The Brief
from Clarke & Esposito

September 11, 2018 • Issue #6
A monthly roundup of what we've been reading and thinking about
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The lead story of the past month is an announcement from a coalition of 11 research European funding agencies that they will require papers resulting from research funded by any of the coalition members to be published under a CC-BY license and made openly accessible immediately upon publication. The group (called cOAlition S) includes a number of national research agencies and spends approximately €7.6 billion annually on research. While this policy (referred to as “Plan S”) is similar to those of the Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, it goes further in that it will not allow funded research to be published in hybrid OA journals. It also proposes a cap (at an amount as yet to be announced) on APCs. As Holly Else reports in Nature, the policy “ would bar researchers from publishing in 85% of journals, including influential titles such as Nature and Science.” Depending on the amount of the APC cap, it may even exclude some open access titles.

The announcement raises many questions. What if only a subset of a paper’s authors received funding from the coalition’s funders? Can a researcher fulfill the requirements of this policy via green OA (depositing their manuscript in an archive)? The coalition’s statement also includes the cryptic comment “the importance of open archives and repositories for hosting research outputs is acknowledged.”

As Martin Enserink reports in Science, the coalition’s announcement has raised concerns among publishers—including prominent open access publishers. A spokesperson from Springer Nature, which publishes over 600 fully OA titles and another 1,700 hybrid OA journals, notes that the policy “potentially undermines the whole research publishing system.” The STM Association has, in a statement, raised concerns about academic freedom and (echoing Springer Nature) damage to the market (particularly from the cap on APCs). 
Source: Science Europe, Nature, Science, STM Association

Google launched a new search engine for freely available data sets. Called Google Dataset Search, the search engine indexes datasets on diverse topics (shipping logs, atmospheric data, fisheries, public schools, et cetera) from around the world. As Nature reports, Google is (importantly) not indexing the data sets themselves, but rather structured metadata files that researchers have created that describe the data sets. Mark Hahnel, CEO of figshare, discusses why this is a big deal for researchers and what remains to be done to make open data even more prevalent and useable.
Source: Google, Nature, figshare
Wiley acquires authoring tool Authorea; SAGE acquires Talis, an enterprise teaching and learning platform.
Source: Authorea, SAGE
A useful roundup of open science tools from Lettie Conrad.
Source: Scholarly Kitchen

While not attracting as much fanfare as Crazy Rich Asians, the new film Paywall: The Business of Scholarship may soon be coming to a campus near you (missed titling opportunity: Crazy Rich Publishers). Funded by the Open Society Foundations and directed by Jason Schmitt, a scholar of communications and media at Clarkson University, Paywall is an advocacy film thinly disguised as a documentary. Richard Poynder provides an informative and intelligent review of the film in Nature. While the film is quick to point to the shortcomings of the subscription model, “the weakness of Paywall is that it fails to adequately address the challenges of OA.” Such weaknesses include the unaffordability of article processing charges for many (for authors in the Global South, APCs are just another paywall), the continuing indifference to OA among many researchers, predatory publishers, and the “lack of consensus on exactly what OA is and how it should be achieved.” This is unfortunate as the issues raised by Poynder are important; the film is a missed opportunity to catalyze a wider discussion of these pressing challenges for the open access model.
Source: PaywalltheMovieNature


Medical students have begun skipping classes in droves… to study. The cause of such a high prevalence of hooky is that the lectures students receive are often not aligned with the materials they must learn in order to pass licensing exams. Instead, students are turning to online resources and especially videos. As medical schools scramble to adapt, the future of medical education will likely look very different from today
Source: STAT

Another day, another (supposed) disruptive entrant in the college textbook market.
Source: InsideHigherEd
The highly regarded Review of Higher Education has made the extraordinary decision to temporarily cease accepting manuscripts due to a two-year backlog of papers. While the decision is extraordinary, the circumstance is not. We know of a great many journals that have faced similar backlogs over the years. They are typically resolved through publishing larger issues for a period (as the Review of Higher Education intends to do) or by publishing some papers online only. Another strategy is to publish all papers online immediately and let the print issues catch up in due course (or publish one enormous print issue as one of our clients did a few years back). It is a thornier problem than many assume, however. In addition to planning for the financial hit, journals must consider the impact factor and the effect of a sudden influx of papers on the industry’s most hated metric (pro tip: do not publish them all toward the end of the year). All that said, having too many papers to publish is, of course, always better than the alternative.
Source: InsideHigherEd

The Wall Street Journal reports that NYU will offer full-tuition scholarships for all medical students. Given the six-figure loans most doctors leave medical school with in the US, this is a significant announcement (NYU’s tuition was approximately $55,000 annually). It is hoped that the move will inspire (or just simply enable) more physicians to enter less remunerative fields (such as primary care or gerontology) and attract more disadvantaged students. Critics (there are always critics, even when you are giving away free tuition) point out that given that NYU is a top medical school attracting an elite student body (who tend to be more affluent and of course many of them go on to lucrative fields like cardiology and surgery so even if they are not affluent they will be) it is just a handout to the rich and soon-to-be-rich. Perhaps, but we think it is an experiment worth running. Medical school is an enormous expense by any measure (and the above figures do not even factor in the cost of living in New York City). We look forward to seeing how this influences the makeup of NYU’s student body and their subsequent career choices—and ultimately the impact on patient care.
Source: Wall Street Journal, Slate
A librarian at Canada’s York University, William Denton, has written an entertaining account of his attempt to release information about the cost of various publisher packages. As Librarian Bill (as he calls himself), he collected all the information and put it into a spreadsheet, after first checking to see if any of the material was governed by nondisclosure agreements (much of it was). Knowing that this sanitized list was now available (he held it in his own hands), Librarian Bill transformed himself into Civilian Bill and filed an open documents request in accordance with the applicable regulatory requirements. To his consternation Civilian Bill’s request was denied: none of the information could be released. He reveals some of the information that was made public via other means on his personal blog, and the post is worth reading on that account alone. But his article touches on the sometimes vexing challenges of working in an open or ostensibly open environment (as our government and public university clients all do), not the least being knowing where the lines will be drawn.
Source: Miskatonic University Press
We look forward to the release of the Mindset List from faculty at Beloit College, a colorful and insightful list of things this year’s incoming college freshmen either do not know about because of their age or take for granted (they have never known a world with Enron). It is sobering for an instructor to consider the gap between what an adult would take for granted and what a young person could reasonably be expected to know. Some of this year’s gems: When filling out forms, they are not surprised to find more than two gender categories to choose from; the detachable computer mouse is almost extinct; outer space has never been without human habitation; I Love You has always been a computer virus. You really must read the entire list. But as you do, let’s reflect that the list itself has its place in time and history. It grows out of the youth culture that came into being after World War II, which gave rise to solemn essays in the 1960s about “the generation gap.” Perhaps after four years of college the young people will knowingly and aptly quote Shakespeare: Thou hast nor youth nor age, / But, as it were, an after-dinner’s sleep, / Dreaming on both.
Source: The Mindset List


Michael Cairns has inked a persuasive article on technology spending by publishers. Appearing on the BISG blog, Cairns points to the lack of industry benchmarks on technology spending. While the Association of American Publishers and other trade organizations collect sales data, no one is benchmarking technology spending data—in sharp contrast to other industries where such data are readily available. This dearth of data makes it difficult to benchmark against competitors and difficult to make business cases around new technology investments. It also makes it difficult to benchmark against other industries, which can be an important indicator. Cairnes managed to unearth a limited data set, looking at technology spend per employee for publishing firms as compared with all industries in the UK. The data indicate that publishers may be spending as much as 3x more per employee than average. Cairnes speculates that this could be due to the prevalence of legacy systems which require specialized expertise to maintain. Cairns’ observation comports with our own: the publishing industry lacks operational benchmarks and this is creating a number of blind spots for many organizations.
Source: BISG

The Financial Times published a lengthy exploration of Harvard professor Rebecca Henderson’s ideas on technological disruption (“Why Big Companies Squander Good Ideas”), which she comes to by way of the tank and the British Army. Her theory is that the ability to rapidly adopt new technologies depends in large part on how a given technology fits into the structure of the organization. It took a long time for the British Army to meaningfully adopt the tank (despite inventing it). Henderson posits this is because tanks didn’t really fit in either the calvary (where it ultimately landed) or the infantry.

Henderson’s ideas may explain why IBM was so successful for so long, selling through a great number of computing cycles from the 1930s (when computing was mechanical) all the way through the 1970s (the heyday of mainframe computing). This entire time they were selling expensive machines to big companies and built the organizational structure and expertise to do so. The PC is where IBM stumbled—not because it was a disruptive technology per se but because it required an entirely different business model and organizational structure. Henderson’s ideas are widely applicable to many industries, including professional and scholarly publishing, which moved seamlessly from print to digital publishing largely because the business model (institutional subscriptions are the publishing industry’s mainframe) required little organizational change. What will be professional and scholarly publishing’s “PC”?
Source: Financial Times

The theme of technological disruption is continued in what is certainly the best general technology article of the month, unsurprisingly from Benedict Evans at Andreessen Horowitz. While the article focuses on Tesla and the electric car market, many of its points are generalizable. One must still ask of any potentially disruptive technology: What specifically about might be disruptive? And, what companies might it prove disruptive to? In the case of Tesla, Evans asks, what exactly is the disruptive technology? Batteries? Automation software? Automation hardware? Data? User experience? Second, who is it disruptive to? Incumbent automakers? Parts manufacturers? Software companies? The answers are not self-evident. This is a useful reminder that disruptive technologies and business models do not always play out in the ways we think they will.  
Source: Benedict Evans


The present epoch of stories about science fraud has had predecessors, as Malcolm Gladwell reminds us in his riveting two-part first-hand recounting of the Science Fraud Panic of the 1990s—a must-listen set of podcasts for anyone interested in science and science policy. The first episode (“The Imaginary Crimes of Margit Hamosh”) describes the outbreak of the panic and the Kafkaesque role of the NIH’s Office of Scientific Integrity in both creating the panic and fanning its flames. The second episode (“Strong Verbs, Short Sentences”) describes the end of the panic and a dramatic showdown between John Dingell, perhaps the most powerful person in Congress at the time, and Bernadine Healy, the then Director of the NIH. Where is the HBO series?
Source: Revisionist History

Two of our favorite blogs collide: Shane Parrish of Farnam Street interviews Ben Thompson of Stratechery on Farnam Street’s podcast, The Knowledge Project. Farnam Street is focused on making better decisions in business and life. On Stratechery, Ben Thompson writes about technology from the perspective of business models, as opposed to the product-centric writing that tends to dominate tech journalism. The combination is a freewheeling discussion covering network effects, paradigm shifts, media, the power of zero marginal costs, digitizing trust, the value of wasting time, creating new value chains, why GDPR further entrenches Google and Facebook, and much more. Bring a pen and notebook.
Source: Farnam Street


We keep an eye on evolving privacy regulations because we believe that regulations will be fought over first in the consumer market and then applied to the academic and professional markets, where we are primarily focused. This is true of the EU’s GDPR, which, whatever the intent, creates challenges (and costs) for compliance (and is likely to privilege larger, entrenched interests). Now with recent privacy regulations in California, the stakes are getting higher. The New York Times published an in-depth piece on how California’s laws were passed; the ins and outs of politics on the ground is dizzying, worthy perhaps of a novelist’s imagination. But no one expects Facebook and Google to sit back and just take it, and they and a large number of their fellows in the tech industry are now fighting to get national legislation passed, which
would override the California regulations.
Source: New York Times
Nuclear energy start-ups.
Source: Chemical & Engineering News
“What does hailing a ride with Uber have to do with 19th-century geometry and Einstein’s theory of relativity?” That is the opening sentence of a fascinating piece in The Conversation about the link between basic research and real-world innovation. Knowing that patents often cite scientific literature, Benjamin F. Jones and Mohammad Ahmadpoor set out to explore this link by developing a mapping between a citation database (Web of Science) and a database of patents. Their surprising finding is that among scientific articles that have been cited at least once, 80% of those articles go on to be cited in at least one patent. This demonstrates a direct link between expenditures on higher education and research and the economy. We are eager to see bibliometricians dive into this topic, with the hope that it will spur greater investment in research (and a booming economy).
Source: The Conversation

Pretty (relaxed and competitively diminished) in (Baker-Miller) pink?
Source: Quartz

A new study published in PNAS from researchers at Harvard, Boston University, and Northeastern University, suggests that while working teams can improve the consistency of performance, they can also lead to less creative approaches as compared to working individually. Optimal performance may require a combination of working together and working by oneself. So if your colleagues are driving you crazy, this study may prove a good excuse to head to the coffee shop (or the cabin) for a little solo work.
Source: PNAS


Joe wrote a piece on the Scholarly Kitchen this month about “rival ecosystems,” that is, the different workings of consumer and institutional markets. This piece was prompted by the confirmation (through a project we have been working on with Ithaka S+R) that Amazon, the ultimate consumer marketer, has now made significant headway in selling books to academic libraries. Will such institutional book vendors as EBSCO and ProQuest have to respond with a consumer-facing bookstore of their own?
Source: Scholarly Kitchen


We will be attending the following events. Let us know if you would like to set up some time to chat. We’d love to hear from you (

  • ALPSP Conference, September 12–14, Windsor, UK
  • Silverchair Platform Strategies, September 26–27, Washington, DC
  • STM Frankfurt Conference, October 9, Frankfurt, Germany
  • Frankfurt Book Fair, October 10–11, Frankfurt, Germany
  • Charleston Conference, November 5–9, Charleston, SC
  • The Next Wave (ITHAKA), November 29, New York, NY
 There is no pleasure to me without communication: there is not so much as a sprightly thought comes into my mind that it does not grieve me to have produced alone, and that I have no one to tell it to. —Montaigne
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