Tag Archives: open access

The Library of Alexandra

“Hint: Sci-Hub was created to open papers that are not available online at all. You cannot find these papers in Google or in open access” [tweet by @Sci_Hub]

“Public Resource will make extracts of the Library of Alexandra available shortly, will present the issues to publishers and governments.” [tweet by Carl Malamud]



Open peer review is something others should do, Open science is something you could do

This post follows Peer review is not independent validation, where it is argued that independent validation is one of the pillars of the scientific method. Peer review is only a part of the editorial process. Of course that peer review is better than nothing, but it is only a social form of validation, much less rigorous than what the scientific method asks.

If the author follows the path of Open science, then the reader has the means to perform an independent validation. This is great news, here is why.

It is much easier to do Open science than to change the legacy publishing system.

Many interesting alternatives to the legacy publishing have been proposed already. There is green OA, there is gold OA (gold is for $), there is arXiv.org. There are many other versions, but the main problem is that research articles are not considered really serious unless they are peer reviewed. Legacy publishing provides this, it is actually the only service they provide. People are used to review for established journals and any alternative publishing system has to be able to compete with that.

So, if you want to make an OA platform, it’s not serious unless you find a way to make other people to peer review the articles. This is hard!

People are slowly understanding that peer review is not what we should aim for. We are so used with the idea that peer review is that great thing which is part of the scientific method. It is not! Independent validation is the thing, peer review is an old, unscientific way (very useful, but not useful enough to allow research finding to pass the validation filter).

The alternative, which is Open science, is that the authors of research findings make open all the data, procedures, programs, etc, everything they have. In this way, any other group of researchers, anybody else willing to try can validate those research findings.

The comparison is striking. The reviewers of the legacy publishing system don’t have magical powers, they just read the article, they browse the data provided by the very limited article format and they make an opinion about the credibility of the research findings. In the legacy system, the reviewer does not have the means to validate the article.

In conclusion, it is much simpler to do Open science than to invent a way to convince people to review your legacy articles. It is enough to make open your data, your programs, etc. It is something that you, the author can do.

You don’t have to wait for the others to do a review for you. Release your data, that’s all.

Peer review is not independent validation

People tend to associate peer review with science. As an example, even today there are still many scientists who believe that an arXiv.org article is not a true article, unless it has been peer reviewed. They can’t trust the article, without reading it first, unless it passed the peer review, as a part of the publishing process.

Just because a researcher puts a latex file in the arXiv.org (I continue with the example), it does not mean that the content of the file has been independently validated, as the scientific method demands.

The part which slips from the attention is that peer review is not independent validation.

Which means that a peer reviewed article is not necessarily one which passes the scientific method filter.

This simple observation is, to me, the key for understanding why so many research results communicated in peer reviewed articles can not be reproduced, or validated, independently. The scale of this peer reviewed article rot is amazing. And well known!

Peer review is a part of the publishing process. By itself, it is only a social validation. Here is why: the reviewers don’t try to validate the results from the article because they don’t have the means to do it in the first place. They do have access only to a story told by the authors. All the reviewers can do is to read the article and to express an opinion about it’s credibility, based on the reviewers experience, competence (and biases).

From the point of view of legacy publishers, peer review makes sense. It is the equivalent of the criteria used by a journalist in order to decide to publish something or not. Not more!

That is why it is very important for science to pass from peer review to validation. This is possible only in an Open Science frame. Once more (in this Open(x) fight) the medical science editors lead. From “Journal Editors To Researchers: Show Everyone Your Clinical Data” by Harlan Krumholz, a quote:

“[…] last Wednesday, the editors of the leading medical journals around the world made a proposal that could change medical science forever. They said that researchers would have to publicly share the data gathered in their clinical studies as a condition of publishing the results in the journals. This idea is now out for public comment.

As it stands now, medical scientists can publish their findings without ever making available the data upon which their conclusions were based.

Only some of the top journals, such as The BMJ, have tried to make data sharing a condition of publication. But authors who didn’t want to comply could just go elsewhere.”

This is much more than simply saying “peer review is bad” (because is not, only that it is not a part of the scientific method, it is a part of the habits of publishers). It is a right step towards Open Science. I repeat here my opinion about OS, in the shortest way I can:

There are 2 parts involved in a research communication:   A (author, creator, the one which has something to disseminate) and R (reader). The legacy publishing process introduces a   B (reviewer).  A puts something in a public place, B expresses a public opinion about this and R uses B’s opinion as a proxy for the value of A’s thing, in order to decide if A’s thing is worthy of R’s attention or not.  Open Access is about the direct interaction of A with R, Open Peer-Review is about transparent interaction of A with B, as seen by R and Validation (as I see it) is improving the format of A’s communication so that R could make a better decision than the social one of counting on B’s opinion.

That’s it! The reader is king and the author should provide everything to the reader, for the reader to be able to independently validate the work. This is the scientific method at work.


How I hit a wall when I used the open access and open source practices when applying for a job

UPDATE 11.10.2015. What happened since the beginning of the “contest”? Nothing. My guess is that they are going to follow the exact literary sense of their announcement. It is a classic sign of cronyism. They write 3 times that they are going to judge according to the file submitted (the activity of the candidate as it looks from the file), but they don’t give other criteria than the ones from an old law. In my case I satisfy these criteria, of course, but later on they write about “candidates considered eligible”, which literary means candidates that an anonymous board considers they are eligible and not simply eligible according to the mentioned criteria.

Conclusion: this is not news, is dog bites man.

I may be wrong. But in the case I’m right then the main subject (namely what happens in a real situation with open access practices in case of a job opening) looks like a frivolous, alien complaint.

The split between:
– a healthy, imaginative, looking to the future community of individuals and
– a kafkian old world of bureaucratic cronies
is growing bigger here in my country.


UPDATE 14.10.2015: Suppositions confirmed. The results have been announced today, only verbally, the rest is shrouded in mystery. Absolutely no surprise. Indeed, faced with the reality of local management, my comments about open access and open source practices are like talking about a TV show to cavemen.

Not news.

There is a statement I want to make, for those who read this and have only access to info about Romanians from the media, which is, sadly, almost entirely negative.

It would be misleading to judge the local mathematicians (or other creative people, say) from these sources. There is nothing wrong with many Romanian people. On the contrary, these practices which show textbook signs of corruption are typical for the managers of state institutions from this country. They are to be blamed. What you see in the media is the effect of the usual handshake between bad leadership and poverty.

Which sadly manifest everywhere in the state institutions of Romania, in ways far beyond the ridicule.

So next time when you shall interact with one such manager, don’t forget who they are and what they are really doing.

I am not going to pursue a crusade against corruption in Romania, because I have better things to do. Maybe I’m wrong and what is missing is more people doing exactly this. But the effects of corrupt practices is that the state institution becomes weaker and weaker. So, by psycho historic reasons 🙂 there is no need for a fight with dying institutions.

Let’s look to the future, let’s do interesting stuff!


This is real: there are job openings at the Institute of Mathematics of the Romanian academy, announced by the pdf file


The announce is in Romanian but you may notice that they refer to a law from 2003, which asks for a CV, research memoire, list of publications and ten documents, from kindergarden to PhD. On paper.

That is only the ridicule of bureaucracy, but the real problems were somewhere else.

There is no mention of criteria of selection, members of the committee, but in the announcement is written 3 times that every candidate’s work will be considered only as it appears from looking at the file submitted.

They also ask that the scientific, say, part of the submission to be sent by email to two addresses which you can grasp from the announcement.

So I did all the work and I hit a wall when I submitted by email.

I sent them the following links:

– my homepage which has all the info needed (including links to all relevant work)

– link to my arxiv articles
because all my published articles and all my cited articles, published or not) are available at arXiv

– link to the chemlambda repository for the programming, demos, etc part

I was satisfied because I finished this, when I got a message from DanTimotin@imar.ro telling me that I have to send them, as attachment, the pdf files of at least 5 relevant articles.

In the paper file I put 20+ of these articles (selected from 60+), but they wanted also the pdf files.

I don’t have the pdfs of many legacy published articles because they are useless for open access, you can’t distribute them publicly.
Moreover I keep the relevant work I do as open as possible.

Finally, how could I send the content of the github repository? Or the demos?

So I replied by protesting about the artificial difference he makes between a link and the content available at that link and I sent a selection of 20 articles with links to their arXiv version.

He replied by a message where he announced that if I want my submission to be considered then I have to send 5 pdfs attached.

I visited physically Dan Timotin to talk and to understand why a link is different from the content available to that link.

He told me that these are the rules.

He told that he is going to send the pdfs to the members of the committees and it might happen that they don’t have access to the net when they look for the work of the candidate.

He told me that they can’t be sure that the arXiv version is the same as the published version.

He has nothing to say about the programming/demo/animations part.

He told that nobody will read the paper file.

I asked if he is OK if I make public this weird practice and he agreed to that.

Going back to my office, I arrived to find 9 pdfs of the published articles. In many other cases my institute does not have a subscription to journals where my articles appeared, so I don’t think that is fair to be asked to buy back my work, only because of the whims of one person.

Therefore I sent to Dan Timotin a last message where I attached these 9 pdfs, I explained that I can’t access the others, but I firmly demand that all the links sent previously to be sent to the (mysterious, anonymous, net deprived, and lacking public criteria) committee, otherwise I would consider this an abuse.

I wrote that I regret this useless discussion provoked by the lack of transparency and by the hiding behind an old law, which should not stop a committee of mathematicians to judge the work of a candidate as it is, and not as it appears by an abuse of filtering.

After a couple of hours he replied that he will send the files and the links to the members of the committee.

I have to believe his word.

That is what happens, in practice, with open access and open science, at least in some places.

What could be done?

Should I wait for the last bureaucrat to stop supporting passively the publishing industry, by actively opposing open access practices?

Should I wait for all politicians to pass fake PhDs under the supervision of a very complacent local Academia?

Should I feel ashamed of being abused?

Screen recording of the reading experience of an article which runs in the browser

The title probably needs parsing:





An article which runs in the browser is a program (ex. html and javascript)  which is executed by the browser. The reader has access to the article as a program, to the data and other programs which have been used for producing the article, to all other articles which are cited.

The reader becomes the reviewer. The reader can validate, if he wishes, any piece of research which is communicated in the article.

The reader can see or interact with the research communicated. By having access to the data and programs which have been used, the reader can produce other instances of the same research (i.e virtual experiments).

In the case of the article presented as an example, embedded in the article are animations of the Ackermann function computation and the other concerning the building of a molecular structure. These are produced by using an algorithm which has randomness in the composition, therefore the reader may produce OTHER instances of these examples, which may or may not be consistent with the text from the article. The reader may change parameters or produce completely new virtual experiments, or he may use the programs as part of the toolbox for another piece of research.

The experience of the reader is therefore:

  • unique, because of the complete freedom to browse, validate, produce, experiment
  • not limited to reading
  • active, not passive
  • leading to trust, in the sense that the reader does not have to rely on hearsay from anonymous reviewers

In the following video there is a screen recording of these possibilities, done for the article

M. Buliga, Molecular computers, 2015, http://chorasimilarity.github.io/chemlambda-gui/dynamic/molecular.html

This is the future of research communication.


Bemis and the bull

Bemis said:

“I fell at the foot of the only solitary tree there was in nine counties adjacent (as any creature could see with the naked eye), and the next second I had hold of the bark with four sets of nails and my teeth, and the next second after that I was astraddle of the main limb and blaspheming my luck in a way that made my breath smell of brimstone. I had the bull, now, if he did not think of one thing. But that one thing I dreaded. I dreaded it very seriously. There was a possibility that the bull might not think of it, but there were greater chances that he would. I made up my mind what I would do in case he did. It was a little over forty feet to the ground from where I sat. I cautiously unwound the lariat from the pommel of my saddle——”

“Your saddle? Did you take your saddle up in the tree with you?”

“Take it up in the tree with me? Why, how you talk. Of course I didn’t. No man could do that. It fell in the tree when it came down.”


“Certainly. I unwound the lariat, and fastened one end of it to the limb. It was the very best green raw-hide, and capable of sustaining tons. I made a slip-noose in the other end, and then hung it down to see the length. It reached down twenty-two feet—half way to the ground. I then loaded every barrel of the Allen with a double charge. I felt satisfied. I said to myself, if he never thinks of that one thing that I dread, all right—but if he does, all right anyhow—I am fixed for him. But don’t you know that the very thing a man dreads is the thing that always happens? Indeed it is so. I watched the bull, now, with anxiety—anxiety which no one can conceive of who has not been in such a situation and felt that at any moment death might come. Presently a thought came into the bull’s eye. I knew it! said I—if my nerve fails now, I am lost. Sure enough, it was just as I had dreaded, he started in to climb the tree——”

“What, the bull?”

“Of course—who else?””

[ Mark Twain, Roughing It, chapter VII]

Like Bemis, legacy publishers hope you’ll not think the unthinkable.

That we can pass to a new form of research sharing.

In publicity they say that the public is like a bull.

When you read an article you are like a passive couch potato in front of the TV. They (the publishers, hand in hand with academic managers) cast the shows, you have the dubious freedom to tap onto the remote control.

Now, it is possible, hard but possible and doable on a case by case basis. It is possible to do more. Comparable to the experience you have in a computer game vs the one you have in front of the TV.

You can experience research actively, via research works which run in the browser. I’ll call them “articles” for the lack of the right name, but articles they are not.

An article which runs in the browser should have the following features:

  • you, the reader-gamer, can verify the findings by running (playing) the article
  • so there has to be some part, if not all of the content, into a form which is executed during gameplay, not only as an attached library of programs which can be downloaded and run by the interested reader (although such an attachment is already a huge advance over the legacy publisher pity offer)
  • verification (aka validation) is up to you, and not limited to a yes/no answer. By playing the game (as well as other related articles) you can, and you’ll be interested into discovering more, or different, or opposing results than the one present in the passive version of the article and why not in the mind of the author
  • as validation is an effect of playing the article, peer review becomes an obsolete, much weaker form of validation
  • peer review is anyways a very weird form of validation: the publisher, by the fact it publishes an article, implies that some anonymous members of the research guild have read the article. So when you read the article in the legacy journal you are not even told, only hinted that somebody from the editorial staff exchanged messages with somebody who’s a specialist, who perhaps read the article and thought it is worthy of publication. This is so ridiculous, but that is why you’ll find in many reviews, which you see as an author, so many irrelevant remarks from the reviewer, like my pet example of the reviewer who’s offput by my use of quotation signs. That’s why, because what the reviewer can do is very limited, so in order to give the impression he/she did something, to give some proof that he/she read the article, then it comes with this sort of circumstantial proof. Actually, for the most honest reviewer, the ideally patient and clever fellow who validates the work of the author, there is not much else to do. The reviewer has to decide if he believes it or not, from the passive form of the article he received from the editor, and in the presence of the conflict of interests which comes from extreme specialisation and low number of experts on a tiny subject. Peer review is not even a bad joke.
  • the licence should be something comparable to CC-BY-4.0, and surely not CC-BY-NC-ND. Something which leave free both the author and the reader/gamer/author of derivative works, and in the same time allows the propagation of the authorship of the work
  • finally, the article which runs in the browser does not need a publisher, nor a DRM manager. What for?

So, bulls, let’s start to climb the tree!

Related: https://chorasimilarity.wordpress.com/2015/04/28/one-of-the-first-articles-with-means-for-complete-validation-by-reproducibility/