Thoughts from the 8th Conference on Open Access Scholarly Publishing (COASP)

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On September 21st and 22nd, 2016, champions of Open Access (OA) from across scholarly communications met for the eighth COASP in Arlington, Virginia.  This year’s meeting marked the first time OASPA has held their annual conference in North America with the new setting allowing many American delegates to attend for the first time, a welcome swelling of the OASPA ranks.  The agenda carried a corresponding focus on emerging areas of Open Access, with speakers from commercial publishing largely absent. Instead, the discussion centered on OA expansion into new fields, new media types, and new technologies.

Amidst all the novelty, the conference kicked off with an important reminder of the roots of the OA movement. Heather Joseph’s (Executive Director, SPARC) opening keynote ‘It’s Not Easy Being Open’ urged delegates to treat the Open Access model not as an end in itself, but as part of a larger movement to increase access, facilitate reuse, and accelerate discovery.  For those of us who weren’t part of the early days of Open Access publishing, her words are an important reminder that the growth of OA still requires balancing commercial goals with more philosophical ideals.

Emerging themes

COASP 2016 highlighted several areas of innovation that continue to influence the way research is conducted and disseminated.

Several speakers brought up problems with attribution, which was especially prevalent in a session focusing on the subject of evaluation.  Both Melissa Gymrek (Assistant Professor,University of California San Diego) and Melissa Haendel (Associate Professor, Oregon Health & Science University and FORCE11) highlighted the difficulty of properly attributing contributions that don’t meet the traditional definition of research.  They observed that far more than writing goes into a research paper: contributions from coders, statisticians, or advisors often go unacknowledged under traditional definitions of authorship.  To paraphrase Haendel, should the goal be the line in the CV or the impact of the research?

Too many researchers make important contributions towards the latter but find no place in the former. But both Alberto Pepe (CEO, Authorea) and Katharina Volz (CEO, OccamzRazor) presented collaborative tools that integrate less traditional contributions, like Jupyter notebooks and email threads, into a collaborative research process.  By helping to expose the research networks surrounding each paper, these tools will make a more nuanced vision of authorship possible.

Wikimedia and CrossRef presented on another hidden network in scholarly communications, the web of assertions and supporting citations that underlie open knowledge bases like Wikipedia.  Wikipedia has become an integral part of the scholarly communications network, built upon millions of citations to research articles. Dario Taraborelli, Head of Research at the Wikimedia Foundation, presented on a network of initiatives to catalogue and formalize those citations, including work by DBPedia and ContentMine to extract facts automatically from scholarly literature.  Thanks to the ongoing work of CrossRef, these references are maintained as DOIs and usage data can be fed back to authors and publishers.

New Business Models

Business models remain an area of innovation for Open Access, especially as journals emerge in fields where OA has been slow to take off. Subscription journals still vastly outnumber Open Access titles across most fields of study, and a number of speakers looked at large scale “flipping” of subscription journals to Open Access.  David Solomon, an author of the ambitious Journal Flipping Project, estimates that between two and three thousand subscription journals “flips” to Open Access have already occurred, although the figure is hard to pin down.  By any measure, many thousands more remain “upside down.”

MacKenzie Smith’s Wednesday afternoon keynote ‘Financial Sustainability of Open Access Scholarly Journals at Scale’ provided one deeply researched attempt at a sustainable APC figure from the library’s perspective.  Her conclusion: authors can wield significant market power, if they’re given the ability to vote with their dollars.  With some downward pressure on APCs, and contributions from funders, all journals could be flipped sustainably to an APC model.

COASP 2016 showcased several APC-free models from around the world. Redalyc and SciELO provided updates from Latin America, where APC-free OA publishing is the norm.  Across the “born OA” Latin American region, funder- and government-backed repositories have seen enormous success.  In terms of OA adoption, the region remains miles ahead of North America and Europe. Caroline Edwards, Editorial Director of the Open Library of Humanities, showcased the continued growth of their consortium-funded platform to 18 titles, including the controversial launch of Glossa in 2015.  Kamran Naim of the OA Cooperative Project and Rebecca Kennison of the Open Access Network presented two cooperative models for non-APC-based publishing targeted humanities and the social sciences.  John Inglis (Executive Director, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press) returned to highlight the massive growth of bioRxiv, and preprint servers as a whole.

Further Diversity

The conference closed with an important note on diversity: 21 of the 30 speakers who presented were women.  Yet racial diversity remains an important dimension where the OA movement (and all of publishing) still needs to grow.  The 2016 Publishers Weekly salary survey indicated that 88% of publishing employees identify as white or caucasian, data backed up elsewhere.  As we begin looking ahead to COASP 2017, and the OA movement continues to break new ground, we can hope for progress.

Slides and videos from the meeting will be available on the OASPA website shortly.

The text of this blog post is by Hindawi and is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). Meeting image copyright Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock.