by Laurent Romary (Inria)

There is currently a tug-of-war going on within the arena of scientific communication: scientists are exploring new, more efficient and affordable ways to disseminate research results, but at the same time, a web of private publishing companies (and even learned societies) are endeavouring to preserve their financial turnover on the basis of models from a previous era. This tension is echoed in the recent news relating to scholarly communication within Europe as a whole, and within individual countries:

  • Various legislative initiatives have been launched to improve legal copyright settings with various degrees of success. Julia Reda’s extremely ambitious proposal to reform the European copyright regulation does not seem to be reflected in the most recent drafts by the commission. On the contrary, new digital legislation is likely to be adopted in France in the coming weeks, with articles on both the freedom to deposit authors’ manuscripts in publication repositories and data mining freedom for legally acquired material;
  • Open science has been high on the agenda of the Dutch EU presidency during the first semester of 2016, and the final press release [L1] clearly states the objective that all scholarly papers should be freely available online by 2020. However, we have no defined strategy to guide us towards this ambitious goal and, at the same time, extremely conservative initiatives such as OA2020, riding on a tenuous connection to EU policy, are attempting to preserve the publishing landscape in its current state;
  • There have been recent instances of large private publishing trusts acquiring other companies to enlarge the scope of their services and thus their grasp on our communication facilities. Elsevier has recently taken over SSRN, a publication repository in social sciences and Hivebench, a laboratory notebook platform, just a few months after acquiring Mendeley, a major online information management site.

Without providing a comprehensive overview of how this situation arose, we can identify a few milestones that may help to explain why many researchers and institutions have started to question the adequacy of the contemporary publication system.

Within Europe, the first real sign of a strong awareness of diverging interests between the scientific community and scholarly publishers dates back to 2006 when a petition [L2] of more than 28,000 signatures, including many higher education and research institutions, was fiercely answered by a communiqué from the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers (STM) warning against the EU issuing any kind of open-access policy [L3]. Since then the EU has actually funded the OpenAire initiative and above all designed a mandatory open-access policy for all publications financed within its H2020 program.

The private sector has also taken up the open-access agenda and now presents itself as the key actor in the development of an economically viable solution with the author-pays model. Unfortunately, some countries have adopted this as a reference for the development of their public policies, as we have seen with the Finch report. Even the recent declaration by the League of European Research Universities LERU [L4] refers to the ‘transition’, a term that is inextricably linked to the dialectic of moving the subscription-based landscape to an author-pays scenario.

Finally, many new private actors are setting up online services related to communication (Academia, ResearchGate) or assessment (F1000, ScienceOpen, My ScienceWorks, peer.us) of scholarly content. It is alarming at times to see how much content is being redirected to such platforms, whose confidentiality and sustainability are far from guaranteed.

Given the current situation, shouldn’t we be concerned about the relatively low level of involvement of research institutions in directing the evolution of science communication? Is it really wise to hand over the reins of publication repositories and associated services (surely a vital part of our research infrastructure) to private ventures?

It makes sense for the computer science and mathematics community to be at the forefront of any initiative that relies heavily on information technology. The question at hand for ERCIM is to determine how professionals within this community might play a leading role in designing new models for the dissemination of research results that could ensure a high level of scientific quality, appropriate rewarding of its authors, and be both affordable and sustainable in the long term.

To this end, we at Inria have designed and implemented an ambitious open-access policy based on two main pillars:

  • a full-text deposit mandate on the French national repository HAL (http://hal.inria.fr) coupled with the annual reporting requirement of our institution;
  • a cautious approach to the author-pays model, with the setting up of a central budget for a native open-access journal and a ban on ‘hybrid payment’, i.e. journals that are also based on subscriptions.

The success of our policy, which is similar to the one deployed at the Dutch ERCIM member CWI, has allowed us to reach very high levels of full text coverage but also to keep article-processing charges low over the last five years. We are also exploring the development of new publication models in collaboration with the CCSD (Centre pour la Communication Scientifique Directe) service unit in Lyon, with the launch of an overlay journal platform: Episciences.org, where we both launched new scientific journals in computer science and applied mathematics, but also migrated legacy publications such as LMCS (Logical Methods in Computer Science) or DMTCS (Discrete Mathematics & Theoretical Computer Science).

The contributions focussing on open access featured in this issue of ERCIM News reflect the variety of doubts and ambitions that have emerged within our community, but also more widely within European academic institutions. We start with a presentation by Jos Baeten and Claude Kirchner of the recommendations approved by the ERCIM board followed by a plea from Peter Murray-Rust for a systematisation of data mining services on scholarly content. Karim Ramdani makes a clear case for implementing a green open-access policy as opposed to models based on the payment of article processing charges, Leonardo Candela, Paolo Manghi and Donatella Castelli show how this requires an increase in service provision and connectivity for existing publication repositories. The role of public initiatives in setting up new publication standards is discussed by Johan Rooryck, in the domain of mathematics, and Marc Herbstritt and Wolfgang Thomas, who advocate for a ‘reconquista’ of our scientific communication means. Finally, Vera Sarkol extends the debate to scientific data, with a look ahead to the necessary infrastructures we have to put in place.

We all have a responsibility to make sure that our discoveries and results are widely available for our colleagues and the general public. It is time for all ERCIM members to take a clear position, but also for each of us, as researchers, to contribute to the debate and ensure we achieve a viable scientific communication scenario for the future.

Links:
[L1] http://francais.eu2016.nl/documents/persberichten/2016/05/27/communique-de-presse---tous-les-articles-scientifiques-europeens-en-libre-acces-a-partir-de-2020
[L2] http://legacy.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/2007/02/20000-signatures-for-oa-presented-to-ec.html
[L3] http://legacy.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/2007/02/publishers-issue-brussels-declaration.html
[L4] http://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-9526-2016-INIT/en/pdf
 
Please contact:
Laurent Romary, Inria, France
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Next issue: October 2018
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