We welcome our Director of Open Science

Catriona MacCallum Introduction | Hindawi Blog

Catriona MacCallum | HindawiI am delighted to be writing this as I start my new role as Director of Open Science, at Hindawi here in London, UK.

In 2003 when I joined PLOS from Elsevier to launch their first journal, PLOS Biology, our sole intention was to help change the publishing landscape into one in which all research articles could be accessed, read and reused freely by anyone, anywhere with an internet connection. Mark Patterson (now at eLife) and I were based in the UK, sharing an office with text miners at the European Bioinformatics Institute, and there were 8 members of PLOS staff in the US. Although we had ideas about opening up other aspects of the scholarly lifecycle, such as peer review, the social web and its implication for almost instant public feedback hadn’t really arrived (Facebook launched in 2004 and Twitter in 2006) and certainly wasn’t on our radar. If every journal converted to Open Access (OA), we thought – and put us out of business in the process – our job would be done.

Fourteen years on and PLOS, despite initial predictions, is still in business, alongside many other Open Access publishers (some of which started before PLOS, such as Biomed Central and Copernicus). Depending on which study you read, there is now about 20-25% of the scholarly literature available that is free to read and reuse (i.e. with a CC BY licence). You could argue that that is slow progress – and it is slower than we hoped. However, governments, funders and institutions all over the world are now adopting and mandating OA policies and helping to speed up the transition, most notably the European Commission’s recent commitment to ensure that all EU funded research is made openly available by 2020.

The somewhat unanticipated arrival of social media was an indicator of what was to come and a clichéd lesson to me at least that the only thing predictable about the pace of change is its unpredictability. There is no doubt that Open Access has and is changing the scholarly landscape but the digital tools and services and the underlying infrastructure supporting scholarly communication are transforming the landscape even more dramatically.

A recognition of this change is the shift from Open Access to articles to one in which the entire process of research and research communication is being opened up (with appropriate caveats, such as patient confidentiality). Such a system includes different types of output (data, software, preprints, peer-review reports and so on), different ways to collaborate (such as open lab books and a host of co-authoring tools), different ways to connect outputs to people (via DOIs and ORCID IDs etc) and people to organisations (see The Organization Identifier Working Group) alongside a growing appreciation that we need a system to evaluate researchers that matches this digital environment. Such a system would, for example, make citing data and software as important and reputation-enhancing as citing papers and would reward researchers not just for where they published or even the content of their article per se but for all their outputs including, crucially, their willingness to share, collaborate and be open themselves. Such a collaborative, digital network of research and researchers is increasingly being termed Open Science.

I am not going to attempt to define what ‘Open Science’ means – the entire publishing industry got mired for years in competing for a definition of Open Access to the extent that the original sense was often corrupted from that given in the Budapest Declaration. Nor do I think that we need to define it because that would constrain what will inevitably broaden as new services and tools are built around open-access research outputs. Rather, we should look to the opportunities that changing technology and services can provide for scholarly communication, those that maximise the benefit to both science and society, of which Open Access itself is a fundamental part.

PLOS has been core to the changes we have seen in science communication and I’m immensely proud to have been there at the start and to witness its phenomenal growth driven by funders, librarians, institutions and most importantly researchers. As a senior editor on PLOS Biology, a consulting editor on PLOS ONE and most recently PLOS Advocacy Director, I have learned a huge amount both about publishing and the tricky politics of change. It has been challenging, rewarding, painful and fun in equal measure. I will miss PLOS and the remarkable people who gave it its spirit and helped put that change in process.

But I am very excited to be at Hindawi. My rationale for moving is twofold. The first is the increasing co-option of Open Access and the APC model by traditional subscription publishers, who are adopting Open Access within their existing journals (the hybrid model), launching new OA journals and also buying out many of the pure OA publishers (and increasingly other related open science platforms). This is good in that it indicates that Open Access is becoming mainstream but many are equally concerned that publishing, even when OA, will become concentrated in the same few hands and lead to an opaque and uncompetitive market that replaces big subscription deals with big APC deals. Claudio Aspesi, a financial analyst, even went to the extent of saying at a conference organized by the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) in 2014 that the Open Access movement had failed. For competition to work, there needs to be a diverse market and we need more large OA publishers doing open science at scale.

The second is that Hindawi is a commercial company. When PLOS (a not-for-profit company) first started, it was generously supported by funds from the Moore Foundation and subsequently by other funders. A criticism levied at PLOS was that it was able to build OA journals and be innovative because it had independent funding to support it. That criticism died down somewhat when it became financially self-sustaining in 2010 but there remains a sense that Open Access and open science is more difficult for commercial companies to implement. There is also concern that commercialization itself has been a corrupting force in scholarly publishing. A very good and recent historical analysis of this is provided in a report by Aileen Fyfe, Stephen Curry and others arguing that this has especially affected Scholarly Societies (also not-for-profit), corrupting them from their original mission of scholarship to one of income.

And yet it seems to me that commercialization itself is not the problem. The key question, given the history of commercialization in publishing, is whether commercial companies can provide cost-effective, competitive and innovative open science services.

I think the answer is yes. There are already a host of innovative commercial platforms providing open science services, including F1000 Research, PeerJ, Publons, Penelope and Authorea.

And Hindawi is part of that. Hindawi was originally a subscription-based publishing company, founded by Ahmed Hindawi and Nagwa Abdelmottaleb in 1997, a physicist and mathematician, respectively. It launched its first OA journal in 2004 and all the content of Hindawi journals has been published with a CC BY license since 2007 (barring exceptions such as government authored papers where the license is more liberal). Hindawi currently publishes ~18,000 articles across a diverse range of journals covering all areas of science, technology and medicine. It is a founding member of OASPA where Paul Peters, the CEO, has been President for the past five years, and is also a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics. Hindawi worked with ORCID from 2012 to trial the introduction of ORCID IDs, mandating them for corresponding authors in 2016, it has provided an easily accessible way to download its entire corpus for Text & Data mining, which is updated daily, has recently announced that it is JATS4R compliant (an essential part of the machine readable infrastructure enabling content to be shared and reused) and has just declared its intention to implement a mandatory data sharing statement for all authors.

The team here in London which come from, among others, Biomed Central, Digital Science, Mendeley, Nature, and PLOS, as well as a range of innovative industries outside publishing are committed to implementing the publishing services to support open science and to demonstrate that a commercial company can provide such services cost-effectively and at scale.

I am very much looking forward to working with the team on this agenda. There will be challenges but the biggest challenge is not financial or technological – it is rooted in the existing culture of evaluation that uses the journal and the journal impact factor as a proxy of researcher quality. This has entrenched a system in which it does not serve the individual researcher or an institution or a scholarly society to be open and embeds a subscription model that limits access to research outputs. And yet I am optimistic. There are progressive researchers and funders as well as individuals in many different organisations and companies (whether commercial or not-for-profit or subscription or Open Access) who are fostering new ways to practice research openly and are leading by example.

Here at Hindawi, we look forward to working and collaborating with anyone who has the same Open Science agenda and ambitions for scholarly communication as we do.

And I look forward to continuing the discussion. You can find me in London or on Twitter @catmacOA (and there is more about my background on my Hindawi team member page).


Text by Catriona MacCallum. Illustration by Hindawi, distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY).