The Brief
from Clarke & Esposito 

November 26, 2018 • Issue #8
A monthly roundup of what we've been reading and thinking about
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The lead story this month is that the Wellcome Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have now aligned their open access policies with Plan S. The move does not come as a surprise, as both foundations have been outspoken proponents of open access for some time. Wellcome has framed this change as the outcome of a broader review of the foundation’s open access policies. Given the prominence and budget of Wellcome and Gates, however, it lends Plan S early momentum and a foothold outside of Europe.
Source: Nature, Wellcome Trust

Meanwhile, Physics Today reports that the US administration is reviewing current policies — and is being lobbied aggressively by both publishers and OA advocates.
Source: Physics Today
Science reports that some scientists are pushing back against Plan S. There is growing unease among researchers about the plan, in particular its prohibition against publishing in hybrid journals, which represent the vast majority of the scientific literature. Scientific societies are also raising concerns. While this article reports that scientific societies are “split,” our own communications indicate otherwise. We have yet to come across a society supportive of Plan S. We know of a few societies whose publishing programs are better situated to accommodate Plan S, but the vast majority of societies, even those with robust open access programs, rely heavily on the hybrid model.
Source: Science, *Research
OA, however, moves along, even separately from Plan S. VSNU, the Association of Universities in The Netherlands reports that fully half of all articles by Dutch authors published in 2017 are openly accessible. This milestone is undoubtedly attributable to the read and publish deals that VSNU has brokered with publishers over the last few years.
Source: Infodocket

Retraction Watch has released a database that identifies over 10,000 retracted scientific papers. The number is huge, but the likelihood is that the actual number of retracted papers is higher, as many journals do not publicize their retractions. Superficially, the number of retractions could serve to reinforce the popular or populist view of the unreliability of science, but an examination of the database reveals that “The rise of retractions seems to reflect not so much an epidemic of fraud as a community trying to police itself.” This article, which should be read in its entirety, is full of nuggets: “Only about four of every 10,000 papers are now retracted”; “Journals with high impact factors... have taken the lead in policing their papers after publication”; and “authors working in countries that have developed policies and institutions for handling and enforcing rules against research misconduct tend to have fewer retractions.” In other words, the system works. It could work better, of course, and editors and publishers are urged to make information about retractions public. We anticipate further findings as the Retraction Watch database grows and more analysts dive in.
Source: Retraction Watch, Science

Do authors comply when funders enforce open access to research? In the first large-scale analysis of compliance with funder OA mandates, the principal finding is that about two-thirds of papers wound up freely available. There is wide variation, however, in compliance from one funder to another.
Source: Nature

An ignominious milestone: Cabells reports that it now has indexed over 10,000 predatory journals on its blacklist. This stopped us in our tracks. Web of Science indexes just over 20,000 titles in its core collection (Scopus includes just over 22,000). This means that approximately one-third of all journals are now predatory open access titles.
Source: Society for Scholarly Publishing
Are academic or professional editors the best for journals? So asks THE, in a wry back-and-forth exploration of the pros and cons of each model. Such an exploration would not be complete without interviewing Magdalena Skipper and Philip Campbell, the current and past (professional) editors of Nature (who are unsurprisingly pro the professional editor model), and Randy Schekman, eLife’s (academic) editor-in-chief (who is unsurprisingly con). The whole “debate,” however, is largely theoretical. There are over 20,000 (non-predatory) peer-reviewed journals — maybe 100 of them have professional editors. The issue, of course, is that the 0.5% of titles with professional editors are invariably the name-brand high-impact titles — Cell, Nature, JAMA, The Lancet, New England Journal of Medicine, and so forth — that draw a lot of attention. That said, it is still an infinitesimal number. Don’t like professional editors? Just send your next paper to one of the 19,900 journals with an academic editor.
Source: Times Higher Education


Free textbooks are not always free. A new study on the cost of OER to colleges identifies various costs, mostly connected to the development of the materials but also including revenue lost by reducing sales of traditional textbooks by college bookstores, which typically pay host institutions a royalty based on sales volume.
Source: EdSurge

A first look at early sales of the newest textbook model from Cengage is now available. So far they are the only textbook provider offering this model, which offers students a subscription to all of Cengage’s digital textbooks and course materials. The shortest subscription period is 4 months (a semester), which the company offers for $120. Cengage’s CEO, Michael Hansen, reported that more than 500,000 students had purchased a subscription this semester, with most opting for the $120 option. After running the numbers, we note that 500,000 x $120 = a lot of money.
Source: Inside Higher Ed
MIT Press and the University of Michigan Press have announced that they will now be selling digital editions of their books directly to academic libraries, joining Duke University Press, which has been doing this since 2008. Of course, the two giants of the university press world, Oxford and Cambridge, are long established in this area, but the requirements of technology and assembling a sales team have mostly been beyond the means of the smaller presses. We note that the announcements focus largely on the software platforms required to deliver the materials and not on the harder task of getting the attention of collections librarians with well-executed sales and marketing.
Source: Inside Higher Ed

Knowledge Unlatched launches KU Open Funding, its industry-wide platform to facilitate funding transactions between authors, libraries, and OA monograph publishers. More than 20 publishers are participating. But Open Book Publishers is not among them, citing some reasons why they will not participate such as KU's for-profit status and reliance on an exclusivity arrangement.
Source: Knowledge Unlatched, Open Book Publishers

In a lawsuit reminiscent of Jarndyce v Jarndyce in Dickens’s Bleak House, the appellate court has once again overruled the lower court’s ruling between several publishers and Georgia State University on copyright infringement. In the original ruling the court decided on behalf of GSU, but the appellate court is insisting that the ruling must take the impact on the marketplace into greater consideration. This is an important suit as it will serve to define what is and is not fair use in the educational environment.
Source: Publishers Weekly 


The reality TV show that is the Barnes & Noble boardroom recently released a new episode. After the former CEO, Demos Parneros, was voted off the island, the lawsuits between him the company have been flying back and forth. The latest allegation is that Parneros sabotaged a sale of the company by making “shocking and derogatory comments” about Barnes & Noble to a prospective buyer. Also revealed, much smaller bookseller WH Smith was one such prospective buyer (though it is not clear if it was the recipient of the alleged comments).
Source: The Digital Reader


Bill Gates has written a eulogy to his Microsoft co-founder and self-described “idea man” Paul Allen. This is a moving piece that references not only Allen’s massive technological achievements (at the top of the list is that he was responsible for getting Gates to drop out of Harvard to start “Micro-soft”) but also Allen’s wide range of interests, from philanthropy to Jimi Hendrix to sports (he owned two professional sports franchises).
Source: Wall Street Journal

The EU continues its move against the American technology titans, this time by proposing a hyper-targeted tax. Besides tailoring the tax to affect just a small number of companies (none of which is headquartered in Europe), the proposed law will assess the tax based on revenue, not profit.
Source: Wall Street Journal

The news that Amazon’s second “headquarters” will be split between Washington, DC (Crystal City) and New York (Queens) landed this past month. It did not go over well, even among the two winning cities. That is because the terms of the deals are now public and the sheer amount of the giveaway to Amazon is staggering. In New York it amounts to over $112,000 per Amazon employee in taxpayer-funded incentives. Beyond that, there is speculation that there never was a contest to begin with and the whole thing was a con designed to extract larger concessions from the only two cities ever truly considered.
Source: WiredFast Company, Recode
Meanwhile, Google quietly adds space for 12,000 more employees to its New York office without all the hoopla. This addition will bring the total number of staff in their NY office to 20,000, nearly the size of an Amazon “headquarters.” 
Source: Reuters

Rodney Brooks, a cofounder of iRobot, has come up with a set of rules that help to predict whether a new technology will be a commercial success. How much new invention is required? What are the people factors for acceptance and usage? Is this an entirely new idea, which prevents us from extrapolating from past successes? Whether you agree with the rules or not, this thoughtful examination of how innovation happens will sharpen aptitudes in assessing new projects. Read the whole thing.
Source: IEEE Spectrum


Is science stagnant? The Atlantic took on this question by asking scientists to compare Nobel prizewinning discoveries in their fields across decades via a sort of round-robin tournament. Scientists rated discoveries of the past as more important than more recent discoveries. One challenge with the results is that few Nobel prizes have been awarded for work done in the 1990s and 2000s (with most prizes in these years awarded to work done in earlier decades), so these decades weren’t even included in the survey. The article’s authors take these results to mean that “science has slowed enormously per dollar or hour spent.” Although the survey results are interesting, surely there are too many confounding variables to take much stock in their conclusions.
Source: The Atlantic

How to know if you have sent a very bad Tweet.
Source: Esquire

A new platform for pharma advertising (because there was not enough): patient influencers. Former patients with large social media followings are joining an agency that links them to pharmaceutical companies, which pay them to promote specific drugs. What could go wrong?
Source: STAT

The kilogram is shrinking.
Source: Scientific American

It’s getting better all the time, argues this article, which presents 23 charts to show long-term gains in human experience. We agree, and doubters, glued to cable news, should look at these charts carefully. Among other things, fewer people now live in poverty, death in childhood is declining, and more people (surprise!) live in a democracy. The implications of some of the trends are perhaps not fully appreciated: people, for example, are getting taller, a fact that is lost on the airlines, which continue to shrink seat pitch. This article makes a nice pairing with Steven Pinker’s recent book Enlightenment Now.
Source: Vox, USA Today

An ode to Stephen Hawking on the occasion of his last, and posthumously published paper. As Hawking is writing from beyond the grave, the topic of the paper, how information can escape from a black hole, takes on an eerie ironic relevance.
Source: New York Times, arXiv

We note the passing of Todd Bol, the founder of the Little Free Public Library Movement. These ubiquitous places for sharing books have spread around the world, including an outpost in Siberia, where one serves reindeer herders.
Source: New York Times


Joe wrote about the panel he moderated at the Charleston Conference this year. The topic was the library’s role in providing affordable textbooks to students. On the panel were Mark McBride of SUNY, Mark Cummings of Choice/ACRL, and Gwen Evans of OhioLINK. The slides for the presentation, which are wide-ranging, are included in the post. Joe notes that OER is likely to have a transformative role in the kinds of materials used in classrooms even as the established publishers continue to dominate the marketplace.
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 (

  • The Next Wave (ITHAKA), November 29, 2018, New York, NY
  • Academic Publishing in Europe, January 15–16, 2019, Berlin
  • AAP/PSP Annual Conference, February 6–8, 2019, Washington, DC
I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops. — Stephen Jay Gould
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