Open Access: Access to knowledge

24 Oct

“Access to knowledge is a basic human right.” Yet sadly as scientists we are often forced to operate in a framework in which this is not always the case. This week sees the celebration of the eighth Open Access Week, and whilst there have undoubtedly been many achievements by the Open Access (OA) movement since 2009, there is still a long way to go before mankind’s basic human right to knowledge is restored.

Open for business: The Open Access logo (Photo credit: Wikimedia)

Open for business: The Open Access logo (Photo credit: Wikimedia)

So why all the big fuss about OA in the first instance? If you are reading this as a layperson or as a scientist at the outset of their scientific career, then you may be surprised to find out that it costs (often large sums of) money to read online research articles. Even if these fees are not being charged to you personally, the chances are that it is costing your research institution or library thousands of pounds/euros/dollars that could otherwise be spent on research, resources, jobs, or infrastructure (as an example, in 2009, Clemson University in the US, an institute with less than 17,000 students, spent an astonishing $1.3 million on journal subscriptions to the publishing magnate Elsevier alone).

Over the past 30 years, journal prices have out priced inflation by over 250%; but it wasn’t always like this. In the past journals existed for two reasons: as an affordable option for scientists to publish their work in (as opposed to the more expensive option of personally-published books), and as a place where members of the general public and the wider scientific community could find out about the advances in science that their taxes were helping to fund. Sadly, in recent times many journals seem to have lost their way on both counts, hence the need to open it up again.

Climbing Higher: The cost of journal articles continues to rise completely out of proportion to inflation (Photo credit: Association of Research libraries)

Climbing Higher: The cost of journal articles continues to rise completely out of proportion to inflation (Photo credit: Jorge Cham/PHD Comics)

The beginning of the modern OA movement can be traced back to the 4th July 1971, when Michael Hart launched Project Gutenberg, a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works for free. However, it wasn’t until 1989 (and with the advent of the Internet) that the first digital-only, free journals were launched, amongst them Psycoloquy by Stevan Harnad and The Public-Access Computer Systems Review by Charles W. Bailey Jr.

Since then, the OA movement has grown considerably, although it is important to note that publishing articles so that they are free for all is itself not without expense. Despite the lack of print and mailing costs, there are still large infrastructure and staffing overheads that need to be taken into consideration, and so rather than make the reader pay, alternatives have to be found.

One alternative, known as the Gold route to OA, is to make the author(s) of the article pay for the right to have their research accessible by all. Many journals already require an Article Processing Charge (APC) to be paid before publication, and so some journals have simply elected to add an additional charge if the author wants to make their journal open to the general public.

The other main alternative is the Green route to OA, which involves the author placing their journal in a central repository, which is then made available to all. The journal in which the article was originally published will usually enforce an embargo period of a number of months or years that must pass before the published articles can be placed in these repositories, although this can often be circumnavigated by uploading final, ‘accepted for publication’, drafts of the article. You can read more about OA subject repositories in this article.

A sea of golden green: the availability of gold and green OA journal articles by scientific discipline in 2009 (Source: Björk, et al.).

A sea of golden green: the availability of gold and green OA journal articles by scientific discipline in 2009 (Source: Björk, et al.).

Both of these approaches to OA have their respective advantages and disadvantages, and normally research intuitions and/or funding bodies guide the route that researchers choose. The Research Councils UK (RCUK), for example, has a policy (which can be found here) that supports both the Gold and the Green routes to OA, though it has a preference for immediate access with the maximum opportunity for reuse. It is worth noting at this point that another key aim of the OA movement is that published research is free to reuse in future studies. This might seem like a fairly trivial point, but currently for any articles published in closed access journals, express permission is needed from the publishers if the results are to be used in any future studies.

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Top of the food chain: the top 10 UK universities in terms of APC funding distribution (Source: RCUK).

The major barrier that still needs to be overcome with regards to OA is determining who pays for the right to free access. At the moment many governments have a centralised pot, which they allocate to their different research institutes. However, issues arise when one considers the limitations that this imposes on poorer countries, institutes, research disciplines, and independent researchers. There is also the minefield of determining who gets how much and why; my own institute, Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) has only been allocated enough funds to pay for 7 academic papers a year via the Gold route to OA. When you consider that some researchers would hope to publish that many papers themselves on a yearly basis, there is clearly a disconnect. It is for these reasons that many are pushing for ‘OA 2.0’, an initiative in which articles are, in the words of EGU’s former executive secretary Arne Richter, “Free to Read, Free to Download and Free to Publish.” However, such an approach will require a major change in the modus operandi of almost all publishing companies. It is worth noting that Copernicus, who are responsible for publishing the majority of EGU’s affiliated journals are very strong proponents of the Open Access movement, and have been one of the leading lights in an otherwise murky world.

The sad truth of the matter is that many of the more traditional journals are now run as big-business, moneymaking machines, safe in the knowledge that they can get away with charging large fees, because scientists are still desperate to publish in places with a ‘high-impact’. However, if enough scientists rise up and move away from these restrictive journals, and migrate towards those with an OA policy, then the impact factors will soon follow suit (in fact, there is already strong evidence that publishing in an OA journal will result in more citations for your research). Only then can we begin to reinstate knowledge as a basic human right available to all, rather than as an expensive luxury dolled out to the privileged few who can afford it.

 

By Sam Illingworth, Lecturer, Manchester Metropolitan University

 

EGU 2015: Call-for-papers is now open!

23 Oct

From now, up until 7 January 2015, you can submit your abstract for the upcoming EGU General Assembly (EGU 2015). In addition to established scientists, PhD students and other early career researchers are welcome to submit abstracts to present their research at the conference.

Further, the EGU encourages undergraduate and master students to submit abstracts on their dissertations or final-year projects. The EGU recognises that there are many outstanding students who would benefit from attending and presenting at the General Assembly and, therefore, provides a discounted registration rate to this group. Interested undergraduates can apply to present a poster (or talk) on research undertaken in a laboratory setting, on a mapping or field project they’ve been involved in during their degrees, or any other research project of relevance.

You can browse through the EGU 2015 sessions here. Clicking on ‘please select’ will allow you to search for sessions by Programme Group and submit your abstract to the relevant session either as plain text, LaTeX, or a MS Word document. Further guidelines on how to submit an abstract are available on the EGU 2015 website.

An innovative presentation format – Presenting Interactive Content, better known as PICO – has been implemented at the General Assembly since 2013. PICO sessions bring together the advantages of both oral and poster sessions, allowing authors to present the essence of their work and follow it up with interactive discussion. Please note that some sessions are ‘PICO only’ sessions, meaning you cannot select oral/poster preference.

The deadline for the receipt of abstracts is 07 January 2014, 13:00 CET. If you would like to apply for financial support to attend the 2015 General Assembly, please submit an application no later than 28 November 2013. We’ll be providing further information about how to apply for travel grants and how they are awarded in a forthcoming post.

EGU 2015 will take place from 12 to 17 April 2015 in Vienna, Austria. For more information on the General Assembly, see the EGU 2015 website and follow us on Twitter (#EGU15 is the conference hashtag) and Facebook.

See you next year!  (Credit: Stephanie McClellan/EGU)

See you next year!
(Credit: Stephanie McClellan)

Imaggeo on Mondays: Fresh breakout in the lava fields

20 Oct

Fresh Breakout in the lava fields. (Credit: Kate Dobson via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Fresh Breakout in the lava fields. (Credit: Kate Dobson via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Kate Dobson was a volunteer at the Hawaii Volcano Observatory (HVO) in 2001/02 and revisited the stunning Big Island in 2006. During her holidays Kate ventured out to the coastal section of the Pu’uO’o lava flow field and captured this spectacular image of a fresh lava breakout.

The Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō vent is in the East Rift Zone of Kīlauea Volcano and began erupting on January 3, 1983, and has continued to do so for more than 31 years, with the majority of lava flows advancing to the south. The original eruptions during the early 1980s were typically short lived and characterised by the eruption of viscous and slow moving a’a’ lava flows. However, in 1986 the eruption shifted to Kupaianaha, 3 km to the northeast of the original eruption site, and the eruption style changed significantly. A quiet, but continuous eruption of pahoehoe lava followed, snaking its way down the pali (steep costal slopes) and coastal plains to eventually reach the ocean. This extensive succession of lava flows damaged areas of Kapa’ahu village and closed the coastal highway.

The breakout pictured in our Imaggeo on Mondays image (taken more recently, in 2006 but probably resulting from similar to the activity described above) “is approximately 60cm and is sourced from an inflating basaltic flow which I photographed from a few metres away” explains Kate, “ I was about 300m inland from the ocean entry, and about 4 miles (800m elevation drop) from the source vent at Pui’u O’o.” The entry of the lava into the ocean creates spectacular columns of steam which attract numerous tourists. Whilst the HVO and the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park staff try hard to restrict viewing of the spectacular natural display, curiosity often gets the best of people as Kate describes “ I had just stopped three poorly equipped tourists (trainers, no water, no sunscreen) from blundering onto the active area a little further upstream and was heading back towards the ocean when the break out happened”.

Lava flow entering the sea on SE coast of Hawaii. Hawaii, Hawai (Credit: HVO,  U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Geological Survey)

Lava flow entering the sea on SE coast of Hawaii. Hawaii, Hawai (Credit: HVO, U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Geological Survey)

Since the onset of the volcanic activity at the Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō vent the activity has waxed and waned and has presented an ongoing threat to the local communities on the Big Island of Hawaii. Towards the end of June of this year a new lava flow started to threaten the residential area of Kaohe Homesteads and Pāhoa town in Puna. Whilst not unprecedented, what is unusual about this particular lava flow is that rather than flowing towards the southeast, the lava flow is erupting towards the northeast. Given the current rate at which the flow is advancing, scientists of the HVO expect it to reach Pāhoa town by mid-November. In the 1930s, when a lava flow threatened the large town of Hilo on the eastern coast of the Island, the then director of the HVO, Thomas Jaggar, attempted to stop the threat posed by the lava flow by bombing it! The success of the enterprise was limited but Mauna Loa stopped erupting before any major damage was caused.

The known unknowns – the outstanding 49 questions in Earth Sciences (Part IV)

17 Oct

We are coming to the end of the known unknowns series and so far we have explored issues which mainly affect the inner workings of our planet. Today we’ll take a look at the surface expression of the geological processes which shape the Earth. Topography significantly affects our daily life and is formed via an interplay between primarily tectonics and climate, but it also affected by biological, mechanical and chemical processes at the Earth’s surface. We’ve  highlighted how advances in technology mean detailed study of previously inaccessible areas has now become possible, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still plenty of questions left unanswered!

Earth’s landscape history and present environment

Drainage patterns in Yarlung Tsangpo River, China (Credit: NASA/GSFC/LaRC/JPL, MISR Team)

Drainage patterns in Yarlung Tsangpo River, China (Credit: NASA/GSFC/LaRC/JPL, MISR Team)

  • Can we use the increasing resolution of topographic and sedimentary data to derive past tectonic and climatic conditions? Will we ever know enough about the erosion and transport processes? Was also the stocasticity of meteorological and tectonic events relevant in the resulting landscape? And how much has life contributed to shape the Earth’s surface?
  • Can classical geomorphological concepts such as ‘peneplanation’ or ‘retrogressive erosion’ be understood quantitatively? Old mountain ranges such as the Appalachian or the Urals seem to retain relief for > 10^8 years, while fluvial valleys under the Antarctica are preserved under moving ice of kilometric thickness since the Neogene. What controls the time-scale of topographic decay? (Egholm, Nature, 2013)
  • What are the erosion and transport laws governing the evolution of the Earth’s Surface? (Willenbring et al., Geology, 2013) Rivers transport sediment particles that are at the same time the tools for erosion but also the shield protecting the bedrock. How important is this double role of sediment for the evolution of landscapes? (Sklar & Dietrich, Geology, 2011, tools and cover effect); (Cowie et al., Geology, 2008, a field example).
  • Can we predict sediment production and transport for hazard assessment and scientific purposes? (NAS SP report, 2010)
  • What do preserved 4D patterns of sediment flow tell us from the past of the Earth? Is it possible to quantitatively link past climatic and tectonic records to the present landforms? Is it possible to separate the signals of both processes? (e.g. Armitage et al., Nature Geosc, 2011).

    Smaller-scale patterns at the limit between river channels and hillslopes (Credit: Perron Group, MIT)

    Smaller-scale patterns at the limit
    between river channels and hillslopes (Credit: Perron Group, MIT)

  • Can we differentiate changes in the tectonic and climate regimes as recorded in sediment stratigraphy? Some think both signals are indeed distinguishable(Armitage et al., Nature Geosc, 2011). Others, (Jerolmack &Paola, GRL, 2010), argue that the dynamics intrinsic to the sediment transport system can be ‘noisy’ enough to drown out any signal of an external forcing.
  • Does surface erosion draw hot rock towards the Earth’s surface? Do tectonic folds grow preferentially where rivers cut down through them, causing them to look like up-turned boats with a deep transverse incision? (Simpson, Geology, 2004).
  • How resilient is the ocean to chemical perturbations? What caused the huge salt deposition in the Mediterranean known as the Messinian Salinity Crisis? Was the Mediterranean truly desiccated? What were the effects on climate and biology, and what can we learn from extreme salt giants like this? (e.g. Hsu, 1983; Clauzon et al., Geology, 1996; Krijgsman et al., Nature, 1999; Garcia-Castellanos & Villaseñor, Nature, 2011). Were the normal marine conditions truly reestablished by the largest flood documented on Earth, 5.3 million years ago? (Garcia-Castellanos et al., Nature, 2009).

The next post will be our final post in the series and we will list open questions on how climate has contributed to shape the surface of planet Earth, from its surface to the emergence of life and beyond.

Have you been enjoying the series so far? Let us know what you think in the comments section below, particularly if you think we’ve missed any fundamental questions.

By Laura Roberts Artal, EGU Communications Officer, based on the article previously posted on RetosTerricolas by Daniel Garcia-Castellanos, researcher at ICTJA-CSIC, Barcelona

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