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Review: 2012 General Assembly Great Debate on open science and the future of publishing

4 May

Today’s guest post comes from freelance writer Celso Gomes, who also worked at the 2012 General Assembly Press Centre.

Upon admitting that he refused to knowingly associate with Elsevier for years, Cambridge’s award-winning mathematician Tim Gowers stirred a discussion of unprecedented magnitude surrounding Open Access publishing. Such public outcry has so far culminated with over 10.000 other researchers following in his footsteps and vowing to boycott Elsevier journals, and the movement is still gaining momentum. Has the time come for a new publishing paradigm?

The first of this year’s Great Debates explored just that question, starring some of the heavyweights from both sides of the barricade. From the traditional publishing industry, delegates from Elsevier, Springer, and Oxford University Press (OUP) were present; and the Open Access movement was represented by PloS, and the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association.

Great Debate on Open Access publishing, including the panelists and chair, Edvard Glücksman of the EGU (far right). Photo: Suzanne Voice

After a quick introduction of the panelists, the debate kicked off by giving voice to a thought that has been on the mind of many researchers: why have the traditional publishers been so resistant to move towards open access? –  provocatively suggesting it might all boil down to profit margins. Opinions were as polarised as could be expected but it quickly became clear that profit is just one dimension of a very complex question.

In fact, the case was put forward that there are already several business models in the academic publishing field and not all can successfully accommodate a shift towards open access, with journals in the social sciences and also learned societies-backed journals as two examples. Fields with little to no centralised funding sources would arguably find it financially unsustainable to make the shift from subscription-based to the author pays model, as a significant portion of the individual or group-level research budget would need to be allocated to cover publication costs. On the other hand, the many societies which rely on the steady revenue stream from their publications are (claimed to be) weary of making the shift due to concerns that income from their journals might be significantly reduced or disappear altogether. However, such financial hurdles might be just temporary, as new financial models to back academic publishing are being developed by funders and research institutions themselves.

The discussion moved on to explore what might happen to research communication in the future, driven by the rise to dominance of a much more versatile digital media which has technological tools that challenge the conceptual notion of the research article. Geosciences are a particularly interesting case in this respect, given that the knowledge that needs to be transferred goes far beyond the images and text of the contemporary journal articles – large data sets seem almost ubiquitous and some (incredibly complex) concepts are much better explained in video than in writing. Publishing houses recognise this trend and appear to be experimenting with new formats, but details are sparse at this stage and it is unclear to what extent traditional publishing houses will make content freely available and what will continue to be hidden behind a paywall.

Still, there is a clear sense amongst all the panel members that Open Access publishing (and open science) will eventually rise to prominence , but how fast the changes take place is largely dependent on the researcher’s ability to break free from the current publishing paradigm – will it be gradual or are we witnessing an ‘academic spring’? While there is no answer, there are solid arguments for both cases, which you can revisit in detail by watching the debate in its entirety on the General Assembly’s website.

By Celso Gomes, freelance writer

Nature’s Quirin Schiermeier column on EGU Today (full version)

26 Apr

Thursday’s edition of EGU Today features an edited version of Quirin Schiermeier daily column. The full version is published here on GeoLog!

In sheer numbers, the death toll from natural disasters – about 80,000 in an average year – is small compared to the millions who get killed each year in road accidents or die from avoidable diseases. But averages miss the point here. It is the very exceptionality and enormity of catastrophes like last year’s deadly Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan that can change regions and countries forever. In many parts of the world, poverty and galloping urbanization add to the risk. From Bangladesh to Haiti, large impoverished populations are exceptionally vulnerable to cyclones, floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

The science of assessing the risks of such disasters, and the technology for coping with them, has without doubt improved. But the science behind actually predicting disasters is uncertain at best, and for some of the most devastating events, earthquakes and tsunamis among them, prediction is virtually impossible.

To help local authorities and vulnerable populations to prepare to future disasters, geoscientists studying fault ruptures, tsunami propagation or cyclone dynamics need to find better ways to disseminate their findings. Emergency planners in Haiti and elsewhere don’t usually read the scientific literature – imaginative communication strategies are therefore needed to forge more effective links between the two groups when it comes to designing early warning systems and disaster mitigation efforts around the world. That Japanese emergency planners and nuclear plant operators fatally underestimated the tsunami risk to Honshu coastlines – supposedly the best-protected coast in the world – is a dire reminder of the human tragedy that can result from any false sense of safety.

Science and technology are vital for disaster reduction – and geoscientists and engineers have a responsibility to provide the best science and technology they possibly can. But effective disaster mitigation has social and political dimensions – including poverty reduction and education – that need be tackled with the same sense of urgency.

Unfortunately, this is not always quite understood. If anything, the bizarre trial of six Italian researchers for manslaughter over their alleged responsibility for the death of 309 people killed in the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila – prosecutors claim the scientists gave a falsely reassuring statement before the quake – highlights the unsettling level of misconception about geoscientists’ profession and responsibility. Today’s Great Debate on the Role and Responsibilities of Geoscientists for Warning and Mitigation of Natural Disasters should be a good forum for discussing these issues – courtrooms certainly aren’t.

By Quirin Schiermeier, Nature‘s Munich correspondent

Call for Sessions for EGU General Assembly 2012

8 Jul

The public call for sessions for the European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2012 has been issued. The EGU GA 2012 will be held at the Austria Center Vienna (ACV) from 22 April to 27 April 2012. The details are below, the web page to visit to submit sessions is Call for Sessions page of the EGU General Assembly 2012 website.

We hereby invite you, from now until 16 Sep 2011, to take an active part in organizing the scientific programme of the conference.

Please suggest (i) new sessions with conveners and description and (ii) modifications to the skeleton programme sessions. Explore the Programme Groups (PGs) on the left hand side, when making suggestions. Study those sessions that already exist and put your proposal into the PG that is most closely aligned with the proposed session’s subject area.

If the subject area of your proposal is strongly aligned with two or more PGs, co-organization is possible and encouraged between PGs. Only put your session proposal into one PG, and you will be able to indicate PGs that you believe should be approached for co-organization.

If you have questions about the appropriateness of a specific session topic, please contact the Officers for the specific EGU2012 Programme Group. To suggest Union Symposia, Great Debates, Townhall Meetings or Short Courses, please contact the Programme Committee Chair (Gert-Jan Reichart).

In case any questions arise, please contact EGU2012 at Copernicus.

Can Europe use less of these metals?

7 Apr

Can Europe use less of these metals?

How much of this demand is driven by our throw-away culture?

There has been little response to the last blogpost, does everyone agree with the panel or everyone agee with the questioner?

Please start the conversation here…

For the Great Debate Webstream please visit the EGU GA 2011 webstreaming pages. The session details can be found on the EGU General Assembly 2011 website.

Major Events at EGU GA 2010: Great Debates and Townhall Meetings

29 Apr

Continuing the theme of major events at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2010:

Two Great Debates
Tuesday [Room D, 12:15–13:15]: GDG2 To what extent do humans impact the Earth’s climate?
Thursday [Room D, 15:30–17:15]: GDG1 Getting real about energy

Seven Townhall Meetings (everyone welcome!):

Monday [Room D, 15:30-17:10]: TM0 Women in Geosciences and ‘What can EGU do for Women Geoscientists?’
Monday [Room 1, 19:00–20:00] TM7 Joint ERICON -SIOS – EMSO Townhall Meeting

Tuesday [Room D, 17:30-19:00] TM1 An International Geoscience Initiative
Tuesday [Room 6, 19:00–20:00] TM2 Implementing the INSPIRE European Directive: a geoscience perspective
Tuesday [Room 1, 19:00–20:00] TM5 Joint IODP ICDP Townhall Meeting

Wednesday [Rm 34, 19:00-20:00] TM4 Hydrology Education in a Changing World

Thursday [Rm 1, 17:30–19:00] TM6 Interactive Open Access Publishing
Thursday [Rm 15, 19:00–20:00] TM3 The European Network for Earth System Modelling (ENES) Strategy and Resource Centre

By Jennifer Holden