Authors know that what they write for the journal, speech therapists are going to read
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Ben Maassen
University of Groningen
I’ve become so convinced of the responsibility we have to society that as the rector I intend obliging our researchers to circulate their articles publicly, for example no more than six months after publication.
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Rector magnificus
Erasmus University Rotterdam

Prof. Henk Schmidt

Professor Henk Schmidt has been rector magnificus of Erasmus University Rotterdam since 01 September 2009. He is professor and chairman of the Institute for Psychology.

Are psychologists familiar with Open Access?
There are certainly people who know what it means, but whether they actually utilise it is a different matter. It’s primarily a matter of publication rather than data storage. The basic principle is that if society in general pays for scientific and scholarly research, then society should also have free access to the results of that research. At the moment, most of the results are published in journals that are difficult to access – certainly for the general public – because of their high price. Scientists and scholars have to pay for access to their own work. Research results ought to be publicly accessible, free of charge.

Most of the scientists in my own discipline are aware that there is a movement working towards that end, and they support that movement, at least in theory. But acting on that principle is a different matter. The problem is that the Open Access journals that exist are still new and have yet to build up a reputation. They don’t yet have an impact factor and there are questions about the review procedure that they apply. But that’s no different to new 'traditional' journals. I’ve set up two journals myself and it took some time before they made it onto the Science Citation Index or the Social Science Citation Index. What this means is that the best authors don’t want to publish in these new journals, and vice versa. We recently had a research assistant whose article wasn’t accepted by one of the leading journals but was accepted by a peer-reviewed Open Access journal. Those journals in fact apply different standards.

But some Open Access journals reject 90% of the articles they receive, and they also have a very good impact factor.
That’s true in the exact sciences, but I’m not aware of it where the social sciences are concerned.

Is publishing in the form of articles actually important in the field of psychology?
Yes, absolutely. In that respect, psychology has developed into one of the natural sciences over the past 20 years. Our work focuses entirely on writing articles – books hardly come into it anymore. That’s certainly a difference between psychology and the other social sciences. As the Dean of the Social Sciences faculty, I was in a good position to observe those differences in publication practices. In psychology, internationalisation has also become much more pervasive. In fact, we now publish only in English-language journals. The few books that still appear are compilations of separate essays and are also published in English.

Does that mean that prestige in your discipline is based on articles?
For us, prestige is entirely based on the impact factor of the journals that you publish in and on citations of your articles. That’s decisive both as regards appointments and the approval of projects. We have become a 'hard science'. The number of authors of each article is also increasing. The rise of experimental psychology – for example neuropsychology – has definitely played a role in this.

In physics, scientists keep one another informed by means of preprints, which they collect in ArXiv. They then do publish them in journals, but that is more for readers outside the discipline. Is that also the way things work in psychology?
No, not at all, probably because competition between ideas is less fierce than in the natural sciences. There, the race to be the first is intense, and it goes back a long way: take the rivalry between Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, for example. In psychology, the need to publish quickly and “stake your claim” is less pressing. It may well take a year before your article appears in a journal. But I do expect the time pressure to increase. In that case, circulating your work by uploading it to a repository could speed things up.

Henk Schmidt (photo: Arie Kers) Henk Schmidt (photo: Arie Kers) Henk Schmidt (photo: Arie Kers)

What’s your position as the rector of the university?
I’ve become so convinced of the responsibility we have to society that as the rector I intend obliging our researchers to circulate their articles publicly, for example no more than six months after publication. I’m aiming for 2011, if possible in collaboration with publishers via the 'Golden Road' and otherwise without the publishers via the 'Green Road'. It’s also in the interest of the researchers themselves: Open Access will increase the number of citations. In my own scientific work, I search for and find a lot of information on the Internet, particularly in Google Scholar.

This matter was also dealt with by the Council of University Rectors, wasn’t it?
Yes, during the last two meetings. I put my foot down and emphasised – for about the fifth time – that we need to actually do something. I said that I intended making Open Access to the publications in our annual report compulsory at my own University. Some of my colleagues were rather condescending: “I’ll be interested to see if you manage it,” was how one of them put it.

So they were sceptical?
Seemingly! Either that, or I’m being naive. I’m new there, but I don’t want to wait forever. And a few of my colleagues agreed with me. The problem isn’t the underlying idea, nor is it the technology. They are both just fine. It’s about a change in the way researchers behave. It’s not enough to point out the possibilities to them and say that they have to utilise them. So I’m already thinking about a campaign to make clear our responsibilities and to create a number of “champions” in that respect. I was involved in the 'Cream of Science' project, for example. People were very enthusiastic about it. One colleague even listed it in his CV. After an awareness-raising campaign like that, you need to ensure that it becomes standard procedure to make your publications available. If you don’t, then all the good intentions quickly get forgotten. Researchers are not used to wondering about what happens to their article after it’s appeared in a journal.

Isn’t that rather strange? Publication is the result of an expensive research programme, but researchers quickly forget about it and move on to other research.
Yes and no. They are of course used to registering the metadata in Metis. But it would make a difference if it were then easy to deposit your PDF. Let me give you an example: I use the Endnote program to store my references. The programme looks for the PDFs for the references and finds from 70% to 80% of them on the Internet. I also store my own articles in a separate folder in Endnote.

So you don’t upload them to the university’s repository?
No, I don’t. I had never even consulted the repository. I did try it once a few weeks ago and realised that none of my publications are in there. It was just too awkward, and I’ll now probably wait quite a long time before I try it again. I’m just too busy for this kind of experimentation. It really does need to be made a lot simpler. Either that or somebody has to do it for you.

Let’s get back to the psychologists. If uploading material to a repository were actually made a lot simpler, would they all do it, or would something else have to happen?
(Long pause.)
I think it will be necessary to impose an obligation so as to get them used to it. But if it were really simple and it took only a single action to upload the publication to the repository and register it in Metis for the annual report, then they’d come on board. It’s about publications in prestigious 'traditional' journals, which still have a paper version. They impose restrictions on size and publication date that don’t apply to Open Access journals that are published solely digitally. But some researchers consider the broad range of options to be a disadvantage: you no longer need to select! Everything is possible, so everything is allowed – that’s how they think. They still generally don’t trust that – here too – there will be stringent selection based on quality. It also has to do with the way they view the Internet in general. Needless to say, they also see that digital journals have advantages in speed of publication, capacity, and flexibility where enriching them with data files or software are concerned. In other words, there is a great deal of scope for an awareness-raising campaign.

Good examples are of course the Open Access journals in the Public Library of Science (PLoS), which have risen to the top in the biomedical sciences in only a short time. However, some of them reject 90% of the articles submitted. We don’t have anything like that in psychology yet, but that would indeed be a way of getting away from the traditional publishers. It would help if leading organisations like the American Psychological Association were to take the initiative. But perhaps they have too many interests as regards printed journals for them to do so.

Henk Schmidt (photo: Arie Kers) Henk Schmidt (photo: Arie Kers) Henk Schmidt (photo: Arie Kers)

Should financiers like the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) do something?
That would be a good idea, although they can’t just oblige researchers to publish in Open Access journals. It has not yet been established that there are enough prestigious Open Access journals, but – until there are – prescribing the 'Green Road' seems to me an excellent idea. The NWO should simply go ahead and impose that requirement, even though it’s a bit of a problem that this will lead to two versions of the article being circulated.

But publishing in Open Access journals should be preferred?
Yes, certainly given that I now understand that there are also Open Access journals with such a good impact factor. This is the first time I’ve heard about it. I still know so little about it. I have observed, though, that it’s very important for a new journal for some high-quality authors to publish in it early on. Then things get moving quickly. Perhaps we need to attract 'champions' like that for Open Access journals. It’s also a good thing to publicise the fact that an increasing number of Open Access journals are simply being incorporated into Web of Science or Scopus. We are hardly aware of how far Open Access has already come in some other fields.

It’s taking a long time.
Yes, changing behaviour takes time, but I’m sure it will be successful. There have already been major changes in field of psychology. Until the 1980s, the ne plus ultra was to publish your article in the Nederlands Tijdschrift voor de Psychologie, in Dutch of course. Ten years later, the international journals had come along. So I’m optimistic about the switch to Open Access.

Does the university have a fund to finance Open Access publication, in so far as that is necessary? Delft has such a fund, for example, and so do some American universities.
No, we don’t, but I’ll make a note of that right now. It’s an interesting idea. But I believe that Springer is running an experiment with the Dutch universities in which no extra payment needs to be made to publish articles by means of Open Access. That makes switching to Open Access very attractive. We ought to require more publishers to do that. But I know that the traditional publishers want to maintain their old model as long as possible: it’s so lucrative for them.

What do psychologists do about the copyright declaration that the traditional publishers require them to sign before publishing their article?
They simply go ahead and sign on the dotted line without thinking about it. They don’t have the time or the energy to find out all about it, quite apart from negotiating with the publisher. Alternative declarations such as those drawn up by SURF and other organisations don’t play any role in our discipline. But they also immediately forget about what they’ve signed and everybody simply uses their articles as they see fit, in their teaching, on their website, etc.

Interview by Leo Waaijers on 16 November 2009.
Photography by Arie Kers.