Emily Ruby Completes Masters Thesis

CSTPR graduate student Emily Ruby has successfully completed her Master’s Thesis in Environmental Studies at University of Colorado Boulder. Her title of her thesis us “Analysis of California’s Formative Energy Storage Policy” and was advised by CSTPR’s Max Boykoff and NREL’s Suzanne Tegen.

Thesis Summary: Energy storage technologies hold the potential to allow further penetration of clean renewable energy sources onto the grid, decarbonizing the energy supply. Supportive policies at the state or national level can encourage the implementation of energy storage. This thesis investigates the impact of California’s pivotal energy storage policy, AB 2514 the Skinner Bill of 2010. Results of this investigation (with data collected from interviews and other sources) indicate that this policy was a success. Although the bill’s effects are still ongoing, progress is being made towards procurement and other goals. In the future if other states desire to create their own energy storage policies, traits from the Skinner Bill can act as a framework. Factors such as policy cost-effectiveness and flexibility; governance and energy market environments; and co-occurrence of renewable energy sources can influence a policy’s success. Energy, greenhouse gas, and monetary savings are also markers of efficacy.

Congratulations Emily!

Posted in Announcements | Leave a comment

Cracks in the Future of the Antarctic

by Cassandra Brooks
National Geographic

Last week governments met in the southern reaches of Hobart, Australia to make decisions on how to manage the vulnerable icy waters around Antarctica. They deliberated in the wake of the recent reports, which concluded with high confidence that climate change will cause dramatic environmental changes and loss of sea ice. As if to underscore the debates over managing for climate change and proposed marine protected areas designed to enhance the resilience of Southern Ocean ecosystems, a massive wedge of the Pine Island Glacier calved into the Southern Ocean. Antarctica seemed to be pleading for action and yet, the 25-member Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) failed to agree to act on climate change nor to adopt any protected areas.

Antarctica is exceptional. The coldest, windiest, iciest, driest, and most remote of continents is widely celebrated for its rich history of exploration, science and diplomacy and for its exceptional beauty.

It’s also exceptionally important. Since its discovery, scientists have since documented that the Antarctic is vital to Earth systems. And despite the extreme environment – life thrives in incredible abundance. The freezing Southern Ocean that surrounds the Antarctic continent teems with whales, seals, penguins, toothfish, and krill to name a few. This frozen seascape harbors some of the last remaining great wildernesses on the planet. However, fishing pressure, combined with cumulative impacts of climate change, potentially jeopardizes the future of marine life in the Southern Ocean.


A wave rolling in a sea ice cave in Antartica (Credit: John B. Weller).

The Antarctic, particularly the western Antarctic Peninsula, is one of the fastest warming
places on Earth
. A warmer Antarctica will lead to global repercussions of sea level rise, ocean circulation, and climate regulation. And locally, climate change is driving fluctuations in ice cover, shifts in population distribution and decreases in primary productivity. Potential declines in ice-dependent Antarctic krill, the foundation of the Southern Ocean food web, could lead to disruptions throughout the ecosystem.

CCAMLR’s charter is to conserve all biota and ecosystems in the Southern Ocean. Although fishing is allowed, it is not a right and does not trump responsibility for conservation. CCAMLR’s provisions on fishing are strict, precautionary, ecosystem-based and science-based. They also demand that management should take into account the effects of environmental change.

Across the 25 members, CCAMLR scientists have stressed for many years the urgent need to better understand how climate change will affect Antarctic species, both in the presence and absence of fishing. Last year, they proposed a climate change response work program that specifies research and monitoring requirements; identifies actions to address the implications of climate change on fisheries management; and, proposes to engage climate change experts to inform CCAMLR decision-making. A multi-nation research and monitoring plan in the Ross Sea was also on the table for a second time. Yet for two years in a row now CCAMLR could not agree to adopt these plans – ignoring the consensus scientific evidence and advice – largely due to political barriers.

In 2002, in line with global international agreements and targets, CCAMLR began working towards a network of representative MPAs in the Southern Ocean. In 2009, CCAMLR adopted the first international marine MPA. Then in 2016, CCAMLR adopted the world’s largest MPA in the Ross Sea, an area deemed to be one of the last remaining healthy marine ecosystems. With the adoption of the world’s first large-scale international MPA, there was hope that CCAMLR would soon follow through on its commitment towards the network. This year, three MPAs came under negotiation, including in the Weddell Sea – an icy wilderness which trapped Ernest Shackleton more than 100 years ago and, in part because it is protected by its extreme ice, a region which has never experienced commercial fishing. A proposal for a system of MPAs in the East Antarctic was also back on the table for the 7thyear. Finally, an MPA for protecting the rapidly changing Antarctic Peninsula – an area with increasing human activity, including fishing and tourism, that is perhaps most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change – was presented for the first time. All three of these proposals were blocked despite strong support.


Emperor Penguins in the East Antarctic (Credit: John B. Weller).

Extensive research supports that protected areas lead to greater biodiversity and biomass and, further, and perhaps most importantly in the case of the Southern Ocean, that protected areas can enhance species and ecosystems resilience to climate change impacts. The proposals that came to CCAMLR this year would enhance resilience of Southern Ocean ecosystems, and provide vitally important opportunities for research. However, CCAMLR makes decisions based on consensus, meaning that every Member must agree for any management measure to move forward. Securing fishing access, now and in the future, as well as global and regional geopolitics have increasingly challenged CCAMLR’s ability to progress on any conservation initiatives, including protected areas.

Climate change is happening now, far outpacing research and policy decisions. A global coalition of nations has started to respond, agreeing to cut carbon emissions with the signing of the Paris Agreement. Most nations have further committed to conserving biodiversity and implementing protected areas via the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. As the management body which governs the Southern Ocean, CCAMLR has the responsibility to work in conjunction with the suite of international environmental agreements towards conserving and protecting the Antarctic marine ecosystems. More than that, CCAMLR must take the lead, adopting policies that are both responsive and proactive. Unfortunately, since the adoption of the Ross Sea MPA in 2016, CCAMLR has not made any significant progress towards either incorporating climate change into its management or establishing necessary protections in the Southern Ocean.


Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguins in the Antarctic Peninsula (Credit: John B. Weller).

Policy can take a long time, especially in consensus decision making, but importantly, States have acted quickly in the past to address the imminent threat of illegal fishing. CCAMLR itself was formed in quick response to fears about overfishing for Antarctic krill. The roots of CCAMLR lie in the Antarctic Treaty, a peace and science agreement crafted in only six months and signed at the height of the Cold War. CCAMLR nations must wake up to the fact that climate change is as imminent a threat to Southern Ocean resources as illegal fishing. They must take quick and decisive action. They must, once again, lead.

The Antarctic is historically a place of great diplomacy, science and conservation. It is rightly celebrated as such. The future of the Antarctic ecosystems depends on CCAMLR rising swiftly to this new challenge. If they do, Antarctica will continue to be a beacon of international diplomacy, scientific collaborations, peaceful cooperation, and thriving ecosystems.

Posted in Commentaries | Leave a comment

MeCCO Monthly Summary: 1.5 to Stay Alive

Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO)
October 2018 Summary

October media attention to climate change and global warming was up 43% throughout the world from the previous month of September 2018, and more than doubled (up 51%) from October last year. Upticks were detected across all regions of the world in October. Increased media coverage in October is attributed to attention paid to the United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on impacts of 1.5°C warming, and to continued impacts and reverberations from hurricane and typhoon activity. An increase was most pronounced in Africa (up 79%) and Oceania (up 76%). Elsewhere, increases were also detected in Central/South America (up 40%), North America (up 37%), Asia (up 24%) and Europe (up 43%), compared to the previous month of September.

In January of this year, MeCCO expanded coverage to sixty-two newspaper sources, six radio sources and six television sources. These span across thirty-eight countries, in English, Spanish, German and Portuguese. In addition to English-language searches of “climate change” or “global warming”, we search Spanish-language sources through the terms “cambio climático” or “calentamiento global”, German-language sources through the terms ‘klimawandel’ or ‘globale erwärmung’, and Portuguese-language sources through the terms “mudanças climáticas” or “aquecimento global”. Figure 1 shows these ebbs and flows in newspaper media coverage at the global scale – organized into seven geographical regions around the world – over the past 178 months (from January 2004 through October 2018).

Moving to considerations of content within these searches, Figure 2 shows word frequency data in the dynamic spaces of US newspaper and television media coverage in October 2018.

In October, considerable attention was paid to political content of coverage. The lead up to the 2018 US elections on November 6 have had some bearing on coverage. For example, in an article titled ‘As climate change becomes more visible, its weight as a campaign issue is growing’ journalist Evan Halper from the Los Angeles Times wrote, “for years, conventional wisdom among political strategists has labeled climate change as a politically weak issue, a concern of environmental activists but not the mass of voters. That’s still the case in many areas. But in districts around the country where warming is exacerbating natural disasters and disrupting regional economies, the anxiety of voters like Hardwick has started to shift how candidates campaign”. Meanwhile, in Canada in October, the government announced that they will impose carbon taxes on provinces that fail to create their own policies. The Prime Minister announced that the funds generated in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, will go back to the taxpayers. Reuters journalist David Rjunggren reported on this effort at the Canadian federal level, and this story ran in many other outlets throughout the country and beyond. He wrote, “Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday said he would fulfill a promise to impose a carbon tax on provinces unwilling to combat climate change, prompting instant protests from a voter-rich part of the country. Trudeau, whose ruling Liberals face an election in October 2019, told a news conference that all the money collected would be returned directly to taxpayers in the four provinces without plans to curb the emission of greenhouse gases. Starting in April 2019 carbon pollution will initially cost C$20 ($15.27) a tonne, rising by C$10 a year until it reaches C$50 in 2022. Ottawa unveiled the proposal in 2016”.

At the science-policy interface, an early October UN IPCC meeting in South Korea – and consequent Special Report on impacts of 1.5°C warming – garnered a great deal of media attention. Media coverage focus on the IPCC Special Report warning that to avoid passing 1.5°C, emissions must drop 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, and must reach ‘net zero’ by 2050. These pronouncements also harkened back to a slogan promoted by vulnerable countries at the Paris talks in 2015: ‘1.5 to stay alive’. This was a reference to the bold emissions reductions needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. BBC journalist Matt McGrath reported on how delegates gathered in Incheon, South Korea “to hammer out a plan in co-operation with government delegates, on the actions that would need to be taken to meet this [1.5°C] goal”. Amid considerable coverage of this report, Wall Street Journal reporter Timothy Puko wrote, “rapid, far-reaching changes to almost every facet of society are needed to avoid catastrophic climate change, reforms far beyond anything governments are currently either doing or planning to do, according to a report from a United Nations-led scientific panel”. Journalist Doyle Rice from USA Today reported,  the world’s economies must quickly reduce fossil fuel use while at the same time dramatically increasing use of clean, efficient energy. These transitions must start now and be well underway in the next 20 years”. Read more …

Posted in Commentaries | Leave a comment

Tracking Progress on the Economic Costs of Disasters Under the Indicators of the Sustainable Development Goals

by Roger Pielke, Jr.

Environmental Hazards, 2018

The Sustainable Development Goals indicator framework identifies as an indicator of progress the objective of reducing disaster losses as a proportion of global gross domestic product. This short analysis presents data on this indicator from 1990. In constant 2017 US dollars, both weather-related and non-weather related catastrophe losses have increased, with a 74% increase in the former and 182% increase in the latter since 1990. However, since 1990 both overall and weather/climate losses have decreased as proportion of global GDP, indicating progress with respect to the SDG indicator. Extending this trend into the future will require vigilance to exposure, vulnerability and resilience in the face of uncertainty about the future frequency and magnitude of extreme events. Read more …

Posted in New Publications | Leave a comment

“Terrified But optimistic”: How Young People Are Responding to Grave Warnings About Climate Change

H2O Radio
October 2018

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released in early October has sounded another alarm that drastic action is needed to avoid the catastrophic impacts of global warming. Is anyone listening? And if so, how are they reacting to a crisis that faces all of humankind? H2O Radio asked university students, who will be dealing with impacts, how they view the future.

A full-scale, all-hands-on deck, monumental change in how we live on the planet—that’s what is being called for. In early October, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its new assessment about global warming, and it was foreboding to say the least. It warns that action on carbon dioxide emissions is needed now, not in thirty years, not in ten, but right now. And the consequences if we don’t act? Well, they’re bad, very bad.

It’s difficult to hear this news. Some might feel paralyzed and powerless to do anything about a problem so massive and resign themselves to the planet’s doom and there’s nothing we can do about it. But that’s not the way Max Boykoff reacts. He sees possibilities calling the report a wakeup call to which some people will respond in ways that aren’t productive. But, he thinks for the most part the opportunities that emanate from this wakeup call are at least exciting.

Dr. Boykoff is a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He also directs the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research and is a fellow at CIRES, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, a partnership of NOAA and C.U. Boulder. The IPCC report shocked him by the high stakes of not taking action—the longer we wait to address these problems the more difficult and costlier it’s going to be to solve.

Boykoff’s reaction to the IPCC report is to be optimistic to see what he can do to address the challenges we all face. He doesn’t see what pessimism does for him either on a professional or personal level.

Boykoff has an effusive optimism that’s contagious—and it seems to be rubbing off on his students who are studying about climate change and the environment. Recently in his introductory class in environmental studies they discussed how people can start to decarbonize the planet—the steps involved and the points of resistance to taking them. Listen in …

Posted in In the News | Leave a comment

Game On! Promoting Commitment Into Positive Action

by Beth Osnes
CSTPR Faculty Affiliate and Associate Professor of Theatre and Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado

There are ‘given ups,’ and there are ‘grown ups.’ ‘Grown ups’ are adults who are still in the game. They are the ones who still believe that, despite the odds, how we think and what we do in the coming years can reverse global warming. Grown ups believe we can gift the next generation with a stable climate in which they can grow and thrive. I have just spent the weekend in the company of about 200 amazing grown ups (and about 10 amazing activist youth) at the Drawdown Learn conference in New York at the Omega Institute. In 2017, I was very excited to learn about the publication of the book Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever to Reverse Global Warming because it was a solid plan that listed and explained the top 80 most impactful solutions. In the fall of 2017 I used parts of the text in my freshman seminar on climate comedy and in spring of 2018 for our ENVS course, Creative Climate Communication. In each of these courses, student groups participated in a public-facing project I created, Drawdown Act Up, which challenged students to design embodied activities/games and skits to activate the solutions for youth visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park. The activities/games physicalize the science behind a Drawdown climate solution, and the accompanying funny skit contextualizes the solution and cleverly demonstrates how to activate that solution locally in daily life. This is based on the evidence that embodying concepts is beneficial to learners. Engaging youth in a solutions-oriented performance in regards to climate change can increase youth levels of empowerment and promote commitment to positive action. This is based in ongoing research by Max Boykoff and myself into the effective use of comedy for communicating climate (see our most recent article in Political Geography “A Laughing Matter? Confronting climate change through humor”). In the summer of 2018, a small group of students led and performed these activities and skits for Discovery Day at Rocky Mountain National Park for visiting families. At the Drawdown Learn conference I presented on this curriculum, the experience of sharing it at RMNP, and on the research we did on the positive impact of this curriculum on our ENVS students.

During the rest of the conference, I was encouraged to hear very smart gown ups say that when we are told the goal seems impossible is when we become most brilliant. What calls forth the best in us all is when the stakes are the highest and the odds the toughest. It will take a mighty many of us to get this done. We each have our own unique contribution to make. As a performer, I take it literally that we each have a ‘part to play’ in reversing global warming. For me it means supporting students in writing the plays and playing the parts of a new story based on a solid plan being put to action. Although the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report may have given some of us fleeting ‘game over’ thoughts, I am fortified in my conviction that in this moment right now, each of us with our own unique and necessary talent, is more than ever before, GAME ON.

Photo: Paul Hawken, founder of Drawdown.org, highlighting the Inside the Greenhouse project, Drawdown, Act Up, in his plenary talk to open the Drawdown Learn conference Oct. 19, 2018. Credit: Beth Osnes.

Posted in Commentaries | Leave a comment

Technology Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

by Marilyn Averill
Senior Fellow at Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment

Technology plays a huge role in action on climate change. Implementation of the Paris Agreement will require even more technology-related planning, capacity building, financing, development, and other activities. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) does a huge amount of work on climate technologies (as do many other organizations), but few people are aware of this work or the resources available.

In 2001 the parties to the UNFCCC created an Expert Group on Technology Transfer (EGTT).  In 2010 the parties ended the EGTT and constructed a Technology Mechanism (TM) to work on issues relating to the development of climate-related technologies, and the transfer of technologies to developing countries.  The Technology Executive Committee (TEC) was set up as the policy arm of the TM. The Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) was created as the implementation arm.

The TEC consists of 20 members who are experts on climate-related technologies. Many also serve as negotiators for their countries. The TEC meets at least twice a year. Observers from countries, international organizations, and civil society are invited to attend, and the meetings are webcast. The photo above shows members, observers, and secretariat staff attending TEC 17 last September.

TEC task forces work with the secretariat to implement the TEC’s rolling workplan. Each task force includes a few people from civil society—something few UNFCCC bodies have allowed.

The website for the TM, TT:CLEAR, provides reports, guidance documents, case studies, and other resources useful to anyone interested in the role that technology plays in climate action, and what the parties to the UNFCCC are trying to do to promote and support technology development and transfer. According to TT:CLEAR, “A climate technology is any equipment, technique, practical knowledge or skill needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or adapt to climate change.”

The CTCN, based in Copenhagen, provides training and technical support to developing countries through workshops, materials, and direct consulting. Developing countries can request assistance with specific issues, such as conducting a technology needs assessment (TNA). Check out the CTCN website for more information and resources across many climate technology sectors.

The “Network” part of CTCN is a broad community of people and institutions with knowledge, skills, and experience about working with climate technologies in developing countries. Read about membership requirements and benefits. CTCN serves as a kind of matchmaker to pair experts with developing countries needs for expertise.

The TEC and the CTCN work closely together to coordinate their separate functions under the TM. They also are increasing their work with other bodies to learn more about their technology issues, to provide resources, and to work together to find effective ways to deal with climate challenges.

Take some time to browse through TT:CLEAR and the CTCN website to see what they have to offer.  Chances are good that you will find information useful for your own research.

Posted in Commentaries | Leave a comment

Can We Balance Conservation and Development? Science Says Yes

Recent paper co-authored by Matt Burgess highlighted in World Economic Forum

World Economic Forum
October 16, 2018

For too long, dire messages and gloomy assumptions about the fate of the planet have lent an air of hopelessness to one of the biggest challenges facing society. Conservationists feel stymied. Businesspeople feel villainized. We have come to accept the view that preserving the planet and growing the economy are mutually exclusive.

But maybe this dichotomous view of human needs and conservation is itself the problem. What if advancing conservation and human development is not an either-or proposition? What if we can do better in both?

The World Health Organization, the World Economic Forum and other organizations have pointed to air pollution, climate change and water scarcity as some of the biggest threats to human well-being. These are environmental challenges that also intersect with threats to biodiversity.

By 2050, the world’s population is projected to be 10 billion. We’ll see accelerated impacts on natural resources that intensify this challenge and others, such as the already harsh impacts of climate change on both people and nature.

The question of whether we can advance both conservation and human development is the driving force behind a new study by 13 institutions, including The Nature Conservancy and the University of Minnesota. From the outset, we stepped back and reexamined the concept of sustainability from the bottom-line up, so to speak.

Taking an in-depth look with global systems models, we compared the status quo, business-as-usual path we are headed down today against a version of sustainability based on realistic and achievable changes in how we use energy, land and water. We discovered something some might find surprising – hope. Read more …

Posted in In the News | Leave a comment

Is It Possible? A Future Where People and Nature Thrive

CIRES News
October 2018

Can humans drive economic growth, meet rising demand for food, energy and water, and  make significant environmental progress? The short answer is “yes,” but it comes with several big “ifs.” New research shows that we can put the world on a path to sustainability if we make significant changes within the next 10 years.

The Nature Conservancy, together with 12 other institutions including CIRES, analyzed the feasibility of advancing major conservation goals while meeting the demands of population and economic growth in 2050. The research paper, “An Attainable Global Vision for Conservation and Human Well-Being,” published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, presents a scientific test of a vision for the future where thriving human communities and abundant, healthy ecosystems coexist.

“We found the world already has the capability to meet the economic and environmental needs of 2050. But to realize this potential, we need to very quickly shift towards the most environmentally efficient food, energy, and water production practices,” said Matt Burgess, CIRES Fellow and coauthor on the new study. “This means moving energy production away from fossil fuels; intensifying agriculture in developing countries to get better crop yields; increasing capacity in environmentally efficient forms of aquaculture; and moving water-intensive forms of agriculture to less water-stressed regions.”

By 2050, as the world population grows toward 10 billion, demand for natural resources will reach unprecedented levels—intensifying the harsh impacts of climate change. Leading global development organizations are already highlighting air pollution and water scarcity as the biggest dangers to human health and prosperity.

The study modeled what the world would look like in 2050 if human development progressed on its current “business-as-usual” path compared to a “sustainability” path, which would require major changes in production patterns to overcome substantial economic, social and political challenges. The “sustainability” path requires a number of paradigm shifts but demonstrates the feasibility of meeting human demands while simultaneously advancing several major conservation goals.

Posted in Commentaries, New Publications | Leave a comment

Open Access: The Way Forward for Academic Publishing

by Alison Gilchrist, CSTPR Science Writer

Scientists: what if you knew one weird trick that would increase the number of times your paper was read, cited, and shared? What if that one maneuver also increased the impact your research had on the general public? Other scientists would hate you!

Well, maybe not—but some academic journals might. The ploy that might accomplish all of the above for scientists could also drastically change the scientific publishing industry as we know it: publishing in an open access journal.

“Open access is when research is made openly available to the public to read, reuse, redistribute, and remix in any way that they would like, as long as there is attribution to the original author,” explained assistant professor and CU Boulder librarian Melissa Cantrell. Publishing an open access paper means making that paper readable and downloadable to anyone—your peers, your family, even your second-grade teacher—if they want it.

A particular paper can be made open access, or a dataset. Open access can also describe a journal—the journal Current Zoology is fully open access, for example. A journal can also be a “hybrid” journal, meaning that some of the papers are open access and some are not.

The alternative to open access, “closed access,” describes research that is behind a paywall or that you can only see if you have a subscription. It is the norm in scientific publishing, and the system relies financially on scientists and institutions buying subscriptions to journals. If your institution has bought a subscription to a set of journals, you will be able to see all the papers published by those journals. At CU, this means you have access to the papers from high impact journals like Science, as well as access to more obscure databases like Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Philosophers.

The downsides of closed access publishing are well-captured by the phrase itself. Research is only accessible if you or your institution has already purchased access, and sharing papers or data from these journals is discouraged. Many argue that the closed access system prevents members of the public from viewing research that they are interested in and that their tax dollars have paid for. What if you published a very interesting analysis of the philosopher George Berkeley in the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Philosophers, and nobody was able to read it? Like the famous fallen tree in the forest, the question is: would it even exist?

Open access has become the antidote to these problems. There is a growing movement towards making research more accessible by making it publicly available online, no subscription necessary.

“There have been things that probably qualified as open access for decades,” said Andrew Johnson, Head of Data & Scholarly Communications Services at CU Boulder University Libraries. “But really when people started calling it Open Access—capital O, capital A—which started around 2002, there was a big statement on Open Access called the Budapest Initiative. A lot of people see that as ground zero for the movement.”

The Budapest Open Access Initiative, a public statement supporting and advising open access, arose from a meeting called Open Society Institute. The statement was signed by various advocates for open access and sparked an international movement towards upholding the outlined principles.

After 2002, there were a number of organizations that began to publicly embrace open access—including the National Institutes of Health. The NIH, a major funder of biological research, now makes the peer-reviewed articles it funds publicly available online.

Apart from being required in some cases, publishing in an open access forum can be beneficial to the researchers involved. Perhaps unsurprisingly, papers and data published on open access platforms are cited more frequently and referenced more often (including on platforms such as Wikipedia, demonstrating how important open access is for the general public). This is powerful motivation for researchers to choose open access, as well as being motivation for the public to support more researchers publishing on open access platforms.

“It really helps increase the impact of their work,” said Cantrell. “It helps it reach a wider audience.”

The Center for Science and Technology Policy Research (CSTPR), like most CU Boulder departments, has strong incentives for supporting open access.

“Open access is extremely beneficial for the public, in the way it helps make research more accessible and equitable,” said Cantrell. “Especially because science and technology are really special in terms of how fast things are moving. It’s so important for people to know what’s going on in science and technology.”

“Open access can apply to data too,” Andrew Johnson elaborated. “And you absolutely have to have access to the data to make policy impacts.” For example, the Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO) datasets, as well as summaries of the data, have all been made publicly available. This data could help politicians and the general public understand current attitudes about climate change.

But of course, there are detractors of open access, along with some ongoing challenges and downsides. Some scientists claim that open access journals are of dubious quality. This is a generalization: there are high- and low-quality open access journals just like there are high- and low-quality closed access journals. Others point out that all the most competitive, highest regarded journals (those with the highest “impact factor”) are not open access. This is a misrepresentation: open access journals are generally younger than traditional journals, so they haven’t had time to make a name for themselves.

Outright hostile reactions are few and far between,” said Johnson, “but there’s certainly a lot of skepticism, and I feel like a lot of the time it’s coming from people who are, for one reason or another, heavily invested in the traditional system.”

Open access does have the potential to disrupt traditional publishing. If many researchers chose open access over closed access, the impact factor of well-established journals could be affected. Theoretically those journals could lose subscribers as the open access makes subscriptions unnecessary. We might be a long way off from the point where it seriously damages journals’ profit margins, but it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility.

“So maybe they are on the editorial board of a closed access journal,” said Johnson. “Or, maybe they’ve had a bad experience with a low-quality open access journal—which of course exist, just like low-quality closed access journals exist.”

Some researchers believe in open access in principle, but shy away from the costs associated with publishing in an open access journal—generally, open access requires that the author of a paper pay a fee to the journal (rather than the cost of publishing be funded by subscribers). This cost can be prohibitive, and open access advocates understand why that is putting people off.

But librarians, including CU Boulder librarians, are fighting the mythmaking and misunderstandings propagated by these skeptics. Universities often have funds available for journal fees so that researchers do not pay out of their own pocket to publish in an open access journal. At CU Boulder, Andrew Johnson and Melissa Cantrell are actively trying to educate researchers about the funds CU Boulder has for this purpose, and about the benefits of open access publishing. As a researcher, you can apply for these funds if you are planning to publish in a journal that is fully open access. If successful, CU Boulder will pay the fees associated with publishing.

Another way they’ve planned to increase awareness of this issue is to celebrate Open Access week, planned for October 22nd-October 28th. This week-long series of events is designed tp bring these open access options to the forefront of people’s minds and remind them of the benefits. As well as general informational seminars, there will be talks about related topics such as accessibility of research.

“There’s a difference between access to research and accessibility,” said Cantrell. She clarified by email that increasing research’s accessibility refers to a wide variety of underserved populations, which includes non-English speakers, “those with learning and non-learning related disabilities, and others.

There will be a group from the department of Theater and Dance who will be doing a digital presentation, and a screening of the documentary Paywall: The Business of Scholarship. Overall, Open Access Week should be an entertaining and enlightening way to celebrate a publishing movement that benefits scientists and the public. This “one weird trick” sounds like clickbait, but it is the future.

Posted in Commentaries | Leave a comment