Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Fire and Forget: The Publication Deletion Quandary

What's the biggest challenge in acheiving open access today? Publisher's changing their rules? CRISes? Lack of visibility of the repository in the academic community? Insufficent staff?

No, I think it's the following commonly heard statement

I do not have the final accepted version of the paper. Once published, I delete such materials

How many times have you heard that from an academic? It seems no matter how much we advocate or mandate deposit in our repositories that there seems to be a common mindset that earlier versions of articles aren't worth keeping. I keep all the itteractions of mine but then I'm a paranoid kinda author whose been burned in the past with data loss.

I’ve often tried to fathom the reason why so many researchers delete earlier versions of their works. One of them I spoke with recently commented that he was worried about using up disk space, but I’d be surprised that given the average hard drive can contain 1000s of articles I say this is just a bit of a hangover from smaller computers.

Personally I’m keen for academics to start thinking along the lines of “submit to publish –> submit to archive –> promote” as the modern scholarly publishing , given that with so many articles being published globally today ensuring that yours are read and become as impactful as possible needs every possible competitive advantage we can bring to bear. Naturally though given the restrictive nature of most publishers Copyright Transfer Agreements (CTAs) in terms of what repositories and authors can do with the published version, it’s key in order to archive that researchers get into the habit of retaining pre-publication versions of publications. Not to mention of course that many of us have mandates requiring the deposit anyway.

But back to the crux - how do we stop academics from the fire and forget publication paradigm (publish->delete)? Education and advocacy are certainly key here, but you'll forgive me if I'm a little cynical about how much we can change academics time worn publication habits. All of us know there's a serious inertia that requires an almighty and sharp stick actively waved in their faces (a mandate with teeth or Princeton's new policy perhaps) before they change.

I'd be especially interested if anyone has any good ideas in this area of practical steps we can take to shift them from this. Even if they're not depositing knowing that the acceptable versions of the papers are there to be harvested at least makes the OA mountain a little less steep to climb.

And to finish on a positive note it's not everyone. I met with two academics a week or so ago. One of them said the classic quote at the top. And the other.

"Oh I keep every version of my papers"

The difference? It was the age - the one whom retained them was a younger researcher, whom had grown up like me with large disk spaces as a matter of course. The one whom didn't was older. So perhaps over time we may find it gets easier as younger researchers not accustomed to clearing their disk space ever come on stream. We can, perhaps, hope!

1 comment:

  1. There is an interesting and related comment in a piece in the Guardian today -

    The important bit is the para where the interviewee states - "Still, many of my colleagues say it's not their job to see that their research has an impact outside of academia. They say their job is to write, peer review, reference journal articles, and it's for policy makers, or practitioners to read that research and soak up what they want to".

    Until this attitude changes, its unlikely that we will get as much buy in as we would like.

    As he goes on to say later - academics should see their contribution to impact as a 'moral duty'

    Can we change this attitude, that has been ingrained and permitted over the years - I'm not sure. The important point you pick up here I think is the need for us to work closely with academic development and new career researchers in particular. We can nurture these staff to think of publishing as being the start of the life of the research, not the end.