Open Access

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If you’re interested in the new open-access “Journal of Computer Graphics Techniques“, some of us editors, contributors, and other birds of a feather are informally meeting up at SIGGRAPH 2012. You’re welcome to come and chat (half the point of SIGGRAPH, amirite?):

Time: 5:30-6:30 pm Monday (just before this party in the same hotel)
Place: Marriott HQ hotel lobby, behind registration. This area:

Yes, this time conflicts with the Electronic Theater on Monday, etc., etc. – every time almost every day from 9 am to 8 pm on conflicts with something, and oddly no one wanted a 7 am meeting.

Morgan McGuire, the Editor-in-Chief of JCGT, won’t be attending SIGGRAPH, but has a great blog entry about JCGT’s progress and status. The whole post is worth reading, and I’ll repeat the last part here:

How is the JCGT board funding the journal?

The answer comes in three parts. First, it isn’t that expensive to publish a graphics journal electronically. All of the writing, editing, and reviewing is done by volunteers and most of the software is free open source (LaTeX, BibTeX, Apache, MySQL, mod_xslt2, Emacs, Ubuntu, etc.). The board is unpaid, as is the case for most academic editorial positions. Graphics authors and editors are capable of producing professional-quality typesetting, layout, and diagrams on their own.

Second, Williams College has a grant from the Mellon Foundation to create digital archives to match the quality and reliability of the college’s substantial physical scholarly archives. Those physical archives are in rare books, visual art, scholarly journals, and congressional papers. I find the breadth and depth of those fascinating: the college’s holdings include original drafts of the US Declaration of Independence and Constitution, first editions of major scientific works such as Principia Mathematica, and paintings by major artists such as Picasso. The college is well-positioned to archive and conserve digital computer graphics papers and unlike a commercial publisher, an academic library has no agenda for those materials beyond preserving knowledge for all.

Third, the minor incidental costs of advertising, hosting, and legal are being picked up out of pocket by a few of us. Of of the financial contributions and dues I’ve given to graphics organizations, this was the one I was most pleased to make. We’re not accepting donations or seeking outside funding–that would subject us to bookkeeping overhead and legal requirements. If you want to support the journal, the best way to do so is to read it, write for it, and offer your services as a reviewer.

One other tidbit: the first paper accepted by JCGT has been downloaded over 10,000 times in four weeks. Clearly there’s a high curiosity factor for an inaugural article, but reaching this wide an audience is a good sign.

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After talking about open access so much, it feels great to finally be doing something about it! Eric and I are both on the founding editorial board for the Journal of Computer Graphics Techniques (JCGT), a new peer-reviewed computer graphics journal which is open access, has no author fees, and is practice-focused (in the spirit of the Journal of Graphics Tools).

Similar to other journal “declarations of independence”, the JCGT was founded by the resigning editorial board of the Journal of Graphics Tools (JGT). Initially created as a “spiritual successor” to the Graphics Gems series of books, JGT had a unique focus on practical graphics techniques and insights, which is being continued at JCGT.

With Morgan McGuire (the editor-in-chief) and the rest of the editorial board, we plan to leverage this illustrious history, our expertise, and the advantages of online self-publishing and open access to create a truly exceptional journal. But we need your help. Like any journal, JCGT can only be as good as the papers submitted to it.

If you are a researcher, we hope the pedigree of the editorial board, the increase in impact afforded by open access, the lack of author fees, and the streamlined process will make JCGT compelling to you as a publication venue.

We also want to reach out to industry practitioners (especially game developers) who would not typically consider publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Similarly to its predecessor, JCGT emphasizes practicality and reproducibility over novelty and theory, and the papers differ from the typical “research paper” style (lengthy “related work”, “conclusion” or “future work” sections are not required). There are also many advantages to publishing in JCGT vs. more traditional industry channels such as trade conferences, magazines, books, and blog posts. The open access format guarantees wide and immediate distribution, and the peer-review process will provide valuable insights and comments on your work from some of the top experts in the field as well as assure potential readers of the high quality of the work.

Open access to research: an idea whose time has come. Be a part of it!

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A few days ago, I urged (besides other actions), submitting responses to the RFIs from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy regarding access to research. I myself responded to the the RFI regarding peer-reviewed scholarly publications (I didn’t feel qualified to respond to the other one regarding access to research data sets since I don’t use those as much in my work). The reply I sent is after the break – please note that this is my (Naty’s) personal opinion, and may not reflect Eric and Tomas’ positions.

Read the rest of this entry »

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If you care about open access to research (and you should), there are several actions (some quite time-critical) that you can take to protect it.

First, some background (if you’re already familiar with this issue and just want to know what to do about it you can skip to the “1,2,3″ list at the end and read the rest later).

In 2008, legislation was passed in the United States requiring all National Institute of Health (NIH) funded researchers to submit their papers to an openly available repository within a year of publication. The (perfectly reasonable) logic was that since the American public had paid for the research with their taxes, they had a right to see it without going through paywalls. If anything, the flaws in the legislation were that it did not cover all Federally-funded research, and that it still allowed publishers to lock papers up for one year.

Of course, scientific publishers (with a “researchers do all the work, we take possession of the results and sell them back to researchers” business model that resembles nothing so much as the “the sun grows the food, the ants pick the food, the grasshoppers eat the food” motto from Pixar’s film “A Bug’s Life”) hated this and immediately tried to stop it. They were unable to do so, which is very fortunate since the open access repository, PubMed Central, was a huge boon to everyone from researchers, to physicians, to patients trying to keep up with research into their diseases.

About a year later, the US Government started a “Request For Information” (RFI) process to figure out if this policy should be expanded to other Federally-funded research. Of course, for-profit scientific publishers like Elsevier filed lengthy letters against this. One would think that non-profit professional organizations like the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) would not have such a short-sighted, rent-seeking position. Surely they would put the advancement of human knowledge ahead of their revenue streams? Well, no. Perhaps not so surprising, given their previous actions.

Fast forward to January 2012, when another legislative attack on Federal open access mandates was launched – the Research Works Act. In the charming bought-and-paid for tradition of US legislation, this was written by the Association of American Publishers (AAP), a lobbying group whose members have made large contributions to the campaigns of the two U.S. Representatives introducing the bill – a fact that I am sure had no influence whatsoever on their support. This bill makes it illegal for the government to mandate open-access; it would shut down PubMed Central (sorry, cancer patients! we’ve got revenue streams to protect!)  as well as making any similar initiatives impossible. The timing of this bill was especially suspect, since it was launched a few days before the deadlines for another set of RFIs regarding open access. This odious bill launched a well-deserved internet shitstorm; our blog is relatively late to this party.

Sadly (but not surprisingly), it turns out that the ACM is a member of the AAP. One might hope that this was merely a case of the AAP doing something that some of its member organizations disagree with, but the ACM seems to like the Research Works Act just fine. You’ll like that last link; it’s one of the finest examples of disingenuous and circular reasoning I’ve seen in a while. Just to put a cherry on top of this shit sundae, it turns out that the AAP is also a supporter of SOPA (I’m now afraid to hear ACM’s own position on SOPA).

At this point, you’re most likely reading through a red veil of righteous rage. Fortunately, there are things you can do about this; some need to be done now.

  1. If you are a researcher or someone who uses research, email responses to the two RFIs from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy concerning access to Federally-funded research (one regarding peer-reviewed scholarly publications and one regarding research data). The deadline is in just three days. Although these are US government RFIs, my understanding is that you don’t have to be a US citizen or reside in the USA to respond. Harvard’s RFI response is worth reading for reference, though it is quite long.
  2. If you are a US Citizen, let your representatives know how you feel about this legislation. The Alliance for Taxpayer Access has the information you need to do so.
  3. If you are an ACM member, let the ACM know how you feel about their support for this act and the ACM’s membership of the AAP; be polite! The ACM bureaucracy is complex, but as far as I can tell the most appropriate people to contact are: Alain Chesnais, ACM President (achesnaisacm.org), Bernard Rous, ACM Director of Publications ([email protected]), and Cameron Wilson, ACM Director of Public Policy ([email protected]). If you are a member of some other professional organization that belongs to AAP, contact it as well.

It’s time to let the scientific publishers know that things are going to change. From now on, the ants pick the food, the ants eat the food, and the grasshoppers leave!

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Long-time readers of this blog will be well aware of my position on ACM and Open Access. Although ACM is a non-profit organization which ostensibly has as its only mandate “the advancement of computing as a science and a profession”, the ACM Publications Board has been behaving like a rent-seeking publisher; bullying students working to provide valuable resources to the community, and lobbying the US Government against Open Access initiatives, all in the name of protecting their revenue streams.

I have witnessed an outpouring of anger from the computing community at these events, convincing me that I am not alone in believing that the ACM Publications Board (and by extension the ACM itself) has tragically lost its way, prioritizing its income over the good of computing as a science and a profession. In fighting Open Access they are on the wrong side of history; witness all the leading academic institutions who have come out in favor of the very government Open Access initiative which the ACM has opposed.

If you believe as I do, then now is the chance to make a difference! SIGGRAPH is holding elections now for three Director-at-Large positions, to be selected from five candidates; the deadline for the elections is June 4th. If you are an active SIGGRAPH member, you should have received instructions for voting by now; you can vote at this link. ACM is also holding general elections for various Council positions, including the President of the ACM; you can vote at this link. The deadline for the ACM General Council elections is May 24th.

For me, Open Access is the most important issue in these elections. But which candidates will fight for Open Access, and which for the status quo? Of all the SIGGRAPH candidates, only one has explicitly mentioned Open Access in their position statement (James O’Brien, as Eric pointed out in a recent post), and so far one of the ACM Council candidates have: Salil Vadhan’s statment is here: http://www.acm.org/acmelections/candidate10.

To arm voting ACM and SIGGRAPH members with information on the candidates positions, I have composed some questions regarding ACM’s copyright policy and Open Access, and put them up on a web page. I have sent these questions to all the candidates for these elections (except for the few which I have so far been unable to contact), and am posting the answers on the web page as they come in.

So far only two candidates for the SIGGRAPH election have answered; Mashhuda Glencross and James O’Brien. Both answers are Open-Access friendly. No candidates for the ACM Council have come forward yet. Keep following the questions web page, and make sure to use the information there to select candidates, and vote in both elections. Nothing will ever change unless we make our voices heard!

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By Naty Hoffman

In 2008, legislation was passed requiring all NIH-funded researchers to submit their papers to an openly available repository within a year of publication.  Even this modest step towards full open access was immediately attacked by rent-seeking scientific publishers.

More recently the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy started to collect public feedback on expanding open access.  The first phase of this process ends on December 20th.

From ACM’s official comment, it is clearly joining the rent-seekers.  This is perhaps not surprising, considering the recent ACM take-down of Ke-Sen Huang’s paper link pages (Bernard Rous, who signed the comment, is also the person who issued the take-down).  In the paper link case ACM did eventually see reason.  At the time, I naively believed this marked a fundamental change in ACM’s approach; I have been proven wrong.

ACM’s comment can be found towards the bottom of this link; I will quote the salient parts here for comment.

ACM: “We think it is imperative that deposits be made in institutional repositories vs. a centralized repository…”

A centralized repository is more valuable than a scattering of papers on author’s institutional web pages.  ACM evidently agrees, given that it has gone to the trouble of setting up just such a repository (the Digital Library).  ACM’s only problem with a central, open access repository is that it would compete with its own (closed) one.  Since an open repository contributes far more value to the community than one locked behind a paywall, ACM appears to value its revenue streams over the good of the community it supposedly exists to serve.

ACM: “…essentially everything ACM publishes is freely available somewhere on the Web… In our community, as in others, voluntary posting is working.”

This is demonstrably false.  Almost every graphics conference has papers which are not openly available.  Many computing fields are even worse off.

Most infuriatingly, ACM presents a false balance between its own needs and the needs of the computing community:

ACM: “…there is a fundamental balance or compromise in how ACM and the community have approached this issue – a balance that serves both… We think it is imperative that any federally mandated open access policy maintain a similar balance… There is an approach to open access that allows the community immediate access to research results but also allows scholarly publishers like ACM to sustain their publishing programs. It is all about balance.”

What nonsense is this?  The ACM has no legitimate needs or interests other than those of its members!  How would U.S. voters react to a Senator claiming that a given piece of legislation (say, one reducing restrictions on campaign financing) “strikes a fundamental balance between the needs of the Senate and those of the United States of America”?  ACM has lost its way, profoundly and tragically.

As much as Mr. Rous would like to think otherwise, ACM’s publishing program is not an end in itself, but a means to an end.  ACM arguing that an open repository of papers would be harmful because it “undermines the unique value” of ACM’s closed repository is like the Salvation Army arguing that a food stamp program is harmful because it “undermines the unique value” of their soup kitchens.

If you are an ACM member, these statements were made in your name.  Regardless of membership, if you care at all about access to research publications please make your opinion known.  Read the OSTP blog post carefully, and post a polite, well-reasoned argument in the comments.  Note that first you need to register and log in – the DigitalKoans blog has the details:

Note: To post comments on the OSTP Blog, you must register and login. There are registration and login links on the sidebar of the blog home page at the bottom right (these links are not on individual blog postings).

Hurry!  The deadline for Phase I comments (which include the ACM comment) is December 20th, though you can make your opinion known in the other phases as well.

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We have mentioned Ke-Sen Huang’s awesome paper preprint link pages in many previous posts – they’re the best graphics resource on the web by a long shot.

Early last week, many people (including myself) were shocked to see most of the pages replaced by the following:

REMOVED – This page has been removed at the request of the ACM Publications Board

This resulted in an outpouring of anger as well as support for Ke-Sen.  Many people in the community contacted the ACM Publications Board to try to convince them to change their position.

Fortunately, the story has a happy ending.  Today, Ke-Sen received the following email:

Dear Ke-Sen,

As you are aware, the computer graphics community has expressed dismay and concern about the removal of your web pages. ACM wants to make it possible for you to continue this service that the community clearly values very highly. By this message ACM grants permission for you to repost the pages, with the addition of links to the authoritative versions of the papers in the ACM Digital Library. The author’s home page links may also be included, but should not be links directly to the author’s version of the paper. Please post on the site that the information is being provided with the permission of the ACM. This is the solution you proposed earlier, and it is clear from the community’s comments that it is the right thing to do.

As you know, the concern about your pages was ACM copyright policy with regard to links. As a result of the community discussion, ACM will institute a formal review of this portion of its copyright policy.

Please contact us with any concerns or questions.

Sincerely,

Patricia Ryan
ACM Chief Operating Officer

ACM also offered to help with the work of adding the Digital Library links.  So nothing will be removed from Ke-Sen’s pages, and additional useful links will be added.

It will take a little while until the pages are back up, but they will be better than ever.  In the meantime, you can go to the Way Back Machine and find his pages from 2007 and earlier.

The graphics community has engaged with the ACM in a much more active manner than usual, which is a good thing.  We need to remember that it is our organization, and it is only as good as we make it.  So consider volunteering for conferences, paying more attention to ACM elections, etc. – I know I will.

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Old graphics papers don’t get enough respect nowadays; for example, Porter and Duff’s original paper is still the best place to get a good understanding of alpha blending (which too many people get wrong nowadays). There are many more gems to be found in papers from the 70s and 80s.  A while ago, I pointed out Pixar’s online paper library, which includes a lot of “golden oldies” (as well as good new stuff).  I just saw this great list of old papers on the codersnotes blog. I heartily concur with Kayamon’s assessment of the value of an ACM digital library subscription, though I wish ACM would find a way to go the Open Access route.  It’s not just a matter of expense; the registration wall adds a huge amount of friction to the process of finding information.

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