A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending OpenCon thanks to a gracious sponsorship from my institution, the University of Arizona. What is OpenCon? It is a small three-day conference of researchers, entrepreneurs, librarians, and others, where attendees learn about open access, open data, and open education through a series of keynotes, panels, and workshops (called unconference sessions) that finalizes in a day of advocacy. That sentence makes it seem like an overwhelming amount of information to pack into a short few days, and it was. It would make for a very long post, so I’m going to spread the information over two posts.
A large focus of OpenCon was about open access. Open access is about publishing the results of research and scholarly articles so that they are not hidden behind paywalls that prevent the information from getting to the people who need it. Journal subscription fees are ever rising, and some are insurmountable for libraries. Researchers often cannot access articles that they need. The public cannot read the results of research that their tax money helped pay for without paying for it a second time.
Panelist discussed various options to help address these issues. The ideal course is to publish in open journals as much as possible. This is not always possible for a variety of reason. Another option is to publish preprints, original drafts of the article submitted to the journal. While these versions are not citable, they can help other researchers better discern whether they should pay to obtain the published article.
Closely linked to open access is open data. According to SPAC, a global coalition committed to advocating for open data is
research data that: 1.Is freely available on the internet; 2. Permits any user to download, copy, analyze, re-process, pass to software or use for any other purpose; and 3. Is without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself.
Opening research data helps accelerate discovery by allowing other users to evaluate the data. It allows for multiple discoveries from the same data sets. And it is actually helpful to the researcher. This does not mean that the data need be released immediately, or that it be available before the originating researcher has finished analyzing the data. Open is about more agency not less. CERN publishes their data for others to use, but only after they have analyzed it. They classify the data they publish in levels, which you can check out here.
While open access and open data benefit the community, they can be beneficial to the researcher/author as well. It increases visibility, which increases citations. Preparing research data for open publication ensures the data is maintained in a perpetually usable format. A researcher’s lab notebook won’t become an indecipherable brick years after the research has been completed. All researchers will have access to larger amounts of data that could be mined to discover patterns not easily discerned by humans. Open is also becoming a requirement of more and more grants. NIH already requires that researchers publish their preprints to the PubMed database.
That’s only half of it. I’ll be back on the 15th to cover open education and advocating for change. Until then, take care!
I created a handout for a round-up presentation I gave that contained links to the various projects mentioned at OpenCon that have a web presence. You can find my list of project links on the UA repository here.