“Limiting access to literature means limiting the rate at which we produce new knowledge, and the publishers should be held accountable for that.”

This is a weekly series highlighting Open Access Button users from around the world, discussing their work, and sharing their stories. If you would like to participate, please email oabutton@gmail.com.

 

This week we caught up with Timothée Poisot, a computational ecologist, whose research focuses on understanding how species interactions change over time and space, and the consequences of these changes for emergent ecosystem properties. Starting in January, he will be joining the Department of Biology at Université de Montreal as an Assistant Professor!

Tim uses the Open Access Button to raise awareness about the tenuous relationship between scholarly publishers and knowledge production: “Their business model is to transform (our) knowledge and free labour into (their) money. “

Tim uses the Open Access Button to raise awareness about the tenuous relationship between scholarly publishers and knowledge production: “Their business model is to transform (our) knowledge and free labour into (their) money. “

Despite being a huge consumer of publicly available data and an active contributor to empirical datasets, Timothée is still not convinced that there is anything wrong with the publishing system itself. In this view, we are navigating a fitness landscape, and even though we are not at the optimum yet, we’re probably not that far. “What we need is to tweak around the existing processes: open post-publication peer-review, low-cost open access, mandatory data and code deposition. “ Since the publishing system was designed decades ago, it needs time to catch-up with new tools and practices to function properly.

Nonetheless, Tim recognizes that big publishers have a parasitic relationship with science: “Their business model is to transform (our) knowledge and free labour into (their) money. “ In fact, this is something we should all collectively try to stop by encouraging new initiatives that offer cheap CC-BY open access (he is a huge fan of PeerJ, for instance), or by publishing in societies-operated journals, that will then be driven by the dissemination of knowledge instead of profit.

Working in research-focused, financially well-off universities, Timothée usually don’t have much trouble accessing information he needs. He admits that, like most early-career scientists, he has been known to exploit administrative inertia to keep institutional identifiers when necessary. And, of course, if all else fails, “there is always Twitter and the #icanhazpdf hashtag.” Ironically, he’s run into instances of being unable to access the PDFs of his own papers, but this was nothing too infuriating or time-consuming in his opinion.

Nonetheless, he realizes that the situation is entirely different for his research collaborators in sub-Saharan Africa or South-Eastern Asia: “If the paper is not open-access, they can’t read it.” Like many of our blog interviewees have echoed in the past, by deploying paywalls, big publishers are effectively keeping developing countries out of the global scientific community, and thereby, limiting economic development as well.

As a result, despite being fairly fortunate to have access to information he needs, Tim uses the Open Access Button to raise awareness as well as to constitute a database of daily paywalls hit. In fact, he would be really curious to find out if some fields are affected by paywalls more than others. Are there fields of knowledge we are being kept out of by publishers? “Limiting the access to literature means limiting the rate at which we produce new knowledge, and the publishers should be held accountable for that.”

Tim puts his Open Access advocacy into action by contributing to initiatives he values, such as Figshare for unlimited access to data and ImpactStory for alternative metrics to impact factor. Whenever possible, he discusses the ethical implications of deciding where to publish with his colleagues and students. “At this point, picking a journal is a political choice that comes with implications … I think we are about to either shift towards a new mode of publishing science, or just about to split the community in two. I try to explain that.” As a journal reviewer, he also encourages authors to make their data publicly available in a citable format for access and reuse. While he may not produce original data often, he nevertheless walks the talk by putting them online as well! “Oh, and I try to publish in OA journals,” he adds. “If not, I make all my PDFs available online.”

So what can we do to change the publishing system for good? In Timothée’s view, “waiting to see how it turns out” is not a sustainable solution. He believes that, as more researchers publish in journals that are compatible with their ethics, a strong message gets communicated to more traditional/conservative publishers. “Again, I don’t think the current system should be changed. We need to identify areas of improvement, and publish where the best practices are implemented.” Alternative journals like F1000Research and PeerJ, and society-operated journals with Open Access mandates are good, although he wishes that society-operated journals offered cheaper OA fees.

 

We would like to thank Tim for taking the time to share his Open Access story with us, and we look forward to seeing his continued advocacy effort, as well as his future Open Access publications! You can follow him on Twitter at @tpoi and follow the Open Access Button at @OA_Button. Be sure to download the Open Access Button at openaccessbutton.org and join researchers like Timothée in documenting the failure of publishers.

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