Next in The Open Access Stories series - an interview with Sean Michael Morris, Co-Director of Hybrid Pedagogy!
Alexander Grossmann is a physicist and co-founder of ScienceOpen, a freely accessible research network where scholars can share and evaluate scientific information. ScienceOpen aggregates Open Access articles from a variety of sources – opening them up to commenting and discussion.
AG: I worked, from 1992 to 2001, as an active researcher in the physical sciences in the field of physical chemistry and laser physics. Since the early Nineties more and more physicists were becoming used to posting manuscripts that they were ready to submit to a journal on arXiv. At that time, it was daily business for us to browse not only the recent issues of the relevant (printed) physics journals, but also to look to the arXiv to see which new research had been posted by our peers. Since then the arXiv has become the largest open repository in its field. What I personally liked from the very beginning is the fact that I could see immediately which new research results were published (or posted, as you may call it) on arXiv rather than waiting for months until it was published via the traditional journal system or model.
When I was then entering the publishing industry in the 2000s, I personally felt that OA could be a chance and opportunity rather than a risk for this industry. Unfortunately, most of my senior colleagues had the opinion that OA was a threat for their traditional business model. That attitude has since changed completely. OA has been accepted in a wider part of the academic world and is considered the starting point and key element for a transition in scholarly communication.
AG: When I started to think more concretely about the future of publishing and academic discourse, I had an open access publishing network platform in mind at variance to the existing ventures in academic publishing. However, it became quite obvious that this would be only a single step towards the principle of how discourse in science and among scientists could be supported in the future. Researchers have started to focus less on specific brands of publishers and journals and instead to focus on keywords and topics of publications which are relevant to their current research. Moreover, they do not want to pull up a list of article records when performing a search, but prefer a network of research information from which they can explore topics and articles via authors, references, keywords, altmetrics, comments and more. My partner, Tibor Tscheke and I therefore decided to start from the beginning with an OA platform network which will enable researchers to search, spot, discover, and discuss relevant research, wherever it has been published.
When ScienceOpen launched in its beta release in November 2013 it already combined some of these elements. As of last year, we also offer publishing services for those authors who are interested in making their research public immediately and who understand that they may benefit from the open discourse on their work on ScienceOpen which is enabled by non-anonymous post-publication peer review. In general researchers want to search within the current output of their peers, whether that research has been posted on a preprint server or published in a journal or megasite. The more information they are able to gather during this research the more useful it is for them. To achieve a working proof of this concept, this year we started to systematically track all references of the approximately 2 million open access articles which were accessible on ScienceOpen as part of that aggregation approach.
Meanwhile we have succeeded in indexing more than 10 million article records of 5 million researchers on our site. The full range of information about these articles, citations, altmetrics, or other relevant articles is openly accessible on ScienceOpen as of September 2015. All of these features provide a superior search experience for researchers and also advantages for publishers in making their content and brands more visible.
What do you hope for the future of open scholarship and what steps do you think scholars and institutions can take to advocate for OA?
AG: As a physicist, as early as the Nineties I was impressed with the idea of the arXiv as a first step towards immediate and open access to current research content. Since 2000, the basic principle of OA has been developed by pioneers of that movement like Peter Suber and many other OA advocates. They succeeded to kick-off an open discourse on that issue and finally succeeded in adding OA to the agenda of institutions or government policies. This was a prerequisite to achieve awareness of OA in the community of research funders and policy adopters. Currently, we have entered the second stage of the OA movement. Amazingly, however, I sometimes have the feeling that recently this change has been triggered much more by the publishing industry than by those who should be the new advocates of the OA movement at their institutions. It amazes me that those who have access to large budgets for the acquisition of academic literature have not yet actively supported the deployment of new ideas to foster gold open access and the oft demanded transition or flipping process. There is quite enough money in the system (about US$ 10 billion per year is spent worldwide on STM journals alone) and it would be easy to make use of it in terms of supporting OA to a greater extent!
What are the biggest challenges that you think the academic publishing and scholarly community face in reaching a future of open scholarship?
AG: The core principles of academic publishing have not changed during the last decade and very little has changed to move forward with open access on a broader scale so far. Only a few years ago, publishers were strictly against open access and tried to lobby against it whenever they could. That situation began to change when OA mega-journals such as PLoS were launched in the 2000s and when established publishers started to offer OA for individual articles in their (so-called “hybrid”) journals or to launch OA-only journals. Therefore I am quite confident that we will have only OA journals in a few years. It is no longer a question of whether this “disruptive” transition will happen but when: it is definitely going to happenand sooner than expected.
But OA for research content is not the only pre-requisite required to build the future of an open scholarship. More and more scholars demand, for example, for a more transparent peer review process to further improve the quality of assessment in academic research communication. Moreover we need open metrics and a network of freely available information about usage, citations, and related research for all publications across all scholarly disciplines and license types. That network must be freely accessible for everyone to join, search, discover and share. That’s my vision for the next stage of OA: expanding OA to indexing information on the fly, at the point of (re-)search. And I am glad that ScienceOpen will continue to actively contribute to that future of scholarly communication!
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