Video – Stevan Harnad: OA isn’t rocket science

On the eve of his appearance to give evidence at the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee on Open Access in November 2013, OA “Archivangelist”, Professor Stevan Harnad spoke about his concerns following the UK government’s’ apparent u-turn on Green Open Access. Acting on the Finch Report on Open Access to scholarly articles, the government (and Research Councils UK) had accepted what Harnad described as an “astonishing recommendation”, essentially proposing to pay publishers considerably more than necessary for Open Access.

Harnad kick-started the OA debate in 1994 with the publication of his ‘Subversive Proposal’, suggesting that scholarly articles should be made freely available for all via the Web. Physicists and computer scientists had been doing this for years, he argued, and it was about time the rest of the world did the same. The benefits were obvious: academics don’t publish for profit – they do so for impact and usage, to gain uptake and application of their ideas, and the evidence shows that OA articles are used and cited more than non-OA.

Subsequent to the ‘Proposal’, the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton used ePrints to create the world’s first OA repository, and mandated OA for all of its journal articles. In 2003 the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee supported this approach, the research councils also adopted watered down Green OA policies and universities and institutions around the world began to follow suit.

However despite the growth in Open Access in recent years, students and academics still need to access most access scholarly articles via their institutions’ subscriptions to peer-reviewed journals. These annual subscriptions can amount to many hundreds of thousands of pounds, and even the most well-endowed universities (e.g. Harvard) are unable to subscribe to as many journals as they would like. There are sometimes partial workarounds to deal with this – contacting published academics directly, for example  – but, Harnad asserts, it is more cost and research effective for institutions to adopt Green OA policies and make articles freely available, once they have completed the peer review process.

Although hailed as a “balanced package”, the adoption of the Finch Report’s recommendation that additional payments be made to publishers to cover the costs of ‘Gold’ OA (where publishers make articles open after an embargo period) is seen by many advocates of Green OA as a retrograde step. However the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s policy proposal  which requires immediate-deposit (i.e. Green OA) as a condition for future Research Excellence Framework eligibility appears likely to be adopted. Should this happen as Harnad hopes, Finch’s shortcomings will be remedied.

Further reading:

  • Harnad, Stevan (2013) Follow-Up Comments for BIS Select Committee on Open Access. UK Parliament Publications and Records, Spring Issue
  • Harnad, Stevan (2013) Harnad Comments on HEFCE/REF Open Access Mandate Proposal. Open access and submissions to the REF post-2014
  • Harnad, Stevan (2013) Worldwide open access: UK leadership? UKSG Insights, 26, (1), Winter Issue, 14-21.
  • Harnad, Stevan (2013) Harnad Evidence to House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee on Open Access. House of Lords Science and Technology Committee on Open Access, Winter Issue, 119-123.
  • Harnad, Stevan (2013) Harnad Evidence to BIS Select Committee Inquiry on Open Access. Written Evidence to BIS Select Committee Inquiry on Open Access, Winter Issue
  • Harnad, Stevan (2013) Harnad Comments on Canada’s NSERC/SSHRC/CIHR Draft Tri-Agency Open Access Policy. Canadian Tri-Agency Call for Comments, Autumn Issue

With the ‘Cyborgs’ at Speakerthon

Speakerthon 2014
Collaged from works by Andy MabbettBBC and Tim O’Riordan ©2014/CC BY-SA 3.0

As a nascent Web Scientist the irony of a Dalek ‘guarding’ the entrance to this weekends’ Speakerthon event at BBC Broadcasting House in London, was not lost. Daleks represent a dystopian view of the ‘cyborg’, the twisted collaboration between organic and inorganic, a man-machine mashup that has willingly or unwillingly sacrificed human empathy for improved performance. The contrast between this popular icon and the people working in the hall beyond was considerable.

Speakerthon was organised by BBC R&D and Wikimedia UK as a collaborative web-enhancement event. The aim of the day was to interrogate the BBC Radio 4’s permanently available archive (e.g. The Woman’s Hour Collection), select clips of notable people speaking and add them to Wikipedia. Wikimedia UK’s Andy Mabbett thought up the idea and has spent the past 2 to 3 years convincing BBC decision makers of the efficacy of opening up their archive. In addition to applying open licences to BBC content, providing a rich layer of information to Wikipedia entries, and adding good quality linked data to the Web, the visibility of the archive is greatly enhanced, and tagged clips will be used to teach applications to automatically identify voices in the archive (e.g. The World Service Radio Archive Project), thereby making BBC researchers jobs a great deal easier.

The day started with a briefing session. We were shown how to use the BBC ‘Snippets‘ software (sadly only made available to us on the day), and what type of clips to listen out for. Finding 20 to 40 second clips of individuals talking, preferably about themselves or their field of work, without interruption or any background music was frustrated on some programmes by over enthusiastic interviewers who would insist on butting in, whereas others (like Desert Island Discs) proved to be a goldmine of useful clips.

Once a clip was identified and selected, ‘Snippets’ created a URL, which we manually added to a Google Docs spreadsheet along with the persons name and gender, Wikipedia URL, and programme archive URL. This was then picked up by the BBC editorial team, who checked ‘compliance’ (i.e. the suitability of the clip and any outstanding copyright issues), trimmed and edited the clip (using Audacity a free audio editor), encoded it to the open source .flac format, and uploaded it to Wikimedia. At the time of writing about 100 clips have been uploaded out of the 300 created on the day.

I added eleven clips to the Google Docs spreadsheet, three of which have been uploaded to Wikimedia. I was beaten to finding a clip of one of my Web Science course leaders, and Head of Faculty, Dame Wendy Hall, although I think my selection where she talks about the Semantic Web, is more appropriate than the clip currently on Wikipedia. So far I’ve embedded voice clips and metadata for Owen Hatherley and Claire Skinner, and three of the clips: Guglielmo Marconi, his second wife Maria Cristina Bezzi-Scali and John Scott-Taggert (the first person to receive a radio message from a ship in distress) are awaiting confirmation of their copyright status.

With the news often dominated by stories portraying the Web as an ‘evil cyborg’ out to dominate our lives, infringe our privacy and ‘exterminate’ our liberties, it was a real joy to take part in this life-affirming collaborative cyberspace project. We came together to share our love of archives and an appreciation of technology as a force for good, to start something that has the potential to be considerably bigger than the sum of its parts.

See also:

Speakerthon: Sharing Voice Samples – Marieke Guy, Open Education Working Group

Please note:

While capturing audio from the BBC’s web archive and uploading it to Wikipedia (or anywhere else) is relatively straight-forward, doing so without the express permission of the BBC infringes their copyright.

MSc Web Science – Week 17

Mind the Gap!/ Endlisnis © 2007/  CC BY 2.0

Life and coursework got rather hectic around the middle of last semester, and something had to go, hence the gap in posts.

Speaking of gaps, we had a MSc Supervisor ‘speed networking’ event last Friday where we had an opportunity to meet academics who were up for supervising our dissertations – which start in May. Having heard my brief introduction, one potential supervisor advised me to do a literature review and find a gap in what is, admittedly, a very busy field. Having done this a year ago when I applied I was a bit miffed by this comment – but thought I hadn’t explained myself properly in the time available. A bit later, when I thought I had given a better explanation, another potential supervisor told me – “oh yes, I have a PhD student who’s answered all those questions”. Point taken. I need to find my niche – again.

Hopefully normal service – or what passes for normal service – will resume shortly.