You'd Prefer An Argonaute

A new competitor RNA blog emerges?

Posted in Blog Affairs, Open Access by YPAA on January 14, 2010

The new open access journal Silence, which covers RNA directed gene regulation, has a blog. (Hat-tip to my colleague I.U.)

Their first post describes the blog’s aims, some of which bear some semblance to aims I put forth at the inception of YPAA, as here. Their second post covers a “HOT paper”, with a summary and analysis. Hmm… What a great idea!

Two potential explanations: (1) Some people at Silence saw YPAA and aim to replicate it to support their journal; (2) Some brilliant people at Silence haven’t seen YPAA, but independently came up with the idea to start a blog like it.

Either way I’m flattered and I welcome Silence to the blogosphere.

As for the journal itself, I look forward to seeing what it can accomplish. The scientists who founded it, and those on its editorial board, are impressive. It’s peer reviewed. And two thumbs up for being open access! I want it to be successful.

However, while I suppose a journal like this was inevitable, given the explosion of RNAi/non-coding RNA related research in recent years, a potential downside is what it signifies for the importance of the work in the field. Does it denigrate the work of the field if you have to make a new journal to publish it in? Aren’t there enough journals already to publish in? Perhaps some researchers in the field feel a bit like gypsies, without a warm, inviting place to call home when the more luxurious publishing groups say “No Vacancy.”

It’s emergence is probably also a sign of the times. More science by more people means more specialization. More competition at the top, and the desire to have less at levels below. I know near nothing about the current state of publishing, but I imagine even right now some of the more specialized journals (e.g. RNA, NAR) are breaking at the seams trying to pack in all the new RNAi/non-coding RNA papers. The trend toward open access is also present.

During his talk at the Keystone conference last year, Victor Ambros formally introduced Silence and encouraged submissions, providing an anecdote: back in 1987, a famous scientist (I think he said his post-doc adviser H. Bob Horvitz) encouraged him to publish in a new journal called “Genes and Development.” (He did.) It would be great if Silence followed a similar trajectory to G+D’s. If it modeled it’s blog partly after YPAA, I’d say it’s well on its way.

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MIT Faculty Open Access Policy FAQ

Posted in MIT, Open Access by YPAA on April 13, 2009

Ironically I ran into this through Peter Suber’s OA News blog, here. The policy is sourced from MIT Libraries OA site, where a shortened version viewable to the public can be found. Below is the whole enchilada. Feast on it:

MIT Faculty Open Access Policy FAQ

PURPOSE AND AIM OF THE POLICY

Why are we doing this?

In the eyes of many faculty, the goal of disseminating research is best served by using the unified action of the faculty to enable individual faculty to distribute their scholarly writings freely.

This view of the importance of open access to the faculty’s writings is especially apposite in the face of increasing efforts by some commercial publishers to further close access to the scholarly literature they control. Other organizations with a vested interest in scholarship are independently supporting such efforts as well. For instance, the Wellcome Trust requires any scholarly articles on research they fund to be made openly accessible. The National Institutes of Health, by congressional legislation, have recently instituted a similar requirement, mandating posting in the open-access PubMed Central repository.

Isn’t this unprecedented?

No. Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Harvard Law School, as well as Stanford School of Education, have similar policies. As mentioned above, the Wellcome Trust mandates an open access requirement for their grantees. NIH also has a policy mandating open access.

What’s in it for me?

The Internet and web have enabled individual faculty to make their articles widely, openly, and freely available. Research has repeatedly shown that articles available freely online are more often cited and have greater impact than those not freely available, and this trend is increasing over time. Consequently, many faculty already make their writings available on their web pages, sometimes in potential violation of copyright law and sometimes through individual copyright negotiations with publishers. This policy will allow you to make your writings openly accessible, and it will enable MIT to help you do so.

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Open Access Part 1

Posted in Open Access by YPAA on April 4, 2009

I came across A field guide to misunderstandings about open access by Peter Suber (via A Blog Around the Clock)

Once you get past the odd analogy made between open access misconceptions and wild creatures that hide in the woods, this impressively thorough guide is very informative.

I am completely in support of Open Access in scientific publishing. That said, I must be up front about a few things:

  • I have never published an article in an open access journal
  • I don’t peruse open access journals nearly as often as I do toll access journals
  • In some situations I can see the value in publishing in toll access journals, for purely self-serving reasons really

So therefore I’m not a hardcore open access person — I am not totally fixed on the issues of open access, and probably never will be. But the model for publishing scientific research in the U.S. in toll access journals has never made a whole lot of sense to me: An academic researcher pays, (either directly or through their institution), a journal a lot of money to read their own work, which was not funded by the journal, but rather often by the federal government, via taxpayers, including said researcher. Some journals do offer other bells and whistles to make their product more attractive to potential readers, but these accessories aren’t enough in my mind to subvert that underlining business model past the part of my brain that reasons. For younger researchers indoctrinated in this model, and trying to ascend in their field, it is understandable how difficult it can be to suddenly become fully idealistic, to risk dulling some of the potential shine from a C.V. My sense is that the tide will turn, albeit very slowly, to a point where open access and toll access journals can co-exist, and compete with each other. I can’t see open access taking over, but neither can I see it ever going away.

My institution of residence, MIT, recently made a huge, and almost certainly very influential, step toward spreading the open access gospel. An institute-wide measure was passed unanimously by faculty to make their scholarly articles open access, and available on the web. (Not surprisingly, this news didn’t make it to the pages of Nature or Science the following week, although it did make it to their affiliated blogs, curiously completely absent of comments.)

Of course, this isn’t the first time MIT has broken ground in open access, back in 2001 it launched Open Course Ware to make as many course materials as possible available to the public. Eight years later, OCW hasn’t achieved its far-reaching goal of making all MIT course materials available online, but there is a lot up there. In one line at the end of a post about a Sean Eddy review of a book of essays on open access education, Larry Moran of Sandwalk complains that the quality of the content offered by OCW for MIT’s Biology courses is very poor, “cargo cult” he calls it. After a brief examination, I concede that it is a patchwork of materials still, (some useful and some not), missing crucial lecture notes from faculty instructors (because they are copyrighted). But I’m sure what is up there took a lot of time to put together, like the textbooks Moran rightly argues will be very difficult to ever make open access. Baby steps Larry, baby steps. (Actually, at this point more like adolescent steps.)

An article from the Berkeleyan from 2007 that first got me interested in the open access debate is here.