Column Editor: Donald T. Hawkins (Freelance Editor and Conference Blogger)
Against the Grain Vol. 33 No. 2
Column Editor’s Note: Because of space limitations, the full text of my conference notes will now be available online in the issues of Against the Grain on Charleston Hub at https://www.charleston-hub.com, and only brief summaries, with links to the full reports, will appear in Against the Grain print issues. — DTH
The Virtual NISOPlus 2021 Conference
The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) convened its second NISOPlus conference on February 22-25, 2021 with the theme “Global Connections and Global Conversations.” It attracted a global audience of 835 attendees. The organizers especially wanted to have an event at which attendees could discuss and share their issues with others, not only at the conference but afterwards, so ample time was provided at every session for discussion.
Well-known science fiction novelist Cory Doctorow presented the keynote address and began by noting that big technology controls our lives, which is a problem because unchecked power leads to bad outcomes. Companies should not spy on us or manipulate us. Facebook and similar companies are conducting non-consensual experiments on millions of people. Taken at face value, such actions are extremely alarming and self-serving; they are leading to monopolies which subvert evidence-based practices. Digital technology monopolies are not like those we faced in the past because they have additional technology available to them. Only a small number of people are now controlling our digital lives. Doctorow concluded by warning us that monopolies are bad because of democratic harms and because they are taking away our free will, even though many people are thriving under the status quo.
Sessions on accessible eBooks and sharing, protecting, and saving research data noted that accessibility is the guiding principle for eBook work, and soon it will be the only way we will be able to get eBooks and other content. Publishers must certify that their products are fully accessible, which is a burden because it is costly. The whole eBook process must be made accessible — from production to accessing to purchasing.
The research data policy landscape is evolving; more funding agencies (approximately 22% of them) now require data sharing, which publishers and journals are obliged to support. The Research Data Alliance (RDA) developed 14 principles to encourage data sharing and increase the adoption of standardized research data policies. All citations and software references should be machine readable.
In the second day keynote address, Margaret Sraku-Lartey, Principal Librarian, CSIR-Forestry Research Institute of Ghana, said that COVID-19 has virtually brought the world to its knees by affecting every sector of the economy and spawning digital behavior changes. New trends like remote working and telemedicine are not likely to disappear any time soon. Information professionals have always been concerned with explicit knowledge, but little attention has been paid to tacit knowledge. Indigenous knowledge (IK) is that which has transferred orally and spans several generations, and today we risk losing the knowledge stored in people’s memories. IK is a basic component of a country’s knowledge system and forms the basis for local-level decision making.
Applications of IK include:
• Health. There is a need to find new cures for diseases and especially viruses that can cause epidemics, such as SARS, Ebola, and COVID-19. One of the best ways to find such cures is to talk to local people. Forest plants and products derived from them are used to treat various ailments, and many remedies based on them have been used for generations and have become generally accepted as viable treatments.
• “Sacred groves” are small patches of the original habitats or forests of various dimensions. They are treasure troves of knowledge that have cultural, historical, and scientific benefits and provide valuable medicinal plants and herbs that can serve as a refuge for threatened species. Sacred groves are common in many developing countries but their impact may be diminishing in some places.
• Living libraries. Many local libraries do not have books; instead people substitute for books. People have history in their memory and can therefore be treated as libraries and custodians of knowledge. Many of them have knowledge that is centuries old, so the people can be regarded as librarians.
IK is thus an important source of developmental information, and it is imperative for all information personnel to begin to learn proactively about IK and meet the needs of local populations. To move forward, each player must be recognized as an equal partner, and there must be mutual respect for the knowledge and collaboration between them.
In a session on innovative forms of scholarly publishing, panelists were asked to respond to questions from the moderator:
What are some significant projects in scholarly publishing?
• Recognize the need for publishing to accommodate new types of research and represent the evolution of digital scholarship.
• Hip hop as scholarship has never been published before. But a book is in progress, and there is a need to work with the author to decide what to publish and how to handle peer review.
• Can we speed up the research cycle by sharing work in progress? Transparent workflows are based on an open review of preprints in which editors decide whether an article is appropriate for the intended journal and it is then published OA. After at least 2 open reviews have been published, the editor decides whether to revise the article or accept it for publication to the website. Thus, early results can be made available during the review process.
The publishing process is moving toward openness. How is that working?
• The more readers we can reach the better it is for authors. OA is not occurring across all disciplines; the big challenge is finding funding to make works available OA.
• “Open” once applied at the article level, but now it is applied across the whole publishing process. Libraries need to think of new and attractive ways to showcase OA.
• Collaboration is particularly valuable to open up the elements of research, view open generally, and give authors insights into new forms of knowledge.
What about the structure of publishing itself: what deserves to endure and what walls can come down?
• An essential part of the work that academic publishers do is to validate peer review. The walls of the black box of peer review can come down.
• We can take advantage of technologies, but we need people to work them out. Barriers to collaboration can come down.
• Humans vet projects in the early state. Curation and vetting add value to publishing programs. Scholarship should move away from text as the primary medium and publish works that do not look like a monograph.
Another question and answer session was devoted to the preservation of new media:
Digital preservation has been underway for some time now. Aren’t we done yet?
• Digital preservation is not looking back, it is looking forward. It makes the web more useful and reliable.
• Preservation of local content and coverage gaps are the concerns of many librarians. We have just begun and there is very much more to do in helping make information more useful and helpful to people. Digitization opens opportunities not available with analog content, such as word frequency analyses, meta analyses across papers and journals, etc.
Who is responsible for preservation and how is that shifting?
• Publishers have been responsible from the outset. Now, vanishing journals are OA, and we see fewer preservation efforts among publishers. We need to make sure that the scholarly record remains intact. Managers of preprint servers are still trying to find out if there is a preprint business model, or if there should be one.
What are some challenges and what are you most excited about?
• We have an exciting opportunity to work collaboratively with people who are passionate about preservation. Content is becoming dynamic and interactive. Authors can bring a lot of creativity to bear; how can we preserve that? Some content is not just in a single place, so we must preserve not only the content but also the connections between it.
What should attendees of this session take away?
• If you see it, save it. Try things, ask for help, and be of service to others.
The Miles Conrad Memorial Lecture, a highlight of NISO meetings, was presented by Heather Joseph, Executive Director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). She noted that since she joined SPARC in 2005, the landscape of openness has changed significantly; in her lecture, “In Pursuit of Open Knowledge”, she reflected on her career and some of the lessons she has learned from it. All of her work is on advocacy and rooted in a social justice context. Access to knowledge is a fundamental human right. OA is a priority that facilitates the free flow of knowledge across national borders and is rooted in the principles of social justice. To be truly effective, our actions must embrace the 4 principles of social justice: access, participation, equity, and rights. She illustrated these principles with 3 examples from her career:
• The American Astronomical Society made her comfortable with technology and knowledgeable about the business processes of publishing. TeX and SGML exposed the role that markup languages played in converting text to be discoverable, searchable, and readable on the web.
• The American Association for Cell Biology had a new approach to sharing science information by taking advantage of the power of the Internet. Its proposed “e-biomed” system became PubMed Central, and the journal that Heather managed was the first one to host its content entirely on it. The OA environment is author-driven, subsidized by funders, and free to publish on and access. Authors retain ownership of their intellectual works, and peer review occurs when the community chooses.
• SPARC optimized using the Internet to share research articles. OA is the convergence of an old tradition and new technology to make possible the worldwide distribution of peer-reviewed journal literature with completely free and unrestricted access to it.
We are no longer talking about whether or why to get open, but how to get there. OA publishing has become the fastest growing segment of scholarly publishing, and acceptance of OA as a growth strategy is increasing. The UN and UNESCO have embraced OA for their global mission, and research funders are now among the leading advocates of OA.
Heather is often asked what she would change if she could return to the beginning of the OA movement, and she mentioned 2 things:
1. Tackle the need to change incentives for OA earlier on. In the middle of the pandemic one of the first actions was to facilitate OA for all COVID articles so that they were fully machine searchable and available for text analysis. That database of articles has been downloaded over 150 million times! We should not have to wait for an emergency to create a corpus of machine-readable OA papers. We need strategies and solutions that address the whole picture: get better and more deliberate at looking inward.
2. The name “OA” implies that all we care about is getting the information. But there is much more: we must enhance the global participation in knowledge production and dissemination, and particularly the equity aspect.
We need to think about large scale changes in improving the way we are disseminating scientific knowledge and about improvements in the way we share knowledge on a systems level. We need to center equity and inclusivity decisions when we are making decisions on business models, technology, rights, behaviors to be rewarded and incentivized, and leadership or governance bodies. We can only make these choices by recognizing that every decision is critical. Knowledge sharing and access cannot be treated as an after-thought. We need to look at the barriers that we are inadvertently throwing up, such as language, etc., be more inclusive of forms of scholarship beyond articles, and make a system that is more representative of the inclusivity that we want to include. Can we connect openness and recognition? We should stop treating incentives and knowledge sharing as a market.
A keynote by Dr. Norohiro Hagita, Chair and Professor, Osaka University of Arts, and Director of the Japan Science & Technology’s Moonshot Goal 1, noted that the goal of the Moonshot project is the realization of a society in which humans can be free of the limitations of body, brain, space, and time by the year 2050. Moonshot is a bold new program for creating disruptive innovation, tackling challenges facing future society, and going beyond limits of technology without fear of failure.
Cybernetic avatar technology will make work and play available to everyone. Targets to be achieved have been established:
Target 1: Avatar infrastructure for diversity and inclusion
• Development of technologies and infrastructure to carry out large scale tasks: one person can operate up to 10 avatars at once.
• Virtual reality will give us the ability to move back and forth seamlessly between cyber and physical space and will allow us to enjoy new lifestyles and new experiences, reduce time and money spent on travel, and minimize the risks associated with overcrowding.
• Capabilities that have diminished due to aging and illness will be augmented with cybernetic technology to promote more social activity.
Target 2: Cybernetic avatar life
• Development of technologies that will allow anyone to increase their physical, cognitive, and perceptional capabilities to the top level. By 2050, our lifestyles will have dramatically changed. We will have greater freedom in our choice of location and how we spend our time.
• We must consider ethical, legal, social, and economic issues.
Dario Rodighiero, a researcher at Harvard University, gave a fascinating example of mapping a conference using NISOPlus as his example. When conferences went online, attendees felt a need for new ways to orient themselves. In his map, terms are determined by text analysis of the presentations, and speakers are placed on an imaginary topographical terrain. Speakers at NISOPlus are connected by many terms from information and library science, research, and publishing. Such a map can function as an instrument for speakers to determine their lexical content, for attendees who can find talks by keywords, and for the conference committee to arrange panel discussions. Open data makes it easier to create a visual mapping, increase information precision, and create scientific awareness among scholars.
A session on misinformation and truth: from fake news to retractions to preprints examined whether OA has a role in fighting fake news. Many research results are not well used outside of academia because people generally do not have access to information behind paywalls, and it is difficult to verify research results especially if there is only a single article on a subject. With 2 million articles published every year, it is very difficult to find the right article containing the desired information. By analyzing sources, semantic analysis, and numerical data retrieval, these problems can be overcome, and the conclusion was that OA can be useful in detecting fake news.
The inadvertent spread of retracted articles can jeopardize trust and professionalism in research. Retractions were long believed to be career ending, and authors felt shamed. From an information seeker’s perspective, the primary harm of retracted research is its potential use without knowledge of the retraction or the reason for it. Researchers build on previously published work, and when a link in that chain is broken, they move away from the truth. The harms of retracted research are reputation damage, scientific dissonance, professional damage, and feelings of failure. As librarians, we can account for retractions in knowledge production workflows, address inconsistencies in data display and transfer between systems, and educate end users about identifying and using retracted information. There is a lot of inconsistency in the way publisher sites communicate the retracted status of an article.
It is fascinating to see how people use information and to think about how we have been hosting early outputs, i.e., preprints. The spotlight is on preprints now because they were the first articles to appear during the pandemic. Preprints are not without their problems, but the problems are not intractable.
Other sessions discussed FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) data principles and analytics to transform data into actionable information; lessons from 2020 for the information industry; controlled digital lending (CDL) and new models of sharing; copyright law, including the Fair Use and First Sale exceptions as they apply to libraries and circulation of materials from closed libraries; identifiers (ORCID, the Research Orientation Registry (ROR) and DOIs), metadata, and connections; and data visualization.
The closing keynote by Dr. Zeynep Tufekci, Associate Professor, School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and author of Twitter and Tear Gas (Yale University Press, 2018) was titled “What Does the Pandemic Teach Us About Trust, Reliability, and Information?” She began her address by observing that we have a public sphere very much geared toward attention, and it has become individualized. Digital public fear has increased the demand for information which has affected our response to the COVID pandemic. Group and social dynamics have mixed with our attention; for example, in February 2020 when Wuhan, China had been shut down for a month and COVID cases were popping up all over the world, here, the attitude was “What’s the big deal? Don’t worry. Keep calm and wait for the evidence. Don’t panic.” We were lectured for being panic-prone, that COVID was no worse than the flu. That is how group think works: people have an identity which confirms their belief. Finally, ranks were broken when we got evidence, and the information landscape switched to taking the pandemic seriously. It has been useful because it has given us a stress test that has allowed us to see these human dynamics.
What can be done if there is a future epidemic? What did we do that caused some of the bad outcomes this time? Many of the responses were due to blind spots and failings. We should have a task force and not blame scientists but study the responses to find ways to fix problems.
Could social media learn from scholarly publishing? Preprints and rapid peer review have been excellent. Comments can be very helpful if they are specific. Fraudulent papers can make us suspicious of legitimate ones, so we must be careful. There has never been a better time to be informed or misinformed! We need a platform that will encourage structured debate so we can clarify and get to the heart of the disagreements.
Donald T. Hawkins is an information industry freelance writer based in Pennsylvania. In addition to blogging and writing about conferences for Against the Grain, he blogs the Computers in Libraries and Internet Librarian conferences for Information Today, Inc. (ITI) and maintains the Conference Calendar on the ITI Website (http://www.infotoday.com/calendar.asp). He is the Editor of Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage, (Information Today, 2013) and Co-Editor of Public Knowledge: Access and Benefits (Information Today, 2016). He holds a Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Berkeley and has worked in the online information industry for over 50 years.