Hypothesis: we (meaning: today’s occidental societies) have lost the sense for infrastructure as a public good. We only see products and services, without regard to how fundamental they are to keeping higher levels of organization functioning. Academic publishing is only a special case of this phenomenon.
Take the current pandemic as an example: if you consider protective equipment (masks etc.) as just another product, it makes sense to optimize its industrial production. If you consider sanitary precautions as an infrastructure, you come to very different conclusions.
Another example is software (which as we all know is “eating the world”). If administrational software written in COBOL is just another product, you accept that it can become unmanageable in extreme situations. If you consider it essential infrastructure, you plan ahead for its maintenance and evolution, which includes training people for doing these jobs. And it’s not just COBOL software from the 1960s, it’s basically all modern software (see here for a discussion of a more recent case).
The common point with all these phenomena is that maintaining the infrastructure is nobody’s job, and therefore it doesn’t happen. Industrial products end up taking the place of infrastructure, but don’t come with the necessary openness and robustness.
Looks at the introduction of radio and television and how different societies chose to regulate them, comparing the US, USSR, and British examples, to show that one particular business model is not inevitable. Next, explores internet models, including the American capitalist monopoly and the Chinese capitalist hypermonopoly, offering Wikipedia—a form of public service media— as a counterpoint. The growth of public media in the US and UK are compared and contrasted. In the internet space, the success of Wikipedia and open source projects “suggests that values-driven projects have an important role to play online.” We should think creatively about building public service digital media, perhaps by taxing surveillant advertising by Facebook, Google, and Alibaba. But this will still not generate enough revenue to support high quality independent news. Such funding could support research studies on the impact of social media. Zuckerman details the examples of Mozilla Firefox, an open source web browser that supports user privacy and builds tools for web navigation, and Public Spaces, “a coalition of Netherlands-based organizations dedicated to redirecting government funding from large U.S. tech providers to open-source alternatives.” Public Spaces is designing a badging system to help public service organizations select open source software. Values and goals define public service tools, not business models—which can be diverse. (“Public spirited, but diverse in funding”) “Public service digital media tools shouldn’t seek to dominate markets through scale – they don’t need to assemble millions of eyeballs for resale to advertisers. Instead, they should support diverse use cases, more like WordPress, a flexible open-source publishing platform, than like a commercially funded entity like Facebook.” (“Plural in Purpose”) Setting guidelines and enforcing them, for example on Reddit, trains a new generation community participation. (“Participatory in Governance”) “We need new tools to enable scholars and public interest advocates to review the algorithms that rank search results and order social media posts while balancing the privacy rights of users.” (“Publicly Auditable and Revieable”) One thing that could be built is auditable and transparent search and discovery tools, perhaps with provisions allowing review, or a non-surveillant advertising network, or an ecosystem of alternative social networks “designed to meet the needs of local geographic communities and communities of interest.” (WikiTribune and Gell.com are examples.) Such advancements would require improved Single Sign On, aggregation, and interoperability. First steps might include enabling data portability, creation of an “affirmative vision to work toward,” proof of concept that revenue can be generated. “At this moment in the evolution of the Web, we are comfortable having wide-ranging arguments about the shortcomings and failings of existing digital platforms. We are nowhere near as good at proposing and exploring alternatives, and this failure of imagination means that we are ceding the future of the internet to the companies that have already taken power.”
Looks at the different objectives that commercial players may have in workflow tools, including start ups, financial investors, strategic investors, and commercially successful publishers. Considers ways that tools and products can be integrated: bundled sales, user accounts, user profiles, seamless workflow, and a data layer. For Elsevier, “integration is key.” Digital Science “has provided funding for, and taken substantial ownership stakes in, a variety of startups, such as Symplectic, figshare, ReadCube, Altmetric, and labguru.” The Center for Open Science has another approach. It has “built its workflow framework from scratch.”
Explores how research workflow product vendors may explore models to “lock in” their customers. While licensing content via a “Big Deal” model seemed like a good deal, over time it proved to be a poor way to manage library budget. Digital Science, Elsevier, and Clarivate have put together tools to support researcher workflow. Schonfeld explores how “lock in” might play out, including “exclusive benefits for mutual customers”, “service interdependency”, “data portability and reusability limitations”, “institutional sales and product bundling”.
While outsourcing services has enabled universities to focus on core competencies, many have also outsourced “core academic infrastructure.” New tools and platforms “will variously improve transparency, reproducibility, accountability, and efficiency of the scientific research process, an enormous boon to scientists themselves and their universities that have so much invested in academic science.” Tools supporting the different steps in the researcher workflow have generally been owned by different companies. There could be benefit to making the process more seamless. Recently, scientists themselves have been more involved in improving this process. But investment in these tools typically comes from publishers or private equity. What are the implications for universities and science? “There is no individual or organization within any university that I am aware of that is responsible for the full suite of research workflow services.” Decision0making is fragmented across a wide variety of stakeholders, including the library, the VP of Research, or the PI. Universities “need to ensure that the appeal of the new category of workflow products is addressed not just at the level of existing university divisions but in a way that recognizes how the paradigms for research support is shifting under a workflow mindset.” Universities need to identify a point person for such conversations with tool creators. “Beyond this, a university should act with single purpose to establish strategy, set objectives, coordinate budgets, and act operationally.” Schonfeld uses the institutional repository as an example for more strategic thinking. When tools reach into the research workflow directly, there is a potential for vendor lock in. “It is imperative that universities understand the nature of switching costs, not only for the university-facing assessment and showcasing tools but also for the increasingly integrated laboratory management systems. If universities cannot hold down these switching costs low enough to ensure they can take advantage of market competition, they will quickly find themselves locked into a single provider or set of providers. “ One protection against this, and one that improves the university negotiated position, would be to “insist on loosely coupled discrete services rather than a single integrated workflow” even though this reduces the benefits from seamlessness. When infrastructure is community controlled, it will likely be done on a shared basis, making licensing terms particularly important. Data ownership, data security, and data privacy remain key issues. Who can monetize the data?
Details thinking around publisher acquisition of workflow tools. Both Elsevier and Wiley seem to be developing a “researcher-to-reader workflow solution.” While companies promise an extensive fire wall around individual publisher data, more may be needed to assuage publisher concerns, including lack of influence on roadmaps for tools and the possibility of being “priced out” of key services. Are these companies also buying customers? Are they buying data? As dangerous as the prospect of lock-in might sound, Cochran points to smaller societies being “locked out” as another concern. Open source alternatives exist, but many publishers may lack the “internal expertise and resources” to consider them.
Although preprint servers, mergers, and open access have been around for a while, “we’ve reached a point where everything feels like it’s happening at once.” Disruption in one area of scholarly publishing could have unintended consequences in others. Crotty argues that “the two biggest forces driving change in the scholarly communication landscape [Mergers and Acquisitions] are consolidation and regulation. [Rules and Compliance]” While some acquisitions may be driven by need, some are driven by Wall Street demands. Anxiety among publishers and libraries has this anxiety has “led to a growing consensus that the market needs a major investment in shared and open infrastructure and standards.” Researchers are being asked to do more than ever, from pre-registration of experiments, to posting preprints, to posting data and writing up methods for reproducibility, to publicity, to funder compliance. Plan S is an example of this acceleration. Crotty suggests that if open source wants to make a difference, it should look at back end e-commerce billing systems to enable compliance.
Explores Stanford’s announcement to eliminate the subsidy for its university press. A professor, Ge Wang has created a petition: "If we use a purely financial metric to assess the value of academic books, the scholarly mission of the academy will be lost. Presses will publish only profitable books, graduate students will write only profitable dissertations, and tenure will be awarded based on scholarship that is profitable.” The Press has been a leader in “born digital” scholarship.
Details the contributions of university presses to society (including diverse perspectives, cultural heritage organizations, distinct local cultures, original works in the arts), to scholarship (including emerging interdisciplinary areas, translations, dynamic digital resources, teaching and learning), and to the university community (including extending the mission, influence, and brand; partnering with campus libraries, digital humanities centers, and other university departments; representing the full expanse of university research).
In the guise of reducing its subsidy to “right size” the Press, Stanford’s Provost (a physicist) proposed an extreme cut to the press’s funding. This article details the timeline of the proposal and the resulting backlash. Faculty member and author, Tom Mullaney, thinks “the treatment of the press is indicative of a wider misapprehension of how diverse scholarly fields function.” The Faculty Senate sees it as an example of how the Humanities and Social Sciences are marginalized in favor of STEM fields. Should a university press be judges solely on its financial contributions and returns? Wulf explores how “a failure to incorporate basic insights from the humanities is impoverishing society.” She urges Stanford to be forward thinking and forward acting, to embrace the Humanities and Social Sciences.
Announcement that UWA Press will close as a result of a shift to OA Publishing. Community pushes back.
Publishers exert disproportionate control over the direction of science as a result of their power to make or break careers. Lashuel and Stecher propose reversing the relationship between authors and publishers to have journals compete for authors and publication move beyond the end goal to dynamically updated sources for knowledge. Incentives would rest upon a paper’s contribution to the advancement of knowledge. The rise in the use of preprint servers is starting to change the status quo. The authors argue for indexing in one large database where feedback would be shared and corrections indicated “Reddit-style.” At a minimum, peer review reports and responses should be published alongside papers. Supplemental data should be deposited. Lay summaries should be created. The system should reward updates to the papers. Funders and university incentive structures will be key to the success of this new vision.
This essay discusses the numerous value propositions articulated in the “Value of University Presses” list. The variety of university presses share the same purpose: the advancement of knowledge. However, university leaders may lack awareness of press activities. Conrad and Crewe detail “persuasive, qualitative evidence of our work’s impact on behalf of our universities.” Beyond the university, “books, journals and digital publications often also inform policy makers, journalists and opinion makers, to lasting effect.”
Provides historical context around the use of citation counts and journal impact factors to assess researcher advancement, and how that process in turn gives a few publishers a “significant, but invisible influence over science policy.” This form of measurement favors disciplines that “more rapidly yield publishable results.” Researchers with more interest in “assuring the social value of their research may thus be systematically penalized in systems built around publication and citation rates.” Also includes details on a system wherein “researchers have guaranteed the publication industry a supply of government-subsidized content, free labor for assuring quality through peer review, and a virtually guaranteed demand that our host institutions will purchase those products back.” Details early industry consolidation under Robert Maxwell who understood “scientific publishing was a market unlike others because there was an almost ceaseless growth of demand, and free labor,” as well as Eugene Garfield’s contribution in the founding of the Institute for Scientific Information, the Web of Science, the Science Citation Index, and eventually the Journal Impact Factor. Ends with discussion of new open access models and forays of large publishers into the researcher workflow with purchases or repositories, preprint servers, and collaboration tools. Scientific “self-governance” created the system in which a few publishers and outdated and biased metrics dominate, so scientific self-governance can break the dominance of that very system.