Jonathan Aldrich's blog

Support Gold Open Access for OOPSLA and PACM PL!

SIGPLAN is currently considering making PACM PL–and thus OOPSLA–a (Gold) Open Access publication. Please weigh in with your opinion on whether SIGPLAN should go forward with this plan, and how we should pay for it.

Personally, I strongly support Gold Open Access, and I hope you will too! I also believe that the right source to cover the costs of Open Access is the grant funding the research, or the company supporting the research. In the (less common) case of research that does not have a current grant or corporate sponsor, the conference should step in so that authors do not have to pay the charge out of pocket. The rest of this blog post provides a bit of background, and explains why I personally feel this is the right direction for SIGPLAN and for OOPSLA.

Background: how did this question come up?

As announced at SPLASH/OOPSLA 2016, future OOPSLA papers (as well as ICFP papers) will be published as an issue of a new journal, the Proceedings of the ACM on Programming Languages (PACM PL for short). When starting a new journal, it’s natural to think about how it should be published, and at the SPLASH 2016 community meeting, attendees seemed to strongly support an open access publication model. As the OOPSLA 2017 PC chair, I asked the ACM publications board about the possibility of making the OOPSLA 2017 issue of PACM PL open access.

A number of other people involved in OOPSLA, ICFP, and SIGPLAN are also interested in open access, so spurred on by both my question and by other advocates of Open Access (including Phil Wadler and Crista Lopes) the SIGPLAN Executive Committee is now considering making PACM PL an open access journal from its inception. Thus, there is a survey asking you for your opinion on whether SIGPLAN should pursue open access for PACM PL as well as for other publications, and what is the right financial model. Mike Hicks has a blog post that nicely summarizes the issues and tradeoffs.

Why pay for Open Access, when we have OpenTOC and Green OA?

ACM and SIGPLAN have been working towards publication policies that permit authors and conferences to archive papers. In ACM’s so-called “Green” Open Access model, authors can post a copy of their paper on their own website or in a non-profit repository (but not for-profit or ad-supported sites such as ResearchGate or OpenTOC allowed SIGPLAN to create an OpenTOC website that provides, for each SIGPLAN conference, a freely-available link to each paper published there.

“Green” Open Access and OpenTOC are good things, and I really appreciate the work that SIGPLAN leadership put into creating OpenTOC, in particular! However, they are not, in my opinion, replacements for true Open Access. For me, Open Access means that the copy of record of the publication–the one that you get by going to the ACM Digital library and searching for the paper–is freely available; thus I feel that “Green” Open Access is really a misnomer. “Green” Open Access means an author can self-archive, but some authors don’t, and other authors may do so initially but their websites may later go down; the results of their research are then not freely available to the public. OpenTOC should remain available as long as SIGPLAN does, but that is not quite the same as the ACM Digital Library. Furthermore, as of this writing, OpenTOC article links are not easy to find unless you know about OpenTOC. For example, if you search Google for the paper Mike Hicks mentions in his blog post by its title, “Automated backward error analysis for numerical code”, the OpenTOC link does not come up anywhere on the first page (another free version does, but only because the authors remembered to self-archive using Green OA).

If you apply a cost-benefit analysis, I can understand feeling that “Green” Open Access and OpenTOC are good enough…they are free to SIGPLAN members (though SIGPLAN forgoes some digital library revenue as a result of the OpenTOC deal), and they make many papers freely available via Google and all papers freely available if you know where to look.

But “Green” OA and Open TOC not the right thing. They do not represent the direction our community needs to go in the long term.

Since we are starting PACM PL, we should do it right. Where do we want to be in 10 years? I believe the right long-term model is Gold Open Access, and most SIGPLAN people I talk with feel the same: our papers should be freely available to the world, and not by finding some “special” place where they are posted or linked to. That is our destination, and the real question is, how do we get there?

Today, the cost is higher than I would like, but for those of us with funding, $400 is small potatoes; it costs much more than that just to attend the conference, and if you are publishing a paper in OOPSLA you are already obligated to attend and present your paper. For those without funding, the conference can and should cover the cost of publication, and paying $400 for the relatively few papers that describe unfunded research will hardly increase registration fees at all. As Phil Wadler has pointed out, if we start PACM PL with a paywall, then later make it open access, we will have to figure out whether we want to open up the old issues, and if so, how do we pay for it. It’s much better to get it right from the inception of this new publication form.

In the long term, I and others will be strongly advocating for ACM to lower its publication costs, and I believe there is good hope of success there…ultimately ACM is a membership-driven organization, and if members want a leaner DL with lower open access costs, there’s no reason it can’t be done!

Who should pay for open access? The funder.

The second major question confronting SIGPLAN–which is also part of the poll–is who should pay for open access. I believe the right answer is the grant or company funding the research. Why?

The primary beneficiary of open access is the public–both members of the public who want to read about the latest science, and other members of the public who benefit because science advances more quickly when scientific information is freely available. The best way to fund public goods is via the government, and we already have a mechanism for this: the grants that governments give to authors. Most government agencies prefer that papers are published in a gold open access model, and are very happy for their grant money to go towards this cause. Furthermore, the fee is very small relative to the size of most research grants, and the conference can cover the cost when this is not true.

Of course, companies publish papers too, but they do so to contribute to the public good, and I think it is reasonable to ask them to shoulder publication-related costs for the papers they publish. If they don’t want their research results to be freely available, why publish it in the first place?

I think the “conference pays” model is better than not having Gold Open Access at all, but I don’t think it is the right thing. Conference registration fees are already high, and this is a disincentive for attendees who have limited travel funds. This is a real issue–many funding agencies and companies support research generously but limit what can be spent on conference travel. It is particularly a burden for students who do not have funding sources–of course SIGPLAN PAC funds students, as do student volunteer programs at conferences, but we still need to keep registration fees down. Raising them to cover open access fees is better than closed access, but it is not the right thing to do in the bigger picture.

That’s why I support what is called the “author pays” model, with a “conference pays” exception for unfunded authors. This model, in my view, should really be called “funder pays,” because all the authors who are paying are actually using money they got from funders, not their own money.

What about free riders?

What if an author really has funding, but doesn’t want to use it to pay the open access fee? In my view, we can prevent this kind of abuse quite effectively: if the final version of a paper acknowledges a funding source, the conference should expect the author to pay, or else document why the funding source cannot cover it (perhaps because the grant has expired). But it seems like most people in the OOPSLA community support Open Access, so I don’t expect this to come up much in any case.

An Open Future

I hope you will consider supporting a funder-pays (implemented as author-pays with exceptions for unfunded authors), gold open access model for PACM PL/OOPSLA and other SIGPLAN conferences via the survey. I’d also personally love to hear your comments on this important issue, below!