Different Country, Same Concern: My First Steps in Switzerland’s Open Science Landscape

On March 1st I started a new position at the University of Bern. After building new #openaccess instruments for more than eight years at Heidelberg University, I decided it was time for a change of scenery. I had watched with great interest Switzerland’s move towards a national open access strategy and the growth of its open access infrastructure, so when an opportunity presented itself to join Bern’s open science team assembled by @dirkverdicchio I did not hesitate: I applied, was lucky enough to be offered the gig and gladly joined.

Everything is fresh and new and at the moment it feels like I am drinking from the proverbial fire-hose. One of our first tasks will be to move all e-journals hosted on the library publishing branch BoP to OJS 3.1. So it’s helmets on and seatbelts fastened for a serious test-drive of the platform’s latest (German) version.

I am really excited about meeting all the editors of the various journals and embarking on the transition with them. Having worked as a managing editor for as long as I have, I hope to understand their concerns and requirements. With a strong technical support by my side and the ever brilliant folks at PKP for backup, it should make for an excellent experience.

While these initial, concrete plans are taking shape, I am also exploring the broader Swiss Open Science context. Make no mistake, while the goals for an open scholarly communication are the same, the parameters do shift when one crosses the border to countries outside Europe. For example, no one seems to have an issue with SciHub: the downloading culture here is much more relaxed; the internet is so damn fast, it makes my head spin! Or take the intense discussion around copyright: there seems a tug of war going on regards secondary publication rights (Zweitverwertungsrecht), which would arguably facilitate Open Access green. Unfortunately, the Zweitverwertungsrecht was shot down in the recent legal overhaul of copyright law, which will undoubtedly make the whole national Open Access strategy a little trickier.

Meanwhile, on the other side of #openscience, there is Switzerland’s massive move towards publishing #opendata. The infrastructure building and management – from repositories to legalities – is deliciously complex and I am greedily hoovering up information from all manner of sources. There are a few conferences coming up which I hope will tweet or even live-stream, among them  the Open Science Conference (#OSC2018) in Berlin.

Exciting times! I will write more about what I learn and find. Stay tuned!

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!