The Case of the Intellectual Magpie. A Cautionary Tale

You hear it a lot from the open access doubters: “what if I put my work online and someone steals it?” – to which the advocate answers: “Unless you choose a CC-0 license and thus voluntarily give your work to the commons to do with as it wishes, all CC-BY licenses ensure you are credited as the author of the work. The choice is always yours.” The trouble is, Creative Commons is based on an honour system. So what happens when the covenant of the CC-license is broken and someone ignores it? The easy reply is: we fall back on copyright infringement and move on legal grounds.  But in the messy world of mushrooming open access journals, many of them with questionable peer review processes, fake impact factors, and suspect APC practices, a case of plagiarism can become tricky to unravel.

Early last week we received an email from a local editor who manages a well-established, international open access journal. One of their authors had become the victim of a brazen case of plagiarism that left all of us – author, editor and us – speechless. A former colleague of this author copied and pasted almost all of an article and published the plagiarised piece in a journal without as much as a hint of the original author’s identity.

The editor had already attempted to get in touch with the journal that published the plagiarised piece to no avail. Nor had a letter from their head of department to the magpie’s head of department helped in any way. Since none of us had any hands-on experience with a case like this, some research was required.

The first place we looked for guidance was COPE, since this case was a serious ethical breach in scholarly publishing. COPE offers a helpful flowchart which we used as a map for our next steps.

We decided on a strategy of relatively steep escalation: our editor would get in touch with the magpie. In case of no reply, the idea was to get our university leadership to directly contact their colleagues at the institution where the magpie works.

Verifying the plagiarist’s identity involved a bit of detective work because there was little information on the journal page and the name is relatively common, but with a bit of online sleuthing the culprit was tracked down. In fact, it took less than an hour to find a CV, publication record, and affiliations. Even a home address popped up.

We discussed our strategy and findings with the editor, who then unleashed their wrathful pen. Here are some of the phrases hurled at the magpie: “blatant and unacceptable breach of scholarly ethics”, “a breach of the license and therefore illicit”, not to forget the threat of exposure to the current employer as well as to the international scholarly community (which in this case is, as with most disciplines, rather small).

Lo and behold, a couple of days later the editor received a crushed and pleading reply: it was a “silly mistake”, “never before and never again” and “I promise” to organize the immediate removal of the plagiarised article from the (complicit?) journal website. The editor’s wrath was not entirely assuaged yet and another salvo was fired: “the apologies should be addressed to [the original author] personally as well, as this a very, very serious offence against [their] rights and interests as an author and scholar” and “if the journal to which you submitted your article refuses to withdraw the article from their website, we will have to react”.

It worked. On Friday we received a note that the magpie’s loot has been removed from the internet. And just in case the magpie is reading this (we may have sent a link to this blogpost their way): names are quickly inserted. So behave.

Twitter Open Access Report – 23 January 2015

Doing Away with Traditional Publishing? “The primary role of traditional journals is to provide peer review and for that you don’t need a physical journal–you just need an editorial board and an editorial process,” says Gershman. More here.
Source: @HuffPostEdu

Four Pillars to Modernize Copyright in the EU. C4C has launched a manifesto to address the current model’s outdated framework, lack of consistency across the EU, excessive copyright durations, and insufficient implementation. More here.
Source: @ayeshaasifkhan

Academic Publishing in Europe held their 2015 Conference, Web25: The Road Ahead, in Berlin this week. Follow at #ape2015

The OpCit project is completed. SPARC Europe has taken over maintenance of the Open Access Citation Advantage list. More here.
Source: @MarkHahnel

Dutch universities consider boycotting Elsevier over Open Access. The Union of Dutch Universities (VSNU) is in negotiations with Elsevier to publish papers by researchers at Dutch universities without a paywall and without raising the author fees. More here.
Source: @RickyPo

HEFCE will develop a shared service to support open access compliance in the next Research Excellence Framework. Press release here@martin_eve’s thoughts here.
Source: @HEFCE

Project RECODE releases the findings on its studies on open access to research data with new policy recommendations to counter the “lack of a coherent open data ecosystem” and the “lack of attention to the specificity of research practice, processes and data collections.” More here.
Source: @OpenAccessEC

The Swedish Research Council proposes that artistic works and scientific publications, as well as the data on which they are based, should be publicly available if they result from publicly funded research. More here.
Source: @RickyPo

Full report on Knowledge Unlatched’s Proof-of-Concept Pilot is now available. “The experiment established that authors, librarians, publishers and research funding agencies can work together in powerful new ways to enable open access; that doing so is cost effective; and that a global library consortium model has the potential dramatically to widen access to the knowledge and ideas contained in book-length scholarly works.” More here.
Source: @oatp

University of California Press formally launches two new open access publishing programs. Collabra will be a journal focusing on life and biomedical sciences, ecology and environmental science, and social and behavioral sciences. Luminos will putlbish monographs. More here.
Source: @OA_Network

Are Swiss universities paying publishers too much? Former librarian Christian Gutknecht is suing the University of Geneva to force them to reveal how much they pay in subscription fees to the major academic publishers. More here.
Source: @tullney

Infographic on the current state of Creative Commons license use, here.
Source:  @creativecommons

Palgrave Macmillan launches an open access online journal. Palgrave Communications will publish peer-reviewed articles in the humanities, social sciences, and business. More here.
Source: @mjgbakker


Beyond the Great Firewall: Gold Open Access Journals in China

The discussions about academic publishing and Open Access, which my team and I follow, take place, to a large extent, on social media networks: Twitter in particular, but also the blogosphere is where the latest developments are often first mentioned, spread, and deliberated. Much of this discourse is carried out in English or other European languages.  This may explain why it has been so tricky for those of us lacking the linguistic skills to learn about Open Access in China.

I had the chance to get a personal impression of the developments beyond the great firewall, i.e. beyond my limited reach on Twitter, Blogger, et al., when I participated in the first Sino-German Training Workshop on Open Access Publishing in Beijing (March 12-13, 2014).

Hosted by the Chinese-Deutsches Zentrum für Wissenschaftsförderung (Sino-German Center for Research Promotion) and superbly organized by members of the National Science Library of the Chinese Academy of Sciences under the leadership of its director Zhang Xiaolin, an 11-strong German delegation came together with an 11-strong Chinese delegation and about half a dozen representatives of the publishing industry to introduce, discuss, and exchange information about Open Access gold publishing across academic disciplines. The lecture hall was filled with an audience of about seventy or eighty Chinese editors, librarians, publishers, and students.

Panels discussed hosting, networks and tools, the perspectives of commercial publishers, setting up and managing open access publishing funds, transitioning from subscription to open access models, and re-use and licensing. A collection of most slideshows (some in English, others bi-lingual) can be found here, except the excellent presentation on issues of licensing by one of the organizers, Alan Ku (Ku Liping), which can be found here (replete with a cover shot of the Chinese edition of the book on Creative Commons licenses by James Baker, Martin Eve, and Ernesto Priego)

In his keynote lecture, Professor Zhang offered a comprehensive overview of open access strategies, practices, and challenges in China (See here for an article by him on this issue published in UKSG’s Insights). One of his most pressing questions, which also resurfaced throughout the two days, was “Who will pay for this?” The quest for sensible business models and long-term sustainability is as urgent in China as it is in the West. Another highlight in Zhang’s keynote was the rapid and steady increase of papers, citations, and funding (as % of GDP). China is by now the world’s third most quoted and the second most productive R&D country i.t.o. publications. Zhang also pointed to certain problems, particularly the danger of cyclicality: things that are published in China being also quoted in China and thus skewing the mterics. On the other hand,  the number of publications based on international collaborations have been rising steadily over the last 10 years from 8000 to 30000.

Behind this boost and indeed the considerable number of Open Access journals across China is the staunch support of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the National Science Library.  CAS announced its pursuit of Open Access in in the wake of Berlin 8 back in 2010 and continuously expanded their portfolio of Open Access journals. The 2012 move to join SCOAP3, so Zhang, had a transformative effect in the STM community. There is also the strong consortium of the National Science and Technology Digital Library (NSTL) which, as part of the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, has been playing a key role in securing China’s access to international science publications since 2008 and now is a crucial supporter of China’s open access developments.

Obviously, not all open access gold endeavors coming out of China are part of CAS’ and NSTL’s infrastructure.  Yingkuan Wang, who is managing editor of IJABE, the International Journal of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, showed how a mixture of Author Processing Fees (which can be waived on request), conference organization, and advertisement keeps his journal afloat.

IJABE is running on OJS, which is also what most of the German journal projects presented at the workshop are using. Surprisingly, the Chinese audience and the rest of the Chinese delegates were not really familiar with the platform. When asked how many people in the room know about OJS, only one hand went up.  There was a very lively discussion session at the end of the workshop where the many pros and few cons of OJS were debated by those using the platform on a daily basis (and yes, I may be partial).  Perhaps it was enough to sway some of the Chinese editors in the room to give it a try. At the same time, it was highly interesting to see some of the latest alternatives that Chinese coders are developing.

China’s efforts to participate, organize, and further open access developments in publishing are impressive. Behind it stands a strong competitiveness for excellence and prestige in the global R&D environment.  Index factors, altmetrics, and other indicators of reception and reuse of Chinese research publications play a very big a role. Commercial publishers such as BioMedCentral know this and are already deeply involved in the Chinese research market – or so I gathered from the presentation/pitch in Chinese given by BMC’s Danqing Wang. While this push into traditional research outlets is unsurprising, it is vital that non-for-profit publishing outfits foster and expand their collaborations with Chinese open access initiatives to help curb overpriced APFs and other pitfalls that come with the territory.  I found it reassuring that the Chinese colleagues are as acutely aware of them as we are and just as interested in avoiding them.

I would have loved to tweet about this highly inspiring and interesting event but the great firewall made that impossible.  For the purposes of a productive exchange with open access colleagues in China, I will have to engage in good old fashioned e-mail correspondence, skyping, and hopefully personal contact. We will definitely continue talking!