A few weeks ago, in “Scraps and Jottings” I tried to reflect, while talking about the newly-launched journal Cureus, an increasing feeling that both traditional publishers and the mujahaddeen of the Open Access world (yes, that good Mullah Harnad and his ilk) are both being overtaken by events. The real democratization which will change this world is popular peer review. Since the Mujahadeen got in and named the routes to Open Access Paradise as Green and Gold, and publishers seem quite happy to work within these definitions, especially if they are gold, I have no choice but to name the Post Publication Peer Review process as the Black Route to Open Access. You read it here first.

This thought is underlined by the announcement, since I wrote my previous piece, that the Faculty of 1000 (F1000Research) service has emerged from its six month beta and can now be considered fully launched. Here we have a fully developed service, dedicated to immediate “publication”, inclusive of all data, totally open and unrestricted in access and enabling thorough and innovative refereeing as soon as the article is available. And the refereeing is open – no secrets of the editorial board here, since all of the reports and commentaries are published in full with the names and affiliations of referees. The F1000Research team report that in the last six months they have covered major research work from very prominent funders – Wellcome, NIH etc – and that they now have 200 leading medical and biological science researchers on their International Advisory panel and more than 1000 experts on the Editorial Board (see http://f1000research.com). And since they have a strategic alliance with figshare, the Macmillan Digital Science company, “publishing” in this instance could be as simple as placing the article in the researcher’s own repository and opening it up within F1000Research. And since othe partners include Dryad and biosharing, the data can also be co-located within specialized data availability services. Saves all those long waits – as soon as it is there, with its data as well, the article is ready to be referenced alongside the academic’s next grant application. The fact that all current publishing has been accompanied by the relevant data release (for which read genomes, spreadsheets, videos, images, software, questionnaires etc) indicates that this too is not the barrier that conventional article publishing made it out to be.

Ah, you will say, the problem here is that the article will not get properly into the referencing system and without a “journal” brand attached to it there will be a tendency to lose it. Well, some months ago Elsevier agreed that Scopus and Embase would carry abstracts of these articles, and, as as I write PubMed has agreed to inclusion once post-publication review has taken place. But then, you will say, these articles will not have the editorial benefits of orthodox journal publishing, or appear in enhanced article formats. Well, nothing prevents a research project or a library licensing Utopia Docs, and nothing inhibits a freelance market of sub-editors selling in services if F1000Research cannot provide them – this is one labour market which is dismally well staffed at present.

Now that F1000Research has reached this point it is hard to see it not move on and begin to influence the stake which conventional publishing has already established in conventional Open Access publishing. And F1000 obviously has interesting development plans of its own: its F1000Trials service is already in place to cover this critical part of bio-medical scholarly communication, and, to my great joy, it has launched F1000Posters, covering a hugely neglected area for those trying to navigate and annotate change and track developments. Alongside Mendeley and the trackability of usage, post-publication review seems to me a further vital step towards deep, long term change in the pattern of making research available. My new year recommendation to heads of STM publishing houses is thus simple: dust off those credit cards, book a table at Pied de Terre, and invite Vitek round for lunch. He has not sold an STM company since BMC, but it looks as if he has done the magic once again.

But, now, I must end on a sad note. The suicide this week of Aaron Swartz, at the age of 26, is a tragic loss. I understand that he will be known as one of the inventors of RSS – and of Reddit – and he had been inventing and hacking since he was 13. PACER/RECAP controversially “liberated” US Common Law to common use. He was known to suffer from severe depression and it appears that he ended his life in a very depressed state. But here is what Cory Doctorow (http://boingboing.net/2013/01/12/rip-aaron-swartz.html) had to say about what might have been a contributory factor:

“Somewhere in there, Aaron’s recklessness put him right in harm’s way. Aaron snuck into MIT and planted a laptop in a utility closet, used it to download a lot of journal articles (many in the public domain), and then snuck in and retrieved it. This sort of thing is pretty par for the course around MIT, and though Aaron wasn’t an MIT student, he was a fixture in the Cambridge hacker scene, and associated with Harvard, and generally part of that gang, and Aaron hadn’t done anything with the articles (yet), so it seemed likely that it would just fizzle out.

Instead, they threw the book at him. Even though MIT and JSTOR (the journal publisher) backed down, the prosecution kept on. I heard lots of theories: the feds who’d tried unsuccessfully to nail him for the PACER/RECAP stunt had a serious hate-on for him; the feds were chasing down all the Cambridge hackers who had any connection to Bradley Manning in the hopes of turning one of them, and other, less credible theories. A couple of lawyers close to the case told me that they thought Aaron would go to jail.”

Well, one thing we can be quite certain about. Protecting intellectual property or liberating it cannot ever be worth a single human life.


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