The Brief
from Clarke & Esposito

October 16, 2018
A monthly roundup of what we've been reading and thinking about
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Just in time for its 50th Anniversary Frankfurt Conference, the STM Association has released its triannual STM Report. The 2018 report is authored by Rob Johnson (Research Consulting), Anthony Watkinson (CIBER Research), and Michael Mabe (STM Association). Weighing in at 213 pages, the 2018 report is as much a book as a report. As it has just been released, we have not yet analyzed the report. We look forward to doing so and will share our thoughts on the report in a future edition of The Brief.
Source: STM Association

Over the past month, at industry conferences (ALPSP, COASP, and the STM Frankfurt Conference) and elsewhere, there has been much discussion, as one would expect, of Plan S and its implications. A number of commentaries and early takes have also appeared. We offer a roundup of the highlights:

David Worlock has weighed in with a characteristically thoughtful piece on different aspects and trajectories that Plan S inspires. It’s worth reading the whole thing, which includes nuggets like this: “...the most immediate effects will be felt not where Plan S intended, but amongst scholarly societies and institutions. For many of these this could be a disaster.” Worlock notes that the largest firms may be able to mitigate the pain of Plan S and specifically points to moves to enter the workflow business by such firms as Elsevier, Clarivate, and Digital Science.

Steven Inchcoombe, Chief Publishing Officer at Springer Nature, argues that by targeting the elimination of hybrid journals, Plan S fails to consider the situation of researchers outside of European countries who may not have funding for publication charges, attempts to unilaterally set a global agenda it is not clear there is broad support for, and is an affront to academic independence.

In this Beyond the Book interview (podcast), Rob Johnson describes what we know about Plan S so far and situates Plan S in its historical and political context. Worth listening to in its entirety.

Tim Vines offers his alternative to Plan S, wittily called “Plan T.” Tim argues that scholarly communications would benefit from a switch from the payment of APCs to fees assessed per article submission. This piece gets at one of the more exasperating aspects of scholarly publishing, namely, that more editorial effort is expended on articles that are rejected than those that are accepted. How this plan would be implemented, we do not know, but we are mindful that the growth of the major commercial firms was built in part on the dropping of page charges in order to encourage a greater number of submissions.

In a humorous take, Phil Ward asks, Whatever happened to Plans A-R? Ward takes us through the best-laid plans. A favorite: Publishers “said that they were very much in favour of OA, but only if both producers and users paid for it.” Beyond the levity is the insight that the kind of global switch envisioned by Plan S and so many other manifestos requires a coordination of action and community-wide agreement that is simply lacking. Start your day with this one.
Source:, Springboard Blog, Beyond the Book, Scholarly Kitchen, Research Fundermentals

Robert-Jan Smits, the European Commission’s senior adviser on open access and the architect of Plan S, traveled to the US last week to solicit support from US policymakers. “I’m going for business, not chit-chat,” he told Nature.
Source: Nature

The STM Association reports (STM member-only access) that the White House Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) is reviewing its 2013 memo on “Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research”—a memo whose policy effects are only just beginning to be fully implemented. We have likewise heard reports from numerous societies that have been invited to speak with OSTP regarding the 2013 policy. The review follows the appointment of a new head of OSTP, the first such appointment of the current administration.
Source: STM Membership Matters, Obama White House Archives, AGU's From the Prow

Hindawi launches a new open source manuscript submission and peer review system in collaboration with the Collaborative Knowledge Foundation (Coko). The system remains in use for only one journal at this time, with a limited feature set and limited workflow support. However, Hindawi has indicated it will continue development on the system and at the same time streamline the workflows across its journal portfolio. We are watching this and other developments in this area closely following the sale of Aries Editorial Manager to Elsevier.
Source: Hindawi Blog

Like ORCID did for author disambiguation, the Research Organization Registry (ROR) hopes to make our lives easier in the area of institutional disambiguation within the research life cycle. Focused on the affiliation use case in scholarly and research communication, ROR (the initiative-formerly-known-as-“OrgID”) aims to properly describe the formal relationships between researchers and all the various organizations they are connected to (universities, employers, funders, societies, etc.). ROR is planning to take a hybrid approach to creating the registry by blending ROR-staff-managed curation processes with the ability for organizations to view and manage their own ROR records, and it wants to encourage cross-talk between existing registry providers. No word yet on governance and funding for this next stage of the initiative, but to date the project has been supported by Crossref, DataCite, ORCID, and the California Digital Library.
Source: ROR Community, ORCID

A group of 3 researchers submitted a series of 20 hoax articles to various academic journals resulting in seven accepted papers and four publications. The journals all publish in areas that the hoaxers have characterized as “grievance studies,” by which they mean “Scholarship based less upon finding truth and more upon attending to social grievances.” A cogent commentary on the matter comes from William Egginton, who views the affair through the lens of tribalism, hyper-specialization, and a pressure to publish. The most useful take on the controversy, however, comes to us from Daniel Davies at Crooked Timber. Davies argues that high trust systems, such as academic publishing, are actually very bad at detecting fraud and hoaxes (as well as omissions of conflicts of interest, as discussed in Item 8 below). In low trust systems, it is assumed that everything must be validated. “The function of peer review is to produce quality-controlled academic output, not to spot fakes.”
Source: Areo, New York Times, Crooked Timber
The chief medical officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering failed to disclose conflicts of interest for research he conducted, receiving significant payments from companies with which he is affiliated. In an unsparing article, both his professional associations and the prominent journals in which he published articles (including The New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, and Cancer Discovery—where he is also an editor) are taken to task: “Dr. Baselga’s extensive corporate relationships ... illustrate ... how weakly reporting requirements are enforced by the medical journals and professional societies charged with policing them.” While this is a serious reporting lapse, the article goes on to acknowledge that journals and professional associations (which do have policies requiring disclosure of conflicts) cannot be expected to proactively investigate members and authors to validate compliance with policies, noting “... much of this reporting still relies on the honor system.” This is very much the point made by Daniel Davies in Crooked Timber (see Item 7 above). Scholarly publishing is a high trust system. Changing the system to a low trust system where all papers—and the financial relationships of authors—must be investigated before a paper can be published would add considerable delays to publication and cost an order of magnitude more than the current system. Given the pressures in the industry at present to publish faster and cheaper, this seems an unlikely shift. Dr. Baselga resigned his post at Memorial Sloan Kettering a few days after this article appeared; 17 of his articles will require some form of addendum.
Source: New York Times, ProPublica

The National Academy of Sciences has announced it will cease printing the august Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). This is an industry milestone on the road to a printless journals future.
Source: Twitter

Derek Krissoff, Director of West Virginia University Press, says what we know to be true, that the university press world is doing just fine, thank you, and is even growing. This is a useful corrective to all those who shake their heads at the doomed organizations that publish scholarly monographs.
Source: Inside Higher Ed
In a two-part post Billy Meinke argues that college textbook publishers have found clever ways around the privacy policies of many institutions. In the first part, Meinke notes that some digital texts that are adopted by a course instructor bring students to an end user licensing agreement (EULA) page (which the instructor may not have seen) that mandates that students sign away some protections of their personal information—a page that the students probably did not even read before clicking to accept the terms. In the second part, Meinke notes federal guidelines on students’ privacy and how they often clash with publishers’ licensing terms; it includes many specific examples.

And here is this month’s candidate for a disruptor to textbooks in Higher Education. Not surprisingly, it has been dubbed a “Spotify for textbooks.”
Source: TechCrunch


In its annual roundup of the world’s largest publishers, Publishers Weekly lists the 54 largest; Pearson continues to hold the crown. This is an interesting list, and it will spur an insight or two, as browsers ponder just what is counted and what is not. We note that over the years the definition of “publishers” has been put under strain. PW’s bias, as an organ of the trade book business, is toward books. This is a bias that is becoming increasingly problematic in maintaining such a list: many companies cited here have only modest positions in books but significant activity in journals, data analytics, and databases. The list also has notable omissions: IEEE and American Chemical Society have been left out while boasting publishing portfolios (albeit unbookish ones) larger than some on PW’s list.
Source: Publishers Weekly 

Barnes & Noble evaluates a potential sale at the same time it protects itself from a hostile takeover following “rapid material accumulations” of its stock by parties it cannot identify.
Source: Wall Street Journal


Developing a radical plan to upend the World Wide Web sounds like the premise of an episode of Silicon Valley, the HBO comedy series. What makes us take this effort seriously is that one of the leaders behind it is the individual who invented the World Wide Web: Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Sir Tim is taking a leave from his academic post at MIT to work with a venture-backed startup called Inrupt. Inrupt is the first major commercial application of Solid, the decentralized Web platform that Berners-Lee and others at MIT have been developing for years. The company is grounded in the principle that users and users alone should control their personal data, and that by empowering users to take that control, the dominance of the Internet giants would give way to an ecosystem with a wide and diverse number of Internet entities. It’s hard not to cheer this on, but we wonder if the consolidation on the Web behind such companies as Facebook and Google is as much a force of economics as a matter of tech platforms.
Source: Fast Company

Google’s VP of Search, Ben Gomes, offers Google’s view of search in the next 20 years. Gomes outlines 3 fundamental shifts: 1) from answers to journeys (keeping track of useful ideas and content and getting relevant suggestions of things to explore next), 2) providing a queryless way to get information (surfacing information related to interests without a specific query in mind), and 3) a more visual way to find information. Plus this fun nugget: Of the billions of queries Google sees every day, 15% are new to Google.
Source: The Keyword

The EU is pursuing an investigation of Amazon, which operates as much as a platform for third-party merchants as it does as a retailer itself. The EU claims that Amazon collects information from its merchants that it uses to compete with them—to which we say, Have you just figured this out?
Source: New York Times

Jeff Bezos’s “regret minimization framework.”
Source: Collaborative Fund

For an entertaining long read on popular science, we recommend “The Nastiest Feud in Science” about the work of Gerta Keller, a geologist who disputes the Alvarez asteroid theory about the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. Keller’s thesis is that the asteroid impact theory is incorrect and that the evidence points to a different explanation: a long series of volcanic eruptions in what is now India. Whether this is in fact the “nastiest feud” we doubt, as science lacks even the basic manners of the U.S. Congress (think of a casual encounter between OA advocates and representatives from Elsevier), but there is little doubt that there is a significant controversy about just what did away with the dinosaurs. We wish Michael Crichton had lived to tell the tale.
Source: The Atlantic

Moons of moons are called moonmoons.
Source: New Scientist

The esteemed Cochrane Collaboration, which conducts systematic reviews of clinical research to support evidence-based medicine, has created controversy with its expulsion of a member known to be an outspoken critic of some vaccines as well as psychiatry and its reliance on drugs. Is this an assault on free speech or a case of maintaining neutrality in the face of extreme views?
Source: STAT, Retraction Watch


Michael wrote about the challenges that societies face in working with commercial publishers (and university presses). While working with a publisher makes a great deal of sense for many societies, shifts over the last decade in how publishers market and sell journals and journal packages have significant implications for society journal valuations over the long term. These same shifts may also be setting some societies up for publisher “lock-in”—making it difficult to change publishers or move publishing back in-house in the future.
Source: Scholarly Kitchen

Joe authored a piece in the Scholarly Kitchen about how traditional publishing works as part of the ongoing series of posts on business models, old and new. Joe’s point is that with all the current talk about new models, we may have forgotten that the traditional model is anchored in making investments in editorial selection.
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 (

  • Charleston Conference, November 5–9, Charleston, SC
  • The Next Wave (ITHAKA), November 29, New York, NY
Story is our only boat for sailing on the river of time. — Ursula K. Le Guin
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