Open Access Ambassadors Conference December 3rd-4th 2014, Munich

On December 3rd to 4th, the first Max Planck OPEN ACCESS AMBASSADORS conference took place organized by Max Planck Digital Library in cooperation with the Max Planck PhDnet.

Who are the OPEN ACCESS AMBASSADORS? Inspired by the first satellite conference during the Berlin 11 conference series in November 2013, the idea of a novel OA-campaign within the Max Planck Society was born: To strengthen the idea of Open Access within the community of young researchers, we wanted to train early career researchers, who are sent as representatives from each Max Planck Institute to become OPEN ACCESS AMBASSADORS. They should become advocates for Open Access and Open Science in order to carry these concepts into their local research communities.

The Ambassadors’ conference was meant to be the initial spark. We were delighted at the opportunity to include the campaign in the EU project FOSTER (Facilitate Open Science Training for European Research). FOSTER is an European-wide training program that will help researchers, postgraduate students, librarians and other stakeholders to incorporate Open Access approaches into their existing research methodologies.
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 We invited young researchers from all over the Max Planck Society (more than 80 research institutes) to take part in the conference and to become an “Ambassador” for Open Access at their institutes. Invitations were made by written letters sent to the directors of each institute and announcements via posters, flyers, internet, and mailing lists. During a six weeks registration period more than 70 “Ambassadors” applied and were confirmed. Applications came from more than 40 different Max Planck Institutes. Within the registration process, we asked the young researchers why they want to become an Ambassador for Open Access. We thereupon received many well-conceived and dedicated statements which we published in excerpts on the Ambassadors’ website at http://oambassadors.mpdl.mpg.de/open-access-ambassadors/.

The conference program was designed to include talks as well as workshop elements. We were lucky to win international Open Access experts over to speak at the conference like Nobel laureate Randy Schekman, PhD Erin McKiernan, Nick Shockey from the Right to Research Coalition, and Professor Björn Brembs from Regensburg University.

The first day’s focus was on researchers’ perspectives on Open Access. Erin McKiernan presented a very personal view on the topic by depicting her experiences she made as a researcher in Puerto Rico and Mexico. Coming from a well-resourced university in the US, she hasn’t been aware of the fact that access to scientific information resources is expensive- so expensive that in Latin America, digital subscriptions to important research magazines are often simply unaffordable.

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According to Björn Brembs, pay barriers are only one part of the current problems of scientific publishing. Other factors like the power of the Journal Impact Factor (IF) which is still crucial for research assessment, for scientific careers and funding applications are also difficult to change. Brembs unrolled some studies declaring the Impact Factor to be mathematically unsound and untransparent in terms of its calculation. Moreover, he stressed that there is an overall infrastructure crises within science taking into consideration the deficiencies in scientific data and software management.

Nobel laureate Randy Schekman gave a powerful dinner talk that made up the highlight of the conference. Schekman introduced eLIFE, where he is Editor-in-Chief. eLIFE is an Open Access journal publishing outstanding research in the life sciences and biomedicine. He explained how eLIFE has started to improve the scientific peer review process and why the journal declines to get an Impact factor. His dinner talk was followed by a nice conference party made possible by generous support of several sponsors.

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The second day started with an opening speech by Mark Patterson, being the Managing Executive Editor at eLIFE. Patterson is a longstanding expert in the scientific publishing business. Again, Impact Factor and research assessment were in the focus of this talk; beyond that however, Patterson revealed a broad spectrum of potentialities for reuse and dissemination of scientific information in the digital age while introducing some promising new approaches in scholarly publishing as well as new ways of outreach assessment like Article Level Metrics.

Patterson’s talk was followed by a session where seven scholarly publishers introduced their concepts of Open Access publishing. A more workshop-like part was the concluding part of the conference. PhD Meredith Niles from Harvard University gave a strong presentation on how to advocate Open Access at one’s institution, how to speak to advisors and colleagues about it. Above all, she said, it is important to be clear about individual motivations. “Why do you care?” Niles asked the Ambassadors and invited them to explain their personal “open stories” to their seatmates. Ross Mounce from the University of Bath subsequently gave an overview on the benefits of data and content mining as well as on copyright barriers that unfortunately often limit such a reuse.

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To make sure that the Ambassadors can put Open Access into practice we completed the session with presentations on services and tools for Open Access publishing and data management at Max Planck. Institutional funding options for OA publications, Max Planck’s institutional publication repository MPG.PuRe and the Max Planck Society research data repository Edmond were introduced to the Ambassadors.

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More than 70 early career researchers (PhDs and Postdocs) have attended the two days conference. They were representing all discipline sections of the Max Planck Society namely Biology & Medicine, Chemistry, Physics & Technology, and Humanities & Social Sciences. We learned that the attendees have already been equipped with a lot of previous knowledge on Open Access and Open Science. They were enthusiastic about the topic: lots of questions were addressed to the speakers which started lively discussions.

Particular concerns have been expressed regarding questions of career-building in science and the felt pressure to publish in journals with high Impact Factors rather than to opt for Open Access journals. We hope that by building up the Ambassadors’ network there will be more awareness for this dilemma that young researchers are facing.

All conference presentations have been made available online at http://oambassadors.mpdl.mpg.de/programm/ as well as on the FOSTER portal under an open license. These materials now serve as a comprehensive resource that can be reused and adapted by the Ambassadors as they are going to set up their own local advocacy programs as well as by anybody else. We are going to accompany and support the activities of the Ambassadors in 2015 and hoping to establish a strong and lively network of advocates.

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