Confusion Reigns With Open Access Mandates. Thanks, Elsevier.

flickr photo shared by Ape Lad under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

One of the most tiring problems with Open Access (OA) policies is that the ground keeps shifting making it extremely difficult to be up to date. It’s easy to understand why so many authors (academics and researchers) roll their eyes and see these mandates as an obstacle, because they are despite the efforts of many OA advocates. Even with the White House’s public access to research memo, the road to implementation has been prolonged. One reason for this is the way many of the big, established academic publishers have “embraced” OA: too often the policies are cryptic, either frustrating or deceiving authors. Take for example this week’s announcement from Elsevier on article sharing. The always reliable Kevin Smith breaks it down:

Two major features of this retreat from openness need to be highlighted.  First, it imposes an embargo of at least one year on all self-archiving of final authors’ manuscripts, and those embargoes can be as long as four years.  Second, when the time finally does roll around when an author can make her own work available through an institutional repository, Elsevier now dictates how that access is to be controlled, mandating the most restrictive form of Creative Commons license, the CC-BY-NC-ND license for all green open access.

Smith also links to Elsevier’s 50-page document listing all of the different embargo periods for its journals. It’s no wonder why people are confused and frustrated.

For perspective, let’s use my local users as an example. We have a UC OA policy and the local UC Berkeley guide. Not all of our funding comes from federal sources, so the OSTP mandate doesn’t cover all of our publications though the UC mandate will (but not grad students, yet). Then you have to look where our researchers publish and want to publish – for transportation 6 of the top 10 journals ranked by impact factor are published by Elsevier. (I’m currently working on a data set to see how often we’ve published in these journals in the last decade, results forthcoming, but I can say from data collection it’s considerable.) Edited to add: I’ve run some preliminary data. Based on journals ITS researcher have published articles in 3 or more times since 2005, Elsevier accounts for 31% (150 articles), TRB is 27% (128), ACS is 8% (37), IEEE is 7% (32), and ASCE is 6% (27). So Elsevier’s OA policies are something I try to understand despite the confusion, and even I’m frustrated even though I’d say I’m a pretty optimistic OA advocate.

I’m not going to go so far as Smith as to suggest it’s time for another boycott because I know my faculty won’t really go for it, but I do think we need to have a conversation about what their choices mean and the cycles of publishing and tenure. It would also be great to have more OA options for them to publish in. The Journal of Transport and Land Use and the Journal of Public Transportation are great, but they only cover limited areas. So hey transportation faculty- if you’re reading this, let’s make a difference. Consider publishing OA and maybe even starting a new journal. I’m here to help.

How can you innovate without research?



Yesterday I went down to Google HQ to see Secretary Foxx hold a fireside chat with Erich Schmidt to discuss DOT’s new 30-year plan Beyond Traffic.  I’ve never been to an event like this before, and it seemed the audience was industry more than the usual transportation wonks (though we were there).  There was a very active back channel on #BeyondTraffic on Twitter, connecting people in the room to those watching it online.

Foxx discussed the funding issues, MAP-21 won’t lasts much longer and in the last 6 years Congress has passed 32 short-term measures to extend funding because they can’t actually pass long-term funding.  Yesterday Foxx announced the White House’s ambitious $94.7 billion transportation investment plan.  I’m not holding my breath.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we get back down to the wire in May when the Highway Trust Fund runs out of money. That’s politics. (This is also something I know the general public, like Eric Schmidt, doesn’t know a whole lot about but it’s vital.)

The whole Beyond Traffic blue paper is also politics: bold proclamations, neat infographics, but light on the details. Foxx hit most of the high points that appealed to the Silicon Valley crowd – UAVs and connected/autonomous vehicles, and regulations for them. I did appreciate that Foxx said that promoting multimodal transportation system is about providing choices for people. He also stressed the important of land-use on transportation, which is hugely important in sustainability. (Which also lead to Schmidt extolling the success of Google buses, ignoring their role in perpetuating terrible land-use patterns in the Bay Area.) Bike/ped stuff was largely absent from the discussion.

Also largely absent was talking about research.

Research is inherent to all of these innovations. How do you improve and develop new practices without it? The problem is that funding allocated to research keeps dwindling. Politicians want to fund highways, (and maybe) rail, self-driving cars, but not the research and required research infrastructure to get there. Which is why we have to constantly advocate for communicating the value of research when it should be self evident.

So I asked Foxx about this, about funding research and the required data and IT infrastructure to facilitate collaboration across modes. He replied like a true politician, that DOT is “bullish” about research despite funding cuts, and it’s still a priority. Not really an answer but as much as he could give. I mostly asked the question because I wanted to make sure it got on record that people do care about research funding (namely people working for research bodies) and to make sure there was at least some women represented in the question queue. (Two out of ten or so? That’s pretty shabby, but also another blog post.) Judging from the response of many of my colleagues on Twitter, they appreciated having the issue elevated.

Transportation has some unique funding issues, such as the failure and inability to raise the gas tax to sustainable funding levels, but this issue of funding research is happening across disciplines. Money talks and subject that can garner private sector investment, such as self-driving cars (hey Uber and CMU!), but what about topics that aren’t financially lucrative but no less important, such as rural transit? And what about paying for the infrastructure to conduct research, such as data centers and libraries? We have to constantly advocate and push for our cause even though the immediate ROI might not be evident. This new funding model and philosophy is very pragmatic, but also pretty short sighted. Which is why I’m worried about these long range 30-year plans. Research programs and libraries have helped have that long view and memory to make sure we progress effectively and don’t duplicate efforts, but nobody wants to pay for it. I don’t think Beyond Traffic alone is going to change that.

All slow pop songs sound the same? On Fair Use and some such.

Have you heard Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me”? You must have. It’s all over the place. Everybody loves it. (Even if you can’t really dance to it.) Some people pointed out the chorus sounds a lot like another ubiquitous pop song of yesteryear – Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”. Not sure? check this out:

Now you might say, “Oh, there’s nothing new under the sun! Chords are chords! Any similarity is incidental!” And you might be right. Smith was born three years after Petty’s song was all over radio, so he has some plausible deniability, maybe.

But this week it emerged that the two settled out of court in October and that Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne would receive song writing credits and royalties. If the song wins a Grammy this year, does this mean Petty and Lynne are included? We’ll see.

These sorts of lawsuits are fairly common, though Robin Thicke’s pre-emptive lawsuit against the estate of Marvin Gaye was a new twist. The remix of the two songs is pretty good, and really with enough drugs is everything a remix? In a somewhat ironic twist of fate, one of the most well known lawsuits of this kind is Bright Tunes Music vs. Harrisongs because George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” sounds an awful lot like The Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine”. What do you think? Harrison (as seen in the video) sang and played guitar on Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”.

Fair Use with music is interesting because of the laws on what can and cannot be covered by copyright and the artistic intent. A counter example I’ve been obsessing over is the song “Respect”. The original 1965 version by Otis Redding is a stomper, driven by Al Jackson’s drumming and peppered with the Memphis Horns. It’s so clearly a Stax song. Of course the 1967 cover by Aretha Franklin is iconic – an anthem for women all over. It’s also a very different song, so different I think it’s foolish to compare the two. (I tried for most of 2014.) The words and the basic melodies are the same, but the arrangements made them stand apart. Check out the Ike & Tina Turner cover which is a pretty perfect combination of the two.

Lots of covers differ much from the original that they could be considered completely different songs, but as long as the melody or the lyrics are used, then they need permission. The words are obvious – as evident from “Respect” even though the music doesn’t fully match up. In the Smith/Petty case, it’s a little bit more uncertain but there’s enough there. What’s this mean for librarians? Nothing new really, but it’s interesting when the lines are less blurred. (Pun intended.) Of course, there could be a whole follow up on sampling.

SOPA and the Research Works Act: Evil master plan or do publishers think so little of us?

This week there’s been some interesting and disgusting things going on within scholarly publishing. Most of the internet is up at arms about SOPA, the ludicrous Stop Online Piracy Act. Earlier this week I stumbled across an interesting blog post Why The Movie Industry Can’t Innovate and the Result is SOPA. I think the same could be said for any of the content publisher – books, music, video games, not just film. Look at the list of SOPA supporters. Along with the usual suspects (major lables, the big 6, etc), you get Elsevier and Wolters Kluwer. Nice to know they’re against net neutrality. Cameron Neylon wrote an excellent post on how SOPA will affect scientific research. You need to read it. Loud library advocate Andy Woodworth is making a list to talk to vendors at ALA Midwinter next month. Good on him. I was thinking about talking to some folks at SLA later this month, but then something else caught my eye…

The Research Works Act (H.R. 3699). A post from the SPARC OA forum distils it:

“No Federal agency may adopt, implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy, program, or other activity that — (1) causes, permits, or authorizes network dissemination of any private-sector research work without the prior consent of the publisher of such work; or (2) requires that any actual or prospective author, or the employer of such an actual or prospective author, assent to network dissemination of a private-sector research work.”

Not surprisingly, publishers think this is a great idea.

The Research Works Act will prohibit federal agencies from unauthorized free public dissemination of journal articles that report on research which, to some degree, has been federally-funded but is produced and published by private sector publishers receiving no such funding. It would also prevent non-government authors from being required to agree to such free distribution of these works. Additionally, it would preempt federal agencies’ planned funding, development and back-office administration of their own electronic repositories for such works, which would duplicate existing copyright-protected systems and unfairly compete with established university, society and commercial publishers.

This is just bullshit. Especially in light of the publishers’ healthy profit margins often on the work of academics paid in prestige. The need to publish in these big, expensive journals for a lot of faculty is the only way they can attain tenure. The only way they can fund their work is to get federal (or other publicly funded) grants. Tax payers can pay for the research, but then they can’t see the results. It’s a great racket for the publishers. (Sounds sort of like the vicious cycle of federal student loans and the for-profit colleges, which is pretty much any university these days.)

Publishers are still upset about the NIH Public Access Policy. UC Berkeley professor Michael Eisen yesterday blogged about Elsevier paying NY Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney to promote the bill. Jason Baird Jackson from Indian University asks who else is Elsevier lobbying for this bill?

It’s outrageous that in a time when everybody’s budgets are being squeezed, the big scholarly publishers are getting more creative about making huge profit margins. If the government is going to fund research, they need to also fund the publishing because that’s the only way the public will have access to the information and data. The funding for publishing has always been an afterthought or meant to be a cost recovery tool, which explains how NTIS and the National Academies “function”.

I’ll be in DC a couple of weeks for the TRB Annual Meeting. (TRB is part of the National Academies.) It’s where the transportation research agenda is discussed, research that will be funded by the taxpayers. I’ll try to get some answers.

The Research Works Act is seriously bad news, as is SOPA. Maybe it’s because I just watched all of the Bond films, but I really hope this isn’t just general incompetence but a master plan from SPECTRE to take over the world by destroying scientific research and scholarly publishing. Blofeld, Largo, Dr. No, and their henchmen are off springing the mousetrap. We just need James Bond to stop them. Or us.