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Podcasts

The LawBytes Podcast, Episode 28: The Past, Present and Future of Open Access – A Conversation with Leslie Chan

This week is open access week, an opportunity to celebrate and raise awareness of the emergence and continued growth of open access. Countries have been taking increasingly strong steps toward making their research openly available, with mandates that require researchers who accept public grants to make their published research results freely available online within a reasonable time period. Leslie Chan, a professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough and one of the earliest global leaders on open access, joins the podcast this week to discuss its past, present and future.

The podcast can be downloaded here and is embedded below. The transcript is posted at the bottom of this post or can be accessed here. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcast, Google Play, Spotify or the RSS feed. Updates on the podcast on Twitter at @Lawbytespod.

Show Notes:

Chan et al, Contextualizing Openness: Situating Open Science
Piwowar et al, The state of OA: a large-scale analysis of the prevalence and impact of Open Access articles

Credits:

Washington Post, Biden Unveils Launch of Major, Open-Access Database to Advance Cancer Research
UC Berkeley, Nobel Laureate Randy Schekman on Elsevier, Open Access

Transcript:

Law Bytes Podcast – Episode 28 transcript powered by Sonix—the best audio to text transcription service

Law Bytes Podcast – Episode 28 was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the latest audio-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors. Sonix is the best way to convert your audio to text in 2019.

Michael Geist:
This is Law Bytes, a podcast with Michael Geist.

Joe Biden:
We have to use every weapon at our disposal. We’re going to meet our goal to help patients even more than you’re already helping them today. And to be honest with you, it requires somewhat of a change in mindset, which requires a lot more openness, open data, open collaboration and above all, open minds.

Randy Schekman:
Corporations like Elsevier are avaricious. They they have the highest profit margin of any publisher and possibly of any corporation in the world because they they charge authors going in and they charge authors access to their own information.

Michael Geist:
This week is open access week, an opportunity to celebrate and raise awareness of the emergence and continued growth of open access. Countries have been taking increasingly strong steps toward making their research openly available, with mandates that require researchers who accept public grants to make their published research results freely available online within a reasonable time period. The basic principle behind open access is to facilitate public access to research, particularly the research that’s funded by taxpayers. This can be achieved by publishing in an open access journal or by simply posting a copy of the research online.

Michael Geist:
To help sort through the issues associated with open access. I spoke with Professor Leslie Chan, professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough and one of the earliest leaders on open access. Professor Chan was one of the original signatories of the Budapest Open Access Initiative, a historical and defining event in the global open access movement, and has long been active in the experimentation and implementation of scholarly communication initiatives around the world. He joined me to explain the basics where things stand today and how open access may develop in the future.

Michael Geist:
Leslie, thanks so much for joining me on the podcast.

Leslie Chan:
Thanks for having me, Michael.

Michael Geist:
Okay, that’s great. So as you know, this podcast is going to run at the start of Open Access Week, a week that’s been used for a number of years now to celebrate and raise awareness of the emergence and continued growth of open access. So why don’t we start there for those who are new to the issue? What is open access?

Leslie Chan:
Ok. So I guess it is simply it’s open access. Simply refer to mechanisms that allow the distribution of research outputs online that is free of costs and free of other access barriers. And the most common access barriers would be that of copyright. So a key reason for that access is to reduce the barriers to copyright. And so that people can not only access the material for free, but they’re allowed to copy them, who can we use them and to read and we distribute them. So generally, some advocates like to see open access materials with a clear, open license attached to it so that people can make use of them legally without having to worry about the legal implications of that.

Michael Geist:
So we’re talking about large amounts of research that typically available via subscription that’s certainly accessible to people who find themselves on university campuses or within the educational community who often buy these bulk subscriptions, which can be very, very expensive. Open access takes that same research and ensures that it’s openly available to anybody who wants to be able to access the access, the scholarly work.

Leslie Chan:
Yeah, that’s the intention. So as you know, the bulk of the academic literature, that’s a peer review research literature, is still largely under subscription access model. And so the goal of open access is to reduce the amount of subscription access and increasing the amount of all open access over time. So that’s really the goal because as you said, the subscription is really unreachable for many institutions. Even rich institutions like the University of Toronto can’t subscribe to everything that’s available. And so cost is certainly a big barriers, particularly to poor institutions.

Michael Geist:
Now, why don’t we take a step back before getting a sense of where things are at today and unpacking a little bit some of the terminology when we take a step back. Can you walk us through where where the movement, where the emphasis on open access began? How did all of this get started?

Leslie Chan:
Well, so as you mentioned, I mean, one of the key reasons the open access movement started was because of the rising cost in subscription over time. And in the last three decades, the subscription, costs have gone up exponentially in many cases. And so there’s been a lot of people or the scholars and librarians in particular has been very concerned about this sort of runaway costs. And think about different, different models, if you will, to access in the research literature. And then along came the the World Wide Web, which is what was kind of a big door opening for this opportunity, because the distribution costs through the well, I worked with the Web. This could be literally zero. And so the idea was that if we could get scholarly literature onto the Web and just use it as a mechanism for distribution, we could vastly reduce the cost of distribution. That was the thinking initially about the open access movement about 20 years ago. And so I would say coincide with really the arrival of the Web and the experimenting experimentation also began in a number of ways, including people putting their own material online, the so-called self-archiving movement that kind of went hand-in-hand or in fact preceded what we call the open access movement. And so some of these experimentation, again, were made possible by the Web itself.

Michael Geist:
So the Internet Internet’s transformative in the way that, of course, people access information. And it sounds like the scholarly community saw an opportunity there, particularly in light of increasing costs for subscriptions to say that they could take those same works, make them available essentially at zero cost from a distribution perspective by using by using the Internet. Now, there’s a whole series of different terms that get bandied about when we talk about open access, although we may try to unpac some of those so that we can explain a little bit better. Some of the things that we’re talking about, I guess one of the starting points is when someone wants to publish under open access, a researcher says they’d like to ensure that their work is available. Does that mean that they have to publish in a journal that is itself open access? Or are there different models that they can use so that they can publish in one place but make available their works, let’s say, through the Internet, as you’ve just noted?

Leslie Chan:
Yes, indeed. So the Internet allows a variety of options to be made available. So one of the things I mentioned earlier is, is authors putting their own work online to share. So one of the key mechanism of open access is so-called green open access. Is that motto of authors publishing and conventional subscription based journal. That is the journal put out. The official journal article itself may be still on a subscription license, but the authors put a copy of that articles on their institutional repository or repository that is publicly accessible. But it’s also under the agreement of the publishers because many publisher actually allow authors to self archive their paper after publications as well. So this is so-called green, the green models of open access. And then the other common mechanism is that born digital routes so that a lot of journals are now created as open access journals from the start. And so those are often referred to as Gold Open Access Journal, because in that case, the authors publish in this are journals is automatically open access through different business mechanisms. But it is born digital and freely available as soon as it’s available without having the author intervening in terms of putting a copy on their own servers or whatnot.

Michael Geist:
Right. So it sounds like, what, at least two different approaches to the latter. One that you just mentioned, the so-called gold open access where the work is born, digital in the sense that it is openly available from the beginning and the journal itself committed to that openness. So if you choose to publish with an open journal, a gold OA journal, you know that the work is going to be made available right from the outset. Whereas many others instances scholars may want to publish in a journal that is not itself open access. But you’re suggesting that publishers allow for the author, for the researcher to still make that article openly available on the Internet, either themselves through their own Web site or self archiving, or increasingly through their institutions who have these so-called institutional repositories who give a place to post those articles online.

Leslie Chan:
Right. That’s correct. So so different publishers have different agreement or licensing terms in terms of allowing authors to self archive. And so they they have varying period of what they call embargo periods. And some would have rather long embargo period. But some now very, very liberal embargo period, maybe six months and even no embargo period at all. And so there are a lot of funders and authors who are pushing for this zero embargo model so that they could publish in conventional journals, but also have an open access version available immediately to readers.

Michael Geist:
Ok, let’s unpack that just a little bit, because it may surprise some to hear that commercial publishers publishing these journals at the very high subscription costs that you just did, you mentioned earlier on also will build into their contracts with those authors, with the researchers, the ability to self-publish a version of the article online. How did that come about? Where where do publishers generally stand on open access and what are these kinds of contracts look like?

Leslie Chan:
Well, I think that it’s hard to kind of generalize across publishers, but I would say by and large, they that for profit commercial publishers are probably the least liberal in terms of the embargo period. That means they probably demand the longest possible embargo period, sometimes two years, sometimes one year. One year is fairly common. And their rationale is that by having that longer embargo period, they would be able to protect their subscription revenue. And then after one year, hopefully then the demand may drop. And so open access is not going to hurt their subscription. And that’s their rationale. But there are studies that actually show that open-access version of these articles actually do not hurt subs, hurts subscription because by and large, these commercial publishers make these package deals with big libraries around the world. And so libraries are committed to paying the subscription fee regardless of the amount OA contents of available through author self archiving.

Leslie Chan:
And so. So from a publisher standpoint, it really doesn’t hurt the bottom line. And there are more independent, smaller publisher that understand that. There are what I call authors friendly publishers that would make them available OA version in many cases now immediately open access along with their subscription version as well.

Michael Geist:
So we’ve got publishers increasingly recognizing that if their primary market is the academic library market, the academic libraries will continue to buy regardless of an embargo period. The attractiveness of a particular journal for subscription purposes isn’t really linked to whether or not the article happens to be available online or not, in part because all of this gets bundled together. It’s interesting to hear that the publishers have moved in that way. There’s, of course, two other big stakeholders as part of this process. The researchers themselves. And then there are what are called the funders, in a sense, the large granting agencies that help fund this research. When we take a look at what both of their both of their perspectives, where we’re in your sense, do do researchers stand today? Clearly, there are incentives to publish in what might be perceived to be the best so-called journal in their field. At the same time, presumably there’s a strong desire to be read and have an impact as part of my research. How does how does open access influence some of that decision making?

Leslie Chan:
Well, again, I think this there is quite a bit across different fields and disciplines. I think by and large, it seems to be stronger awareness about open access and in some of the life sciences and the biomedical sciences relative to the humanities and social sciences. Now, this is not to say that humanities, social sciences are not interested or aware of open access. It’s just that because many humanities research is still published in monographs instead of scholarly journals are so articles, which is primarily a lot of these debate and funding focusing on is not some of the mainstay of humanities scholars. And so we see this disciplinary differences in terms of awareness, but also in terms of their support for open access. And so it’s harder to generalize across disciplines, but I would say by and large, we’re seeing growing a growing number of people who are at least aware of the debate. But still, the level of awareness is quite different.T

Michael Geist:
The areas where there is a sense of of greater awareness and perhaps greater usage, like science as you mentioned. Do you have an idea of roughly what percentage of articles are made available in some of those disciplines on an open access basis? In other words, how just how big has this become in certain certain disciplines?

Leslie Chan:
Yeah. So I think there was a pretty large scale study that was done last year published in PLOS. And I can send you the link later to find that in the biomedical sciences is almost as much as 50 percent of published articles that are available through open access, either through repositories or through direct or open access. And so that’s pretty high number. And then you do have other disciplines like physics and mathematics that have very high numbers of self archives. OA versions. And then the number is dropped down a bit that when you come down to social science and humanities, I think somewhere in the 20 to 30 percentile at the maximum, some would say even maybe even less 15 percent.

Michael Geist:
But in some areas, certainly in some of the sciences, life sciences, we’re talking about quite literally half or perhaps even more of all emerging research is now openly available. I mean, it feels quite transformative in those fields to think that so much of that research is now freely and openly available.

Leslie Chan:
Very much so. And I think that the rate of growth, as you see, is very impressive, too. And and I think that a lot has to do with the fact that for a lot of the life sciences and the medical sciences, the funders mandates are a lot more explicit in terms of having a requirement of their grantees to make sure that there are there’s is open access version available. Well, that they, in fact, allow provision to pay or some kind of publication fees for open-access. So among those funders, there’s been a strong push to ensure that the research they fund is openly available, and that’s why you see a much higher percentage of open access publication in those areas.

Michael Geist:
That’s very interesting. Let’s drill down just for a moment on that. So in many disciplines, there is a strong correlation obviously between the research and funding that can come from granting councils or or other funders that that provide the necessary funds, the research support for the research to take place. What you’re suggesting with with these funder mandates is that increasingly funders are are effectively demanding that their researchers make their their work that they have now that they’ve funded openly available. Is that is that where these funder mandates are going?

Leslie Chan:
Yes. I think the reason funders are demanding this is that they understand that if they funded the research and the research is not accessible, then their funding is really not reaching their maximum impact. So so for them to invest in research, they realize that the research has to be read. That means has to be distributed as widely as possible. Otherwise, the research might just might as well have not been done because if it’s locked up and nobody can discover it.

Michael Geist:
Yeah. You mentioned that part of what funders may be willing to fund is part of what I think is often referred to as knowledge dissemination. Making that research available is effectively to pay publishers to ensure that work is is openly available, available under open access. Can you talk a bit about that side of the open access equation?

Leslie Chan:
Yeah. Well, I think that’s tends to be the thing where people gravitates towards what they talk about funder support for open access is funders paying for a so-called article processing charge that many publishers are have created as a model for providing direct open access. So there are many journals that are actually completely open access and they’re their business model is to have to pay to publish models so that authors will submit to the journals, pay a publication fee, and then readers are free to read. And so quite a number of journals have completely subsist on this particular pay to publish models. And we’re seeing more subscription based journals are actually combining this model with some of the traditional subscription base as well. And the reason they’re many of them are migrating to this model is because the funders, in some cases, big funders, are willing to say we’ll go. They will support the researchers as part of their grant. They can write in a publication charge for it so that at the end of the research they will be able to pay for publication fees to get their research directly available to the readers.

Leslie Chan:
So that’s why we’re seeing a particular growth in this area. But that I should underscore that this is only one mechanism by which open access journal could be supported. There are many, many journals that are supported by other kind of models, directly subsidized, for example, by the funder in terms of for the operating costs of the journals itself. And this is quite common in the humanities and social sciences where funders would actually support the operating budget for some of the journals completely subsidized in that sense so that the authors don’t have to pay for the gold access.

Michael Geist:
So it feels like we’ve got this you’ve got three main stakeholders as part of this process. We’ve got publishers who are looking for economic gains, commercial viability in a world where in some disciplines more than half of the materials are openly available online. Sometimes that’s through subscription, sometimes grants through these author fees. And sometimes I suppose it’s through a combination of all of those. There are the funders themselves that are funding the research who say, listen, if we’re gonna fund it, we want to maximize impact and are either willing to help pay for that through these fees or simply say if we’re going to take the money, you’ve got to publish and make it make sure that those works are openly available. And then, of course, we’ve got the researchers themselves. Do we have data on the benefits for the researchers? So researchers may say, if I want I need the grant support. So this is just something I’m going to have to abide by. But is it more than that? Do we have data that suggests that when something is openly available, the impact of their research, obviously the accessibility, their research increases as well?

Leslie Chan:
Well, I think in the early part of the open access movement there, there there was a so-called citation advantage of open access publications. And the idea is that if your articles is openly available, people are more easily able to find it and cite it. And therefore, you will have a advantage relative to that non open access journals in terms of citation rate and citation of causes, a common proxy that academia use in terms of measuring impact. So that kind of ideas citation advantage have been a bit of a motivation for a lot of people who want to make that work open access now. And the of course, in recent years we see the rise of social media. So a lot of use of Twitters and other kind of online social media to promote research. And so there is additional argument that if your work is openly available in the first place, these social media can also amplify the attention to your work and therefore translate into citation as well. So we are also beginning to see some research there are documenting these type of differences between open access versus not open access material. So this is where where we’re at.

Leslie Chan:
But I should add that you named three key players in this in the current scenario, but you’re missing another actually a very big set of players. And that is, of course, the library itself, because traditionally it is the library that pay the subscriptions on behalf of the researchers in order for them to access the materials that they need. And so libraries have always played a part in terms of mediating that access. And libraries are increasingly. I mean, as I said earlier, they were one of the earlier players in terms of thinking about open access because they know this kind of subscription just not sustainable forever. And so they have been very working very hard in terms of finding alternatives, working with scholars, creating alternatives, open access venues, infrastructures and so forth. The repository are, of course, supported by primarily by librarians. And so there are now also helping scholars to create independent publishing platforms to help them learn how to publish as communities and so forth. So I want to make sure that we include library librarians as a very, very important piece in this OA landscape.

Michael Geist:
I’m glad you I’m glad that you made sure that I was that was raised. They’ve my own. You’ve received the University of Ottawa played the lead role in the open access strategy that we have, that which includes support for those that want to publish under open access publishing program with the University of Ottawa Press and of course, raising awareness through things like open access weeks and the like. So you’re absolutely right to raise raise the importance that they’ve played, the centrality that they’ve played in terms of some of these debates, as well as advancing the issue.

Michael Geist:
Before we get to a sort of a look ahead just to ensure that we contextualize it from a Canadian perspective. We’ve talked about sort of funders and journals and researchers in the abstract from a Canadian perspective. We’ve got some major funders, particularly coming out of the government, the tri-councils.

Leslie Chan:
Where do they stand on support for open access to the Tri-Council, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the CIHR, the Canadian Institute of Health Research and NSERC, the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council, the three councils where some of the earliest funders, at least from major countries, to have what they call a harmonized open access policy studies. The three councils that agree that they would also require that fundees is to comply with open access provision. That is at the minimum they have to make a version of the publication available within 12 months of publication. But ideally they would like to see immediate open access in either then the green route or the gold route. But these Tri-council, even though they have the policies in place, haven’t really forced them in any strict way. So there’s really not a lot of teeth to these policies. So often researchers or grantees would say, okay, well, you have this policy and then they just go on and do whatever they constable to doing without paying too much attention to the requirements. But again, libraries has been playing a key part in reminding a lot of researchers that if they receive funding from the Tri-Council, they have to do something with their with their open-access compliance. And so they create open repositories in order for the researchers to deposit the work if there are some open access journals that are available in their field. So. So this is where we work mostly.

Michael Geist:
It’s interesting what you’ve described over the last bit. The movement on a number of fronts, the role the librarians have been playing, the increasing benefits for researchers and greater awareness depending on your discipline, publishers greater acceptance and of course the role the funders are playing. If you were to think about where we are, where we are likely to be when it comes to open access five, 10 years down the road, we’ve got a sense of just how much things have changed over the last decade. Where do you see the next decade heading when it comes to this issue?

Leslie Chan:
Well, I think I’m notoriously bad for predictions, because if we look back at the early open-access movement, I mean, we’re almost reaching the second well, almost the second decade almost over. And of course, even in the first, you know, first 10 years, we were very, very optimistic that in 10 years, fifteen years, much of the scholarly publication will be open-access and that awareness open-access will be will be great. And so on and so forth. But, you know, almost 20 years into open-access, we still see a lot of sort of business as usual. And in the sense that the big publishers actually have gotten much bigger in terms of both their size, but also in terms of their footprint and control of the scholarly publishing venues because they’re able to really dictate a lot of the terms in terms of the journal, ranking journal, impact factors and so forth. Because academics are still largely driven by these incentives of tenure and promotions and so forth, they felt obliged to publish in these commercial publications. And so in that sense, a lot had to change, in fact, that a lot of become even narrower in terms of what what researchers perceived to be their primary sort of goals. And so what I would like to see, rather than what I think would happen in the next 10 years, was that we like to see researchers in academia take back these kind of control over how they define research impact and research excellence and so forth. Instead of allowing the commercial publishers to define for them so that they have to kind of live by their rules. I’d like to see that we take back control of what constitutes quality research. What constitutes excellence? What constitutes community building as as central to scholarly communication and open access. So I’m not sure whether that will happen in the next 10 years, but that’s certainly a big on my wish list.

Michael Geist:
And I think it’s certainly obviously a worthwhile goal that many would share along those lines. You’ve just published a book called Contextualizing Openness: Situating Open Science, together with several other editors as part of a University of Ottawa Press and IDRC publication. I know it’s openly available. Can you tell me a bit about that publication? Because it’s a nice fit with what you’ve just been describing, but we’d like to see things head in the future.

Leslie Chan:
Yeah. Thanks for bringing that out. So that book is actually a collection of research. That work that was conducted over a three year period and has just ended last year was funded IDRC in Canada and DIFD in the U.K. And the reason we put together that research network was really to examine what we understood to be open access and open science, because I think increasingly we’re seeing a very narrow definition of open access rather than a broadening and expensive definition of open access. By that I mean that when often you mentioned open access, people just jumped to this conclusion. Oh, that means you publish in and pay to pay to publish journals, you have to have APC to publish in open access. Therefore, it’s not for me and it is and is unfair. And so on and so forth. But so so we want to set out to find out what people understand open access and what it mean for open scholarship around the world. And we found that people really have a much more nuanced understanding of what openness and open access means and in fact, than in parts of the world they don’t want to take openness for granted that they will often tell us, don’t impose your open access model on us, because this is not how we like to share our knowledge. There are other ways we would like to share according to our terms. So you can just impose one set of rules from one part of the world on the other part of the world.

Leslie Chan:
So that really make us think about open access as in a more critical and nuanced way. And then in fact, many of them reminded us that if this APC, the article processing models were to become more of the norm, it will further marginalize a lot of the poor resource community, particularly research communities in the global south. And in fact, open access, if that would become the norm, would become a mechanism for creating more inequality rather than reducing inequality. So that book was really an opportunity for us to reflect on these very critical issues. Is an open access by whose term and who’s actually going to benefit from from all these standard new new way of doing things. And should we be more thinking more inclusively about other ways of making knowledge and sharing knowledge that we haven’t yet consider?

Michael Geist:
Sounds like a really important contribution. We’ll put a link to the book and more information about it, as well as the ability to download it directly on the on the on this episode’s Web page. Leslie, thanks so much for joining me on the podcast.

Leslie Chan:
Michael, thanks for having me. And thanks to all the great work you have been doing in educating the public about the importance of all these policy issues.

Michael Geist:
That’s the Law Bytes podcast for this week. If you have comments suggestions or other feedback, write to lawbytes.com. That’s lawbytes at pobox.com. Follow the podcast on Twitter at @lawbytespod or Michael Geist at @mgeist. You can download the latest episodes from my Web site at Michaelgeist.ca or subscribe via RSS, at Apple podcast, Google, or Spotify. The LawBytes Podcast is produced by Gerardo LeBron Laboy. Music by the Laboy brothers: Gerardo and Jose LeBron Laboy. Credit information for the clips featured in this podcast can be found in the show notes for this episode at Michaelgeist.ca. I’m Michael Geist. Thanks for listening and see you next time.

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