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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!

Where are the librarians?

Together with colleague Alenka Princic  I visited on April 25 the Science Alliance meeting on The Impact of Science. We had our doubts whether it would be worth our money (it was a rather expensive day), but decided that we would like to go anyway. The topic is of course of huge interest for us librarians, because we want to facilitate research groups in their visibility and provide them with the right tools to work on their impact. Apart from us, Wouter Gerritsma from Wageningen  (and the recently retired Librarian Ger Spikman) and Gert Goris from Rotterdam were there. Not that many librarians!

The day started with Donald Dingwell, Secretary General of the European Research Council. He impressed us with high numbers (in total 14000 people are working on ERC grants, on 600 places, producing enormous output, with every week a publication in Nature or Science). Interesting remarks from his part were that the timeline of an ERC-fund (5 years) is too short to see result of impact of research. He emphasized that progress is not “plannable”, and that therefore the ERC organisation is bottom-up, nobody tells somebody what to do.

At the meeting, sponsored by Elsevier and CWTS, Nick Fowler, Managing Director Academic & Government Institutions at Elsevier, also held a presentation. Apart from a sales talk about Scopus, he showed us some impressive slides. The reason that The Netherlands has a relative high number of publications output and citation impact lies, according to Fowler, in the fact that we have much collaboration and mobility. So the word brain drain is now being replaced by brain circulation or researcher mobility.

Erkki Ormala,  now at Aalto University, but formerly with Nokia, also gave us some food for thought. Scientific progress is the key driver for innovation, economic growth and social development. This was a recurring topic of the day: do not just focus on academic excellence if you think of impact of science, but also involve the socio-economic impact. Nowadays companies seek engagement from 3rd parties via open innovation. The role of universities is apart from research and education, also knowledge sharing (rather than transfer!). (Later Carl Johan Sundberg,  Bio-entrepreneurship, Karolinksi Institutet, referred to this as the “The 3rd task”, i.e., to collaborate.) Ormala continued: People need to think beyond the routine, and need to have the ability not just to adapt to change, but to create it. Universities should provide the intellectual capacity. We require a fundamental change in our thinking. So develop a globally leading university with a strong knowledge sharing culture. And Ormala put it clearly: Do it now, the world won’t wait!

The report Shirley Pearce, as next speaker, referred to, is probably pretty good reading. One of the recommendations that have been taken up by her taskforce is the creation of a National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB), because overall the conclusion of their research was that university business interactions need strengthening and we should try to understand the sector differences.

Reinhilde Veugelers, in her role of Professor of Managerial Economics, KU Leuven (she is also scientific council member ERC), had another observation. She said that we are missing yollies, new high-tech, high-growth sectors, often university origins (graduate spin-offs), though ollies are increasingly open-innovative.

The remainder of the day consisted of a plenary forum, a few parallel sessions in the afternoon (we attended Research management) and the day ended with a plenary session again, chaired by Michiel Kolman, Elsevier. In his stakeholders’ map of Science marketing I missed the libraries. An observation from my side – we were not the intended target group of the day. The support that libraries provide for research management is apparently not recognized (intentionally or not). Most challenging part of the plenary forum was Frank Miedema, Dean of UMC Utrecht. He took as an example the new MRI-guided radio therapy which has a huge societal impact, but no big publications. He stated that grants and proposals should be really read again, that other stakeholders should be involved in the reviewing and that we should change our backward looking reviewing to forward looking actions. I liked the comment Wouter Gerritsma tweeted during his session: “Miedema actually tells the audience that scientists should tell stories. Storify your research! Valuable impact.” A countercomment was made quoting Pasteur: “However, chance only favours the prepared mind”, so how would you prevent bias?

Of course there was also some information about CWTS and the recent published Leiden ranking, and the U-multirank, presented by Ben Jongbloed.

Lisa Colledge (again Elsevier) also took the opportunity to tell something about Pure, and their work in the UK following the demand for comparative data & research metrics referred to as snowball metrics.

Cornelis van Bochove, now with CWTS, tried to model the prospect of economic growth in comparison to investment in research. An important phenomenon he referred to was the rate of learning. If the rate of learning is high, your growth is higher. According to Van Bochove the rate of learning in basic research is higher, so your return on investment is higher. There was some discussion whether his quantitative numbers were correct. He stated that one euro applied R&D generates about 15 euro and one euro basic research generates 50 euro extra national income. So he claims that topsector policies are harmful for Dutch economic growth, and that such approach is more appropriate for transitional counties. Interestingly he also claimed that government should pay for open access to publications and data, because it is needed to raise the rate of learning.

Though there was more material presented I would like to end with the contribution of Marja Zonnevylle (Shell). Instead of talking about marketing your research, she prefers that university and business should start talking together, at an early stage. Shell has a few deep and long relationships with universities (she mentioned ETH Zurich and our own TU Delft). Furthermore Zonnevylle stated that it is not the technology that is the most difficult to tackle: “You can always fix something, it is the other thing that is difficult (economy, politics).”Also Zonnevylle mentioned that Shell’s approach to intellectual property is changing. She says it is good to make things in open literature, because if there is more out there, the more there is to do and learn.

So did we get enough back from this congress, what was our return of investment? Also here I guess you cannot always quantify the impact you get out of it. One learning element for me was that obviously our Deans (two were present, from Industrial Design Engineering and Civil Engineering & Geosciences) had not approached us from the library, when they received their invitation, to ask whether we would be going. So still much work to do!

With courtesy to


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