Experiences of OpenCon

Today’s post is by Jon Chappell, a former PhD student in the History department at University of Bristol and now a Teaching Fellow at New York University.

I attended OpenCon, the Right to Research Coalition and the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition’s annual conference promoting Open Access Publishing, Open Data and Open Educational Resources, from 14-16 November 2015 in Brussels, Belgium.  I found the conference both extremely interesting and useful.  In the course of the three days I attended conference sessions covering all three areas.  Through meeting librarians and academics from all disciplines I developed my understanding of the importance of open access, data and education.

In the field of open access, I attended a keynote speech by Bjorn Brembs, a Professor of Neurogenetics at the University of Regensburg who highlighted research suggesting that scientific papers in top flight journals such as Science and Nature are less academically rigorous than less prestigious journals.  He pointed out that the number of papers retracted after publication by these journals is far higher than is the case for other journals in the field.  This suggests that scientists may be exaggerating or skewing their findings specifically to secure publication in these journals.  He noted that this trend was on the increase, suggesting that the current system of basing articles’ quality on the impact factor of the journal in which they are published is encouraging manipulation of data and thus disrupting scientific research.  An open access model of publishing with articles being given an impact factor rather than journals would put a stop to this growing trend.

A number of conference speakers, including Salvatore Mele, the Head of open access at CERN, raised the importance of Open Data in science.  This was discussed not just in terms of the need for scientists to publish their data openly in order to advance scientific research but also in terms of the processes by which this is done.  Speakers stressed that data should be stored in sustainable centralised repositories and should be delivered in machine readable formats.  This will allow other scientists to build on the data or use it in a different way, promoting faster scientific advance.

Finally, I attended a keynote speech by Martin Eve, a Senior Lecturer at Birkbeck College, University of London, introducing the Open Library of the Humanities (OLH).  The OLH is a Birkbeck-led international consortium of libraries which has launched an online publishing model for humanities scholarship.  In the last year 11 journals have flipped to publishing open access through the OLH.  The OLH does not require Advanced Publishing Charges and instead is paid for through library subscriptions to the consortium.  The journals published through OLH include revolutionary functions such as publishing a tool allowing online readers to contribute by translating articles into different languages, further widening the scope of the material the OLH publishes.

OpenCon changed my perspective on the possibilities of research.  Even in the humanities the twentieth century model of sharing research only through conference papers and then to two peer reviewers before an article is published is no longer sufficient.  Humanities scholars increasingly recognise that the potential benefits of sharing research widely before publication are great.  Since attending OpenCon I have tried to share my research at all stages as widely as possible.  Attending OpenCon also made me very conscious of submitting my research only to open access journals.  Not only is this a requirement of UK funders but it ensures that my research is open to the widest possible audience of scholars.  In my own field, Chinese history, this is essential because I want to be able to communicate with scholars not just in Europe and America but also in China where it is by no means a given that universities will have paid subscriptions to English language journals.

Finally, attending OpenCon encouraged me to be particularly aware of the ways I can share my research without violating the copyright restrictions necessitated by some open access models, such as green open access.  Even using this model, it is still possible to share a final peer reviewed, but not type-set, word document version of an article on your own websites or blog, thus encouraging as wide a readership as possible.  I believe open publishing will help to break down some of the barriers created by the subscription model.  As academics, writing is not enough.  We must also be read.  Since OpenCon I have graduated from my PhD at Bristol and taken up a teaching fellowship at New York University’s campus in Shanghai.  While I have left Bristol behind, the lessons of OpenCon 2015 have stayed with me.

Jon Chappell
Global Perspectives on Society Teaching Fellow
New York University, Shanghai

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