October 2014 edition
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Open Science Initiative

The open access reached an interesting crossroads this month. On the one hand, differences are beginning to emerge between major publishers about how to define and support the aspirations of the open access movement. And at the same time, there's been a growing realization among practitioners that a large gap still exists between these aspirations and the day-to-day operational realities of open access. 
Some form of open access is crucial to the future of science. The ability of scientists in other fields, and even colleagues in the same field (not to mention lay scientists, educators, policymakers, and the public) to find new ideas, find the connections, and integrate work can be extraordinarily limited right now because research findings are most often funneled into expensive and copyright-restricted pay-per-view journals. Is the current framework of open access publishing the answer, a system founded on the premise of lowering the barriers to identifying, reading and reusing science information?

We’re convening a working group, called the Open Science Initiative, to dig into the issues and solutions here. What are the gaps and issues in perfecting open access? How can we do this? What are the communications-related needs, gaps, and issues in lowering the barriers between different fields of science, and even within fields? Is moving toward a single, common, “full lifecycle” system of publishing for all disciplines (that includes peer review, editing, archiving, cross-referencing, and creative commons licensed open access) the eventual destination of these two lines of thinking — especially for any work that is funded by federal dollars — or is this too utopian?
If you’re interested in being part of this discussion, please sign up on this email list this week (the signup entry code is OSI-2014). Our goal is to help create a new open access action plan that research institutions can utilize starting next year.


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News desk

nSCI Profile Series: Ruha Benjamin on science and society

Ruha Benjamin is an interdisciplinary scholar who examines the relationship between science, technology, medicine, and society. She is a professor of African American studies at Princeton University and is the author of People’s Science: Bodies and Rights on the Stem Cell Frontier (Stanford University Press 2013), in which she asks questions about who is included and excluded in scientific research initiatives. Dr. Benjamin was recently an American Council of Learned Societies fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Science, Technology, and Society Program where she started a new project on how genomic science in different countries reflects, reinforces, and sometimes challenges racial and caste hierarchies. She received a PhD in sociology from the University of California-Berkeley and completed a postdoctoral fellowship… Read more

Global carbon dioxide emissions in one convenient map

World leaders face multiple barriers in their efforts to reach agreement on greenhouse gas emission policies. And, according to Arizona State University researchers, without globally consistent, independent emissions assessments, climate agreements will remain burdened by errors, self-reporting and the inability to verify emissions progress. Now, an international research team led by ASU scientists has developed a new approach to estimate CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels – one that provides crucial information to policymakers. Called the “Fossil Fuel Data Assimilation System,” or FFDAS, this new system was used to quantify 15 years of CO2 emissions, every hour, for the entire planet – down to the city scale. Until now, scientists have estimated greenhouse gas emissions at coarser scales or used… Read more

Why science needs advertising

When did Technology become so sexy? The world of complicated wires, circuit boards, indecipherable code and ugly machines has graduated from the awkward reclusive teenager to the entrepreneurial Silicon Valley 20-something. And that’s brilliant. But why is science, technology’s long-standing partner in crime, still perceived as an activity reserved for kids in classrooms or ultra-intelligent lab-coat-sporting researchers? Why do science lovers feel the need to almost be apologetic in their ‘nerd’-dom? When will science be cool? Click here to read more from this September 15, 2014 ScienceSceneLondon essay.… Read more

Nature Communications to become open access only

Nature Communications is to become the first Nature-branded open access only journal. The number one open access journal in multidisciplinary sciences*, Nature Communications is Nature Publishing Group’s (NPG) flagship open access title. Nature Communications will only accept open access research submissions from 20th October 2014. Nature Communications ranks as the number three multidisciplinary journal in the world behind Nature and Science*. The title was launched in 2010 as a born-digital hybrid journal, publishing both open access and subscription content. Nature Communications is now one of NPG’s fastest growing titles, receiving over 1000 submissions every month. All research published by the journal represents important advances, of significance to specialists within a field, in all areas of the biological, physical, chemical and… Read more

NIH’s world research reporting tool

An article published in Science last week discusses the value of creating a global map of health R&D activity to improve coordination of research and create a “global observatory” for health research. I encourage you to check it out, and I also thought it was a timely reminder for discussing updates to the world research reporting tool I blogged about in March last year. The World Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tool (World RePORT) located at is an online database and map of research funded by NIH and other members of the Heads of International Research Organizations (HIROs). In July 2013, NIH Director Francis Collins and the heads of eight other major research-funding and research organizations published an article in… Read more

Can We Do Without a Global Climate Treaty?

Jianan Yu/Reuters Don’t give up on a global climate treaty, but don’t count on it any time soon. I have seen these negotiations up close. Every country trots out its list of reasons why it needs more time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the negotiations become a race to the bottom. But once countries feel confident in their ability to simultaneously reduce emissions and grow their economies, they will begin to negotiate with the objective of reaching an agreement rather than negotiating to delay. Which is why the extraordinary progress made by the United States in reducing emissions and growing our economy is critical to the negotiating process. Between 2005 and 2013, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions declined by 10… Read more

Culture matters: International Research Collaboration

Shortly after hosting an engaging and timely “Workshop on Examining Core Elements of International Research Collaboration” in July 2010, members of an active working group convened by the National Academies and its Government‐ University‐Industry Research Roundtable (GUIRR) agreed that there was more exploration to be done around the notion of culture and research. More specifically, the group, which goes by the moniker “I‐Group,” began to question aloud how culture and cultural perception factor into, influence, and impact the process by which research agreements are made and negotiated across international boundaries. Challenges associated with language differences are perhaps most obvious when one thinks about culture; however, many other challenges come in to play as well when negotiating on a global scale.… Read more

New report from NISO on state of open access

It’s a pleasure to be introduce this issue of Information Standards Quarterly on Open Access Infrastructure. When we were considering this issue, we were very aware that we didn’t want to revisit previous arguments about open access (OA), but rather take as our starting point the fact that 2013 seemed to have been a watershed for open access. Driven by a number of policy announcements from funding bodies and governments worldwide, the question is no longer whether open access will or should happen, but rather how will it be implemented in a sustainable way The articles that follow contain a wealth of insights from a wide variety of viewpoints—publishers, funders, universities, intermediaries, standards bodies, and open access experts. They were… Read more

Can Humans Get Used to Having a Two-Way Relationship with Earth’s Climate?

Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center Earlier this summer, I was invited to write an essay on humanity’s troubled relationship with the changing atmosphere for a special issue of Audubon Magazine centered on the Audubon Society’s comprehensive new report on birds in a changing climate. The issue is now published online and in print and has a range of excellent features, including “How Climate Change is Sinking Seabirds” by Carl Safina, “Why U.S. Forests Are Fueling Europe” by T. Edward NIckens, “Rethinking How We Think about Climate Change” by Elizabeth Kolbert, and a stunning photo essay on climate change. In part, my article, “How We Ran Out of Airtime,” considers the current human-generated carbon dioxide buildup… Read more

Using supercomputers to sift through journal articles

In May last year, a supercomputer in San Jose, California, read 100,000 research papers in 2 hours. It found completely new biology hidden in the data. Called KnIT, the computer is one of a handful of systems pushing back the frontiers of knowledge without human help. KnIT didn’t read the papers like a scientist – that would have taken a lifetime. Instead, it scanned for information on a protein called p53, and a class of enzymes that can interact with it, called kinases. Also known as “the guardian of the genome”, p53 suppresses tumours in humans. KnIT trawled the literature searching for links that imply undiscovered p53 kinases, which could provide routes to new cancer drugs. Having analysed papers up… Read more

WSJ gives ink (again) to climate change critics

In his latest Wall Street Journal op-ed, Matt Ridley provides a predictable litany of reasons why action on climate change shouldn’t be a priority right now. It’s a classic “delayer” mash-up of professing respect for science while simultaneously failing to take repeated warnings from scientists seriously. None of his distractions or excuses change the fact that acting on global warming now is the cheapest, safest, and most effective way to ensure a livable future climate for humans. World leaders are taking climate change seriously. Warming hasn’t stopped, and in fact the world is on track to get 4ºC warmer by the end of the century. Scientists are making great strides in understanding the factors driving short-term climate variations. Climate action… Read more

WARNING: wild extrapolation (a classification system for science news)

Science news and science writing is increasingly popular. There are increasing numbers of people getting into science, which is great. But science is a huge field, with many different disciplines and areas, all of which can go into quite painstaking detail. Obviously there’s a lot to talk about, which can prove daunting to the newly interested, so good science writing is important. However, science and science news/reporting/writing is the work of humans, and humans are rarely 100% logical. So, to step into the world of science is to step into years/decades/centuries of disputes, controversies, unfamiliar habits, power-plays, strange politics and countless other things that manifest in science articles and could befuddle the unwary reader. What can we do about this?… Read more

U.S. Science Suffering From Booms And Busts In Funding

Leif Parsons for NPR Ten years ago, Robert Waterland got an associate professorship at Baylor College of Medicine and set off to study one of the nation’s most pressing health problems: obesity. In particular, he’s been trying to figure out the biology behind why children born to obese women are more likely to develop the condition themselves. Waterland got sustaining funding from the National Institutes of Health and used it to get the project going. But after years of success in this line of research, he’s suddenly in limbo. His NIH grant ran out in 2012 and he hasn’t been able to get it renewed. “We’re in survival mode right now,” he says. His research can’t move forward without funding.… Read more

Bridging collaboration science and translational medicine

This special issue of the Journal of Translational Medicine and Epidemiology is focused on the intersection of ‘Collaboration Science and Translational Medicine’. The impetus for the issue was to assist in bridging two worlds that have struggled to find a common engagement. For students of collaborative science, the characteristics of our interdiscipline challenges us to strive toward an integration of ideas from a variety of fields like management, psychology, sociology, leadership, and anthropology thus requiring constant reconsideration of the discourse amidst shifting disciplinary boundaries all of which are often foreign to the knowledge constructs of medicine. For those in the translational medicine world, the inherent shifts associated with the changing landscape of medical research have represented an upsetting of historical… Read more

Signal Distortion — Why the Scholarly Communication Economy Is So Weird

From colleagues in the library profession, I regularly hear the assertion that the current scholarly communication system is “broken” – largely because it requires academic institutions to “buy back” their own professors’ work from commercial publishers, or because it requires taxpayers to “pay twice” for research they have already funded. For reasons I’ve enumerated before (and therefore won’t belabor here), I disagree. I do, however, believe the system is broken — or at least fundamentally flawed — because its structure forces each participant to make choices in vacuum, or at best in a distortion chamber. To put it another way, each participant is a blind person with his or her hand on a different part of the elephant. Click here… Read more

Consensus is actually a real part of science

One of the many unfortunate aspects of arguments over climate change is that it’s where many people come across the idea of a scientific consensus. Just as unfortunately, their first exposure tends to be in the form of shouted sound bites: “But there’s a consensus!” “Consensus has no place in science!” Lost in the shouting is the fact that consensus plays several key roles in the process of science. In light of all the consensus choruses, it’s probably time to step back and examine its importance and why it’s a central part of the scientific process. And only after that is it possible to take a look at consensus and climate change. Standards of evidence Fiction author Michael Crichton probably started the backlash… Read more

Most conservation science not available to conservationists

Does anyone have $51 million lying around? Asking for a friend. Well, a whole lot of friends actually—all the thousands and thousands of people around the world who are actively engaged in some branch of applied conservation science, from saving the whales to reforesting Indonesia. It turns out that $51 million might be enough to get all those conservationists access to the research and science they need to do good work; access many of them currently lack. A couple of weeks ago in this space we discussed a study on how important it is for conservation practitioners—people engaged in protecting against bird predation, in this particular case—to actually lay their eyes on the evidence and research underlying what they do. A… Read more

Is there a creativity deficit in science?

Flickr user: In March 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, a 33-year-old software engineer at Europe’s largest Physics Laboratory (CERN), was frustrated with how the Internet would only enable sharing of information between clients and a single server. Doing anything more required establishing a new connection. To get around this, Berners-Lee had a creative idea—use a hypertext system that would elegantly connect machines and servers across a ‘world wide Web.’ Like any researcher, Berners-Lee had to find support to work on his idea. He wrote up a 14-page proposal and sent it to his boss at CERN, Mike Sendall, who famously scribbled the following on the front-page: “Vague, but exciting….” We are all very lucky that Berners-Lee was in a time and place… Read more

Open access at the crossroads

As repository managers, many of us are having trouble envisioning getting from where we are currently to what the original OA movement idealistically proposed. This is due to the practical constraints we are faced with (such as restrictive publishers’ policies including not allowing posting of published versions even a decade and more after publication, lack of ready access to authors’ manuscripts, etc.). The solutions being offered to move toward the initial goal include author-pays OA, mandated self-archiving of manuscripts, CHORUS, SHARE, and others, which are—from my standpoint as a repository manager—one-and-all ineffectual or unsustainable initiatives to varying degrees. In populating our repository within the varied constraints, and in offering non-mandated, mediated deposit, at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln we are taking… Read more

Open access: Copyrighted materials not welcome?

Paul Royster is proud of what he has achieved with his institutional repository. Currently, it contains 73,000 full-text items, of which more than 60,000 are freely accessible to the world. This, says Royster, makes it the second largest institutional repository in the US, and it receives around 500,000 downloads per month, with around 30% of those going to international users. Unsurprisingly, Royster always assumed that he was in the vanguard of the OA movement, and that fellow OA advocates attached considerable value to the work he was doing. All this changed in 2012, when he attended an open access meeting organised by SPARC (The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) in Kansas City. At that meeting, he says, he was… Read more

Are top science publishers backing away from open access?

Access to research is limited worldwide by the high cost of subscription journals, which force readers to pay for their content. The use of scientific research in new studies, educational material and news is often restricted by these publishers, who require authors to sign over their rights and then control what is done with the published work. In response, a movement that would allow free access to information and no restrictions on reuse – termed open access – is growing. Some universities and funding organisations, including those administered by governments, now mandate open access, recognising its potential to increase the impact of research paid for by public money. The United Nations is considering the importance of open access to ensure… Read more

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