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Only peer review Open Access publications

“Only peer review Open Access publications”
Name: Prof Jørn Harald Hurum
Position: Professor of Paleontology
Expertise: Mesozoic mammals (Multituberculates), marine reptiles, dinosaur tracks from Svalbard. Recent fieldwork includes Mongolia, Canada, Argentina, China and Svalbard
Institution: University of Oslo
Country: Norway
ORCID ID: 0000-0001-5080-171X

An interview with Prof Jørn Harald Hurum on 2 December 2015

What got you originally interested in Open Access (OA)?

I published my first Open Access article as a master’s student in 1994. My supervisor was from Poland, and was offered a professorship at the University of Oslo. I did both my master’s degree and doctorate in collaboration with her. She came from an Eastern European system where they had limited resources available for journal subscriptions. She was also the editor for the journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica. It was through my supervisor that I heard about Open Access via various channels.

Acta Palaeontologica Polonica started as a small, department-driven, paper-based journal. This has now become one of the major online journals within the palaeontology field. From the start, the editorial team were very clear that they wanted their journal to be Open Access. The journal has received many acquisition offers from large commercial companies, and still does. Publishers are interested in the journal brand. That is what commercial companies do; they purchase the brand, scan the backlog and then sell it. This is a practice that Acta Palaeontologica Polonica did not want to be associated with, so as a small departmental journal, they resisted. At the time I thought that this was very bold. It was ground-breaking, and was an eye-opener for me to the idea of Open Access.

How do you see Open Access?

“In my opinion, to be a government employee and not communicate what you do to the general public ought to be a reason for dismissal.”

In my opinion, to be a government employee and not communicate what you do to the general public ought to be a reason for dismissal. I am therefore the kind of person who makes the scientific community feel guilty if they are not publishing Open Access and not providing public access to their research. These things go hand in hand. We are dealing with an extended concept of science communication when speaking about Open Access, and I want the whole world to be able to read about my work for free.

When did Open Access really gain momentum for you personally?

It really started in 2009, when we published the article about the Ida fossil, Open Access. This ignited the Norwegian Open Access debate – kicking off discussion in the scientific community, which was great fun. Few researchers knew what Open Access was at that time; it was novel to see it as a new approach to scholarly publishing. I was rebuked by others, however, who thought I should have published the article in a higher-impact journal. Nevertheless, the entire team behind the article were in agreement. In fact it was not me who proposed PLOS ONE, but one of the others in the group who had already published an article there. Open Access has gained a stronger place on the scientific agenda since then.

This (Ida) publication was driven by ideology, both in terms of the communication around it and in the way it was published. We did not pay any attention to the rules of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature code (ICZN). They stipulated that one should publish in a paper journal for a new Latin name of genus and species to be approved. We did not adhere to this and published online OA. Three years later they changed their statutes and the press release merely states: «Case study: Ida».

“We observed how communication between researchers changed.”

We did many things differently in the 2009 Ida article. We focused on communicating to the general public. The impact of the project became very visible when even Google changed its logo to display the Ida fossil. I observed how communication between researchers changed after Ida. Researchers generally communicated too little before Ida, whereas some researchers were criticised for communicating too much after Ida’s publication. I held many lectures about Ida and the outreach strategy, and still do.

What can scholars and/or administrators do to promote openness to research?

Publish Open Access as much as possible

I’d like you to think about researchers who defend their data before publishing; think about how afraid they are that others will steal their discoveries. All of a sudden, when ready to publish, however, these researchers do a complete U-turn and hand over their data, images, figures, text, rights – all of it – to a commercial company who aims to generate income from it. Authors do this out of vanity, and that is not something I want to be a part of.

I publish Open Access as much as possible. That generates less impact in the Norwegian research assessment system, as many of the journals that are Open Access are not seen as equal to other more renowned journals. My publications are still read though. I believe that the Science Citation Index and similar commercial metric systems cannot be trusted – in many cases they are publisher-owned. Such systems do not measure whether or not your research has impact, or whether it is «valuable». It is all about which journal you publish in and about the number of citations you receive. Imagine publishing something that is completely incorrect; then citations would be high due to the arguments against you.

Therefore, when I consider journals to publish in, apart from choosing OA where I can, I study the author community and look at which other authors publish in that particular journal.

Only conduct peer reviews of Open Access publications

Peer review is a time-consuming process. I assume that hundreds of man-years have been spent on peer review at the University of Oslo every year. I know some researchers who spend 1-2 weeks on any one specific peer review for commercial journals, several times a year. We are talking about major hidden costs for universities. So I choose to refuse conducting peer review of an article that is not Open Access. That is the only way to short-circuit the publishing system. Publishers depend on us researchers to peer review articles for free. So if we all stopped doing that, the current system would collapse.

Peer reviewing Open Access articles involves work too. At least here, through OA, the article becomes open and accessible to all. By reviewing OA articles, you contribute to building the world’s knowledge base rather than to the bank account of the publishing houses.

When subject editors contact me to peer review, I respond that I am happy to peer review, as long as it is an Open Access article. This meets with some being rather perplexed. I then receive a long email explaining why the journal isn’t Open Access. But it’s quite simple: you’re either Open Access or you’re not. When I discuss this with other researchers, when they’ve run out of other reasons this is how the conversation often goes:

Researcher 1: It is better for the discipline to peer review.

Researcher 2 (my response): Do it for Open Access articles instead. That is even better for the discipline, rather than doing the commercial journals’ work for them.

Researcher 1: Yes, but this way I stay up-to-date within my subject.

Researcher 2: Yes, but look at what you are doing. You are supporting a system that earns more money than the music industry. And you have nothing to gain from it.

What can scholars and/or administrators do to promote openness to research?

It is currently the established researchers who have permanent positions, who can afford to engage in the OA battle and strive to change the publishing system; this is not for the next generation to do. For students who are yet to be employed in a permanent post, this is a lot more difficult – unless you have a supervisor who is fighting for you. Unfortunately, the Norwegian research assessment system, and the appraisal of «good» science today, is arranged in such a way that students have almost no opportunity of building a CV if they only publish in Open Access journals.

“Researchers in permanent posts can protest against the current Norwegian research assessment system bias towards traditional journals.”

I discuss Open Access with my students, and many of them are very aware of the issue. However, I will never force my students to publish in pure Open Access journals. Instead I attempt to acquire financing to pay for Open Access publishing in the “right” journals. So apart from what has already been mentioned above, researchers in permanent posts can protest against the current Norwegian research assessment system bias towards traditional journals.


Copyright: Stine Marie Barsjø and Elin Stangeland, University of Oslo. Creative Commons CC-BY Licence.

Tags: APCs, OA journal, OA peer review, OA publishing, Open Access, PLOS ONE, SCI, career development, collaboration, commercial publishing, dissemination, hidden costs, impact, masters, national, national debate, peer review, public funding, public responsibility, quality, research evaluation, scholarly communication, trust, vanity

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