Posts Tagged ‘open access’


The Selfish Academic

May 15, 2017

On Friday, I published the results of a study that have been gestating for many, many years. I’ve wanted to look at this issue ever since I first read Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene in an animal behaviour course back at the University of Stirling in the late nineties (pause to feel old). Briefly, Dawkins looked at the citation rates of key papers in the development of the gene-centric view of evolution that he himself championed. It was a neat study and the data he presented seemed to support the argument he was making but, somewhat frustratingly, this analysis was not updated in the third edition, released to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the the book in 2006.

At the time I remember wondering whether another 20 years of citation data might have changed Dawkins’ conclusions and when I heard about the upcoming release of the 40th anniversary edition, it reignited my interest. I waited to see whether the analysis had been updated with citation data from the subsequent three decades and was mildly pleased to see it still hadn’t, as it gave me something to write about!

I published the paper at the relatively new, gold open access journal Publications from open access publisher MDPI. The peer-review process was thorough and the reviewers clearly knew their field and after some revision the paper was accepted, at which point things went into warp-speed and the paper was available online within 48 hours, after a proof-read by myself.

Amazingly, almost immediately after it was published, I received an email from CrossRef saying that they had received notification that I had published something and would like to auto-update my ORCID record with information about it. This was a great example of cross-plaform integration in action, with the publisher including my ORCID alongside the traditional citation metadata. I wish more of my academic colleagues were more open to Open Access, but sadly they are still concerned only with publishing in traditional, closed-access journals because those are the journals with the highest impact factor (although everyone seems to agree that the impact factor is hogwash). This simply perpetuates the monopoly enjoyed by a few publishing houses on intellectual property that is generated by, reviewed by, edited by and used by academics that are largely working for free.

The internet is now several decades old and yet we are still no closer to consigning traditional subscription journals to the scrapheap of history. And it is largely the fault of game theory amongst us Selfish Academics.


Publish (a list of your publications) or perish

March 17, 2014

I probably should have done it a lot earlier, but life in the private sector goes a mile-a-minute and I simply haven’t had time in between the seven – count them – trips to south-east Asia that I’ve made in the last 18 months. Anyway, here it is: I’ve finally got around to collecting together a list of my publications, replete with links, and you can find it here.


My first book chapter!

September 27, 2012

A few months ago I wrote my first book chapter along with the very talented Ben Thompson, one of my ex-colleagues from McGill. Writing a book chapter is worlds away from writing a journal article. Your average academic journal articles, especially regarding anything halfway controversial can end up as a pretty dry, compromised effort after the obstacle-course of peer-review has been navigated. A book chapter, on the other hand, allows you to survey your field from a reasonable height and be a bit more opinionated (anyone who knows me even a little bit will realise my attraction of this aspect of the process!). There is also room for that rarity in scientific publishing, humour.

InTech is an open access publisher of scientific books and journals and the book in question, Visual Cortex: Current Status and Perspectives is available FOR FREE in it’s entirety. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I am very pleased with the resulting chapter Visual Motion: From Cortex to Percepts.

Open access books? Quick-buck-making enterprise or future of scientific publishing? Since I had such fun writing it, I’m not sure I care right now!



A sleeping giant: Vision scientists wake up, drink some coffee and start boycotting Elsevier

February 6, 2012

The recent calls for a boycott of traditional, closed-access scientific publishers – especially the Fred Goodwin-esque pariah-of-the-moment, Elsevier – have caused much discussion over the last week in the vision science community. Elsevier publishes the long-running flagship journal Vision Research and many of my fellow researchers are expressing frustration at providing free content and peer-review services to a journal whose owner makes money by restricting access to research, rather than disseminating it. Suggestions made in the past few days have ranged from black-and-white suggestions that we simply boycott all non-open journals, to boycotts of specific publishers, to more subtle discussions of the role of copyright in this battle, a battle which is widely being perceived as a tipping point in the open access revolution.

Elsevier’s £724 million (36%) profit last year, combined with their support of the controversial Research Works Act and a series of campaign “donations”, widely perceived as bribery of elected representatives in a blatant attempt to grease the passage of said Act, piled on top of existing ethical qualms about the company (such as their support for the arms trade), appears to have woken a sleeping giant as hundreds of thousands of researchers worldwide ask themselves: “why the bloody hell are we doing free peer-review for these bastards?”

This came hard on the heels of a recent lively discussion on the Colour & Vision Network and Applied Vision Association mailing lists regarding the astounding cost of the journal Experimental Brain Research, published by Springer. The issue was raised by Simon Rushton, Tom Freeman and Petroc Sumner of Cardiff University, who pointed out that the cost to libraries of a yearly subscription to Experimental Brain Research was (at $11,751) roughly 6.2 standard deviations (SD = $1656) above the mean ($1360), which due to the positive skew of the data is actually an overestimate of the representative cost of a Springer journal!

The price of Experimental Brain Research compared to other journals from Springer (in USD). These stats came from the Nov 10th 2011 pricelist. Thanks to Simon Rushton for this graphic.

This issue crystallised in many people’s heads when Bristol academic Mike Taylor wrote a stark, polemical comment in the Guardian, and Fields-medal-winning Mathematician, Timothy Gower wrote a widely-read call for a boycott of peer-review against Elsevier, which in turn gave rise to an online petition.

An online pledge calling for researchers to only peer-review for open-access journals followed, and now, with most of the vision community thoroughly up in arms about the issue, University of Sydney academic Alex Holcombe plans to organize a satellite event at the Vision Sciences Society conference in May to discuss these issues.

In recent years, vision science has been invigorated by the introduction of the open-access, pay-to-publish (or get-your-funding-body-to-pay-to-publish) Journal of Vision, which already ranks alongside Vision Research and IOVS in terms of impact factor and has far outstripped several other vision journals. It has forced the other vision journals to raise their game, review their policies and improve their customer service, and for that, I tip my hat. Whether its success leads to any other journal’s downfall remains to be seen, but suffice to say, this is an exciting time. The question now is how traditional scientific publishers like Elsevier and Springer will respond to this challenge of their increasingly-unjustifiable hegemony. In the meantime, I intend to use what little power I have by politely declining to review papers for Elsevier journals and thinking long and hard about to which journals I submit in the future.

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