FORCE2017: Knowledge should be open by default': An Interview with Diego Gómez Hoyos

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In preparation for FORCE2017, hosted in Berlin this October, I interviewed keynote speaker Diego Gómez Hoyos. Diego, based in Costa Rica but originally from Colombia, is a young researcher in Conservation Biology who recently hit the media spotlight, drawing the attention of the scholarly communications community.

He is currently facing criminal charges, and up to 8 years in jail, for sharing the thesis of another research online. Although he was most recently cleared of all charges, the prosecutor has appealed the decision, and Diego is continuing his legal battle with the general support of the 'Open' community, as well as organizations like the Karisma Foundation and the EFF. The campaign, 'Sharing is not a crime' highlights some of the current issues and debates surrounding copyright law, and the ownership and sharing of research.

His ongoing struggles in this arena peaked my interest in talking to him about Open Access, getting his advice on practicing Open, and learning about his views on fair and effective copyright.

Don’t miss Diego’s talk 'Access to scholarly knowledge for common causes: a Latin American context' on October 27th at FORCE2017.

Diego on Sharing knowledge

How did you become an Open Access advocate?
I studied biology at the University of Quindío, a provincial university in Colombia. During this period, I had limited access to resources and tools to perform research, even to elementary scientific literature. My university had big gaps in access to specialized literature, particularly because it had limited access to publishers databases journals (e.g. Elsevier, Wiley). The limited access was due to the elevated costs of subscription, with lamentable consequences for the access to knowledge for a provincial university, because it is known that these publishers monopolize a major proportion of scientific journals.

A solution for these barriers is to request and share literature, a daily activity of the scientific practice all around the world. For then, I didn’t know about alternative licenses to copyright, neither about vulnerabilities of students and researchers to copyright, even in academic and non-profit scenarios. Fortunately, I helped and continue to help some colleagues by sharing knowledge. However, I once shared an academic document on the internet and the author sued me for copyright violation, and I have since then faced a criminal case in Colombia that, to date, has not been concluded.

After this, I started to know about open access (OA), along with the Karisma Foundation, and began my activities as an open access advocate. I hope that these four difficult years in the criminal process have been useful to alert about the vulnerability of students and researchers to copyright, and that my process has highlighted the need to promote open access to knowledge.

Do you think there is a greater urgency for Open Access in some fields when compared with others?
In terms of urgency yes. However, I think that the knowledge should be open by default

Could you explain this a little bit further?
Some disciplines are (or should be) of global interest, and are necessary to ensure human well-being. For example, fields such as biomedical, environmental, and climate sciences, and conservation biology among others.

Wildlife conservation is a field I am particularly interested in. In this field, research and activism are performed mainly by NGOs, and they only have scarce access to paywalled journals, even less so to publishers‘ databases. Therefore, open access should be the de facto selection for common causes, such as wildlife conservation, climate change, etc. Knowledge in these topics should not have barriers that slow down important actions such as conservation action in climate change scenarios or the actual sixth mass extinction of plants and animals.

What advice do you have for those with only very limited access to research outputs to still get the literature they need?
First, they should have no doubt about the researchers’ spirit of sharing –  the vast majority has no problem sharing their contributions. However, the fair and fast way of access to literature should be through open access journals. Although researchers share their papers, these are published in paywalled journals usually controlled by a few corporations.

Second, they could perform a search on the internet or use tools such as Google Scholar, Unpaywall, ResearchGate, or Sci-hub. However, it is not a sustainable solution, because publishing corporations will bring these tools down, since these threaten their millionaire profits. Also, these tools only mask the problem of knowledge access, because authors are not concerned with the diffusion of their papers published in paywall journals, because they know about the existence of these alternative tools that unlock the papers.

Finally, I would tell them that they should be coherent when publishing their papers. They should publish their research outputs in open access journals, to support other researchers facing a problem that they have faced themselves, i.e. limited access to literature. Researchers are responsible to overcome the problems of knowledge access, therefore, they should invoke the spirit of sharing, and publish their contributions in open access journals and not wait for sci-hub to unlock it.

What advice do you have for students looking to support open research practices?
If their interest is advocacy, my advice for them would be to take into account differences in regional or disciplinary necessities because the issues around open research practice have many nuances, and the strategies or actions to consolidate this framework in a region/discipline/community may not be suitable or successful in others.

If they want to just be practitioners of open research, I would advice that they be tolerant with colleagues, and arm themselves with solid arguments (with facts) to defend the cause, especially when the sceptics begin discussions based on myths about openness.

What do you see as the biggest barriers to Open Access at the present?
In my region, I think that the biggest barriers are the perverse incentives that universities offer to researchers, when they publish their research results in "mainstream" journals, which are usually paywall journals. Also, some researchers publish their results in paywalled journals because these are "renowned." Therefore, some authors and peer-reviewers in Latin America are "malinchistas" (Malinche was a native Mexican that played a role in the Spanish conquest of the Mexican Empire, acting as an interpreter, advisor, and intermediary for the Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés) because they prefer reviewing or publishing manuscripts in foreign paywalled journals, instead of supporting and promoting Latin America's leadership in open access journals. Other researchers are indecisive when selecting journals, and end up publishing their results in the "renowned" journals, sometimes guided by the wrong idea that all open access journals transfer the costs to the authors in the form of article processing charges.

How can we overcome these?
An important task is to design appropriate and successful incentives! For example: increasing the researcher’s chance to receive grants for their projects (via application criteria), international recognition, options to apply for awards, urging the national council or the department of science to boost OA through incentives. However, incentives should not be directed exclusively to authors, but also to reviewers of OA journals, with the aim of improving and expediting the editorial process to make open access journals more attractive to authors. The latter, because journals with slow editorial processes are unattractive to authors, especially to young researchers that are aiming to gain curriculum as soon as possible.

Finally, I think that it is necessary to create tools to support researchers in selecting journals. This can be done through summary reviews (advantages and disadvantages) of a selected paywalled journal and a similar OA journal.

Also, recognizing that transferring processing charges to authors is not suitable for Latin American researchers or institutions with scarce resources.

Diego on Copyright

When sharing long term data sets, is there enough credit for those collecting the data, and should work accumulated over many years be made open all at once?
In my experience, I think that credit is not given enough. For example, I have used biodiversity databases and each subset of data has a collector. Maybe the credit is given  in repositories but is scarcely found in derivated work. How do you or could you cite a hundred people in an article?

What is fair copyright law to you?
A fair copyright law should explicitly include that the common good is above personal benefits. This is just my personal superficial perception, since I do not know the nuances between common good and personal rights, especially in legal issues.

What do you see as the main barriers to getting copyright to be effective for knowledge sharing and education?
I think that copyright is biased to commercial logic, more than moral protection of authors. Thus, in our economic paradigm the economic benefit is above everything else, or unfortunately this is what it intends. I think that copyright falls in this logic, blurring what is fair, exceptions to the law, and the common good.

Diego on FORCE2017

What does cultural (ex-)change mean to you?
I think that cultural differences are deeply marked between Europe and Latin America, especially in the history of our regions. I am very interested in the academic landscape in Europe, where science is usually a priority, unlike in Latin America, where science is not a priority and is underfunded. What impact do these contexts have in directing efforts to strengthen openness?

What draws you to FORCE2017?
The experience and knowledge I will get on the European scholarly landscape are very important to coming back to Latin America with innovative ideas, experiences, and a road map to strengthen open research practices in the region. However, I also want to take this opportunity to show that inclusion is not only inviting a representative from each region, but also recognizing that specific contexts need different strategies to strengthen open research practices, and even more important, European-contextualized strategies cannot serve as a blue print from Europe to other regions such as Latin America.