Monday, June 9, 2014

The Open Access and Science Visionaries

Dylan Tweney has just written a terrific piece at VentureBeat, "Watch this multi-billion-dollar industry evaporate overnight," on the current and future state of the academic publishing industry. He perfectly captures the scam that the subscription publishers are running and is spot-on regarding the abyss into which their profits will plunge in the future. Mr. Tweney clearly highlights the three fundamental components that are key in revamping the publishing industry – shift to open access, post-publication peer review, and altmetrics (referred to as “imprimatur of publishing” in the article, but more broadly, the effort to measure the quality of the research based on the article itself, rather than where it is published).

The only thing missing from this article is the list of people who have been at the forefront of this effort. Strangely, is profiled as the major force reshaping the publishing landscape. I don't know a single person in the open access movement who has ever mentioned or ResearchGate as a serious part of the fight against the 300-year-old publishing paradigm. So, in the spirit of post-publication review and discussion, mentioned in this article, I would like to create the list of true luminaries in this movement.

I will start it off with a subset of the visionaries and tireless advocates who have devoted themselves to fixing this broken system over the past 10, 15, and even 20 years. More importantly, I hope that the community will contribute and help to curate this list, so we can give credit to those who deserve it.

The Visionary Veterans

The late Jean-Claude Bradley is the father of the Open Science Movement. See here and here for tributes to him.

Pat Brown and Michael Eisen are the other co-founders of PLOS. They have been working since 2000 on pushing towards open access. What many forget is that PLOS is not just a publisher. It is an organization of dedicated people whose passion is the open and free dessimination of research. The amount of work that is done by PLOS to advocate and push open science via innovation in publishing, outreach, legislation, and mandates from funding agencies – it is simply staggering. 

Pete Binfield helped to turn PLOS One into the most prolific biomedical journal and is one of the early altmetrics pioneers. Moreover, he is a co-founder of PeerJ, a new open access journal whose ultimate goal is to be a place where research is both - free to read and free to publish.

The late Frederick Friend, as the head librarian of the University College of London was an influential and dedicated promoter of open access for nearly two decades.

Paul Ginsparg single-handedly transformed publishing in physics by launching the world's most famous pre-print server in 1991. The biomedical research community has been trying to emulate this preprint success and to shift the publishing culture in this direction for over two decades now.

Stevan Harnad authored the "Subversive Proposal" in 1994, calling for self-archiving of research literature. Just to list his contributions over the last two decades to open access would take a separate blog post.

Heather Joseph has been the executive director of Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) since 2005. In that role, she has been incredibly effective in pushing the White House, NIH, and Congress for legislative change to promote OA.

David Lipman has been the director of the National Center for Biotechnology Information since 1989. He was honored by the White House as a "Champion of Change" for open science in 2013. It is  not possible to list all of the projects that David has overseen in his 25 years at NCBI, but his lead on the creation of the PubMed Central database to facilitate free and open access to government-funded biomedical research must be highlighted.

Peter Murray-Rust could be on this list just for the quote "Open Access saves lives". But like everyone else listed here, he has been aggressively pushing open data and open science for a decade or more.

Cameron Neylon is currently the advocacy director of PLOS, but he has been one of the most vocal supporters of open science and open access for about a decade, and is also one of the earliest advocates of the altmetrics movement.

Henry Rzepa saw the potential for open data via internet starting in the late 1980s and has been pushing the boundaries ever since.

Stuart Shieber is the co-director, along with Peter Suber, of the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication. He was the main push for open access at Harvard and is responsible for the university's widely-copied 2008 self-archiving mandate.

Peter Suber wrote the book on Open Access. In all senses (the book is actually called "Open Access" and appropriately available openly for free). He gave up a tenured professor position in order to focus all of his energy on pushing for open access. Peter also wrote the draft of the 2001 Budapest Open Access Initiative, a pivotal moment in the open access history.

Vitek Tracz established the first open access publishing empire BioMed Central fourteen years ago. Right now, he is investing heavily in another bold experiment – F1000 Research, an open access journal that has open post-publication peer reviews  and versioning of articles.

Harold Varmus began to push for open access in the 1990s, when he was the director of NIH. He helped to start PubMed Central and played an active role in the founding of the Public Library of Science (PLOS).
Community-Suggested Leaders

Matthew Cockerill co-founded BioMed Central with Vitek Tracz in 1999 and was it's managing director through 2013. He clearly did an amazing job, as BMC continues as a successful OA journal under Springer and has proven to all of the critics that open access publishing can be profitable/sustainable (this interview with him is fascinating).
*suggested by Casey Bergman

Richard Poynder is a journalist who has been thoughtfully and thoroughly covering the open access movement for a decade. Stevan Harnad wrote about Richard in 2009, "The OA movement is fortunate indeed to have Richard Poynder as its chronicler, conscience, and gadfly laureate." (After wikipedia, most of my links above point to Richard's website.)
*suggested by Jason Noble

John Willinsky founded in 1998 the Public Knowledge Project, dedicated to promoting open access and to improving scholarly publishing and communication.

1. I need to add Heather Joseph, Melissa Hagemann, Leslie Chan, Mark Patterson - will do so over the next few days. (This project has taken me 8 hours already, and I have to take a sick daughter to the doctor, but I want to publish immediately to begin collecting the crowdsourced entries.)

2. I know that my list is woefully incomplete. Please e-mail me at "lenny at zappylab dot com" for additions and corrections. Please comment directly below this post to add more people. I am simply seeding this list.

3. I was co-advised Michael Eisen during my PhD and am clearly biased towards PLOS; I am also a biologist, and so my view of the publishing world and innovation in it is mostly limited to biomedical research.


  1. I do not want this post to be anti- or ResearchGate. I wish these companies success and hope they find great business models soon. However, if I had to pick websites that are working hard to transform research publishing today, rather than RG or, the following come to mind:
    Jason Priem and Heather Piwowar of Impactstory
    Mark Hahnel -
    Jason Hoyt and Pete Binfield - PeerJ
    Anonymous scientists behind PubPeer
    The team working on F1000 Research
    Euan Adie -
    bioRxiv effort from CSHL
    [again, please suggest others!]

  2. I would like to nominate the freelance journalist Richard Poynder for addition to the list. His tireless coverage of OA issues has, I think, done much to raise awareness of the possibilities of more open science.

    Richard's site (with many OA-related interviews) is here:

  3. So you are trying to create a Hall of Fame for OA pioneers. I find you have missed Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, which made some of its journals OA even before the famous Budapest meeting. Among promoters of OA we should certainly have Dr Alma Swan (UK) and Prof. John Willinsky (Stanford).

    Actually, arXiv, CiteSeer, SSRN, PubMed Central, BioRxiv, etc. are OA repositories (or archives), which aggregate published research papers / postprints / preprints and provide free access to all. DOAJ is a list of OA journals with some basic information on each journal. Let us not classify them as journals.


  4. Repositories may not be traditional journals, but they are very much a key part of the transformation of the publishing industry. Moreover, many influential papers appear on arXiv and are never published elsewhere.