Archive for August, 2007

The Partnership for Research Integrity in Science and Medicine (PRISM)

It’s been hard to miss the uproar that followed the launch of The Partnership for Research Integrity in Science and Medicine (PRISM). The PRISM Coalition is a new lobbying organisation formed by The Executive Council of the Professional & Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers (AAP). From their press release:

A new initiative was announced today to bring together like minded scholarly societies, publishers, researchers and other professionals in an effort to safeguard the scientific and medical peer-review process and educate the public about the risks of proposed government interference with the scholarly communication process.

(That is, to campaign against research funders such as the National Institutes of Health mandating the deposit of authors’ postprints in open access repositories.)

The criticism from the open access blogging community has been deafening, at least for those who hang out in the echo chamber that is the blogosphere. Blog posts are too numerous to mention but here are a few: Open Access News, Information Research Weblog, Peter Murray-Rust, A Blog Around the Clock (includes links to yet more comment), and lots more.

The criticism ranged from the detailed and forensic (Peter Suber’s Open Access News entry cited above) through heavy-handed satire (The PISD Coalition) to the downright ugly (“lying profitmongering scum”).

The storm in blogoland was picked up by the quasi-mainstream press in the form of Salon (“Science publishers get even stupider”) and Wired (“Astroturf Spreads to Science Journals: Publishing Industry Forms Front Group to Cheat Public”), whose writers both weighed in with their own brands of polemic.

It was left to the ever-reliable John Blossom on ContentBlogger to give the voice to the kinds of worries that many in the mainstream STM publishing industry might have about PRISM:

The primary problem with PRISM is that it seems to be advocating on a range of issues which, while valid in their own right, are more about fear, uncertainty and doubt – those familiar sales tools – than the real issues at hand.

… If the purpose of PRISM is to convince legislators that there is an advocacy group that supports the publishers’ goals then my sense is that they are going to fail. The site is not very convincing and lacks information about its supporters or any input from them that would influence people into thinking that there is a broad base of support for PRISM’s views.

… With some added focus and some sponsorship of honest debate between government research sponsors, scientists and publishers PRISM may yet serve a positive and constructive purpose as an advocacy group. But if PRISM remains little more than an “astroturf” organization* that defends the commercial interests of publishers then it’s not likely to gain the needed respect from any of the parties that it needs to influence in this debate.

(*An “astroturf” organisation is one that tries to position itself as a grass-roots movement when in fact it is created by others wanting to appear to have grass roots support.)

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Why don’t researchers like to comment on journal articles?

Last year the Nature open peer review trial found that

… A small majority of those authors who did participate received comments, but typically very few, despite significant web traffic. Most comments were not technically substantive. Feedback suggests that there is a marked reluctance among researchers to offer open comments.

It seems that researchers are just not yet ready to use these kinds of comment facilities. Further evidence comes from PLoS ONE, the open access online journal of everything from the Public Library of Science. PLoS ONE has a deliberately low barrier to publication in the form of minimal peer review and intends that the better work will float to the surface through users’ comments and ratings. But despite PLoS ONE having been surprisingly successful at attracting authors (given that authors have to pay $1250 publication charge for a journal with no impact factor and low peer review standards), it has been much less successful at getting users to comment on articles.

PLoS ONE has therefore hired a well-known science blogger, Bora Zivkovic as Online Community Manager with the specific responsibility for drumming up comments. Bora has recently published a FAQ on the PLoS blog for PLoS ONE users thinking of commenting, which includes this extract:

Q: I think the article has a major problem, but I am afraid to challenge a big name in my field.
Your nervousness is understandable. But, if you believe that you have identified a real problem with the article and you feel confident about it, it is likely that other readers will feel the same. Be the first one to comment about it (try to use non-confrontational language such as ‘could’ not ‘should’ etc) and read the responses of others who may agree or disagree with you. On PLoS ONE everyone is equal and everyone is expected to treat others with equal respect. Courage to challenge authorities will gain you a fair reputation among your peers.

So, “Courage to challenge authorities will gain you a fair reputation among your peers.” Do I hear the sound of hollow laughter …?

On the other hand, the Rapid Response feature of the British Medical Journal is very popular (so much so that editorial moderation had to be tightened to curtail the “bores who monopolised conversations for compelling personal reasons”). What’s the difference? It may be that the BMJ Rapid Responses were seen as simply an electronic version of an already existing (and popular) feature, the Letter to the Editor, whereas the Nature and PLoS One examples were wholly or partly attempts to develop new forms of peer review. Despite the many well-known problems with peer review, it seems the scientific community is extremely conservative about changes to it.

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Society-owned journals and their publisher partners

I’ve just finished writing a second draft of an article aimed at giving advice to societies on the choice of the publishing partner, which will (I hope) appear in a future issue of Learned Publishing. The article is essentially a distillation of what I’ve learned over the past few years working with a fair number of societies either renegotiating the publishing contracts or going out to tender for a new deal.

My article is intended to be pretty well neutral on what societies should be looking for in terms of the business model: whether to be moving to open access or to be aiming for the biggest financial return. The advice to societies is to work out in advance exactly what it is you want from a publisher before you start the beauty parade: as in many things in life, if you don’t know what you want, you probably won’t get it.

But it seems this “journal transfer market” is potentially under fire as a result of the decision by the American Anthropological Association to move their journals from the University of California Press to Wiley-Blackwell. There’s a longish article in Inside Higher Education, Publishing & Values, that discusses the issues in an interesting and readable way:

Some object to the move from a university press to a commercial entity and fear a lessening of commitment to important scholarship that may not make money. Others see this as a sign that the anthropology association — which has won praise for the online offerings of its journals — is taking a hard line against the open access movement embraced by many of its members (and the library world). Still others see the move as a sign that scholarly societies are facing tough decisions about their missions — without good mechanisms for involving the academic rank and file in making decisions.

There are two underlying issues discussed in the article. One is the question of whether university presses are staying competitive (or indeed can in principle stay competitive):

At the same time, Wantland [journals manager for the University of Illinois Press and chair of the Scholarly Journals Committee of the Association of American University Presses] said that the anthropology move may force university presses to look at their weaknesses. “Not only are we all saddened, but we have to take a step back and see what it is we are not offering,” she said. In particular, she said in-house staff to work on technology may be an area where many university presses can’t compete with the big commercial operations.

Clifford Lynch of CNI was quoted as saying:

“The innovation side of this is particularly tough,” he said, and much more difficult financially than just going open access and putting basic articles online. “When you start thinking not only about can we go digital in our publishing because it makes it easier to get worldwide access, but because it may allow us to publish different kinds of things, exploring a richer palette of scholarly communication and bringing in primary data and visual materials, that takes capital,” he said. “It takes human capital. It takes financial capital. It takes technical capital. And a lot of these societies don’t have it and don’t have access to it, which is why some of them feel they have to go off to large players,”

The other issue concerns the role of societies and whether they shouldn’t be making the journal content universally available rather than living off rich journal rents to fund their other activities (quoting Lynch again):

“They’ve got missions that often speak very broadly to disseminating and advancing knowledge in their discipline. They’ve got a membership that in some disciplines is increasingly convinced that the way to do that is more openness in publication and more innovation in publication, but these societies have got sort of addicted to these revenue streams from their publication programs over the last few decades, and are trying to figure out if they want to make the transition to a new model and — if so — how do they navigate the transition.”

Of course, the publishers (both commercial and not-for-profit) that are generating these addictive revenue streams argue that their model is the one that has delivered the biggest increase in access to literature ever: their retained capital allowed them to make the technology investments that Lynch speaks of, and the (consortia-based) licensing model has broadened access enormously while simultaneously cutting the average cost per journal article use by an order of magnitude or so.

(In the case of the AAA news, there’s also an important back story that complicates the issue. The AAA leadership last year came out against the proposed US legislation requiring tax-funded researcher to deposit an open access copy of their research papers within 6 months of publication. This brought them into conflict with many individual AAS members, who were “enthusiastic about the legislation and were stunned and angry to find their association coming out against it.”)

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TechTarget Announces Record Second Quarter 2007 Financial Results

TechTarget continues to show its older-established rivals how to do it in online B2B publishing:

TechTarget Announces Record Second Quarter 2007 Financial Results: Financial News – Yahoo!

Online revenues increase to record $16.3 million; up 27 percent over prior year quarter
TechTarget, Inc. (NASDAQ: TTGT – News) today announced financial results for the second quarter ended June 30, 2007. Total revenues for the second quarter increased by 19% to $24.6 million over the $20.7 million for the comparable prior year quarter.

Online revenues increased by 27% to $16.3 million over the comparable prior year quarter, and represented 66% of total revenues.

Adjusted EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, as adjusted for stock based compensation) increased by 31% to $7.6 million compared to $5.8 million for the comparable prior year quarter.

“Q2 was a productive quarter for TechTarget. We completed our IPO and delivered record revenues and profits,” said Greg Strakosch, Chairman and CEO of TechTarget. “Our online revenue growth was especially strong and we continue to improve our operating margins,” Mr. Strakosch added.

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Eric Schmidt Defines Web 3.0

Just when you thought you knew what Web 2.0 was …

Eric Schmidt Defines Web 3.0:

Google CEO Eric Schmidt was recently at the Seoul Digital Forum and he was asked to define Web 3.0 by an audience member. After first joking that Web 2.0 is “a marketing term”, Schmidt launched into a great definition of Web 3.0. He said that while Web 2.0 was based on Ajax, Web 3.0 will be “applications that are pieced together” – with the characteristics that the apps are relatively small, the data is in the cloud, the apps can run on any device (PC or mobile), the apps are very fast and very customizable, and are distributed virally (social networks, email, etc).

Most scientific publishers probably think of Web 3.0 (if at all) in terms of the semantic web. To quote from the Wikipedia entry:

… the semantic web is expected to revolutionize scientific publishing, such as real-time publishing and sharing of experimental data on the Internet. This simple but radical idea is now being explored by W3C HCLS group’s Scientific Publishing Task Force.

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SciVee: YouTube for Scientists

PLoS together with the (US) National Science Foundation and the San Diego Supercomputing Center have launched a really interesting new site SciVee for scientists to upload video presentations about their papers. (The papers have to be available in an open access version: currently just PLoS articles, with future support for any article in PubMedCentral. At a later phase in the project it will accept abstracts from non-OA articles) As described in Slashdot:

The National Science Foundation, Public Library of Science and the San Diego Supercomputing Center have partnered to set up what can best be described as a “YouTube for scientists”, SciVee“. Scientists can upload their research papers, accompanied by a video where they describe the work in the form of a short lecture, accompanied by a presentation. The formulaic, technical style of scientific writing, the heavy jargonization and the need for careful elaboration often renders reading papers a laborious effort. SciVee’s creators hope that that the appeal of a video or audio explanation of paper will make it easier for others to more quickly grasp the concepts of a paper and make it more digestible both to colleagues and to the general public.

SciVee was also discussed in the Fink & Bourne’s article Reinventing Scholarly Communication for the Electronic Age in the August issue of CTWatch Quarterly which I mentioned recently.

It’s possible to add synchronised audio to powerpoint presentations using general (non-scientific) services like Slideshare but the SciVee implementation includes a lot of useful dedicated tools, such as links to the references and figures (which pop up in separate windows without interrupting the presentation), a link to the full text (ditto), the ability to switch between a view of the presentation slides and the abstract, which will make it much more useful for this particular application.

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CTWatch Quarterly: the coming revolution

Communication & Technology Watch Quarterly’s August issue is devoted to The Coming Revolution in Scholarly Communication & Cyberinfrastructure, guest-edited by Lee Dirks and Tony Hey of Microsoft.

I haven’t had time to read it yet but there looks to be a lot of interest, including these that I turned to first:

The Shape of the Scientific Article in The Developing Cyberinfrastructure, by Clifford Lynch

Web 2.0 in Science, by Timo Hannay

… which is not to say that the other articles aren’t all well worth reading too!

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