Archive for the 'around the web' category

Elsevier buys SSRN: Another sideshow or the main event?

Main event. Definitely.

Elsevier's acquisition of the open access journal article and working papers repository and online community Social Science Research Network (SSRN) is definitely a case of Elsevier tipping their hand and giving us all a peek at their real long term strategy.

Much more so than their whack-a-mole antics with Sci-Hub and other "pirate" services.

One of the big hints is how they've tied it's acquisition so closes with their last important, strategic acquisition -- Mendeley. Another hint is that they also tie it in to one of their cornerstone products, Scopus.

From the announcement:

When Elsevier acquired Mendeley three years ago, many people wondered how well it would work out — including our team at the Social Science Research Network. SSRN has similarities to Mendeley, and many differences, but we share a common vision of improving researchers’ lives, and doing that together within Elsevier makes complete sense.

*snip*

Together, SSRN and Mendeley can provide greater access to the growing base of user-generated content, build new informational and analytical tools and increase engagement with a broader set of researchers.

*snip*

SSRN will benefit from access to Scopus citation data and an ability to link working papers to their published versions with direct forwarding links. We’ll also have access to Elsevier’s broader collection of metrics and data analytics, which we can share with SSRN authors, readers and users.

The research services division that products like Mendeley, Scopus and now SSRN belong to are a completely different beast than the much-maligned journals division. By contrast, this research services division seems much more nimble and user focused, with a laser-like aim towards the future rather than the past. I think that they reflect more where Elsevier wants to be in ten or twenty years, focused on providing high-value services to researchers and institutions rather than still weighed down by the legacy subscription business. They see that the old fashioned soak-libraries-for-all-they're-worth business model is (very) slowly becoming an albatross, a dodo bird. They're not the rapacious bullies and "Evil Empire" types, but more coolly rational and calculating. (Tywin Lannister vs. Ramsay Bolton, if you'll forgive the Game of Thrones analogy.)

So yes, maximize the soaking, drain every last dollar (Euro, Pound...) from libraries, wage a rear-guard battle against pirates as a massive feint maneuver to distract from the real front.

Services, services, services.

Elsevier has been the dominant player in the scholarly communications space for a very long time. They've masterfully figured out how to keep the money flowing down hill in their direction. They have no intention of surrendering their dominance. In a new, more open environment, they want to maintain that hegemony. And keep the money flowing.

As my favourite rock band put it so succinctly, "Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss."

 

As is my habit, I'm including below some links from the last couple of days with various commentary about the SSRN acquistion. If I've missed anything significant, please feel free to mention it in the comments.

The first few especially provide a more detailed overview of the facts, issues and immediate implications than I attempt to above.

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Around the Web: The Fort McMurray wildfire and climate change

May 06 2016 Published by under around the web, Canada, climate change, environment

The town of Fort McMurray, Alberta and it's surrounding region are experiencing a horrific wildfire. Tens of thousands of people have been forced to evacuate.

The absolute most important thing in the short and medium term is to take care of the people of Fort McMurray. Yes, Fort McMurray is the hub of tar sands development in Canada. Yes, the tar sands and other fossil fuel development projects contribute to climate change. Yes, the tar sands in particular have been identified as a carbon source that needs to be left in the ground. But those aren't short and medium term considerations. Those are very clearly about making sure the people of Fort McMurray are safe and that they can re-start their lives in the wake of this tragedy. The issues around fossil fuel development that have gotten us into the trouble we're in are systemic and historic, not in any way directly the fault of the actual people who are caught in this situation.

But in the longer term we need to stop brushing aside what is constantly happening in the short and medium term. We need to stop saying, "This isn't the time to talk about this." We meed to stop focusing on how you can't pin each individual weather disaster on climate change. It's true but it can't be the only point we ever make.

Every time we forget about how the short and medium term turn into the long term, one day and month and year at a time, one climate-change-related disaster at a time, we are letting ourselves off the hook in using the focus and attention to build longer term solutions.

The Edmonton Journal website is a great one-stop news portal for what's happening.

The Canadian Red Cross is probably the best place to donate to the relief effort.

In the meantime, here are some of the articles and posts I've been reading, reflecting a diversity of opinion and analysis.

 

And some more-or-less dissenting views on whether or not we should be talking about climate change in relation to the wildfire right now.

 

 

If there's good commentary I've missed, please let me know in in the comments.

And you might also want to take a look at my recent posts on The Leap Manifesto and recent readings on climate change.

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Cool linky stuff for science undergrads (14): What is Open Science? and more

May 03 2016 Published by under around the web, culture of science, ugrad links

I have a son who's currently a fourth year physics undergrad who is headed more the direction of math rather than physics for the possibility of grad school. As you can imagine, I may occasionally pass along a link or two to him pointing to stuff on the web I think they might find particularly interesting or useful. Thinking on that fact, I surmised that perhaps a) this kind of post might be more efficient and b) other undergrad students might find those links interesting or useful as well. Hence, this series of posts here on the blog.

The items I've chosen are mostly geared towards science undergrads (hence, the title of the series), but I hope many of them will be of broader interest.

The previous posts in this series are: 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1.

Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

And yes, it's been quite a long time since I last did one of these posts so I'll probably need a few over the coming weeks to catch up.

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Around the Web: The math the planet relies on isn’t adding up right now and more on the science and politics of climate change

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The Sci-Hub story so far: Main event or sideshow?

The controversy about Sci-Hub is raging in the halls of scholarship and academic publishing.

What's the story, in a nutshell?

Sci-Hub is a Russian website that has used donated institutional login credentials to harvest tens of millions of academic articles and has posted them on their site, free to access and read for everyone. This has not pleased the academic publishing community, to say the least. Elsevier is leading the charge to shut them down, succeeding with one iteration of the site last year until, mushroom-like, Sci-Hub has popped up again this year.

My take? Mostly that it's a sideshow.

Overall, my thoughts are fairly similer to The Library Loon's in a lot of ways, so heading over there to read that very fine post is well worth your time.

One aspect that I have ranted about on Twitter which I think is worth mentioning explicitly is that I think Elsevier and all the other big publishers are actually quite happy to feed the social media rage machine with these whack-a-mole controversies. The controversies act as a sideshow, distracting from the real issues and solutions that they would prefer all of us not to think about.

By whack-a-mole controversies I mean this recurring story of some person or company or group that wants to "free" scholarly articles and then gets sued or harassed by the big publishers or their proxies to force them to shut down. This provokes wide outrage and condemnation aimed at the publishers, especially Elsevier who is reserved a special place in hell according to most advocates of openness (myself included).

The big publishers deserve the bile and disgust aimed at them, no doubt about that. Their rear-guard operations are overly heavy-handed and probably counter productive in a lot of ways. But they are a distraction from the real front line in the battle for a fairer and more open scholarly communications ecosystem. The predatory toll access publishers are symptoms of a deeper disease, just like "predatory" open access publishers are a sideshow to that same malaise.

And while we must continue to address those symptoms and work hard to alleviate the suffering they cause, the disease itself is more than happy for us to spend our time complaining about the symptoms.

In other words: Elsevier and its ilk are thrilled to be the target of all the outrage. Focusing on the whack-a-mole game distracts us from fixing the real problem: the entrenched systems of prestige, incentive and funding in academia. As long as researchers are channelled into "high impact" journals, as long as tenure committees reward publishing in closed rather than open venues, nothing will really change. Until funders get serious about mandating true open access publishing and are willing to put their money where their intentions are, nothing will change. Or at least, progress will be mostly limited to surface victories rather than systemic change.

What about libraries and librarians, you say? Library journal budgets have been the canary in the coal mine for this issue longer than I've been in the profession and will continue to be that canary. But the fundamental issue is a difficult one for us to solve. While we are the main source of funding for the big publishers -- to the tune of something like us$10 billion per year -- we are not actually the main users of their products. Those users are the researchers themselves. Who are isolated from directly bearing the cost of that scholarly publishing in their research.

We have a situation where the main consumers consume but don't pay. And the main payers don't actually do the vast majority of the consuming. Libraries are caught in the middle, not much paid attention to or cared about seriously by either side, as long as we continue to find a way to continue paying. Wallets with a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome.

Hence the complexity of all the pain and anguish around the Sci-Hub issue.

But I've ranted enough.

This has been one of those white-hot-rage rants. Deeper thought and reflections will be much more evident in the many recent articles and posts I've linked to below. I'm also mostly concentrating on the most recent Sci-Hub flare up rather than older posts.

Enjoy.

 

 

As usual, while the list above is not meant to be exhaustive, if I've forgotten anything important please feel free to link to it in the comments.

 
 

Update 2016.03.07. Updated up to March 6. A couple of stragglers added as well as a bunch of new ones since the original posting. The Sci-Hub issue seems to have legs!
Update 2016.04.08. Another update, bringing the list up to date. Mostly new items but a few stragglers from February and early March.

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Around the Web: Some readings on Climate Change, Canada and COP21

Nov 29 2015 Published by under around the web, Canada, climate change, environment

I think this post might signal the birth of a new all-consuming blogging obsession -- climate change in general and specifically how the realities of climate change play out in the Canadian context, especially as it relates to public policy.

With the COP21 climate talks coming up in Paris, this seems like as good a time as any to focus more carefully and closely on what is probably the most defining issue of our times.

Not that this is the first time I've blogged about climate change. I've kept track of the issues fairly closely over the years and that has spilled into the blog, mostly in the form of the occasional book review such as:

And even a post on Climate Change Fiction, which has turned out to be one of my most popular ever. Not to mention that items on climate change have turned up in my Around the Web posts a number of times such as here and here.

And of course, one of the driving forces for my Canadian War on Science mega-obsession series of posts was the Harper government's shameful record on climate change.

Needless to say, my purpose here isn't to cheer on the Trudeau government in whatever it decides to do, though obviously they will very likely do better than the previous government. Holding them to account to failures and bad decisions and perhaps pointing the way to better policies is just as much my mission here.

So here goes. A fairly selective series of readings about climate change, Canada and COP21. With more to come.

As usual, if I've made any errors of if I'm missing anything significant, please let me know in the comments.

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Around the Web: Ada Lovelace Day, Wikipedia & Women in Science

My library is hosting a Ada Lovelace Day event tomorrow (ok, a little late...). Continuing in a tradition of having Women in Science Wikipedia Edit-a-thons, we're hosting our own Wikipedia Women in Science Edit-a-thon!

I've been doing a fair bit of reading over the last couple of years about Wikipedia culture and especially how it relates to the under-representation of women both as editors and as subjects of articles. So I thought I'd share some of my readings here with all of you.

Of course, this list is in no way comprehensive or complete. I welcome suggestions for further readings in the comments, either on edit-a-thons, women in science, Wikipedia culture or any of the intersections of those topics.

 

About Wikipedia Edit-a-thons

 

About Wikipedia and Editor Culture More Generally

I'm working on a LibGuide for the event which I'll post here once I make it live.

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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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Around the Web: BB King, Christopher Lee, Ornette Coleman, Joël Champetier

Jun 16 2015 Published by under around the web, friday fun, music

I'm just back from an extended sabbatical work/vacation trip to Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin -- yes, I did meet with some science publishers while I was in Europe! -- and while in Europe a couple of the true icons of my childhood died: BB King and Christopher Lee. As well, jazz icon Ornette Coleman also died while I was in Europe and while he wasn't an icon from my childhood years I do respect and understand the impact he had on the world of jazz. Quebec science fiction writer also passed away Joël Champetier.

I thought I'd use this post to remember a thing or two about each of these greats as well as collect a small selection of the various online remembrances of their impact.

 

BB King

It's hard to overstate the importance of BB King to my musical development. I learned to love the blues from BB King. He's the artist I've seen in concert the most times, at 5 or 6, the most recent being a double bill with George Benson at the Montreal Jazz Festival about 15 or so years ago. Every time he was awesome, the consummate blues singer and guitarist. And it all started way back in the 1970s. As it happens, my father was a huge Johnny Carson fan and would watch the Tonight Show most knights. As a youngster I often stayed up to watch it with him on Friday nights or during the summer. Of course, Carson was well known as a jazz fan so he would often have musical guests of a jazzy or bluesy nature. Probably most often, Mr. BB King. Who's music captivated me from the very first time I saw him.

 

Christopher Lee

If BB King taught me to love the blues, Christopher Lee taught me to love horror movies. Fortunately as a youngster my parents didn't seem to care what I watched on TV, so I tended to watch the weirdest and most extreme stuff available at the time. We're talking the early 1970s here. And at the time, we're talking the old Hammer horror flicks. Hard to believe they were such mainstays on the tube in that era, but to say the least, I loved them. And I especially loved the many Dracula films staring Lee in the title role. He was so intense and evil, yet somehow majestic and proud. I was hooked. And I followed he career over the decades, watching him in countless cheapo films and some very good ones as well, like The Wicker Man or The Man with the Golden Gun. Of course, the pinnacle of his career was staring in the twin roles that made him immortal for all generations, not just old horror movie fans. Saruman in The Lord of the Rings, of course. And Count Dooku in the last two Star Wars movies, where he was by far the best thing about the films. He's be missed. I read his memoirs Tall Dark and Gruesome and they give a wonderful picture of the man and the actor.

 

Ornette Coleman

Not too long ago I was listening to Ornette Coleman's calling card album Free Jazz and I thought to myself, "This is the music they should have used for the cantina scene in Star Wars." Bracing, bizarre, atonal, wild and free, yet strangely tuneful all the same, this landmark album from 1961 sounds as fresh today as it did in 1961. Not only that, it still sounds like it comes from the future, like it's music we're not quite ready for, that's just over the horizon. Hence my thought: how cool would it have been if the cantina band in Star Wars had been Ornette Coleman and his group playing some Free Jazz?

JazzTimes has a nice compilation of articles on Coleman here.

 

Joël Champetier

And finally, on a more personal note, the Quebec French-language science fiction writer Joël Champetier also died while we were away, on May 30th. I knew Joël a little bit -- and my wife translated one or two of his stories into English -- the Canadian SF world being a rather small place. I was always happy to run into him at an SF convention, usually a Canadian WorldCon or some such larger convention. It's been a while since I've been to any conventions and a while since I last say Joël. He was a good person and a great writer. He'll be missed.

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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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