Home > Scholarly Communication > SCOAP3: a new model for scholarly communication?

SCOAP3: a new model for scholarly communication?

Motivation: I came across the SCOAP3 concept for the first time and decided to learn about it and see for myself whether it is as original and significant as described in a preprint article by Ivy Anderson’s and partly the SCOAP3 website.
Problem statement: A couple of things in the article were somewhat confusing to me, for instance, the originality and how SCOAP3 distinguishes itself from other OA alternatives, as well as its (perceived) role in scholarly communication.
Findings: I personally have a couple of notes on the wording of this preprint. It is not exactly clear what this person means exactly.
Conclusion: Even so, SCOAP3 is seemingly a very appealing initiative to support the Open Access movement.

I was reading about SCOAP3 (Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics) over at DigitalKoans. Or more precisely, a preprint of Ivy Anderson’s article “The Audacity of SCOAP3.”. SCOAP3 is (apparently) a new model for scholarly communication proposed by a community of scientists.

Physicists interested in expanding access to their literature have designed a novel approach to garner support from individual libraries, library consortia, research institutions, and even nation states to turn a core set of journals in the high energy physics discipline into open access publications.

OK, but what is so new about this? Well

The general plan is to provide a financial base of support by creating a consortium of institutions that would “redirect” the money they currently pay for subscription access to support open access publication.

The concept/model of shifting funds to support OA to scientific literature is not exactly new.

“You’re so impatient. Here read on.”

There are several important elements that distinguish SCOAP3 from other OA initiatives:

Right on, here we go.

SCOAP3 is a funding consortium that seeks to mediate between author and publisher, while still conceiving of payment as a supply-side activity. By pooling funds from multiple sources and asking publishers to submit to an open tender process, it is hoped that publishing fees can be reduced. This is fundamentally different from models that ask authors to cough up funds for their own articles or invite libraries to finance the publishing activity of their institutions’ authors in a decentralized, disintermediated, and ultimately unsustainable manner.

Aha, so the new element of this is that the main idea of shifting funds to authors/institutions to finance the journal peer review process by publishers is situated on a more united front to increase the efficiency and effectivity of mediating between authors and journal publishers. OK, that indeed sounds rather new and significant.

SCOAP3 is non-disruptive to authors—and to a substantial degree, to publishers and societies. As noted above, SCOAP3 insulates authors from publication charges, which can act as a powerful disincentive in the “authorpays” OA model.

Ok, consistent with the first point. The next piece in the same paragraph is a bit worrying, though.

In addition, it maintains the vetting and credentialing functions of the existing journals while transforming them to open access. This is why the societies that publish HEP journals have actively engaged in the discussions about SCOAP3—it proposes to support, not replace them. The most critical functions of the current scholarly system, functions which work well for scholars, are preserved under SCOAP3, while still undergoing significant transformation.

I wish he was a bit more clear when he mentioned the “other OA initiatives”, because I wonder how many of these OA initiatives are really proposing to do away with ‘the vetting and credentialing functions of the existing journals while transforming them to open access’. Hopefully, he simply added this as another characteristic of SCOAP3 and not as an advantage over other OA initiatives. Because I am pretty sure OA was never (by itself anyway) meant to disrupt/replace the certification function of the journal publishing model. And I absolutely cannot imagine the majority, or even a couple of significant OA proponents/models trying to strive for this notion. And that is a very important point to make! More on this from the “Open Access Overview” by Peter Suber.

SCOAP3 has the potential to fundamentally alter the role of libraries in the publishing process. SCOAP3 funding agencies, including libraries, will be responsible for the governance structure that is formed to contract with publishers for peer review and publishing services, placing libraries in a role that is well aligned with the “university as publisher” paradigm gaining currency in other areas of university-based scholarship.

Logically speaking this point is a bit awkward, as the plan was to be non-disruptive to authors and, to a substantial degree, to publishers. Indeed, in their own words: it is not about replacing but supporting them. But the university as publisher sounds more like a replacement of journal publishers than as support. From the originality perspective, OA has had its goal set on the so called Gold OA for a very long time: 100% OA journals, doing all the things that journal publishers do while conforming to OA. To get there would mean to utilize the concept of Green OA: self-archiving in OA repositories, which has been happening for some time and gaining traction. However, the “university as publisher” paradigm would mean that journal publishers either do not publish anymore and let libraries provide all the (new) articles, or journal publishers publish while libraries also provide articles from within OA repositories. Which means it is really no different from what is currently happening now and what the OA movement is trying to achieve with whatever concepts it is coming out with. More on this stuff over at Open Access Archivangelism: Primer on Peer Review, Payment and Publishing by Stevan Harnad.

Either way, scholarly communication has been and still is primarily done through (OA) journals. Thus, SOAP3 is a (probably significant) instrument to supplement these scholarly communication models but technically not a model for scholarly communication itself. Then again, it depends on what he means when he says ‘a new model for scholarly communication’. If he means “a new model for supporting scholarly communication”, then that is more accurate but completely different from “a new scholarly communication model”. In his defense: the article does lead me to think of the former and not the latter, but in that case would it not have been better to phrase it more directly like that?

“Aren’t you just messing around with semantics here?”

Not really. This is a big deal. Any genuine scholarly communication model has to fulfill these four fundamental functions of scholarly communication: registration, awareness, certification and archive [Roosendaal and Geurts, 1997]. More on these functions of a scholarly model, click here for the relevant blog post.

SCOAP3 does not do any of this, it is there to support the OA models that do, but it is by itself not a model that carries out these functions, so it is not a (new) scholarly communication model. On the plus side, I did not read any implications of SCOAP3 being a new scholarly communication model on the SCOAP3 website or in the Report of the SCOAP3 Working Party so there is no need for us to panic yet. They refer to SCOAP3 more appropriately: a new model for OA publishing. Which, depending on how you interpret it, is more accurate.

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