It All Leads to Open Science


Maciej Chojnowski: My guest today is Professor Włodzisław Duch: a physicist, cognitivist and Under-Secretary of State in the Ministry of Science and Higher Education. Good morning, Minister.

Włodzisław Duch: Good morning.

Minister – in the repository run by Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, your home university, there are over 20 publications that are either authored or co-authored by you, and are now available in Open Access. But the Nicolaus Copernicus University (UMK) does not have any regulations that would oblige researchers to deposit their works in an institutional repository. Why did you decide to use this opportunity yourself?

There are some encouragements coming from the rector's office, so I think the regulations will be passed, eventually. I have been sharing my works for a very long time. The first contact with foreign science, which allowed me to co-author a work with a colleague from Copenhagen, was in 1986... so that's ancient history. Since then I came to appreciate the advantages of Internet connection and the opportunities that come from making our works freely accessible online – both in terms of  availability and advertising. That's why we set up our very first web server as early as 1993. I was working on a certain European project, and even then Internet websites were the best way of disseminating scientific works. Since that time I have set up my own account and I've been opening every research output I could. There are works that are not copyrighted, various notes, presentations from lectures, etc. Many people started to contact me, asking questions, but also – proposing cooperation. Many European projects that we were invited to happened precisely because somebody noticed those publications. I've been working mostly in computer science for the past 20 years. In that area, most  publications are the conference papers. They are not as easily accessible as journal papers. So if we want our work to be read – not just stand on the shelf and look pretty – we have to advertise that work. Then we can hope that someone will want to read it, that we're not writing it in vain.

So, one could say that you are one of the pioneers of Open Access in Poland?

At some point most of the Internet traffic at the UMK was generated by my website. Now it's changed, because  almost everybody has their own website. But in the 90s, even mid-90s, very few people would make use of that.

I would like to address the Ministry's policy concerning Open Access. In 2012 the then Minister of Science and Higher Education, Barbara Kudrycka, declared that at the turn of 2015/2016 60 percent of all research funded from public money is to be openly accessible. Also, in July last year the Conference of Rectors of Academic Schools in Poland and the Presidium of the Polish Academy of Sciences collectively supported the idea by publishing a statement in which Open Access was declared as the right solution, requiring further regulations, both at the political and infrastructural level. And now, in August 2014, I would like to ask you: what steps does the Ministry intend to take to make these regulations happen? And another question: do you believe those declarations from two years ago can be fulfilled?

It is not an easy task... or at least more difficult than we'd thought. I have been with the Ministry for a relatively short time – since April – but as soon as I got here, I started investigating what was happening with those declarations. And so, we made our first step – we distributed a certain document proposing how to implement those ideas, with a specific schedule. It was sent out for public consultations, and in September we will hold a conference to summarize all the feedback for this document. There is bound to be a lot of criticism, some things might be difficult to carry out, but we still believe we can confirm this schedule and implement it in a timely manner. For instance, can we force the grantees to put everything in Open Access? It is all a question of costs... and, of course, there are different forms of Open Access.

Repositories store initial versions of publications, which often are not subject to copyrights – there are no issues here. However, in science we try to uphold a certain level of quality. It can be provided by journals which can operate in both a closed and an open way. Currently, the good Open Access ones charge quite a lot for each publication. However, we did make a step forward by setting up a Virtual Library of Science which is publicly accessible and allows to view all kinds of scientific journals, published by Nature Publishing, Elsevier, Wiley or Springer. In some cases, like with Springer, we negotiated an opportunity for Polish authors to publish for free in Open Access in the journals whose licences we bought. So far, so good, right? Everybody should make sure that their publication would be available to the widest possible audience.

With other journals, those from Nature Publishing or Elsevier – the publication costs would be considerable. Just look at the costs of library subscriptions. Many universities or research units try to save money here, because they have access to publications through a Virtual Library of Science. We can buy either national or consortium licences – the latter only if the number of recipients is relatively small. Now, if we obliged everyone to publish, it would be necessary to pump a lot of money into grants designed for publication. It's rather not possible, because there are no additional funds. However, we can still lobby for open publication through our evaluation system, either directed at units or individual researchers, encouraging them to make their work as widely accessible as possible. When you put your works in Open Access, the chance of being cited is higher. If we take citations and accessibility into account in our evaluation, we will have a soft point of pressure. Can we gather enough funds in the next year's budget to use them and support publishing in highly ranked OpenAccess journals? We'll see.

I have an idea which was not yet included in the document we sent out. The idea was that we ourselves should create some platforms that would function in connection with the journals. Platforms that will publish scientific books. There is a lot to do here, especially in the humanities and social sciences, because social and historical publications tend to have a very limited circulation. And if they're published on paper only, they end up in some libraries, and few people ever have a chance to reach them. And so, the money seeps through the cracks – there isn't much return we get from that. Polish authors are under-appreciated because their works are not easily accessible. The idea is to prevent this by creating repositories – and we have a couple of those – to share books, publications, and journals. In Poland we have about 2,000 journals and, according to Wikipedia, this includes 121 historical journals. It is a great number, but it does not influence the general view of Polish science. There are people – very competent people – that see Polish science as weak. They complain about it being somewhere past the four– or five-hundredth mark in the ranking. They are often professors at prestigious universities. And when you ask them: “What did you do to put your university higher in the ranking?”, they have no answer. Their works are stored on shelves, in libraries, well-hidden. No one can index them properly, so a chance for the university to go up in the ranking is virtually nil. So we need to look at ourselves first and answer: “What did I do for my university to perform better in the ranking?”.

To do better, you need to have a more efficient platform. We will have this opportunity – on one hand, there are repositories. We would like to have open journals that will verify their content in terms of quality and will slowly gain recognition. The idea of a journal platform is developing – there are several such initiatives. The biggest one is part of the SYNAT and Open Science projects run by the Interdisciplinary Centre for Mathematical and Computational Modelling in Warsaw. ICM is involved with supporting and creating such repositories and platforms. There are over 400 journals that agreed for their content to be published there. Some of those journals are private, which cause copyright and administrative disputes, but some journals are already on this platform. There are several universities running their own platforms. UMK in Toruń currently hosts 46 of its own and 40 external journals. The Jagiellonian University has several dozen journals, and so does the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN). A consortium of research institutes from PAN created the RCIN repository, which already cooperates with about 40 institutes. It is a massive-scale movement. A lot of journals are being scanned. From what I've heard, the National Library is already scanning 1100 out of the total number of 1900 Polish scholarly journals. So the information does get out into public circulation. We expect this to give us a number of advantages, including better benchmarks to measure the quality of journals. And in our evaluations of the units' scientific activity, we would be able to create meaningful indices, set a scoring system that would measure how often a journal is cited and how it is viewed. But most importantly – the authors will gain recognition. Maybe new citations will appear and everything will go in the right direction.

We may even start thinking about transferring the journals themselves – I have already talked to representatives of Elsevier and they are willing to transfer our best journals from our own open platforms to the Science Direct Platform. Not for free, of course, but I think that costs will not be excessive, and it could help some of our journals to become visible at an international level. Now for the other possibility: in the last dozen years we saw the emergence of mega-journals such as PLoS ONE. There are at least seven consortia that include scientific publications in their portfolios. They create platforms whose operating model is very different. It is not a typical journal with an editorial board – it is a journal which only decides whether a given work makes sense and is worth accepting. Evaluation of the work itself is performed in the course of discussion that occurs after it appears on the platform. This completely changes the paradigm of science evaluation. The method might not be popular in Poland – yet – but PLoS ONE is a highly valued platform, publishing works from many different areas. The citations from them are many, so I hope that would be the direction we can go. Creating our own platforms, helping to set up such mega-platforms in the future – this requires a wider discussion in the academic circles. I hope it could begin in September, when we receive the critical feedback concerning our proposals. We are determined to strengthen the position of our science and make this step forward. I hope we can achieve a lot during the next year, and that it won't be all promises.

Minister, can we please talk more of the division you have mentioned? I mean – the division into green OA (repositories)  and gold Open Access (open journals). You talked about platforms which would serve as a centre for sharing different journals, but I would like to speak of the repositories again. There are several internationally renowned repositories – like arXiv or PubMed Central. Does the Ministry's strategy differentiate between these two roads of Open Access, or shall one of them be somehow privileged?

We are not trying to grant privilege to anything. arXiv is always the starting point for a discussion. After that, proper publications appear and are verified by specialists who engage in such discussions. I imagine that our own repositories should also serve as a basis for discussion. This method of evaluating publications will keep changing, but the criteria right now are clear – we award points for the quality of journals in which papers are published. It would be very hard to change, saying: “go and publish in repositories, everyone, anywhere”. A verification needs to occur so we can tell good science from bad science. And judging by experience with our academic staff, generating a large number of citations in a repository is pretty easy. It would be more difficult to be cited in Nature, for example. But we are not really counting on it. I think a repository should be the first step towards a real publication – in a journal. The journal can be traditional – which limits the number of recipients – or virtual, open and easily accessible. Right now, thanks to national licences, we have a sort of Open Access, for which the Ministry pays a hefty sum. The academic circles don't always want to remember that. Right now, the biggest single item in our budget is the price that allows everyone to click and download for example Nature publications. Downloading a single work costs almost 50 PLN, so we are really pumping money into this. But there are many countries that don't have this access. Yesterday I met with the minister from Ukraine and their delegation complained about a lack of such access. They didn't invest in a similar open library. For them, Open Access really is a blessing. It allows them to reach any publication that's in there. I don't think we'd put more pressure on open repositories than journals. Both solutions are developing. We shall see what happens after the September conference.

Additional information