Europe’s unpreparedness to support peer review innovation

By Pandelis Perakakis

Originally posted at: http://pandelisperakakis.wordpress.com/2014/02/25/europes-unpreparedness-to-support-peer-review-innovation/

I recently came back from Brussels where I attended the Information Days on the Horizon 2020 Research Infrastructures Work Programme. I was there to present the LIBRE project —you can watch a video of all presentations here (LIBRE starts at 2:22:08)— and to have the chance to meet other project coordinators looking for European funding.

In his opening presentation on the call for open access e-infrastructures, Jarkko Siren from the European Commission made clear that one of the scopes of this grant is to develop new services in support of open science, including new forms of publishing and new forms of peer review. The budget for this grant is 13 million Euros from which 4 million will be spent for article processing fees to support the gold open access model. For this call only one proposal will be selected and it is a common secret that this money will go to the consortium that includes OpenAIRE, an open access repository that was supported by the previous European Framework Programme FP7. In other words if you want a part of the pie you are either in the OpenAIRE consortium or you do not stand a chance. Naturally, I approached OpenAIRE’s technical coordinator who was present at the meeting and asked her what are their plans regarding peer review. She replied that they are still investigating on the matter and do not have a clear agenda. I then sent a more formal letter to her and to the project coordinator asking if they would be interested in considering Open Scholar as a member of their consortium to assist in peer review innovation. The reply was that they would examine our offer at the next OpenAIRE scientific board meeting, but they do not expect to have room for many more additional partners.

During the event, I also had to opportunity for a very interesting conversation with Jose Cotta, the head of the Digital Science unit in the European Commission. Dr. Cotta confirmed the Commission’s interest in new European policies regarding open peer review and alternative metrics, but acknowledged that they are currently focusing on open data and that the peer review issue is not within their immediate priorities. We agreed, however to keep in touch for when the time is ripe to discuss policy issues with the European Union.

In short, Europe wants innovation in peer review, but the consortium that will receive the 13 million budget neither seems to have a clear plan nor shows the willingness to invite partners that could offer the theoretical and technical expertise to integrate alternative peer review models to existing open access infrastructure. As far as open access policies, despite the official line, Europe’s support for gold open access is more than evident. As I already mentioned, a big part of the money for open access infrastructure will directly go to support publishers. To my question whether a grant proposal will be positively evaluated if it opts for self-arching and thus does not request budget for article publishing fees (which means that this budget can be allocated to more important project needs), the official reply was that this would indeed be something good for the project itself, but it will not be taken into consideration by the evaluation committee! In other words, we acknowledge that self-archiving saves all of us money that can be invested in a better way, but we do not encourage you to do that —link to a video with the question and the answer [time: 27:19]. Well, during this last visit in Brussels I also had the chance to make some contacts inside the European Parliament that confessed another common secret that publishers threaten Parliament Members that reducing their revenues will result in larger unemployment and economic instability. Of course publishers forget to mention about their record >30% profit margins (see my recent presentation on how to go beyond open access to face academia’s real problems)!

So, everything indicates that Europe, for one reason or the other, is not at the moment ready to formally support peer review innovation. There are more related grant calls in 2015 that Open Scholar will definitely apply for, but it is more likely that new ideas and projects on alternative peer review will be initially funded by private investments and grants. Unfortunately this potentially means a degree of  dependence on private interests, obscure business models and uncertainty about the use and reuse of research products.

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