Monday, May 14, 2012

Remote Sensing journals and open access

The Remote Sensing Applications Research Group at Surrey Space Centre is in the first stages of thinking about the new Research Excellence Framework (REF) system that will be used to assess the quality of our research.

We've been told by the University that we each need to demonstrate four "research outcomes" for REF. Initially, we've been given the advice that an appropriate "outcome" would be a journal paper published in one of the "top five journals in our field", as determined by various arbitrary and generally misleading journal metrics. Unfortunately, at a recent meeting to discuss this, we realised that there were a few problems with this; for example, the list of "remote sensing" journals as categorised by the ISI Web of Knowledge Journal Citation Reports included quite a few journals that would have been completely inappropriate for our work, while some highly relevant and high-profile journals such as IEEE J-STARS were a long way down the list due to being newer and not yet having had time to accrue high-scoring metrics.

However, I noted and was asked to further investigate another potential problem with our list of target journals: the problem of up-and-coming open access mandates from our UK funding bodies.

The 2001 Budapest Open Access Initiative defined open access as:

Free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of... articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself.

The policy that the UK Research Councils (RCUK) are proposing to adopt in the near future would make it mandatory to publish results from research that is wholly or partially funded by the research councils in journals that meet RCUK standards for open access. This is a significant departure from the previous position, where open access publishing even of research council-funded results has been effectively optional. The key points from the draft policy seem to be:

  • A user must be able to access, read and re-use papers free of charge under an extremely permissive licence. RCUK explicitly identify the Creative Commons CC-BY licence as a model.
  • Open access to the paper may be provided directly by the publisher via the journal's website at the time of publication ("Gold OA"; publishers may charge the authors for this), or the author can archive the final version of the paper as accepted for publication in an online repository other than one run by the publisher ("Green OA"). Surrey Research Insight is an example of such a repository. Journals are allowed to impose an embargo of at most 6 months.
  • RCUK grant funding can be used to pay publishers for Gold OA publication, and researchers are recommended to request funding for this in grant applications.

The question, therefore, is: to what extent do "remote sensing" journals comply with this policy? To answer this, I examined the publication policies of all English-language journals in this category with respect to self-archiving of the accepted version of a paper (Green OA), the "normal" published paper, and (if applicable) paid-for open access publication (Gold OA), using the SHERPA RoMEO database, Ross Mounce's publisher licence spreadsheet, and publishers' websites. My results are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Remote sensing journal compliance with proposed RCUK open access rules, sorted in descending order of impact factor. "R" indicates restrictions on "open access" options that prevent full compliance. Minimum publication fees are shown in brackets.
NamePublisherRegularGreen OAGold OA
Remote Sens. Environ.ElsevierNoRR ($3000)
IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Sens.IEEENoRR ($3000)
ISPRS J. Photogramm. Remote Sens.ElsevierNoRR ($3000)
J. GeodesySpringerNoRYes ($3000)
Int. J. Appl. Earth Obs. Geoinf.ElsevierNoRR ($3000)
GPS Solut.SpringerNoRYes ($3000)
Int. J. Digit. EarthTaylor & FrancisNoRR ($3250)
IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Lett.IEEENoRR ($3000)
Int. J. Remote Sens.Taylor & FrancisNoRR ($3250)
GISci. Remote Sens.BellwetherNoNoNo
J. Appl. Remote Sens.SPIENoRUnclear ($1500)
J. Spat. Sci.Taylor & FrancisNoRNo
Can. J. Remote Sens.Can. Aeronautics and Space Inst.NoNoNo
Radio Sci.AGUR ($1000)RR ($3500)
Photogramm. Eng. Remote Sens.ASPRSNoUnclearNo
Photogramm. Rec.Wiley-BlackwellNoRR ($3000)
Mar. Geod.Taylor & FrancisNoRNo
Surv. Rev.ManeyNoRR ($2000)
Eur. J. Remote Sens.Assoc. Ital. TelerilvamentoYesN/AN/A

The most common restrictions encountered on Gold OA content were prohibition of commercial use (e.g. via explicit Creative Commons CC-BY-NC licensing), prohibition of redistribution, and field-of-use restrictions such as prohibition of text-mining. In addition to these restrictions, in several cases self-archiving was only permitted with an embargo period of more than 6 months. One somewhat bizarrely convoluted rule for Elsevier journals can be boiled down to: "You may archive the accepted version of your paper in your funding body's repository, but only if you don't have to archive it in your funding body's repository."

At this stage, Springer's recent change to CC-BY licensing of papers in their "Open Choice" system is particularly notable. It's also clear our current target journals (IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Sens. and IEEE J-STARS) still have some way to go before they will be BOAI-compliant or compliant with the proposed RCUK publication requirements. In my opinion, over the next few years a good outcome would be for publishers like IEEE and Elsevier to standardise on CC-BY publication for Gold OA publications.

In the short term, I will be recommending to my group that we should consider submitting to open access megajournals such as PLoS ONE, many of which have considerably higher journal metrics than any of the dedicated remote sensing journals. Adding PLoS ONE to the Space Centre's list of preferred journals should not be particularly controversial, as it is already listed as a preferred journal for other research centres in the faculty.

In conclusion, I have demonstrated that the open access publishing options available in the field of remote sensing are limited, and that this may become a problem if stricter rules, similar to those set out by the Budapest Open Access initiative, are laid down by the UK Research Councils. Either journal publishers will have to change their policies, or research groups in this field will need to consider different publishing strategies.

This post is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) licence.


whatever said...

I am puzzled by the choice of a licence allowing remixing and adaptations, for an academic world that invented the concept of self-plagiarism. When remixing yourself is considered poor form, what is the point of remixing others' work? Translation into other languages?

But you should flesh this article out, submit it, and get it published somewhere.

Greetings from Sydney


whatever said...

Damned if i can get openid to work, so using google. L.

Peter Brett said...

Hi Lloyd,

Sorry that your comments didn't show up straight away -- for some reason I had moderation enabled.

The point of a licence allowing remixing/adaptations is to enable techniques such as automated text mining of a large corpus of papers (which, for example, has generated some quite interesting results in as diverse fields as chemistry and palaeontology).

Another example is that of allowing students, lecturers and researchers to reuse figures, with attribution, in literature reviews or course materials to present the results of previous work without having to reproduce it from scratch. Currently, this is illicit copyright infringement.

Personally, I think the concept of self-plagiarism is utterly ridiculous.

Thank you for your suggestion of fleshing this article out and publishing it. Do you have any suggestions about which journal might be appropriate?

whatever said...

I'd suggest, if the focus of the expanded version is on copyright issues and internet publication, looking at First Monday. If sticking to the effects on publishing in remote sensing, Remote Sensing Letters looks like a good venue.

Of course neither of these matters for the REF... But only career academics care about that.