July 25, 2007 3 Comments
I am currently working on a paper, trying to outline our informatics strategy for the polymer science and in particular for the polymer pharmaceuticals community. As part of the paper, I am reviewing sources of polymer information and their accessibility in terms of open access. And, it will come as no surprise, that the situation is depressing.
So what are the sources of polymer information? Well, there are mainly three: papers, theses and data compilations. Let’s look at these in turn.
Papers. Well, Peter continues to blog about this extensively. Papers are copyrighted by the publisher – all rights reserved. Open Access publishing is practically not done in the polmer science: papers submitted to the standard canon of polymer journals (including supplementary information where available) are fully copyrighted by the publisher. There is a tiny spark of light: e-polymers. Here’s a journal description copied from the e-Polymers website:
e-Polymers is a peer-reviewed internet journal under the auspices of the European Polymer Federation (EPF). In the area of polymer science and engineering, it makes novel scientific and technological results available both in academia and industry, and basically free of charge.
Furthermore, e-Polymers is a forum dedicated to the free and fast exchange of information. Therefore, it will comprise
- original publications on basic polymer science and engineering,
- reviews on trends in science and technology, in academia and industry,
- reports on educational topics,
- information about joint programmes, e.g. of the EU,
- job advertisements and appointments of new chairs etc.,
- business reports (abstracts),
- commercial links and advertisements.
Thus, e-Polymers is the answer to the strange situation that many institutions cannot afford to subscribe to journals which – at the same time – they strongly support by submission of high-quality papers, refereeing etc.”
So far so good. Or not, as the matter may be. When first reading this, one could get the impression, that words and phrases such as “free” and “e-Polymers is the answer to the strange situation that many institutions cannot afford to subscribe to journals which – at the same time – they strongly support by submission of high-quality papers, refereeing etc.” would point to an open access publication or at least to the spirit of open culture. However, this is not so. Upon closer inspection of the author instructions one finds, that upon acceptance of a paper submitted to e-Polymers, the author transfers all copyright to the journal. The journal is therefore merely free to view (which is a first step) but NOT open access according to the Budapest Open Access Initiative Declaration. When digging around the website further, one finds even more obstacles: the journal is a priori only free to view for participating institutions and their members. Non-members can gain free access, though this has to be requested via an institutional library. So it is free to view with obstacles, which removes us even further from true open access. Nevertheless, the European Polymer Federation seems to have correctly diagnosed the problem in scientific publishing at the moment and has taken a baby step to address the issue of access. This is encouraging and maybe can be built on to move to full open access in the future.
Theses. The problems associated with theses in the polymer science field are the same as those encountered for theses in general: availability/accessibility and a clear licence. Although the situation is improving, a significant number of institutions only require the submission of one or several paper copies of a doctoral thesis. As such, of course, the contents of the thesis is lost in terms of machine processing and information extraction. But even when available in an institutional repository, there is usually a lack of a clear licence or the contents are again copyrighted by the institution itself and therefore cannot be freely accessed and used in terms of the Budapest Open Access defintion.
Data Compilations. A number of compilations for polymer data exist, which are in extensive use by scientists. The most important ones are the Polymer Handbook (Eds. Brandrup, Immergut), The Wiley Database of Polymer Properties, Polymers – A Property Database and the PoLyInfo database. Let’s look at these in turn:
The Polymer Handbook. Published by Wiley. Non-digital, contents copyrighted and all rights reserved by Wiley, commercial.
The Wiley Database of Polymer Properties. Published by Wiley and essentially a HTML version of the Polymer Handbook. Digital, subscription basis, log-in required, contents copyrighted and all rights reserved by Wiley, commercial.
Polymers – A Property Database. Published by Taylor and Francis. Digital, subscription basis, log-in required, contents copyrighted and all rights reserved by Taylor and Francis, commercial.
PoLyInfo Database. Developed by the National Institute for Materials Science of Japan. Digital, log-in required, contents copyrighted and all rights reserved by NIMS, non-commercial, free to view.
So overall, the situation is even worse than for small molecule chemistry, where open access resources are starting to make a real impact and which is increasingly liberating chemistry data (see, for example, PubChem, CrystalEye). At the moment, there is nothing even remotely comparable for polymers.
So, how could we change the situation? Clearly, there needs to be a multipronged approach:
Community building: There are a number of existing or emerging polymer communities, which might be open to the idea of open data – a collaboration with just one of them could be enough to act as a demonstrator and maybe is catalytic.
Continued advocacy: Open Culture advocates are getting increasingly vocal and efforts such as those of Peter, Peter Suber, the Creative and Science Commons, the Open Knowledge Foundation (Rufus Pollock) and many many others are invaluable. Education must be part of this: where students are not already aware, they ought to be confronted with the idea as undergraduates: nowhere more so than in chemistry.
Continued technology development: The more I understand about the technologies that we are currently developing and that are already changing the face of the internet, the more I am convinced that these technologies in themselves will force a radical change in the business model that is driving scientific publishing. The current one is becoming increasingly untenable and the aggressive behaviour currently shown by some publishers only indicates an attempt to defend a dying business.
Continued pressure from funding bodies: Funding bodies need to be convinced to “vote with their wallets” and require researchers to deposit manuscripts and data in OA archives/repositories as a condition of funding. The Wellcome Trust is exemplary in this context.
Maybe in this way, we will be able to remove the enclosure, that is currently choking “the intangible commons of the mind” that currently impedes scientific progress.
 Willinsky, J., The Access Principle – The Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, (2006) and references therein. (Available under CC licence from MIT Press webpage)