OAR conference notes – Alma Swan

Alma Swan – Open Access: The Next Five Years

Where we are now:

  • Focus = research articles
  • Latest estimates show level of OA for research article is still <20%
  • Expect even more attempts by (some) publishers at obstruction:
  • Arguments often fallacious – best way to deal with them is calmly and rational
  • Arguments sometimes dishonest
  • Argument always wrong to argue that publicly funded research carried out by public researchers should not be made publicly available because it would hurt a private/commercial player
  • Weapon: copyright
  • Wield it, now, against the interest of academic and the paying public
  • Reason for the panic: OA mandates

Open Access policies:

  • a lot of almost-there well-meaning policies
  • come in various flavours; not all taste good to everyone
  • NIH
  • But we are on an upward trend
  • Mandates work; voluntary policies do not
  • Because the outcome makes glorious sense for the research institutions and funders
  • Repositories are also management tools
  • And marketing tools for a university
  • Helps the university make the best use of the web

Repositories: state of play

  • growing at a rate of around 1 per day
  • Alma cannot believe that within 5 years there will not be a serious university that does not have a repository and does not actively use it


  • It is a completely resolvable issues
  • Yet it is the major barrier to simple acceptance and practice of OA by researchers
  • Copyright futures – actually a tendency towards the legal strengthening of copyright in general
  • Research community practice will demonstrate the way copyright is applied to scholarly articles is out of date
  • Author agreements that retain copyright (licence to publish)
  • New ‘liberal’ practices with respect to publishing findings
  • Anyway, OA is completely compatible with copyright

New, ill-defined issue: research data

  • increasingly the primary output in some fields
  • data have yet to be properly recognised as research output
  • increasingly the subject of mandates, too

New research approaches…

  • …depend on OA
  • e-research (big research) – collaborative research – needs OA to make it work properly
  • but so does collaborative ‘small’ research
  • interdisciplinary research
  • web 2.0 outputs becoming a norm
  • early examples of institutional solutions – institutions have to start to help things happen – VIVO: Virtual Life Sciences at Cornell (a system that links up within the uni: the repository, the library, personal websites of academics etc);

Pragmatic Solutions:

  • joining articles, data and other related outputs in better ways
  • more (and more) work on standards
  • ‘surfacing’ web content – i.e. better way to show off OA content
  • new services built across repository networks
  • clearer vision of how to reach a repository-based scholarly communication system
  • new technologies need to show content in a form that researchers (and machines) can exploit (XML) – needs to be semantic/exploitative technologies
  • there are already publishers who use a repository as a means of submitting the paper to the publisher for peer review

Wrong solutions: impact and assessment:

  • for too long we’ve used a proxy measure to measure impact (journal impact factor), but for years it has been use to advance (or retard) careers
  • with an OA corpus, multiple metrics and indicators are possible
  • e.g. in the health sciences in the UK, move to measure impact by where it leads in terms of new medicine, new treatment NHS spending etc, not just the journal where the article is published

Mahatma Gandhi:
First they ignore you
Then they laugh at you
Then they fight you
Then you win!

Everything “open” started as a big joke. But things are changing….

It’s been too easy to dismiss the issue:

  • institutions have been notably disengage
  • scholarly communication has been low on the agenda
  • yet it is central to the core mission of a university

Questions universities will be addressing:

  • Are we happy with current quality and impact measures?
  • What do we want?
  • What new reward systems can we build?
  • How can we use the internet better?

Commentators: Prof Tom Cochrane (QUT) and Derek Whitehead (Swinburne)

Prof Tom Cochrane


Mandates are only likely to succeed if they are clearly purposed in terms of scope – there must be clarity about what outputs the mandates will catch, where the outputs will be and for what purpose, and clarity at a policy level about whether it is in itself sufficient to make a rule (mandate) – at QUT it was thought not to be enough, that it had to be implemented cleverly, which is where the library came in in developing the repository properly


We need to look at the system of rewards – until we do something about incentives for data curation, then they wont happen or will happen accidentally and haphazardly


A large number of people are rendered more uncertain about copyright than about anything else. Copyright must be dealt with in this space – we need clarity about it as an enabler not an obstacle


One trend that is contradicting the nature of research, is that the semantic web tools are forcing questions about how collaboration is to be managed. There rush to develop tools where management is at a machine level rather than a human level. But unless we solve some of the legal and regulatory issues that are thrown up by the use of these tools then we will keep being hindered in our OA efforts.