“I hope that the publishing industry becomes an enabler of open”Name: Dr Jenny Molloy
Position: Co-ordinator of the Synthetic Biology SRI & OpenPlant and manager of ContentMine
Expertise: Biology and Life Sciences
Institution: University of Cambridge
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An interview with Dr Jenny Molloy on 7 December 2015
In 2008 I organised an event on everything ‘open’, including open data and open government. I invited people from Cambridge – including Peter Murray-Rust (blog), then a Reader in Chemistry. Peter introduced me to Rufus Pollock, founder of the Open Knowledge Foundation (now Open Knowledge), and to others who together became founder members of the Open Science Working Group. I felt strongly that this was an interesting group of people who wanted to make science better and volunteered as the Working Group Co-ordinator for several years.
I went across to Oxford to complete a DPhil in the genetic control of mosquito populations between 2010 and 2014. I remained an active member of the Open Knowledge community and organised open science related events in Oxford. I’m now back at Cambridge as a project manager in the Department of Plant Sciences, which is described as an ‘academic-related’ role. Although I’m not doing ‘proper’ research in the lab, the projects I co-ordinate have strong links to research policies and scientific working practices, with an emphasis on open technologies. One is even called OpenPlant!
Through OpenPlant and the Synthetic Biology Strategic Research Initiative (SRI) I promote and assist researchers to publish their work OA. I co-ordinate two synthetic biology seed funding schemes which specify OA for all research outputs as a condition of funding.
“Essentially everything I do now has an OA component!”
Essentially everything I do now has an OA component! I see much of my job as enabling people to go OA or do science in an open way, rather than doing specific advocacy work at a political level. I work with researchers at all levels of research, from community-related activities involving mainly early career researchers through to PIs.
“I will avoid work environments that don’t share those (open) values in the future.”
I try to publish everything I do OA and it was helpful that my DPhil supervisor had to do so due to Wellcome Trust funding policies. However, the lab research environment was very closed and that was a difficult situation coming from the Open Knowledge community as I felt there was a mismatch in approach and values. I wasn’t able to influence that at the time and now I know that community and collaboration is very important to me. I will avoid work environments that don’t share those values in the future. All of my current projects promote greater openness but making changes like this unfortunately requires a lot of time and effort from individual researchers and communities.
“We are ultimately talking about a reallocation of costs.”
These are challenging to address, in part because OA is still an experiment in the larger scheme of scholarly publishing. Also, we are ultimately talking about a reallocation of costs but many of those costs are invisible to different stakeholders and the end users are often disconnected from the process, so it’s hard to conceptualise and explain the economics of OA publishing versus subscription or other models.
“What is missing is talking enough about the practicalities of doing it.”
There is unfortunately not much reflective discussion about Open Access. Many people advocate and explain why we should take the OA path – myself included. However, what is missing is talking enough about the practicalities of doing it, and then how to deal with the many severe implementation challenges we are currently facing. Examples include very high author processing charges in many journals, the strong connection impact factor creates between publication venue and research assessment and any bureaucratic processes at an institutional level that pose a barrier to publishing OA.
What I hear from many people is that they are just not sure what they can and can’t do. For early career researchers, they are often concerned about the perception of the journal and its impact factor – all made more complex by which policies they need to adhere to and how. Such worries sometimes overtake, so they cannot see the immediate benefit of OA to them. The more we can get people talking about how OA concretely improves the researcher’s prospects, the better.
A further challenge is that it takes a lot of time to adopt open practices. If you are just following OA mandates, some additional time is needed for deposit in an Institutional Repository. However, this generally follows the publication workflow. Working out an open workflow and making as much of what you are doing open is more time-intensive, on the other hand. Labs have had to build such activities into the job flow – meaning that people do less research or science as they need time to blog and communicate with others. One can argue that research projects can be much more productive through such collaboration. However, it does depend on the context as to whether this is a worthwhile endeavour or not. For some projects, external input is not clearly necessary, although collaboration can of course take you away from going down a blind alley. I am currently working out what is worth sharing from my workflows.
In my opinion, more needs to be done earlier in people’s training and research careers. I don’t see people coming through the system being taught about their choices as a graduate or undergraduate. Once you enter a particular research environment, you are often shaped by or at the very least work within the constraints of its culture and norms, which could be positive or negative in terms of OA.
“People who have successful research positions and promote open are very helpful.”
We can’t do anything about people who are never going to get on board. It’s best to just start with people who are actually doing something at the grass-roots level. We need to provide them with more information early on, at meetings or at general science conferences. People who have successful research positions and promote open are very helpful here.
“We would also wipe the slate clean and erase all the out-dated business models.”
Ideally, we would also wipe the slate clean and erase all the out-dated business models for academic publishing that are no longer suitable for communicating and consuming modern research in a digital age. This would mean persuading those whose business it is to keep such businesses afloat to employ a new way of operating. I hope that the publishing industry becomes a real enabler of open and Open Access but there is still a long way to go.
Policy-wise, in my opinion, we do need OA mandates from funders and governments to encourage more people to open up, but there’s also a strong grass roots effort. In combination I hope they’ll demonstrate in time that there are tangible benefits to science and society from increased access to knowledge through OA.
All in all, high-level political support for science for the public good, researcher buy-in and support from a publishing industry that innovates and serves science by disseminating rather than enclosing knowledge are all necessary to make the progress we need towards OA.
Copyright: Danny Kingsley, Cambridge University. Creative Commons CC-BY Licence.
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