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How research flows into the open data lake

We should be in the open data lake, but instead we are all too often stuck in stagnant water. Such was the message from the excellent CISPC Conference on Open Research (Art House, Islington, November 2019).

Academic publishing seems to progress at multiple speeds. The proliferation of stakeholders involved in the workflow between research and publication, between publication and discovery, mean that it is entirely possible that some actors get left while other parties storm ahead. This seems to be happening with Open Research.

Open Research is Open Access and more. As defined by the Cambridge University Scholarly Communication Open Research page, it is ‘the idea that scientific knowledge of all kinds should be openly shared as early as practical in the discovery process’. There is an element of idealism here.

Unfortunately, the reality is a bit different. Open Research is not well understood among academics. At Cambridge, it took around five years to get to a University statement on Open Research – not to adopt it. At the University of Reading, the library reports low adoption of Open Access publication unless it is mandated, and low rates of data sharing (despite the speakers’ excellent initiatives). In a 2017 study, 34% of papers funded by the University provided no access to data. At the University of Huddersfield,  the library staff created the famous game of Open Access, available, in true OA spirit, for download at the Huddersfield eprint site. Clearly the library is doing the work, but it’s not so clear that the academy is getting the message. During the conference, the participants split into groups and the group I was in created a very sweet allegory of the Open Research journey, shown above.

There are some success stories. Simon Ross reported the development of Manchesterhive, comprising not one but two collections, one the full Manchester University Press catalogue, and the other covering just the University’s open-access content (as well as some other presses, for example Lund). He reports that Manchester is the biggest University Press open-access publisher – bigger than Oxford and Cambridge OA combined, which is a satisfying statistic.

There is clearly a wide gap between academics and their aspirations, for a tenured post, for academic recognition, and the drive by funders, institutions and some publishers towards making science more open. Some of the clear tension between the aspirations of the OA movement and academics can be seen in the humanities, where Martin Eve of Birkbeck showed very clearly how book processing charges for the humanities are simply not a viable option. While the funders mandate open-access monographs, nobody seems to have noticed that this would cost in the region of £19m per year. Eve did not have any solutions, but presented the problem very starkly. Books cost a lot to publish, it seems, using the quoted book processing charges of all the major open-access publishers, in the region of $10K to $20K or more.  One radical solution might be for humanities academics to publish articles rather than books, as happens in the sciences. But it would need a brave person to propose that to humanities academics, who already feel they are second-class citizens by initiatives that focus on science publishing above every other subject.