Tag Archives: Publishing

Exciting news, another fight worth watching closely.

The Open Access logo

On the day I was preparing my post On Being a Librarian one of the most exciting news stories about a university library striking a massive blow for open access to publicly funded research was being published in The ConversationUniversity of California’s break with the biggest academic publisher could shake up scholarly publishing for good. Author, MacKenzie Smith. I had been occupied elsewhere and missed the big development about a week earlier: UC terminates subscriptions with world’s largest scientific publisher in push for open access to publicly funded research

What does this have to do with Vridar readers? It is hopefully a first step towards all research or academic publications via public universities being freely available to all. There’s still a long way to go but a very critical first move has been made.

As a leader in the global movement toward open access to publicly funded research, the University of California is taking a firm stand by deciding not to renew its subscriptions with Elsevier. Despite months of contract negotiations, Elsevier was unwilling to meet UC’s key goal: securing universal open access to UC research while containing the rapidly escalating costs associated with for-profit journals.

In negotiating with Elsevier, UC aimed to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery by ensuring that research produced by UC’s 10 campuses — which accounts for nearly 10 percent of all U.S. publishing output — would be immediately available to the world, without cost to the reader. Under Elsevier’s proposed terms, the publisher would have charged UC authors large publishing fees on top of the university’s multi-million dollar subscription, resulting in much greater cost to the university and much higher profits for Elsevier.

“Knowledge should not be accessible only to those who can pay,” said Robert May, chair of UC’s faculty Academic Senate. “The quest for full open access is essential if we are to truly uphold the mission of this university.”

(UC Terminates Subscriptions)

The news goes to the heart of my own professional focus as a librarian: making publicly funded research publicly available. Sounds logical, but the problem universities world-wide have faced is that major publishing companies have taken (for free) researcher articles then wrapped them up in digital journals that they restrict to those who (or whose institutions) pay ever increasing costs. It was even possible for authors to lose all rights to their own work, even being unable to read it without cost, while the publishers reap in huge profits from it.

In reaction an Open Access Movement has been gathering momentum for some years now with university libraries taking a leading part. Many universities have now built their own digital repositories that allow free open access to all of (generally) pre-publication versions of their work. (This development has been extending more recently to the building of research data repositories.)

Most universities and researchers have been trapped by the major publishers. The only hope for a breakthrough is if one of the significantly larger universities took the first step of breaking away from those publishers. That has now happened, and that is truly big news. I’ll be watching with anticipation how it all pans out.

The new model (hopefully) will be for the universities to pay the publisher the cost of publishing researchers’ work in return for the publisher making the work free for all to read. There are other possible models, but let’s see what happens with this one now.

Our goals are ambitious and their implementation will be complex. Changing a system this intricate is akin to modernizing the FAA’s air traffic control system – a million planes are in the air at any moment and changing anything can have serious consequences elsewhere. But we have to start somewhere or the whole system is at risk, and UC has placed its bet. We join a global movement that began in Europe and is expanding around the world, and we believe we’re now on the path to a better system for sharing knowledge in the 21st century.The Conversation

(The Conversation article)

Elsevier has been resisting approaches from universities for years. It is simply untenable that research heritage of any sector of society should be locked away in the bowels of a private corporation. But that’s what the digital age has made possible. Universities are no longer able to keep shelves full of hard copies of everything; but the alternative up till now where private enterprises lock away and take full responsibility for research outputs, their preservation (if at all), who has access, and how much they fleece anyone wanting to access any of it — that system simply has to be demolished. Perhaps pressure can be increased on them if another major university follows UC’s lead when their subscription renewal time comes up.


Related sites:

https://creativecommons.org/ (This blog, Vridar, uses a CC licence)

https://doaj.org/ — directory of open access journals

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_access — history of the OA movement from its beginning in 2002 in Budapest, Hungary.

 


Peer Review may be problematic, but it’s not this bad….

Jim West, a biblical studies pastor whose name sometimes appears in publications alongside the likes of Thomas L. Thompson and Niels Peter Lemche, and who also runs a blog that I follow for its occasional titbits of news on recent publications, did not earn his academic qualifications at an accredited university, if I understand correctly, and periodically rails against accreditation itself. In a recent post he also attacks “scientific journals” for accepting a bogus paper for publication and uses this as an opportunity to rail against the value of peer review.

Don’t be misled, however. The article to which he refers is discussing makes clear are “predatory publishers” — that is, scam publishers who are not serious academic publishers at all but the same sort of scams as you get in your email from Nigerian bankers offering you millions from lost accounts, etc.

A list of these predatory journal titles is kept at Beall’s List of Predatory Journals and Publishers. They prey on the new academics, still wet behind their ears and eager to get published. — Or they prey on old academics like Jim West who isolates himself from standards of accreditation etc and is so keeps himself out of the loop, it seems.

The point is, don’t let anyone think that a bogus paper being published by a “scientific journal” that is actually a “predatory” title is kind of evidence, for or against, peer review. These publishers in all likelihood don’t have peer review at all — or lie if they say they do — and probably don’t even bother to have anyone read papers that they publish.

The clergy are still fighting viciously to prevent the people from having . . . .

richardjeffersonA passing comment by Professor Richard Jefferson at an Open Access and Research Conference today struck me as very amusingly pertinent to today’s crop of theologians and other biblical scholars. Paraphrased, it was something like this:

The history of religion has had one constant: the clergy have fought viciously to prevent the people from having direct access to the answers.

And it continues today, though I doubt RJ was aware of what many readers of religion blogs have come to learn. But we know that even today the most venerable scholars of God and The Good Book frown severely down upon mere lay folk from daring to draw their own conclusions directly from their own readings of the sources and the scholarly pronouncements upon them. It is the lay person’s job to revere the opinions of the scholars — no matter that scholars are not agreed with one another or that they give contradictory reasons for believing or assuming what they all believe or assum

The people cannot be trusted to make tentative judgments or entertain honest questions about the fundamentals. Even the non-theological scholars of the Good Book warn the laity that they cannot handle the depths of necessary knowledge in ancient languages or sophisticated historical methodologies that require great finesse of intellectual tweaking in order to come to the “right conclusions”. read more »

Peer Review — current developments

Sian Harris has made some interesting comments about current trends in scholarly publishing, including observations of what is happening to peer-review.

On peer-review (my bolding) one of the developments noted is:

Peer review is another interesting trend to watch. Different journals take different approaches to this. One trend is from blind to open peer review, where authors and reviewers know each other’s identity. Another topic for discussion is whether the lion’s share of peer review should go on pre-publication or post-publication. The journal PLOS One has an interesting approach to this, of deliberately only assessing papers for things like originality, accuracy and ethics but not making a judgement on how interesting the research is before publication. The discussion of the value of the research goes on afterwards.

There’s a related article, New Approach to Peer Review.

(Not that any of this is necessary for the Humanities, according to Larry Hurtado. Everything is just fine there. It’s only where those scientists have the ability to fabricate data that we find any problems, according to his ostrich perspective.)

 

If Peer-Review Does Not Work for Science Why Does It Work for Biblical Studies?

We have little or no evidence that peer review ‘works,’ but we have lots of evidence of its downside.
The Gatekeeper at the entrance to the Emerald City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mythicists have been told so often (oh how so very often) that they should publish in peer-review journals to be taken seriously. Peer-review, the public has been repeatedly told, is the guarantee of true scholarship. In the recent scholarly outrage over Joseph Atwill’s thesis gaining more public attention than the works of the academy, Larry Hurtado reminded us that “peer-review” and “reputable” go together like carrots and peas and Tom Verenna was once again extolling peer-review as the magic gateway guaranteed to keep intellectuals worthy and honest.

Now I do understand the reasons for peer-review. But what these reminders from among biblical scholars are overlooking is the research that demonstrates that peer-review in the various ways it is practiced today is also a deeply flawed process. Or maybe all those studies demonstrating this have no relevance for theologians.

You see, there is a conflict between what I read on the web by Bible scholars about how effective the peer-review process is in their profession on the one hand, and what I read about the flaws in the peer-review process in my professional capacity (coordinator of a research data management project and of a research publications archiving and access project) in an academic institution on the other.

While I read of the virtues of peer-review for maintaining the pure standards of biblical scholars after hours, during my work time I am reading published research findings that are not so sanguine about peer-review. Why the difference? Could it be that the research is focused mostly in the areas of the sciences? No doubt the nature of that sort of material makes objective analysis easier. Does that mean the demonstrated failings of peer-review could never apply to the field of biblical studies?

Given that scientists are increasingly being exposed to an understanding of the flaws in the peer-review process, are we to assume that biblical scholars are immune from these flaws and that their peer-review mechanisms really are guarantors of quality work?

One article that referenced several studies on the peer-review process is Richard Smith’s “Classical peer review: an empty gun” in Breast Cancer Research 2010, 12 (Suppl 4):S13 doi:10.1186/bcr2742 (a peer-reviewed journal).

If peer review was a drug it would never be allowed onto the market

This is how the article begins. It is a quotation from the deputy editor of a leading medical journal and “intellectual father of the international congresses of peer review that have been held every four years since 1989”, Drummond Rennie.

Later the article makes this claim:

If peer review is to be thought of primarily as a quality assurance method, then sadly we have lots of evidence of its failures. The pretentiously named medical literature is shot through with poor studies.

One would think that in a field like medical studies that peer-review would ensure that only accurate information is published. Certainly we would not think that the peer-review process would let through anything that would cause public harm.

But the facts prove otherwise.

There is much that is published that is downright false. The editors of the ACP Journal Club find that less than 1% of studies in most journals are “both scientifically sound and important for clinicians”. There are also documented instances of bad studies being published that have led to patient heart attacks and measles epidemics.

Note the following and ask if we have the same types of human nature producing and reviewing articles in biblical studies (with my bolding and formatting):

Doug Altman, perhaps the leading expert on statistics in medical journals, sums it up thus: ‘What should we think about researchers who

  • use the wrong techniques (either wilfully or in ignorance),
  • use the right techniques wrongly,
  • misinterpret their results,
  • report their results selectively,
  • cite the literature selectively,
  • and draw unjustified conclusions?’

We should be appalled. Yet numerous studies of the medical literature have shown that all of the above phenomena are common. This is surely a scandal.’

Back to Drummond Rennie:

Drummond Rennie writes in what might be the greatest sentence ever published in a medical journal:

DrummondRennie
D. Rennie

‘There seems to be no study too fragmented, no hypothesis too trivial, no literature citation too biased or too egotistical, no design too warped, no methodology too bungled, no presentation of results too inaccurate, too obscure, and too contradictory, no analysis too self-serving, no argument too circular, no conclusions too trifling or too unjustified, and no grammar and syntax too offensive for a paper to end up in print.’

Are biblical scholars more professional as a whole than doctors? Are their arguments and publications more rigorous? According to everything I read by biblical scholars themselves I must think they really are. No doubt our souls are worth much more care than our physical bodies.

Richard Smith continues:

We have little or no evidence that peer review ‘works,’ but we have lots of evidence of its downside.

What are the downsides? read more »

The Democratization of Knowledge and the Reaction of Reactionary Scholars

Today’s scripture reading comes from Ring Lardner’s short story, “The Young Immigrunts.”


Chapter 10

N.Y. TO GRENITCH 500.0

The lease said about my and my fathers trip from the Bureau of Manhattan to our new home the soonest mended. In some way ether I or he got balled up on the grand concorpse and next thing you know we was thretning to swoop down on Pittsfield.

Are you lost daddy I arsked tenderly.

Shut up he explained.


Balled Up on the Grand Concorpse

photograph of stained glass window in St. Igna...
photograph of stained glass window in St. Ignatius Church, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts by John Workman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everybody else in the world has been blogging about Dr. Bart Ehrman’s latest book on the existence of Jesus, and I didn’t want to feel left out. But the truth is there’s not much left to say. Yes, it’s a disappointment. And yes, we expected more and better from a respected, popular scholar. On the other hand, it wasn’t that big a surprise, was it?

We might, however, be forgiven if we found the tone of the debate a tad over the top. We have learned, as the hapless four-year-old protagonist in Lardner’s story discovered, that there is no way to ask Daddy if he’s lost that won’t bring a harsh response.

It does seem odd, however, to see scholars with advanced degrees — public intellectuals who teach real students at real universities — stooping to personal attacks. More disturbing than the abuse is the apparent lack of unawareness exhibited by the perpetrators, as if to say, “This is perfectly normal behavior.” read more »

Brilliant — academics taking on the publishers!

English: Open Access logo and text
Image via Wikipedia

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a wonderfully encouraging article about academics taking on the tyranny of the academic publishing industry.  The bottom line of the issue is the argument that publicly funded research should by rights be made publicly available.

It’s by Josh Fischman, A few excerpts:

A protest against Elsevier, the world’s largest scientific journal publisher, is rapidly gaining momentum since it began as an irate blog post at the end of January. By Tuesday evening, about 2,400 scholars had put their names to an online pledge not to publish or do any editorial work for the company’s journals, including refereeing papers.

. . . . .

Protesters . . . say Elsevier is emblematic of an abusive publishing industry. “The government pays me and other scientists to produce work, and we give it away to private entities,” says Brett S. Abrahams, an assistant professor of genetics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “Then they charge us to read it.” Mr. Abrahams signed the pledge on Tuesday after reading about it on Facebook.

Those views highlight a split that could spell serious trouble for journal publishers, and for researchers. Price complaints are not new, but some observers say this is the first time that the suppliers of journal content—the scientists—are upset enough to cut the supply line. But, if publishers are correct, those scientists could cut themselves off from valuable research tools.

According to the boycotters, Elsevier, which publishes over 2,000 journals including the prestigious Cell and The Lancet, is abusing academic researchers in three areas. First there are the prices. Then the company bundles subscriptions to lesser journals together with valuable ones, forcing libraries to spend money to buy things they don’t want in order to get a few things they do want. And, most recently, Elsevier has supported a proposed federal law, the Research Works Act (HR 3699), that could prevent agencies like the National Institutes of Health from making all articles written by grant recipients freely available.

. . .  .

[T]he protest has also reached junior scholars like Mr. Abrahams of Albert Einstein, who has yet to gain tenure.

“I have three papers I’m hoping to submit in the next 12 weeks. One was destined for Cell, and another for Neuron,” also published by Elsevier, he said. “It would have been a real feather in my cap to publish there. But I won’t, based on this week’s discussions.” His work, focused on identifying genes related to autism, will go other places. “There are other good journals. And, long term, I’d like my library to be able to use its limited resources to better ends” than high journal prices, he said.

That could signal real problems for Elsevier, says Kevin Smith, director of scholarly communications at Duke University Libraries. “Librarians have long complained about prices and bundling journals together, and nothing has changed,” he says. “Now it’s not just the customers who are complaining. It’s the suppliers.”

Academic librarians may buy journals, but it’s the scientists who produce and submit articles that make them worth buying, he says. “If they are upset, there is a chance they may change the system.”

. . . .

Nor does the Elsevier infrastructure impress younger scholars like Mr. Abrahams. “It could disappear tomorrow, and I’d never notice that it’s gone,” he said.

My job is at the centre of what this is all about — making publicly funded research openly available to the public. Coincidentally this is in large measure what this blog is about, too, in a much more informal and limited way. There is also the related question of long-term preservation. Libraries have traditionally been the repositories for this purpose but online journal publishers have robbed libraries of that ability and have forced the academic world to trust private companies whose bottom line is the profit margin with the preservation of our research heritage.

Peer review and [you know what]

Part of my job as a coordinator of the management of research data at an Australian university is to be familiar with the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research. The section in this document on Peer Review (chapter 6) is interesting when considered against the controversial remarks that sometimes erupt over mythicist publications. The code lays out the responsibilities of peer reviewers and researchers in Australian universities and other publicly funded research institutions. The mere fact that a code sets out responsibilities is itself testimony to the potential for the process to go awry. Its success relies upon the professionalism of enough of those involved to keep everyone in line and avoid lapses. The code is a valuable reminder of its potential limitations.

Here are some excerpts. Bold type has been added by me. read more »