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Posted in January 2014

The way forward – Being sufficiently ignorant

Flying back to Amsterdam after two days of attending the APE Conference and one day of attending a Board Meeting of DataCite in Berlin, I try to capture what APE has brought me this year. It has been 4 or perhaps 5 years that I attended this conference. Each year it is organized by Arnoud de Kemp and this was its 9th edition.

I will not report in chronological order, but just take a few strands out. The topic of the meeting was “Redefining the Scientific Record, The Future of the Article, Big Data & Metrics”, and participants were (mainly) publishers, some researchers involved in funding or publishing, and library, governmental or funding agency representatives. A lot of Dutch people attended APE2014, of course also due to the  keynote speech of Sander Dekker, our State Secretary, of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, at the start of the conference.

If you want to view any or all presentation(s), that is possible via the recorded live stream.

Peer review under discussion

David Black, Secretary General ICSU (International Council for Science), and from origin a researcher in organic chemistry, claimed that the interdependence between curators and creators would also remain in this digital era. According to Black authors will in future send their findings to repositories (standardized, subject-focused and international)  instead of primary journals.  Anybody should be allowed to add comments to papers submitted to this repository. The peer review is an open evaluation, and takes place after publication. Out of this repository secondary publications can be selected (and that could still be a role for the major publishing houses). Reputation building is not merely based on these publications, but also on local contributions, your presence at conferences and individual (personal) references. An important condition for this to be a success it that the author takes his or her responsibility for his own work (be aware of what you submit). Jan Velterop referred me via twitter to a recent blog he wrote about this, .

ScienceOpen, also present at the conference, mentioned that they are already supporting scientists and are offering public post-publication peer review.


… a cold, cold, winter …

From the publishers

APE is really a conference for and with publishers. Let me highlight two presentations from the publishers. The first one was by H. Frederick Dylla, Executive Director and CEO of the American Institute of Physics. He talked about CHORUS, that started in September 2013. CHORUS stands for ClearingHouse for the Open Research of the US and provides public access to manuscript/articles reporting on federally funded research, using existing infrastructure. Another one was from Eefke Smit. Apart from giving some nice poetry and examples, e.g. the Atlas of Digital Damages, she asked all publishing participants to make sure that they are aware they need preservation strategies for their content (outsourcing, normalisation, migration and emulation). In the Keepers Registry, as we later learned from Peter Burnhill (EDINA and Head of Edinburgh University Data Library), 22000 e-serial titles are being preserved with “archival intent”. Knowing that 113000 titles (issn’s) are registered, we have only 19% save. Eefke therefor called out to solve the identifier soup and to make sure that we are creating the connections to the future, so that they in future can make their connections back to us.


Talks that might be worthwhile to be watching if you have a spare moment would be the ones from Jaso Swedlow, Professor of quantitative Cell Biology at the University of Dundee and President of Glencoe Software, talking about OMERO: The Open Microscopy Environment. OMERO deals with (the storage of) images. Swedlow introduces the ubiquitous image problem: is it a pretty picture, a measurement or a resource? According to Swedlow his tool brings in a driver for integrity, and published trusted scientific data.

Paul Groth,  from the Department of Computer Science & the Network Institute at the Free University in Amsterdam, wondered what impact really is. Policy makers are interested to know whether you are doing good science. Evidence up till now has been limited to the publication (article), and not included slides, videos, codes, data or the fact that you might have different types of story to tell (citation is not always the driver). Altmetrics catches activity in online tools and environment. Paul gave us a few examples (ImpactStory;  Open Phacts – published AND discussed AND cited; LISC 2013 – where results of a workshop are saved as short wrap-ups in figshare).

Mike Taylor, from, presented seven reasons why one could be bothered about altmetrics and gave us an insight what work-in-progress is at Elsevier. Would it not be great to have real-time information on what others are reading right now?

And just quickly to wrap this up, the “dotcoms-to-watch” session was a good addition to the other lectures. The company Kudos makes an effort to match people to the right articles. ReadCube told us about ReadCube Instant PDF (keeping users online and engaged) and ReadCube Access, an eCommerce system for libraries, with access restrictions in exchange for lower prices, rent, buy or download. The latter one has recently been launched with the University of Utah as development partner.

A moral appeal

As said one of the exciting moments was the keynote of Sander Dekker. His full speech is in full-text available at Science Guide. Dekker is convinced that the digital world will be a game-changer in the world of scientific publishing. Above all he sees open access as a moral obligation, and a matter of principle: the whole of society will benefit from free and open access. So a true challenge for all stakeholders, let us hope we will indeed be able to put the flags out! Connecting this opening keynote with the closing one by David Sweeney (from HEFCE),  is interesting. Sweeney, experiencing the UK situation as a big funder, sees three things we should be doing, i.e. address the double dipping issue; do what you are allowed to do (publishers are doing their part, how about academia and funders?); and test if we really need embargo periods.


Something different

It is perhaps enough to repeat two of the Einstein quotes Bernhard A. Sabel (giving a guest lecture about The Psychology of Innovation) presented, they are always so true:

Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds”

“Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can work in freedom”

And three  to take away from Sabel:

“Old technology or lawyers are in committees”

“Get the brightest people, do not compromise on people – ever”

“Sometimes it is better to be sufficiently ignorant”

 What remains?

At the closing panel there were representatives from a funding agency, publishers, and research communities. The panel drew no real conclusion, but the voice of librarians was clearly not included in the panel, which is perhaps typical. Libraries were a logical partner as a license broker, and now that open access is growing to become a commodity (why not;-), we should (and will) find new challenges. Susan Reilly from LIBER used a few keywords at her lecture earlier that day: Libraries should focus on digital preservation, improve findability and integrity, and aim at resource sharing / collaboration.

Data were addressed at the conference, but no new insights for me. As DataCite representative it was clear though that we should keep on pushing the necessity to use persistent identifiers to make your data findable, citable and usable. Partners such as Brian Hole from Ubiquity Press might be able to help us. In one of his last slides he said that they help universities to set up a data repository, and by doing so give power to the university presses.

Finally I would like to repeat the reference Peter Burnhill made to the State of the Union, 2014 should be the Year of Action!

Choices: our common ground

No matter who you are, or what role you play, what we all have in common is a choice. Being a mother, singer, librarian, colleague, former publisher, friend, sister, daughter … I can make choices. These may of course be wrong, strange or just right,  and sometimes the circumstances leave you no other option to do this or that, and your final decision does not feel like a choice at all. However, my point is that somehow down the line you always have a choice. For years now I perform in a band (Guano), and we make our own songs. I complain that we do not have gigs anymore, that I would like to be on stage again, but I can only blame myself. I have the choice to do something about it (and stop complaining).

During the seasonal holiday break we played a game where you can select who you are, the bomb, the general, the spy ... could we enable that play in the real world ;-) ?

During the seasonal holiday break we played a game where you can select who you are: the bomb, the general, or the spy and change it along the way … could we enable that play in the real world 😉 ?

Choices are also current in our professional life. If I could add just one tiny bit to the open access discussion, it would be this thought or insight.

The author or researcher chooses a journal to publish his or her article in – sometimes in an emerging field or looking for a certain quality stamp there is not that much to choose from. He or she has done the homework, checked all references, worked with the co-authors, optimized (though not manipulated) one or two figures, has datasets available and submitted the paper. The reviewer (via a peer review selection process) is asked (within a certain timeframe) to review the paper, and to give a fair and sound review report, based on which the author can revise (which is most often the case) his or her paper.

The Publisher has a portfolio of journals that are either launched via an idea of the Publisher themselves, or via societies or (Chief) Editors who had a great idea or had seen an opportunity. The journals are processed, priced and promoted via set routines. In this chain of activities there is ample room to make a choice. Certainly when it comes down to choosing the way the articles can be accessed or the value that can be added. Should a traditional toll access journal be flipped to open access? Should a new journal be launched as an open access journal? What is the market attitude, the revenue stream, will any change affect journal submissions, and ultimately the journal’s impact factor?

We librarians also have choices. Space and time limit me to name all choices for all stakeholders. We are not really selecting the (primarily subscription-based) content we provide to our university staff based on quality anymore, but far more based on our budgets. The big deals, selection profiles and PDA (patron driven acquisition) have contributed to diminishing our role as content “selector”. However, our choice has been and still is to try to encourage all players to make their publicly funded research available in open access. This still costs a substantial amount of money (to process the article in its open access form), and we librarians should take responsibility and arrange the money stream needed for this. The big advantage is that it releases us from the dilemma that we might not be able to offer the best available scientific resources to our own researchers. A global choice to free up the scientific content guarantees that our students and researchers have easy access to today’s knowledge. There is a choice we can make. And stop complaining.

TU Delft Library 2014 new year greetings - today's knowledge will impact all your tomorrows

So librarians, do not forget that as all players in the field, we can also make our own choices. We are representing an institute that cherishes the past, lives in the present, but with a firm vision on the future. Get up on that stage!

© 2011 TU Delft