

While I was reading Cory Doctorow's Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age, I was reminded of a quote of his that I blogged about a few years ago:

The people in Makers experience a world in which technology giveth and taketh away. They live through the fallacy of the record and movie industries: the idea that technology will go just far enough to help them and then stop. That’s totally not what happens. technology joes that far and them keeps on going. It’s a cycle of booms and busts. There are some lovely things about when you’re riding the wave and some scary things.

The Information Revolution is not bloodless. There’s plenty to like about the pre-Information era and a lot of that will go away. We can mourn it in the same way we mourn the knife sharpener who walked down the road with his wheel, the same way we mourn the passing of the lace tatter and all the other jobs that were made obsolete by one kind of technology or another. But we can mourn it without apologizing for the future that disrupted it.

(Doctorow, C. (2009, November). Cory Doctorow: Riding the wave. Locus, 63(5), 7, 60-61.)

Which is basically what IDWTBF is about -- how to make the bloody information revolution a bit less painful for creative artists trying to make a living is a radically different economic and social environment. But Doctorow isn't making suggestions is a "Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss," Animal Farmish "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which." kind of way. He's no fan of the big record companies or mega-publishers that want to figure out how to redirect new forms of revenue streams to old-fashioned intermediaries. Doctorow is trying to figure out how creative artists can succeed on their own terms, even if those terms end up requiring the support of those very intermediaries. He doesn't hate the "dinosaurs," he just wants to put the decision-making power where it belongs, with the creators.

Of course, he's a realist too, and doesn't try and convince anybody that the new world order is universally delivering riches to everyone who embraces it. On the contrary, he's quite blunt that almost everyone who wants to make a living as a creative artist will fail to do so. Just as it has pretty well always been. It's hard work, that requires a mixture of grit, luck and drive as well as the embracing of some new skill sets.

Doctorow presents his three laws of the Internet age, for figuring out how to succeed after the revolution:

  1. Any time someone puts a lock on something that belongs to you and won't give you the key, that lock isn't there for your benefit.
  2. Fame won't make you rich, but you can't get paid without it.
  3. Information doesn't want to be free, people do.

I won't go into too much detail with what the various laws entail, but basically what Doctorow is saying is that DRM ultimately works against the best interests of the creator by making it harder for the consumers of culture to own their cultural products in the way that makes the most sense for them. Why pay for something you don't really own, after all. The next challenge is recognizing that the creator's biggest challenge is overcoming obscurity, not defeating piracy. Creators shouldn't be blind to the implications of piracy but should spend more time making sure their potential audiences know who they are and what they have to offer and most of all, how consumers can support the creators financially. And finally, what do people want from the Web? They want to use it as openly and freely as possible. Getting in the way of that desire -- which ultimately can't be thwarted in any meaningful way anyways -- doesn't do anybody any good. Embrace the freedom and the only way to succeed rather than a self-fulfilling guarantee of failure.

Which is brutal, of course, because most creators will fail at making a living at their art, as it was always been. But Doctorow's advice would be to embrace his laws as a way of at least giving yourself the best show at success. Engage and delight your audience, that's the key.

This is a short book, full of sharp shocks. I would recommend it to everyone who either produces or consumes culture in the modern world. Which is just about everyone! Did I agree with everything? Not really. Doctorow is maybe a bit cavalier about what we loose in new business models. Thinking of the knife sharpener in the quote above, it's still better to get your knife sharpened than to leave them dull or just treat cheap knives as disposable. Or even to not need knives anymore because you don't ever prepare your own food. Sometimes old ways and old things are worth fighting for, as tough and useless as that fight might end up being. After all, if you don't fight back and resist you can be sure you'll lose. And I'm sure other readers will pick other bits to argue or dispute. Which is one of the pleasures of the book in a way. Doctorow is pretty confident in his opinions, and that provocation can a healthy exercise. He's thought these things through pretty thoroughly over the course of many years and many books and articles, after all, so spotting flaws is a challenge.

In the end, this is a worthwhile read, one that would benefit pretty well any library.

Doctorow, Cory. Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age. San Francisco: McSweeney's, 2014. 162pp. ISBN-13: 978-1940450285

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