What do we mean by publishing in today’s world? What should be the goals of scholarly publishing? What are the ideals to which scholarly publishing should aspire? What roles might scholarly publishers have in the future? What scenarios exist where publishers continue to play a vital role but information moves more freely? What impact might these reforms have on the health of publishers? Scholarly societies? Science research? Why?
There is a broad difference of opinion among the many stakeholders in scholarly publishing about how to precisely define open access publishing. Are “open access” and “open data” what we mean by open? Does “open” mean anything else? Does it mean “to make available,” or “to make freely available in a particular format?” Is a clearer definition needed (or maybe just better education on the current definition)? Why or why not? At present, some stakeholders see public access as being an acceptable stopping point in the move toward open access. Others see “open” as requiring free and immediate access, with articles being available in CC-BY format. The range of opinions between these extremes is vast. How should these differences be decided? Who should decide? Is it possible to make binding recommendations (and how)? Is consensus necessary? What are the consequences of a lack of consensus?
Tied to this question of who should decide the future of open access, who should have the power to make changes to scholarly publishing practices? Do these powers flow from publishers, institutions, tenure committees, funding agencies, authors, or all of the above? All of the above? None of the above? What are the pros, cons, and consequences of different institutions and interest groups developing and implementing their own solutions (even the one-off variety)? Is federal oversight needed? Global coordination (through an organization like UNESCO)?
Does society have a moral imperative to share knowledge freely, immediately, and without copyright restriction? A legal imperative? Why or why not? What about research funded by governments? Corporations? Cancer research? For that matter, is our current mechanism for funding scholarly publishing just or unjust? What other models are there? What are the pros and cons of these models? What is the likelihood of change?
What are the usage-related challenges currently faced by open efforts? For instance, open data is intriguing in principle, but in reality, making underlying data open can be problematic, conflicting with the need for research secrecy (whether driven by the desire to be first to publish, or the desire of funders to hold onto data to protect future discovery potential), the potential for misinterpretation by other researchers, and so on. Publishing clinical trial data in open formats is also intriguing but would run afoul of many current consent agreements, particularly older consents. Open access is similarly challenged in some instances by a conflict between which version of papers is allowed appear in open repositories. What is the value of archiving non-final versions? What are the range of issues here, what are the perspectives, and what might be some possible solutions?
Are the scholarly publishing tools we’re using today still the right ones? Is the monograph still the best format in the humanities? Is the journal article still best in STM? These products can be difficult to produce and edit, nearly impenetrable to read, and—as in the case of clinical research information—they aren’t necessarily the best-suited formats for capturing every piece of necessary information (like protocols and datasets in medical research) and showing how this information is all connected to other scholarship. What other formats and options are being considered or used? What are the prospects of change? How about the stakeholder universe itself? How are roles, responsibilities and expectations changing (and where might they end up)? Are we “settling” on half-measures or on the best possible solutions?
How fast is open access growing? Is this fast enough? Why or why not? What are the impacts of currently evolving open systems? For instance, are overall costs being reduced for scholarly libraries? Is global access to scholarly information increasing? What about in the Global South? What is the impact in this region of increasing adoption of the author-pays system? What pressures is the move to open placing on institutions and systems and what are the costs/benefits?
Do researchers and scientists participate in the current system of scholarly publishing because they like it, they need it, they don’t have a choice in the matter, or they don’t really care one way or another? What perceptions, considerations and incentives do academicians have for staying the course (like impact factors and tenure points), and what are their pressures and incentives for changing direction (like lowering publishing charges)?
Information underload occurs when we don’t have access to the information we need (for a variety of reasons, including cost) —researchers based at smaller institutions and in the global periphery, policymakers, and the general public, particularly with regard to medical research. Overload occurs when we can access everything but are simply overwhelmed by the torrent of information available (not all of which is equally valuable). Are these issues two sides of the same coin? In both cases, how can we work together to figure out how to get people the information they need? Can we? How widespread are these issues? What are the economic and research consequences of information underload and overload?
Are we satisfied with the current state of global knowledge preservation? What are the current preservation methods? Who are the actors? Is this system satisfactory? What role do institutional repositories play in this process? What does the future hold for these repositories (taking into account linking efforts, publishing company concerns about revenue declines, widespread dark archiving practices, and so on)? Would new mandates help (or do we simply need to tighten existing mandates so they actually compel authors to do certain things)? And how do versions of record figure into all of this—that is, how do archiving policies (with regard to differences between pre-journal and post-journal versions) affect knowledge accuracy and transfer?
Managing the peer review process is one of the major attractions and benefits of the current publisher-driven publishing environment. Would it be possible to maintain peer review in different system—perhaps one where peer review happens at the institutional level, or in an online-review environment? How? What is really needed from peer review, what are the reform options (and what do we already know about the options that have been tried)?
In an information system where so much information is destined for subscription journals, the assumption has been that embargos allow publishers time to recoup their investments, and also allow the press time to prepare news articles about research. Is this assumption warranted? Why or why not? Is the public interest being served by embargos? What about by embargos on federally-funded research? Are there any facts or options that haven’t yet been considered to address the concerns animating the embargo solution?
Tracking the metrics of a more open publishing world will be key to selling “open” and encouraging broader adoption of open solutions. Will more openness mean lower impact, though (for whatever reason—less visibility, less readability, less press, etc.)? Why or why not? Perhaps more fundamentally, how useful are impact factors anyway? What are they really tracking, and what do they mean? What are the pros and cons of our current reliance on these measures? Would faculty be satisfied with an alternative system as long as it is recognized as reflecting meaningfully on the quality of their scholarship? What might such an alternative system look like?