Open Science needs infrastructures

Dr Marc Scheufen talks about his Open Science insights

Photo of Dr Marc Scheufen

Three key Learnings:

  • Open Access journals in economics need renowned economists willing to engage.
  • Open Science costs money.
  • In economics an accelerated development towards Open Access can be observed.

You have done research about Open Access in economics. What is your current assessment of the transformation in the Open Access publishing market?

MS: We are working on a special issue of the journal “Managerial and Decision Economics” and will contribute an article ourselves. One essential benefit of Open Access is that due to a potentially larger readership the probability of getting more citations also rises. There is more appreciation. In this special issue we have compared two ideal types of disciplines: biology and economics. Maybe you know the book I wrote with Thomas Eger, “The Economics of Open Access: On the Future of Academic Publishing” where we observe different publishing cultures. Biology is an example for the golden culture, economics for the green culture. We noticed that in biology a disproportionate number of publications is published in Gold Open Access and little in Green. In economics we see the reverse phenomenon, there’s more publishing in Green and almost none in Gold Open.

How do you explain this?

MS: My explanation is that in economics there are hardly any benefits to publishing in Gold Open. That is what we have found in a recent paper where we studied whether the citation benefit is real. And yes, there are definite benefits in biology because they have particularly good Open Access journals. I’m thinking here especially of the PLOS journals. There are no such eminent Open Access journals in economics. That’s the significant difference. Among the Top 10 journals there is not a single journal that is completely Open Access, the first one shows up among the Top 50. The necessary Open Access infrastructures are non-existent.

How high is the awareness of Open Access in the economics community in your opinion?

MS: I think one problem in the academic community is that in the safety of their institution they do not feel the paywall. Most researchers are affiliated one way or another with an institution which has access to articles. Most of them have access to licences through their libraries. I believe that’s why we don’t feel the benefits because we always have access. We think we have free access. Very few of us really know that our institution has to pay a lot of money for this.

How extensive is the knowledge of cost structures, publishing models and the academic publishing market within the economics community?

MS: Whenever I give presentations or talk to colleagues I realise that there is minimal knowledge of the publishing market. Hardly anyone has heard of the serials crisis, which has brought libraries to their knees financially, because it barely touches them. Access to the journals they need is still available despite rising costs and stagnant budgets, so they don’t notice.

How important is it to pass on information about the publishing market to economic researchers?

MS: Very important, definitely. I don’t know myself how much my institution pays for this. I would like to see more transparency here. I am just working on the special issue. In the introduction I want to give a short descriptive insight into the development of the publishing market and it would be wonderful to have a database that makes transparent to me how much which institution pays for access to which journals. There’s no such thing, unfortunately.

You said economics lacks an Open Access infrastructure. Which institution would ideally back this? Would such an infrastructure rather be community-owned or  established by publishers? What would be your ideal?

MS: It is essential that it is backed by good, iconic researchers. That raises the willingness to publish in Gold Open Access. The question in economics is who forges ahead and sets the ball rolling.

So in the best case you need a handful of Nobel laureates who lend their names?

MS: They should not only lend their names but actively take part in setting the process in motion. It is quite difficult to effect a turnaround against the market power of the established players. But in a recent study we can see that the speed of the development towards more use of Open Access is a little higher in economics than in biology, so the gap may narrow in the near future.

What is your assessment of the current development of Open Science?

MS: I have been participating in this transformation process for eleven years now and I have written my PhD thesis on it. There’s a perceptible rethinking going on and I see this as very positive. In particular the DEAL project has initiated more change. At Wiley and Springer, for instance. But if you work internationally, things get complicated. I can speak from my own experience here. Our special issue for “Managerial and Decision Economics” belongs to Wiley publishers. And Wiley is a partner in the DEAL contract. We have not only German and European authors here, but also scientists from countries outside the DEAL contract. Of course we want to publish this special issue in Open Access, but the publisher sees problems because scholars from New Zealand or the US don’t have contracts. It would be helpful to have a consulting agency to counter the arguments of Wiley in this case and to get the issue published in Open Access in this case.

Who would be ideally suited to provide such support?

MS: Good question. I used to work at the Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition in Munich and they had people with the necessary knowledge. Maybe the ZBW? You already have competences in this context. To have a place to go to for this would be great in any case.

Do you have tips for economists what their first steps towards Open Access, Open Science could be?

MS: Read up on it, for instance on the ZBW websites. For myself I find ResearchGate is a really great starting point. I’ve got the app on my smartphone. I’ve only had good experiences and use it daily. I’m less interested to know who has read my articles, and more in what new stuff my peers publish. It’s a good stepping stone, but I would wish there were more linkings between different platforms and repositories. A gathering point as a mainstream tool would be advantageous because there are so many platforms you could use. But then again, there’s not enough time to use them all. 

What would be ideal incentives to convince more economists of Open Science?

MS: If staffing procedures could be designed to be more accommodating for Open Science. At present, Open Science seems to play no role at all in this in my view. For instance, when people evaluate me it doesn’t matter at all to them if I enable Open Access to my research findings or not. If people knew that practising Open Science pays off in appointment procedures and gets points for evaluations, then more people would do it. A path break is needed. We still see the classic lock-in effect. An individual scholar doesn’t have a lot of leeway. The funders must demand Open Science.

But you are still optimistic that progress is being made in small steps?

MS: That’s what I wish for, anyway.

Thank you!

The interview was conducted on April 14, 2021.

About Dr Marc Scheufen

Marc Scheufen is an economist for Big Data Analytics at the German Economic Institute in Cologne and lecturer at the law faculty of Ruhr University in Bochum. He wrote his PhD thesis on “Copyright versus Open Access: On the organisation and international political economy of access to scientific knowledge”. Marc Scheufen studies questions of law and economics in the data economy with regard to current problems in Artificial Intelligence. He regularly transforms the findings of his empirical and theoretical work into recommendations for action in entrepreneurial and political practice. Marc Scheufen also teaches Quantitative Data Analysis at FOM in Düsseldorf and Cologne.




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