Open access and metrics: the Ball committee report

I mentioned this report in an earlier post; I am grateful to John Ball for directing me to the report on the web (here; the press release is here).

The overall conclusions are clear. The ICSU goals for open access are that the scientific record should be

  • free of financial barriers for any researcher to contribute to;
  • free of financial barriers for any user to access immediately on publication;
  • made available without restriction on reuse for any purpose, subject to proper attribution;
  • quality-assured and published in a timely manner; and
  • archived and made available in perpetuity.

These goals and their implication are discussed in detail in the report, which I urge you to read. Some related complications discussed include availability of data (this is very important in science but less so in mathematics); copyright issues; and legitimate constraints on open access (the report says “openness should be the norm which is deviated from only with good reason”).

The reason why bibliometrics are also in the title is that these are used in research evaluation, often in a rather crude way which will have to change as publication norms change. The panel says,

Metrics used as an aid to the evaluation of research and researchers should help promote open access and open science … If the full potential of open access to science is to be realised, new metrics will be required that incentivise open-access approaches and value research outputs that go beyond traditional journal publications.

Good news to colleagues whose outputs are, for example, widely used computing packages, or web-based information sources.

On another issue of serious concern to mathematicians, the report says,

The goals of open access advocated above can be satisfied … only if robust procedures are in place to ensure that those who do not have the means to pay for publication or access, or who are not affiliated to recognized institutions, are not disadvantaged.

All in all, it is good that some people with some influence are aware of our concerns.

In my view, there is one very important thing missing from the report. Part of an academic’s job has always been external activities: refereeing, both of papers and of grant proposals; editing; work for learned societies and their subcommittees; running information-rich websites; and so on. Since a lot of this relates to publication, and the burden is likely to increase when it is recognised that diamond access is the best way to go, this is closer to the subject of the report than might first appear. It would have been good to have seen a statement that university management should recognise these activities as part of our job, and should reward them (and adjust other loads) appropriately.

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About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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