Ramping up relevance at APE

The 2018 Academic Publishing Europe conference (APE) considered Open Science, Open Access, blockchain for publishing, AI - and more.

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Academic Publishing Europe conference organiser, Arnoud de Kemp, often points out the bullet holes, remnants of shelling during World War II, in the columns of the historic Leibniz Hall inside Berlin Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities in which the conference is held. He didn't actually do that this year, but verbal bullets, shot by APE speakers, ricocheted throughout the conference. 

The 13th annual Academic Publishing Europe conference (APE; ape-conference.eu), held January 17-18, 2018 in Berlin, had the theme of 'Ramping Up Relevance'. It started out on a staid, traditional note as Michiel Kolman, President, International Publishers Association (IPA) and an SVP at Elsevier, extended opening greetings to the 230 delegates. He stated his view that, with a world in chaos, academic publishers are "stewards of the truth and quality." He reiterated IPA's commitment to copyright and the freedom to publish and praised its resistance to censorship, particularly in the case of China wanting to censor Cambridge Press and Springer Nature. Kolman said that piracy is not a viable option for Open Access (OA). 

The second welcoming speech, delivered by Martin Grötschel, President, Berlin Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the site of the conference, was anything but staid or traditional. He fired the first shots of the conference, both at the IPA and scholarly publishing in general. 

As a self-described advocate for OA for the past 25 years, Grötschel castigated the publishing industry for being greedy. Academic publishers merely package scholars' research, exploiting their free labour. He likened publishers to envelope manufacturers who add no value to what is in the envelopes. As for relationships between publishers and libraries: "They're cordial until negotiations begin, but then publishers' smiles disappear and greed starts to gleam." It should come as no surprise that Grötschel is on the library side of the negotiations between German universities and Elsevier. These negotiations have stalled, with universities refusing to renew their subscriptions and Elsevier granting temporary access despite the standoff (nature.com/articles/d41586-018-00093-7). 

Opening up science 

Sabine Kunst, President, Humboldt University in Berlin, called Open Science the "new paradigm for research and education." She includes in her definition of OA not only open science but also open data, open source software, and citizen scientists. Applauding digital transformations of services and infrastructures, she pointed to publishing initiatives being taken up by specialist communities and academic libraries. 

Moving from the theoretical to the practical, Johannes Vogel, Chairman, EU Open Science Policy Platform (OSPP) and Director General, Museum of Natural History, Berlin (museumfuernaturkunde.berlin/en), introduced his museum's biodiversity programme, called Innovation with Participation. He praised citizen scientist efforts, which amplifies his belief that democracy needs scientifically literate citizens. The EU Open Science policy, emphasising that knowledge sharing is important not just in principle but also as a necessity, encourages the translation of knowledge to policy. A demographic shift towards an urban, aging society and GDP (Gross Domestic Product) declining to medieval levels, he asserted, requires that science finds new ways of working. It's either "deep change of slow death."

Finch Report results in question 

David Sweeney, Director Research and Knowledge Exchange at HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) and Executive Chair Designate of Research England (ukri.org), delivered an even-handed assessment—no shots fired here— of where OA stands today in the UK, citing mixed views of how the recommendations in the Finch Report have played out. The actual name of what is colloquially referred to as the Finch Report is Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications. Report of the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings (acu.ac.uk/research-information-network/finch-report-final). 

One view, espoused by Danny Kingsley, in her article, "So did it work? Considering the impact of Finch 5 years on" (repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/269913), presents a negative view, saying that flipping journals to OA has failed, publishers are manipulating embargo periods and licenses, and confusion reigns. On a more positive note, Sweeney cited the 2015 report "Monitoring the Transition to Open Access: A report for the Universities UK Open Access Co-ordination Group" (acu.ac.uk/research-information-network/monitoring-transition-to-open-access), which presented a more positive view of journals flipping to OA. 

Sweeney reflected on developments in the UK but the implications for publishing extend far beyond the UK borders. Although the Finch Report favoured Gold OA, that hasn't been the success initially envisioned. Approximately 80% of spend now goes to hybrid journals. The funding picture has changed, particularly as funders become publishers. In his opinion, the final verdict on whether Finch has worked or not isn't really the question. It's whether it didn't work or whether it hasn't worked yet. Interestingly, the varying views on Finch derive from exactly the same data. Only the interpretations are different. 

Sweeney noted the importance of perception. If the perception is that Gold OA is a failure, then it is. And yet it's hard to tie price and costs to the perception of value—there's no objective measure. When university libraries and scholars deem publishers to be price gauging, it's clear that something needs to change. Publishers and their customers, he said, are not talking to or with each other; they're talking past each other. This is a period of great change and disruptive innovation. The issue is how to move forward as an industry, given changes in values and policy. 

Tim Britton, Managing Director of Open Research, Springer Nature, fired back, disputing Sweeney's stance that there were two sides to the Finch Report's impact. He sees an inevitable movement toward OA while admitting that Europe's goal of total OA by 2020 is extremely challenging. Springer Nature has succeeded in flipping, he said, but it has implemented it by country rather than by journal. Britton thinks that hybrid journals do not impede progress and that OA is the first step to Open Science and Open Research. Asked about self-publishing, Britton replied that he believes there is value in preprints but warned about scientists' lack of expertise of arranging their data. Excel is the wrong approach. 

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