This is the time of year when I am juggling attendance at multiple conferences, each with complicated exhibit schedules and packed with editorial board and committee meetings. I love editorial board meetings. I also love manning our ASCE Library booth at these big engineering conferences as they are the only chance I have to engage in conversation with the end user. I ask questions, I hear their complaints and often get fantastic suggestions for improvement.
The conferences really offer mixed views. Attendees are split between academics and practitioners. These groups have very different needs and uses for technical content. Serving both of these markets well is a challenge for any publisher and I have yet to find one that has figured it all out.
Humanities and social science researchers have expressed concerns about open access (OA) requirements, most recently in a research report done by the British Academy on Open access journals in Humanities and Social Science. Members of the civil engineering community are also listening to the issues and the reactions range from indifference to opposition. This is not to be confused with a lack of knowledge.
As Rick Anderson pointed out in his lecture to the Smithsonian Institution, some OA advocates are partaking in “magical thinking” when it comes to OA being universally accepted and applied. The “resistance is futile” hashtag often comes out when a point against a traditional publisher is trying to be communicated. In some circles OA advocates are declaring victory even though only a small percentage of scholarly papers are published as OA per the acceptable definition.
But back to the engineers. They hear about OA and certainly know what it is and individuals will sometimes say, “Well I suppose it will all be open access one day, right?” The “magical thinking” campaign is working! But when I ask them if they have ever published in an OA journal or paid for OA in a hybrid journal, they say no. It doesn’t seem very important to them. Here are some of the typical concerns I hear:
Paying for OA: “I don’t like this idea of paying for open access, no one needs that.” By “that” he was referring to the fact that no one needs to publish in an open access environment in his field.
Diverting Research Dollars for OA Fees: “Where is the money going to come from? I am already scraping the bottom of the barrel for federal research money.” This author understands that publisher services costs money and assumes that he will have to pay for government mandated public access in some way.
Government Mandates on Open Data: “Well I sure hope the government doesn’t make my data open. My corporate partners are not going to like that. They will stop coming to universities for research and go back to doing it themselves.” I have not seen anything written on this topic so I am not sure of the validity; but, it is a fear, nonetheless.
Mandates for Public Access: “It sounds like these OA mandates are going to make more paperwork for me.” This comment followed a discussion about mandates requiring authors to deposit articles in OA repositories. I am also hearing very little confidence in the universities’ attempts to mandate researchers deposit their articles in an open repository. When asked, I hear back “I just sign that CTA anyway,” or “I opted out of the program. It’s too complicated.”
Alternative Access Licenses: “The only reason to pay is if you want to keep copyright for some reason.” He could not provide a reason for why he would ever need to maintain copyright beyond what most publisher copyright transfer agreements allows authors to retain.
I realize that these comments are anecdotal but there are some statistics that point in the same direction.
Taylor and Francis conducted a survey about a year and a half ago about researcher attitudes regarding access models. When researchers in the “Engineering and Technology” field were asked about their least preferred content license, 48% of respondents (960) chose Creative Commons Attribution Only (CC-BY). In a related question, the most preferred license according to 933 respondents in the field was traditional copyright assignment (30%).
I am uncomfortable with a license that allows anyone to do anything with my work, especially without my permission.
Engineers have concerns about taking their content “out of context.” This is the group that writes the specifications for our entire infrastructure—buildings, water treatment, foundations, roads, pipelines, tunnels, etc. When things don’t go as planned, things break. They also get sued a lot and so they document everything they do and they note exactly which resources they consulted in their design work. The idea that someone could take their work and remix it and then distribute that work without the author’s permission makes them nervous.
The idea that it’s not really OA if it does not have a CC-BY license is a significant challenge for some researchers. Elsevier gives authors multiple license options under their open access offerings. Looking at some of their newest OA journals for engineers, 55% of the papers are under the CC-BY-NC-ND license, 27% are CC-BY-NC-SA license and 18% are CC-BY.
While my personal evidence is anecdotal, I do ask these questions of all kinds of academics in the civil engineering world. Other professionals at similar organizations tell the same stories. All of this leads me to wonder what will happen in this brave new publishing world where their voices are not being heard. Their fears are real—less time for research, more paperwork, loss of corporate funding, and less money available for research projects overall.
I am going to keep asking these questions as there may be a time where the tide turns. As a service provider to researchers, publishers seem willing and have made options available to authors that seek to publish under OA licenses. Engineers are very interested in other initiatives such as ORCID and FundRef. These initiatives offer them tools that save them time, which is always of immense interest to this field.
I am sure that civil engineering is just one of many fields with concerns such as these. It naïve to think that there is one solution that fits all fields. Heck, it’s naïve to think that all fields even see a need for a solution. But where do researchers in those fields go from here? Is there an opt-out button somewhere?