SocArXiv media spotlight: Excess mortality in Puerto Rico

People walking in flood waters in Condado, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sept. 22, 2017.
Condado, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sept. 22, 2017. Puerto Rico National Guard photo by Jose Ahiram Diaz-Ramos.

A paper by Alexis Santos and Jeffrey T. Howard, posted on SocArXiv, has received wide media attention, highlighting some of the advantages of using SocArXiv. The paper, “Estimates of excess deaths in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria,” was posted as a preprint before peer review.

The abstract reports a “descriptive finding” on excess deaths following Hurricane María for September and October. Using historical data from the Puerto Rico Vital Statistics system, the authors estimated expected deaths for each month. Then, using statements from the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety, they compared the number of deaths for September and October 2017 to those from previous years, taking variability into account. The difference between their estimates of actual deaths in 2017 and the high-end estimates for those months was 518 deaths for September and 567 deaths for October. They conclude that mortality on the island “may exceed the current official death toll by a factor of 10.”

The preprint has been cited and linked from articles in the New York Times, Vox, and Huffington Post, and other media sources. As of December 10 it has been downloaded from SocArXiv 1,333 times (and viewed in the browser window many more times than that).

Santos, who goes by @AppDemography on Twitter, is an active public scholar who previously posted a paper on SocArXiv about possible climate change effects on life expectancy in Europe.

This is a good best-practices story for several reasons.

  • There is an urgent need to understand the impact of the hurricane on Puerto Rico. The paper is not peer-reviewed, but it is ready to be distributed widely. The methods are clear and transparent. The media reporting now permits other scholars the opportunity to read and react to the paper publicly. It now appears the Santos and Howard estimates are in line with other calculations, and the paper contributes to an emerging consensus about the storm’s impact.
  • By posting the paper on SocArXiv and sharing it with the media from there, Santos was able to provide a persistent link to an open paper, time-stamped and linked with his profile page (which includes links to his ORCID ID, Google Scholar, and other accounts).
  • In addition to the persistent link on SocArXiv, the paper has a DOI associated with it. The Google Scholar link takes readers directly to the SocArXiv version, and is now recording citations to the paper. SocArXiv also preserves and makes availale the version record for the paper.
  • As a project on the Open Science Framework (which each SocArXiv paper automatically becomes), the paper may be easily associated with supporting documentation and research materials.
  • Finally, if the paper in some later version is published in a journal, the authors will have the opportunity of providing a forward-linking DOI on the SocArXiv page, so that readers will be directed to the journal site.

We’re delighted to see SocArXiv working as intended!

Authority, openness, and the soft sciences

Photo of water drop splashing
Openness is beautiful but also vulnerable (photo PNC)

At our O3S conference, Tina Fetner said something that struck me, and with her permission I’m elaborating on it here.

Why is open scholarship more advanced, as a movement and as a set of norms, in the non-social sciences? The most important preprint archive is Arxiv, which started in math and physics. The biggest new preprint archive is bioRxiv, for the biological sciences, which is currently adding about 40 papers per day. There are important developments in the social sciences, including of course SocArXiv, but also PsyArxiv for psychology (although they are a pretty sciency social science); but these are still incipient relative to the big archives. And in open access academic publishing, the leader is PLOS (the Public Library of Science) which covers “all areas of science and medicine,” but doesn’t handle much social science (out of 190,000 papers, I count 14% tagged as social science, and 4% are tagged sociology, many of which are about health topics).

Of course not all scientists, or scientific disciplines, are leading the open movement. In chemistry and medicine, for example – and other fields where there is major commercial gain to be made from secrecy – openness is not all the rage.

But in the case of biology, where openness is taking off, could it be that the scientists are more oriented toward scientific processes than social scientists are, and so the issues of reproducibility and transparency are closer to the philosophy of their training? Or that they are more used to collaborating in teams that evolve over the course of their careers, so they are used to sharing? I don’t know, but I’d like to hear suggestions.

We hear you

Tina offered this suggestion: Maybe social scientists – and especially those in the softer social sciences – are reluctant to open up their work because they risk more by engaging with people outside their fields. This might be because our authority is more precarious.

Think about language. When physicists or engineers use language that only they understand, it’s not “jargon,” it’s “technical.” But social scientists are usually talking about things that are meaningful and interpretable to people outside of their disciplines. When sociologists use fancy words they seem obnoxious to lay readers. If a female social scientists refers to how “gender is socially constructed,” or uses the term “neoliberalism,” a dozen men with maybe one undergraduate course in sociology between them will gladly step in to explain why she’s an idiot (and worse). This doesn’t happen to mathematicians. (It also happens to White men much less than it does to women and minority scholars, which works in the average mathematician’s favor.)

When social scientists take their work public – which many of us are extremely keen to do – the risks we face are different from those in the sciency sciences. Our authority is more tenuous the more our work approaches intelligibility to non-experts. And the incentive to attack us increases as our work becomes more critical, and more critical of those with more to lose from our work.

One response to this weaker authority is to lean more heavily on formal legitimacy. Sociologists may be more insistent on formal titles than mathematicians for this reason (again, plus gender and race/ethnicity). And they might be more trepidatious about sharing work widely that has not been peer reviewed, or published by a high status journal or academic publishing house. These are reasonable responses.

It is our mission through SocArXiv to open up the research process and its products. But we know that this goal entails risks, and that those risks are not equitably distributed. We persist despite this recognition not because we discount the risks and concerns, but because we think social science is too important to give up in the face of them.

We want to help

Our approach to openness needs to be flexible and inclusive. It’s good to be tenacious, but not dogmatic. We believe that openness makes our work better, faster, more efficient, and more inclusive. The challenge is to move in that direction without incurring costs that are greater than those benefits. And we think we can do that.

Opening up our work allows us to better build collaborative networks for intellectual, social, and political support. By sharing with each other, we can make the enterprise of social science stronger partly because the work will be better, and partly because we will have a greater pool of shared resources on which to draw in response to the opposition we may face from skeptical or hostile publics. Of course, this is easier said than done, but that’s the basis for our optimism on openness.

That’s why we created SocArXiv, but SocArXiv is not a social movement or a political party; there is no ideological test for entry. It’s a tool and a platform that we can use to make our work better. We want to help you use it to make your work better, too, and we’d love to hear from you how we can do that together.

Where SocArXiv is now

A good time to sum up our progress.

We just completed our first O3S conference, and we’re wrapping up our first year of support from the Sloan and Open Societies foundations. So it’s a good time to sum up our progress.

O3S17 networking break
O3S networking break / photo PNC

Open Scholarship for the Social Sciences

More even than we had hoped, the O3S conference turned into a great mechanism for fundraising, outreach, and generating innovating ideas. We had about 20 presenters (many of them junior scholars, whose travel we paid for), and almost 50 registrants. Participants came from as far as Chile, California, Michigan, Minnesota, Toronto, and from the Washington area. They included sociologists, librarians, economists and other scholars, software developers, publishers, and open access advocates. UMD campus leaders and the library were very supportive, and we are optimistic about their continued support for an annual conference. The panels were all high quality, the audience was engaged, the keynotes were riveting, and the workshop was highly productive. In addition to the panels and registrants, a great group of graduate students volunteered to support the conference. (We’ll have more on the workshop and new ideas later.)

SocArXiv service

We have almost 1600 papers on SocArXiv, and October has been our biggest month yet (135 papers). We are small compared with the big disciplinary paper services, but growing more each month, with a widening community of users. Our high visibility launch last fall led to a burst of activity, and now 15 other community preprint services have followed us on the OSF Preprints server. This includes some key players, such as LawArXiv (which we were instrumental in bringing to the OSF system), PsyArXiv (which has developed a relationship with the American Psychological Association), the LIS Scholarship Archive for library science (which is making important connections to libraries), and others. We wouldn’t want to take all the credit for this healthy proliferation, but we should take some. (As an aside, I also note with some pride that nearly all the subsequent communities on OSF Preprints include librarians on their Steering Committees.)

uploads-thru-oct17

We are about to start using the OSF’s expanded moderation system, allowing us and the other communities to have a customized paper moderation workflow. This has already turned into a great way for us to recruit volunteers, and generated lively discussion about moderation principles and related governance questions.

At the American Sociological Association meetings this summer, we launched the Sociology Open Award Recognition program, which encourages sections of the ASA to run use SocArXiv for paper award nominations. This led to discussion with more than 10 sections representing thousands of sociologists, several of which adopted variations on our program, with others still considering proposals.

Fundraising

We were able to leverage our foundation grants to help motivate others to contribute to SocArXiv. This includes two gifts of $10,000 from libraries (MIT and UCLA), and about $25,000 from the Sociology Department, College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, and Libraries at the University of Maryland, for our conference (including in-kind contributions). We have also opened up a very promising dialogue with the Red OA group at ARL (which seeks upstream initiatives to strengthen open publishing), which may lead to additional support from libraries, and there are some other leads.

Peer review

Partly motivated by the Red OA initiative, our next project addresses the question of peer review. The Center for Open Science is working to integrate peer review capacity on the OSF Preprints platform (through partnerships and/or their own technology). While that proceeds, we want to figure out what our research community wants and needs most from an open peer review platform. Should we run our own “journals,” work with existing journals, create an open platform for overlay journals, or some other alternative? We have initiated conversations about convening researchers to address these questions, to include also research into peer review processes, which might entail surveys, focus groups, or experimental research. In this effort we are fortunate to have the leadership of Elizabeth Popp Berman, a sociologist on our steering committee who specializes in the sociology of knowledge, and science and technology studies. (Here is a recent essay I wrote on open peer review.)

Needs for the coming year

The peer review project will need funding in the coming year, for convening meetings and conducting research. Our other fundraising goals center on personnel and outreach. We’d like support for our research efforts, my time, and graduate assistants to handle paper moderation and research for the peer review project. And then we will need money for outreach (travel, marketing, materials), and the next O3S conference (especially travel for junior scholars). We are also in discussions with the Center for Open Science on a sustainability model for all the preprint services they host; while their service to us is free, we would like to develop a long-term plan by which the communities work together to secure the future of the system. This is an ongoing conversation.

 

The next stage of SocArXiv’s development: bringing greater transparency and efficiency to the peer review process

SocArXiv’s Philip Cohen has published an essay about the future of peer review on the LSE Impact blog. Here is the intro:

Almost 1,500 papers have been uploaded to SocArXiv since its launch last year. Up to now the platform has operated alongside the peer-review journal system rather than seriously disrupting it. Looking ahead to the next stage of its development, Philip Cohen considers how SocArXiv might challenge the peer review system to be more efficient and transparent, firstly by confronting the bias that leads many who benefit from the status quo to characterise mooted alternatives as extreme. The value and implications of openness at the various decision points in the system must be debated, as should potentially more disruptive innovations such as non-exclusive review and publication or crowdsourcing reviews.

Read the whole essay here.

How should I license my work on SocArXiv?

You don’t have to be a librarian or an attorney to make the right choices for your work.

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Open is better. (PNC photo: https://flic.kr/p/fwirMJ)

By Judy Ruttenberg and Krista Cox

When you upload a paper to SocArXiv, you’re given the option to attach a public domain waiver or an open license: CC-0 1.0 Universal or CC-BY Attribution 4.0 International to your work. A license (or waiver), while not required, is recommended because it communicates to readers how they can use your work. Both of these CC options are excellent choices that allow reuse, adaptation, copying, and distribution, including commercially. The difference is in the permissions-seeking—a CC-0 option is a donation of the work to the public domain (no permission required) whereas CC-BY allows the author to retain copyright, and requires the reader to give credit to the source and to provide a link to the license terms. Both licenses promote openness, efficiency and progress by providing certainty to the user as to what reuses or adaptations can be made.

Copyright and copyright licensing are complicated, and to the uninitiated researcher, at least two things immediately seem strange about this practice. The first is allowing work to be used commercially. Aren’t we trying to make scholarship more open, accessible, and free? The second is the word “attribution” in the license. Don’t the norms of scholarship require attribution of work, regardless of a license? Is something extra required with CC-BY, or worse, does the use of CC-0 somehow exempt readers of my work from giving me proper credit? Yes, yes, and no.

When work is in the public domain or openly licensed, it can be commercialized by a third party through (for example) inclusion in an anthology or database. That third party (any third party) is free to make money from your public domain work, but it will still be available for free through SocArXiv. As long as your work is still available free, the mission of getting it out to more people is not harmed by someone selling it as well. That also means there is not much money to be made selling academic papers from an open-access preprint server. The more compelling (and frankly more likely) reason to choose the most open license is to facilitate the kind of aggregation that encourages distant reading, or computation across a body of work too large for a human reader. Some scholars may be hesitant to engage in activities like text and data mining (a fair use in the United States) without seeking permissions first, but the use of a CC-0 license removes any doubt around the pursuit of this kind of meta-scholarship in the U.S., and enables text and data mining in countries that require a license to do so. (For more on this, see: ARL Issue Brief: Text and Data Mining and Fair Use in the United States.)

And there is no license that exempts other students and scholars from the norms of academic citation and attribution of work used in subsequent scholarship. Appropriating work without attribution is considered fraud or plagiarism, and scholarly communities and institutions enforce those rules of conduct wholly independently of copyright law. Publishing your work in SocArXiv arguably protects you against fraud or plagiarism by time-stamping your work, under your name, in a permanently available platform for verification. Publishing it with an open license means that people don’t have to waste a lot of time and resources trying to get permissions. It makes the reuse and creation of new works faster and more efficient. And it means that people also don’t have to engage in individualized negotiations.

Scholarly communications librarians have long advocated for authors to retain copyright to their work or waive that copyright to the public domain, rather than sign author agreements that often cede that exclusive right (to copy and distribute) to publishers. Ownership (or lack thereof) of scholarly intellectual property is at the center of the mess we’re in with respect to academic publishing and inaccessibility. Open licenses are an important part of taking back the publishing process. To get up to speed and involved in that story, which is far from resolved, follow @ARLpolicy , @SPARC_NA, @IOIntheOpen, @FarbThink, @CopyrightLibn, to name a few. This kind of expertise informs and guides the Creative Commons, so you don’t have to be a librarian, an attorney, or a policy expert in order to openly license your work for maximum dissemination and reuse.

SocArXiv presentations: slides, audio, video

Hear the audio, see the video, flip through the slides — or arrange a presentation at your institution!

Below are the materials from two recent SocArXiv presentations: slides, audio, video. If you would like Philip Cohen or someone else to visit your institution for a presentation or workshop, let us know, and consider joining the great libraries that have already become institutional supporters of the project: details are here.

Philip Cohen did a plenary presentation at the Social Sciences Librarian Bootcamp at Tufts University. This focuses on the motivation for preprints, the pitch for social scientists, and a discussion of disrupting academic publishing more broadly. The slides are available in the SocArXiv collection here; if you would like to add the audio, or just listen (22 minutes), you can download it here or listen below:

Philip also did an Introduction to Preprints webinar with the Center for Open Science. It runs almost an hour, including Q&A, with an introduction to preprints from Philip, a description of COS’s Preprints community project from Matthew Spitzer, and a technical tutorial from COS’s Courtney Soderberg. It’s on YouTube, or watch it here:

 

Why your section of the American Sociological Association should open its paper award, and how we’ll help

Please propose this to your council or at your membership meeting this August in Montreal.

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We’ll get to the monetary incentives below, but first the pitch.

Academia has a lot of research awards. Awards can help bring attention to the best research, and give recognition to under-recognized scholars. On the other hand, they can also encourage petty competition and internal hierarchies. We at SocArXiv want to help more sociologists open up their scholarship, and we think we can do that while promoting some of what’s good about awards.

We know that working openly is better – better for our careers, better for our science, and better for the wider communities we hope to serve. But we also know there are obstacles, including these two.

1. The habit problem. It seems daunting, like doing more work just to help other people (a goal we all share, of course), which takes away from the singular focus we need to get jobs, get tenure, and earn the esteem of our peers and other important people.

2. The prestige problem. There are a lot of junk open journals that will “publish” anything for a buck. And many of the most prestigious journals aren’t open access. In fact, some people are afraid that if they share their work before it’s peer reviewed they will seem desperate, or like they’re not committed to the idea of peer review.

To overcome these obstacles, we have to make it easy to develop the habits of open scholarship, and we have to find ways to promote high quality work that is also open. Our small contribution to that end is Sociology Open Award Recognition (SOAR).

Here’s how it works.

If you are a section of the American Sociological Association, require that papers submitted for your award(s) be posted on SocArXiv before the award deadline. (In the case of already-published papers, these can be the latest version the author has permission to share.) How you promote the award is up to you, but we encourage you to ask authors to use a common hashtag when submitting, and then publishing a list of submitted papers on your website. Think of the buzz this will generate leading up to the conference, as your members proudly share their best work! Then, when you make the award, SocArXiv will reimburse up to $400 for the winner’s travel to the ASA meetings. Just send us a link to your award instructions page — we’ll help you promote it.

If you are an individual and your ASA section does not participate, but you are submitting a paper for their award, upload the paper to SocArXiv before the award submission deadline. If you win the award, let us know and we will give you $250. Again, we encourage, but do not require, that you let the world know you’re doing this.

We know that award rules vary. Some consider only peer-reviewed papers, some only those that have not yet been peer-reviewed and published. For papers that have not yet been published, you can post them on SocArXiv, and then when they are published add the DOI to the SocArXiv record and readers will be directed to the published version — while still having access to original for free. You can also post papers on SocArXiv that have already been published. (You should always check your author agreement or the Sherpa/ROMEO database to see what version, if any, you’re allowed to share). If your award requires the papers to be published already, and people want to submit papers from journals that aren’t friendly to preprint posting, you might not be able to participate as a section, but individual authors still can.

We hope that SOAR will help people, especially junior scholars, develop the habit of sharing their work earlier; and that it will help the leaders in the discipline to see the benefits of promoting openness through their institutional practices. All while drawing attention to award-winning scholars and their research.

If you’re holding an award competition, you’re probably trying to get the word out about the best research to as many interested people as possible. Openness can help. And if you’re an individual willing to share your paper with an award committee, it is ready to share with the public. If you’re willing to submit it for an award, you should be proud enough to promote it publicly. Draw attention to your work, get feedback, meet potential collaborators, make friends, influence people, and maybe win some money.

So if you are a section officer or member, please propose this to your council or at your membership meeting this August in Montreal. We’ll sponsor as many section awards as we can, but we might run out of money, so don’t delay! For more information, visit the SocArXiv Frequently Asked Questions page, or let us know if we can help.

Contact us at: socarxiv@gmail.com. Upload a paper now using the web interface; browse or search SocArXiv on OSF | Preprints. Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for updates, Check out our YouTube videos; make a contribution through the University of Maryland.