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.

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!

The Dust Still Hasn’t Settled. Reading the Results from Science Europe and Global Research Council Surveys

Last month Science Europe published a survey report on Open Access Publishing Policies in its Member Organisations. Based on two surveys conducted in 2012 and 2014 respectively it casts light on the progress – or lack thereof – in the implementation of #OA across the disciplines.
The data for the report is based exclusively on information provided by Research Funding Organisations and Research Performing Organizations who participated in both surveys. While methodologically this is a sound decision, it considerably limits the representative value of the exercise. A glance at the participants shows that most information was culled from (Western) Europe. With the exception of the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary, Eastern Europe is absent from the survey. Considering that the 2014 survey was of global scope, the reach of the results shrinks even more.
Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction. Considering the ongoing fluctuation of the publishing landscape, the breakneck speed of technical developments, and the recent political upheavals that may yet play a role in the further pursuit of transnational open access to research, it is helpful and encouraging to see the first steps toward an overview coming from the very organisations who, in my opinion, hold the key to the success of the transition.
The report conveys a sense of direction and awareness of pressing issues, such as supporting new initiatives or establishing technical standards, which are crucial in the steps ahead. On the other hand, it also becomes clear that the mills do grind very slowly indeed: there is little more than encouragement and suggestion – we are still a far cry from a pan-European (leave alone international) Open Access Policy with bite.

Twitter Open Access Report – 24 September 2015

In Diamond Open Access Gets Real, Glyn Moody looks at how an overlay journal solves the cost issue that bedevils Gold open access, using the example of a new Diamond open access journal called Discrete Analysis: the online journal posts links to and descriptions of relevant preprints, after subjecting them to peer review.
Source: @rickypo

Stevan Harnad has an overview of where we are on the road to universal Open Access. In a nutshell, more institutions need to adopt better OA mandates.  The book is called Optimizing Open Access Policy.
Source: @SAHJournal

Awhile back I wrote about a Max Planck institute study that showed that the money circulating in the pay-to-publish system would be enough to transition the whole kit and caboodle to OA. Jan Velterop asks: if that’s true, why hasn’t the transition happened? It’s a very good question, and the answer seems to be that while switching to OA would be cost-neutral on a global or national scale, it wouldn’t be at the institutional level – some institutions would have to pay a lot more, and few want to be the first to make the leap. Read the whole post for more detail.

Björn Brembs takes up this subject in Many Symptoms, One Disease, concluding that collective action is necessary to take a public good from private hands, but the tricky bit is how to organize it.
Source: @brembs

Meanwhile, a group of German academics called the Ad Hoc Working Group Open Access Gold have put together a position paper to outline what exactly would be required to make the transition from the subscription model to Open Access. Here is a summary, and the paper is here (pdf).

Richard Poynder has an interview with BioMed Central founder Vitek Tracz to talk about, an open science publishing and peer-review platform with which Tracz hopes to address the problems with the current model of academic publishing.
Source: @RickyPo

PLOS ONE has increased its APC by over 10% – this is the first increase since 2009, and they say it is in response to increasing costs. Read the update here.
Source: @RickyPo

The EC will hold a workshop in Brussels in October on new models of open access publishing. Details and registration here.

The Wellcome Trust funded an international study on behalf of the Public Health Research Data Forum to determine the key elements of good data-sharing practice.  The four most important elements were:

  • assessing the value and benefits of data sharing
  • minimising risks of harm and safeguarding the privacy and confidentiality of research participants,
  • promoting fairness and reciprocity,
  • instilling trust and trustworthiness among participants, communities, researchers and the wider public.

The Trust’s blog post has more detail, but it’s still pretty superficial, with no information on how to put these abstract principles into practice. However, the Forum has also put together a website, published a paper, and put out a special issue of the Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics, and set up an online course, so there is more information to be found.
Source:  @AmandaClay

An editorial at argues for Congressional action to enshrine the steps the Obama administration has taken toward open data in the United States. Most of the changes were the result of executive orders, which could be reversed when there’s a new chief executive in 2017, unless Congress passes legislation to make them stick.
Source: @computerworld has an article on the recent growth of the open data movement, with  a summary of some of the open data initiatives implemented by cities worldwide. It’s a fascinating glimpse at the future, and raises some very good questions about which data cities choose to reveal, and what they conceal.

The Huffington Post has an article about how open data can help reach the UN’s next set of Sustainable Development Goals.

An infographic from the OECD (pdf) shows that putting computers in the classroom hasn’t improved student achievement, though it doesn’t have a lot to say about how those computers were used; there’s no reason to suppose that simply placing a computer in a classroom will improve outcomes. It’s safe to assume that traditional models of education will have to change to accommodate computers, but it may be too soon to say what form those changes will take. That might be a good subject for further study.

Inside Higher Ed has a story on another MOOC-based Freshman Year alternative. The Modern States Education Alliance, originally founded to accredit non-traditional education providers, has developed a program called Freshman Year for Free, which will create MOOCs designed to enable students to test out of freshman-level university courses. The MOOCs will be free, though there is still a fee to take a placement test.

We all know that learning by doing is more effective than passively absorbing information, but a new study seems to show just how much more effective it is. The article’s headline  rather misleadingly claims that Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative courses are six times more effective than MOOCs , and show lower dropout rates as well, but in fact the comparison is between MOOCs alone and MOOCs combined with ODI. The story is here, and the study can be accessed here.

Russia has launched a new online educational platform called Open Education (in Russian), designed to offer MOOCs to college students. Eight Russian universities are collaborating on the project, and other institutions will be able to join after 2016. In an article at, Artem Kureev wonders if this is not an attempt to protect Russian students from Western influence.

The Harvard Business Review has a comprehensive report on “Who’s Benefiting from MOOCs, and Why“. Their study shows that even though MOOC users are mostly already-educated and already-employed residents of developed countries, students of lower socioeconomic status and lower education levels are also reporting tangible career benefits. Maybe not a revolution, but a step forward all the same.

In academic writing  news, 20 PhD students wrote dumbed-down summaries of their theses. Every dissertator should have to do this.
Source:  @Protohedgehog


The #africaopendata conference took place in the first week of September, and some of the presentations can be downloaded here.

Tampere, Finland hosted a 3-day forum on the future of open source, open data, and open content from 22.-24 September. Today is the last day, but you can follow them at @MindTrek_. The program is here.

Registration is open now for the Online, Open and Flexible Higher Education Conference in Hagen, 29-30 October. Here is the program.
Source: @OpenEduEU

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!




Staring Into the Generational Gap: Munich’s Panel Discussion “Junior Researchers, Publishers, Libraries, and Open Access. Contemporary Publishing in the Humanities,” 11 February 2014.

Last week, the panel discussion “Junior researchers, publishers, libraries, and open access”, which was organized by the Bavarian State Library (BSB) and LMU’s Graduate Center, took place in the lecture hall of the Catholic Academy’s Kardinal Wendel Haus in Munich. The event was attended by more than three hundred people. The BSB’s Lilian Landes delivered a concise opening statement about the current challenges facing young humanities and social science researchers when it comes to the decision where to publish their dissertation. She posed a few juicy questions to the panel, about quality management and who picks up the tab; about how trade publishers will face the oncoming sea-change of information and publications; what services will become publishers’ unique contribution to the communication process and for how much money; how the growing scepticism among young researchers towards the publishing system can be met; how the notion of “if it is not online, it does not exist” can be dealt with in the humanities, where we are not yet facing as much pressure as in the STEM fields; what role will the prestige factor play in the open access development; how or whether universities are changing their rules and regulations about PhD bestowal to allow for open access. In short: Landes offered the panel plenty of threads to discuss an issue that concerns an entire generation of young researchers and that is in desperate need of a serious approach.

Munich Panel

Panel discussion on publishing options for junior researchers in the humanities. Munich, February 2014

What followed was a lacklustre exchange of polite opinions, most of which were based on relatively modest familiarity with the issue of open access. The notable exceptions were Hubertus Kohle (@hkohle), an art-historian and active supporter of open access, and Klaus Ceynowa, the deputy general director of the Bavarian State Library. The rest of the decision makers, who sat at a long desk flanked by Jesus on the cross and a modern art impression of divine light, exchanged half-baked truisms, seasoned only with a couple of references. One was the irksomly ill-informed article by Juergen Kaube in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of February 5th with the slightly sensationalist title “Academics face threat of being coerced into self-publishing“.  Also, last year’s OAPEN’s report was reassuringly waved about by the representative of the publishing industry, Stefan von der Lahr, happily pointing to the report’s finding that the publication of open access books does not lessen revenue of print versions. This proved that von der Lahr was neither controversial nor concerned enough to throw down the gauntlet to Kohle or anyone else harboring pro-open access opinions. To the contrary: he works for C.H. Beck, a traditional, German-language, family owned publishing house in Munich, which just began collaborating with Open Edition Books – a sure sign that this publisher is willing to explore the changes afoot in the industry. Still, von der Lahr did not really know how to respond to the chair’s question about the pressure on young scholars to publish in English, or their need for visibility. It is not part of his daily business and so he could not address it with conviction.

This was true for most of the panel. Bernd Huber, the president of the LMU (Ludwig Maximilian University Munich), admitted that he knew very little about the issue at hand. He did opine, however, that open access gold would probably raise the costs for authors and be ultimately unaffordable; Ceynowa offered some helpful numbers about the library’s journal subscription (62500 journals in total including OA, cost about 7 million Euros per year), but also thought that hybrid publishing will be too expensive. Martin Schulze Wessel, historian and president of the Association of German Historians, spoke of how historians weave great narratives and insisted that such narratives will always require a bound book to hold them. The chair, Thierry Chervel (@chervel), co-founder of the internet culture-magazine Perlentaucher, not only refused to push these gentlemen out of their comfort zone, he came across as surprisingly fuzzy, if not to say ill-prepared, about open access issues.

The general impression was that this conversation could easily have played out in a cigar-smoke filled club somewhere. A benevolent, collegial, non-committal chat amongst peers.

Then Chervel invited questions from the floor and things changed. One question about whether it was possible to install a GitHub repository for the humanities at the state library, made it obvious that most of the gentlemen on the podium were incapable of grasping such questions and that they had extremely little in common with the young scholars whose professional publishing career they were supposed to discuss. Just the odd silence following this question made the trip to Munich worthwhile!

At the reception afterwards, one young art-historian mused: “What will they do, when they get hit by the wave of data and publication that is currently building momentum? They have no idea that it is coming their way!” She also told me that she and her colleagues (from a variety of disciplines) do not really want books anymore. Instead they are looking for communicative possibilities that allow for a completely new way of building knowledge with open review, possibilities of remixing, reusing, and expanding information in a variety of directions.

Despite the relatively superficial discussion, this event impressed me. Not for the things that were said – there was nothing new for me to learn – but because it was the first time that I witnessed with such clarity the considerable generational gap between most decision-makers who still think of e-mail and pdfs as newfangled communicative formats and those young scholars who are ready to altogether abandon linear narrative with its distinct authors and individual contribution to the field. In other words, the latter no longer wish to formulate their contribution to universal knowledge in that 600 year old genre that the former see as an indispensable hallmark of serious intellectual endeavor, which, should it bear the prestigious stamp of a recognizable publisher, must be “good”. This is is hard to swallow for a younger generation, whose research is often interdisciplinary and contributes to complex, digital information and research architecture not only with writing and data but also with coding. Try and explain such accomplishments to hiring panels that include decision makers who openly admit that they judge the quality of a young academic’s work at least partially by the name of the publisher who printed it.

Munich illustrated some strong positions on both sides of this generational divide. On the side of the establishment there is a significant fear-factor. Van der Lahr rightly pointed to some of the highly allergic reactions of (particularly smaller) publishers to the open access development because it may well become an existential threat to them. I also think that Schulze Wessel has a point with his great narrative needing an appropriate genre, although it certainly does not have to be a bound book. I do believe that building a linear argument, to support, sustain and prove it over the course of a long-form genre is a skill that is important for any academic. At the same time, there is no doubt whatever that the plethora of current digital humanities undertakings and explorations in new digital genres can be of indisputable scholarly merit and open up an entirely new way of creating and communicating knowledge. The only person at the table who was savvy enough to recognize this was Hubertus Kohle.

It will take academics like him to keep the conversation going. With a little less revolutionary fervor on the side of youth and a bit more openness, interest, and consideration on the side of an unknowing establishment, scholarly investigation in the humanities too will be able to create and appreciate a richer landscape of academic communication, a hybrid, if you will, that is truly worth building.  Munich’s discussion was an excellent start to the many discussions that are needed to get Germany’s humanities moving in the right direction.