nature opens slush pile to the world 06.20.2007, 6:16 AM
posted by ben vershbow
This is potentially a big deal for scholarly publishing in the sciences. Inspired by popular "preprint" servers like the Cornell-hosted arXiv.org, the journal Nature just launched a site, "Nature Precedings", where unreviewed scientific papers can be posted under a CC license, then discussed, voted upon, and cited according to standards usually employed for peer-reviewed scholarship.
Over the past decade, preprint archives have become increasingly common as a means of taking the pulse of new scientific research before official arbitration by journals, and as a way to plant a flag in front of the gatekeepers' gates in order to outmaneuver competition in a crowded field. Peer review journals are still the sine qua non in terms of the institutional warranting of scholarship, and in the process of academic credentialling and the general garnering of prestige, but the Web has emerged as the arena where new papers first see the light of day and where discussion among scholars begins to percolate. More and more, print publication has been transforming into a formal seal of approval at the end of a more unfiltered, networked process. Clearly, Precedings is Nature's effort to claim some of the Web territory for itself.
From a cursory inspection of the site, it appears that they're serious about providing a stable open access archive, referencable in perpetuity through broadly accepted standards like DOI (Digital Object Identifier) and Handles (which, as far as I can tell, are a way of handling citations of revised papers). They also seem earnest about hosting an active intellectual community, providing features like scholar profiles and a variety of feedback mechanisms. This is a big step for Nature, especially following their tentative experiment last year with opening up peer review. At that time they seemed almost keen to prove that a re-jiggering of the review process would fail to yield interesting results and they stacked their "trial" against the open approach by not actually altering the process, or ultimately, the stakes, of the closed-door procedure. Not surprisingly, few participated and the experiment was declared an interesting failure. Obviously their thinking on this matter did not end there.
Hosting community-moderated works-in-development might just be a new model for scholarly presses, and Nature might just be leading the way. We'll be watching this one.
More on David Weinberger's blog.
KF on June 20, 2007 6:51 AM:
This is an exciting development, of course. But one potential area of concern, raised at a meeting I recently attended of folks working in the digital publishing divisions of university presses and university libraries, is that (with all the necessary caveats about the Creative Commons licensing arrangements they're using) publishing "precedings" will allow Nature to claim some degree of "ownership" of scholarly material that much sooner in the process of its development. Given that the Nature Publishing Group is of course a for-profit organ (a division of Macmillan), one has to wonder what how they might seek to capitalize on such ownership, and what the unintended consequences for scholars might wind up being...
ben vershbow on June 21, 2007 6:15 AM:
Good point, Kathleen.
A quick scan of the about page confirms that authors do retain rights to their submission. In the section "Copyright, citation and DOIs" it says:
Copyright for all material published here remains with the author(s). Others may make use of the material under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.
But you're right, there is a fuzzy sort of claim Nature exerts over this stuff, not unlike the hold YouTube or Flickr has over content submitted by their users. As Proceedings develops over time, we may find that what becomes more valuable to Macmillan is the discussion that is generated around papers, more than the papers themselves. That and the various other contextual data (votes, citation indices, tagging etc.) that accrue over time. At the moment, MacMillan doesn't assert firm ownership over these sorts of contributions. On the Terms and Conditions page, in the section "Contributions and Links," it says the following:
Any opinion, advice, statement, service, offer, or information or content provided or made by any third party on the this website, or on any website to which this website is linked, is that of the author or provider, and not of Macmillan Publishing Limited.
This is better than Amazon's claim over Customer Reviews:
If you do post content or submit material, and unless we indicate otherwise, you grant Amazon.com and its affiliates a nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, and fully sublicensable right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, and display such content throughout the world in any media.
Nevertheless, this is something to keep an eye on.
bowerbird on June 21, 2007 7:00 AM:
society needs to get the profit-mongers _out_ of
our cultural infrastructure, no doubt about that.
(i hope my stance on that point is crystal clear.)
at the same time, i have a good amount of reluctance
to condemn any entity that is out on front on all this,
just because they happen to be a for-profit entity.
we absolutely need leaders, folks, from any sector.
especially if we as a society fail to provide any
means for our academics to partake in cyberspace
(and both the government and the private colleges
have failed in a big way to step up to the plate
on this issue), let's be glad there is _someone_
who is willing to get out in front. even if they
will tie up our "metadata" more than we'd like...
T. Ehling on June 21, 2007 8:38 AM:
This is more subtle than rights assertion. What Nature has promulgated with the Precedings is signal. It represents a concerted move upstream by a commercial publisher. Nature is one of the most powerful brands in science publishing. They will be commoditzing the authoring process (in-process communications) by simply branding (not even monetizing) these informal works. It also, of course, positions Nature advantageously to capture the author's more formal instantiation of the work downstream. This is a development to watch very closely.
Timo Hannay on June 24, 2007 11:44 AM:
We (at Nature) don't have any special rights over the content in Nature Precedings. Authors retain copyright and we issue it under the same CC Attribution licence that everyone else can use too.
I agree that there's a potential concern over what might happen in future (e.g., if we were to be bought or even closed down) in the event we were the only hosts of this material. That's exactly why we're working with organisations like the British Library and the European Bioinformatics Institute (and others we aren't ready to announce yet). We intend for the content to be stored in multiple open long-term archives that will ensure it's free availability for as long as people find it useful.
Of course we hope that Nature Precedings itself will thrive as an ideas exchange. But we don't intend to lock up this information in any way, and we're always open to suggestions about how to do a better job in this respect.
(Disclosure: I am director of web publishing at Nature and responsible for Nature Precedings.)
bowerbird on June 25, 2007 1:10 PM:
> We intend for the content to be stored in
> multiple open long-term archives that will
> ensure it's free availability for as long as
> people find it useful.
thank you. that's great news! (well, except
for that extra apostrophe in "its". good thing
you're a tech-head and not an editor...) ;+)