Committee on Publication Ethics offers supportive preprint recommendations

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The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has released a discussion document on preprints. It offers a useful synopsis on the context and rationale for preprints, as well as some common challenges and ethical issues.

I hope journals and publishers will read and follow their guidance here. In particular the ethical notes that:

  • Preprints are generally not considered “publications,” so the papers can be submitted to journals.
  • However, preprints do establish “precedence,” so they should be cited by authors who are aware of them.

COPE doesn’t go so far as to recommend that journals accept preprinted papers, but they urge journals to make their policies explicit:

As the preprint landscape continues to evolve, journals may also wish to raise awareness of preprints among their editorial teams, authors, reviewers, and readers via editorials, webinars, etc. Clear policies in author and reviewer guidelines will not only clarify expectations but also provide a framework for handling submissions consistently.

As we note on our FAQ page, American Sociological Association journal policy allows consideration of papers that have been publicly posted, as long as they are not peer-reviewed:

ASA authors may post working versions of their papers on their personal web sites and non-peer-reviewed repositories. Such postings are not considered by ASA as previous publication.

By our accounting, the top sociology journals all currently allow prepublication archiving of papers.

The COPE advice for authors is also good. In short:

  • Be aware of preprint server and journal policies.
  • Read your copyright agreements.
  • When posting preprints, follow standard ethical practices for research integrity and author attribution.

Our advice goes further, advising researchers to: post papers on SocArXiv or another preprint server, publish in journals that permit distribution of papers before and after publication (we provide DOI linking to facilitate discovery and metrics), use unrestricted licenses to maximize distribution of your work, and link your papers to publicly available research materials (here’s a basic tutorial).

Grand challenges for open scholarship

MIT Libraries’ Grand Challenges will help set a research agenda for the development of open scholarship.

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In his keynote address, Joi Ito showed a picture of a briefcase holding the contents of Sci-Hub (tens of millions of papers), en route to India, where they may end up being legally distributed to teachers and students.

MIT Libraries just hosted a Grand Challenges summit on Information Science and Scholarly Communication. It comprised three 1.5-day workshops on (1) scholarly discovery, (2) digital curation and preservation, and (3) open scholarship (described here). The director of MIT Libraries, Chris Bourg, is on SocArXiv’s steering committee, and I was invited to participate in the open scholarship workshop, so we were well represented (participant list).

The workshops focused on defining core challenges and proposing a research agenda to address them in a 7- to 10-year time frame. This builds on MIT’s Task Force of the Future of Libraries report, among other efforts. The organizers and participants will produce a report on this agenda in the next few months; we’ll report back.

In the meantime, I wanted to highlight one of the recommended readings, a paper by Micah Altman (the libraries’ director of research) and Marguerite Avery, “Information wants someone else to pay for it: Laws of information economics and scholarly publishing.” It’s an excellent introduction to the problem of markets in scholarly publishing, very approachable for social scientists interested in the political economy of what the jargon calls the “scholarly communication ecosystem.”

In general, the trends in scholarly communication are more, more and more. In 2011, the value of the market in 2011 was estimated to be $23.5 billion. But there is one area in which the trend is “less” and that is in market competition. Although the number of publications and journals is expanding at approximately three percent a year, and the market is expanding at four percent, the number of mergers and acquisitions over the past three decades have dramatically decreased the diversity of and competition among publishers. Today, following the recent merger of MacMillan and Springer, the market is dominated by a handful of companies: Pearson, Reed Elsevier, Springer, Taylor & Francis, Thomson/Reuters and Wolters Kluwer. These companies happen to be the top four publishing companies globally as well. And this is the culmination of a long-term trend: over the last three decades, there has been dramatic consolidation in the scholarly publishing industry. Profit margins are commensurately high, with some credible estimates of Elsevier’s profit margin as high as thirty-seven percent. Thus far, there are no signs that the general expansion of the content, contributors, and audience for scholarly outputs has countered this decline in competition.

The paper offers explanations for this failure of market competition, concluding:

Even in the long run, economic theory itself predicts that left to the market, too little knowledge will be created, too little used, and access to too much of what is available will be controlled by a small group of distributors.

They further caution that openness itself — especially defined only as free-to-read, does not a guarantee a system of “robust, sustainable scholarly communication.”

We may reach the point when the small number of for-profit companies that control academic publishing are able to describe their publishing output as “open access,” while simultaneously cementing their control over knowledge.

Finally, Altman and Avery offer a list of the “affordances” offered by current academic publications — the uses that different groups or institutions expect from them — and propose using new technology to unbundle these tasks, rather than presume they will remain bundled in the current, relatively ancient system of publication. This is a useful exercise for imagining future scholarly communication systems. Here is their table of affordances:

Table 1 from Altman & Avery 2015: DOI 10.3233/ISU-150775

One of my goals for the next year is assembling a curriculum on academic publishing, suitable for beginning social scientists and others interested in learning how this system works, the better to change it. This paper, and the work coming out of the MIT Grand Challenges summit, will be on the list. Please feel free to add your suggestions in the comments, or send them to me at pnc@umd.edu.

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.)

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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.