Conversation in Charleston: Public Access and Data

"Promote ORCID."

That was Greg's "if you take just one thing from this session" recommendation.  Howard agreed, but added, "...equally promote having your researchers submit their funder information when submitting manuscripts for journal publication.  Having the Researcher ID and Funder ID together married up to the article DOI is a powerful combination."

On the other hand, just having Howard & Greg chatting together on the same stage was a pretty powerful combination.   When SHARE & CHORUS were first launched, just a few months after the Holdren memo was released, many observers saw them as competitive.  In this corner, the publishing lobby making a policy end run to try to maintain their market dominance; and in this corner the combined might of the research libraries and universities seeking to leverage their investments in institutional repositories into some greater relevance.  Which of these mutually exclusive solutions would the federal funding agencies settle on? (Or would PMC simply vacuum everything up into an expansive PubScience Central)?

Fortunately, it didn't take too long for the developers to see where the projects overlapped and where there were advantages to be gained for both projects by sharing expertise and perspectives.  By the time I had lunch with several of my Roundtable colleagues at the AAAS meeting last February those conversations had gotten to the point where a joint appearance at Charleston was starting to look like a real possibility.  I immediately thought of Greg as a potential participant.  He's a Charleston regular and has been working with SHARE as a consultant.  Turns out that he had been having discussions with Judy Ruttenberg about a similar panel proposal and when the Charleston directors got wind of all this, they put us together.

Bringing Howard in was a natural given his role with CHOR., and I wanted to include John Vaughn, whose experiences with handling scholarly commnications issues for the AAU go back many years, and whose roles in chairing the Roundtable and in helping to develop the SHARE concept have amply demonstrated his commitment to including the views of all stakeholders in working through these very complicated issues.

The concept that Greg & Judy were developing was broader than just SHARE & CHORUS, however, and when the three of us spoke by phone over the summer we agreed on the necessity of bringing in a data person.  We were very fortunate that Laurie Goodman, editor-in-chief of Gigascience, was able to join us.

I've done several sessions like this over the years -- "facilitated conversation".  No presentations.  Some informal agreement among the participants about the likely themes.  I prepare half a dozen or so questions ahead of time, but once we get to the event, I rarely use more than two.  With the right people, the conversation flows naturally and takes its own course.  My job is just to keep it moving.

With this group, my task was extremely easy and the 45 minutes went by in a flash.  Of course we could have gone on much longer, but I'm happy with the range of topics that we were at least able to touch on.  (The session was recorded, so there will be a link on the Charleston website at some point). 

One of the most striking moments was when Greg asked how many in the audience were involved in managing institutional repositories.  Half the people raised a hand.  Then he said, "Keep your hands up. Now how many of you are successful in getting your authors to submit directly to your IR?" Only 2 hands were left up and one of the two was wavering in uncertainty.

Reshaping the scholarly communication eco-system is a massive job.  As John said, developing achievable policy will require adult deliberations and negotiations among all the key players – universities, libraries, publishers, and government.  It is also clear that a focused effort in data access and interpretation, management, and preservation will become increasingly important, and is one of the areas that currently is both most volatile and most challenging.

So in addition to promoting ORCID, noting funding sources, sharing best practices for effective IR management, and a whole host of other things that came up during the session, John suggests getting one of the nifty yellow Data t-shirts like the one Laurie wore.  Cafe Press has some nice options.


The Caricature of Taypayer Access

I am avidly following the discussion about public access on the OSTP blog and I see this morning that of the 26 new comments that have come in overnight, 21 are from Harnad.  Sigh.  "Bless his heart," as we say in the South.  I applaud the folks at OSTP for trying to be as open and inclusive as possible, but is this really any way to have a reasoned discussion?  I would hate to have to be the person who's got to read through all of this stuff and try to figure out if it actually reflects any consensus of opinion.

Hardly anyone that I talk to disagrees with the general abstract principle that the public should have ready access to the results of federally funded research.  But that's not really what all the heat is about.  What SPARC and its legions claim is that the public should have free access to the peer reviewed literature that results from federally funded research.  This is quite a different thing, and SPARC has been extremely effective at papering over that critical distinction.

There's the expected amount of publisher bashing in the comments of course, best illustrated, perhaps, by Evans Boney's "overview of what happens in peer-reviewed research:"

1- SCIENTISTS spend weeks preparing a grant proposal and sometimes get a grant, likely paid for by citizens of the USA.
2- SCIENTISTS do the research.
3- SCIENTISTS submit a paper to their peers
4- these other SCIENTISTS review these papers and send back comments.
5- PUBLISHERS claim a copyright on the result of the SCIENTISTS work and make the money that should rightly belong to the people who did the research. This money comes from subscriptions paid by libraries which, at public universities, are ALSO paid for by citizens. PUBLISHERS add two extra costs to the public at large, and are entirely worthless and burdensome to today’s scientific structure.

What one would logically conclude if this were actually the case, is that scientists should quit sending their articles to established journals, and simply organize their own peer review mechanisms and post their papers on their own.  Problem solved. 

Alas, this description is an ignorant caricature, although one that passes for reality among far too many of my colleagues in libraryland.  Even on a very small scale (for example, my experience with the four slender issues a year of the JMLA) there is a tremendous amount of labor involved in getting something from manuscript to published article, and then in getting that to the attention of the people for whom it will be useful, labor that is completely unacknowledged in the silly simplification that Evans presents. 

The advocates for public access mandates implicitly recognize this, of course.   It is the post-peer review articles that they want made publicly available.  They'd like the final published paper, of course, but those damned copyright laws prevent them from just taking those -- so they'll settle for the final peer-reviewed manuscript, which, they claim, the publisher doesn't quite have the rights to yet (although the fact that the NIH policy requires that the written agreement between the publisher and the author allow Pubmed deposit indicates that maybe the publisher does have some kind of a claim after all... but we'll try to avoid going there...).  One gets a headache from trying to follow the tortured logic.  So much easier to just raise the banner of "taxpayer access!"

So I'm left with this conundrum:  if what the publisher provides is so valuable that no mandate urges making papers available that don't have the benefit of it, how do we justify taking that value (and diminishing the value to the publisher who provided it) without giving something in return?  Conversely, if what the publisher provides is of no value at all, why don't the mandates suggest that we simply bypass the publisher altogether?

(As a postscript, I feel compelled to add that I do believe that the public should have unfettered access to the peer-reviewed results of federally funded research.  Indeed, I think that all of the peer-reviewed scientific literature should be made freely available.  After all, one of the professional accomplishments of which I am most proud is having played a part in making the content of the JMLA freely available -- the first library journal that did so.  I just think that we need to develop policies that do a much better job of acknowledging and accounting for the contributions made by publishers.  I don't think that the taxpayer access argument, in the simplistic form in which it is usually stated, is intellectually honest.  Evans Boney may not know any better, but surely many of the others who make that same case do).

What Do They Know About Plagiarism?

I hesitated when I saw the email message.  It was Saturday morning, the tail-end of my holiday break and I was gearing up for my return to the world of work.  I was already looking at a full schedule and much of it was going to be consumed with dealing with the very ugly realities of our budget crisis.  Could I really manage to take something else on?

The message was from a professor in Public Health, who I've guest lectured for in the past.  She was getting ready for the class she'd be teaching in the spring.  It's a required class that the students take the semester before they graduate.  She said, "In talking to one of my colleagues, I found out (to my surprise) that one of the issues in the fall was that they didn't know basics of how to search the literature and how to utilize our library resources."

She wanted to know if I could come in and do a version of my lecture on copyright, plagiarism and research ethics, and include some basic material on resources appropriate to public health students.  For her first class.  On Wednesday evening.  This Wednesday evening.  She did say that if that didn't work we could try for the following week.  But I know how she structures her classes and that it would really make the most sense to kick off the semester with it.  So despite everything else it took me only about half an hour of pondering to say sure.

The daunting part would've been doing an effective portion on public health resources.  What the hell do I know about that?  Fortunately, we have an expert in the library (who not only has been our public health liaison for years, but is currently a student in the MPH program), so I figured I could crib from her.  Turns out she volunteered to come and do the class with me.  The students don't know how lucky they are!

So I did a version of my standard copyright basics, plagiarism basics, issues in research publication ethics lecture.  I've been doing this one for years and years.  Every time I pitch it a little differently and change the examples a bit and update where necessary, but the essentials of it are the same. 

Concerns over plagiarism by students have mushroomed over the past few years.   While the internet has made it extremely easy to commit plagiarism, it has also made it very easy to discover.   Surveys show high numbers of students admitting to cheating during their high school or college careers.   A while back, a rep from one of the big publishing houses told me that whereas a couple of years ago the hot topic at the publisher meetings he went to was open access, during the past year or so it had become plagiarism and other ethical violations.

It is apparent to me, when I do these lectures, that most of the students have only the vaguest notion of the concepts behind copyright and plagiarism and most have only the foggiest notion of what are considered to be appropriate norms of scholarly and professional behavior.  While intentional plagiarism or other ethical violations certainly takes place, I'm convinced that much of what happens occurs through simple ignorance.

Case in point -- a few years ago, I was on an advisory panel for the project of an informatics student.  My involvement was extremely minor.  But the student was appreciative -- and showed his appreciation by including me as an author on a paper he wrote reporting the results of a different project altogether!  I didn't know about it until after the paper was submitted to a journal.  I immediately notified his advisor and the paper was withdrawn before any harm was done.  This was a smart guy doing very interesting work.  He just didn't know any better.

Some junior scholars and scientists end up with good mentors who will model appropriate behaviors, but unfortunately many don't.  I suspect the only formal exposure that most of our undergraduates get to the ethical issues of plagiarism occurs if they read the Honor Code.  But the faculty assumes that the students know all of the rules.  That's a bad assumption.

If we expect students to understand the ethical issues involved we have to take the time early in their college careers to insure that those issues get addressed.  The professor who emailed me was surprised that the students had gotten as far as they had (last semester before graduation in an MPH program) without understanding the basics.  Sadly, I wasn't.