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Making metadata count: The Initiative for Open Abstracts

Opinion | Metadata
Making metadata count: The Initiative for Open Abstracts

Today marks the launch of the Initiative for Open Abstracts – a new cross-publisher initiative calling for unrestricted availability of abstracts to boost the discovery of research. Catriona MacCallum, Director of Open Science at Hindawi talks about it and why Hindawi is involved.

Hindawi is a commercial company with a radically open agenda. We are committed to Open Access of course but we also support, foster and are actively contributing to an open scholarly infrastructure. As the ongoing conference of OASPA 2020 highlighted only yesterday, the infrastructure that enables access, reuse and discovery of scholarly knowledge is at least as important, and is just as vulnerable to exploitation, as the text of published articles or any other research output. At Hindawi, we are already working with others, such as Coko, eLife and EU PMC to build open source software – in particular we have recently finished development of an end-to-end, publishing management platform called Phenom. But as Paul Peters noted in October 2017:

“A second requirement for open scholarly communications infrastructure is that it should be built on, and contribute back to openly available datasets. This is particularly important for metadata about the research process itself.”

Hindawi was already making its references openly available as part of Crossref metadata before the launch of the Initiative of Open Citations (I4OC). Today, we are really proud to be part of the founding team of publishers, alongside SAGE and Royal Society, supporting what we think is an equally important independent sister initiative, the Initiative for Open Abstracts (I4OA). I4OA is especially important to those doing research on the research process itself.  Ludo Waltman  is coordinating I4OA and the team includes Bianca Kramer, Vincent Larivière, Cameron Neylon, Silvio Peroni, David Shotton, Cassidy R. Sugimoto, and Aaron Tay.

We strongly believe that commercial service providers are an important part of the scholarly landscape - from the manufacture of reagents and specialist equipment to the effective and reliable communication of scholarly research. But we need to engender more trust in our organizations, and to provide evidence that they are supporting science and society, not hindering it. Part of this means demonstrating that we can adapt to the changing technical, economic and cultural needs of our customers. As publishers, we should continue to use the relevant expertise gained through 100s of years of scholarly publishing but we should also be open to new tools and services that deliver more innovative, more cost effective and more reliable services to researchers, institutions and funders. If nothing else, the COVID pandemic we are all part of has shown us the importance of global collaboration and the need to be able to share, discover and translate research into policy as fast and as reliably as possible. And all publishers – commercial and not-for-profit – have a role to play in this.

The Initiative for Open Abstracts is one small part of the change to ensure that research can be seamlessly discovered, as well as accessed. This does not mean there aren’t any challenges. We are asking publishers to submit their abstracts to Crossref but not all publishers have the resources to register their DOIs, let alone deposit their abstracts. Crossref, however, already has a sponsorship program in place to start to address this. 

I4OA is an important indication of which publishers are willing to adapt and genuinely engage with the changing requirements of research communication. After all, abstracts are already freely available on publisher websites and through other bibliographic databases, such as PubMedCentral. But all these sources have limitations, for example because they require a subscription, are not machine-accessible, or are restricted to a specific discipline.

As Vincent Larivière, Professor of Information Sciences at l'Université de Montréal put it in the I4OA press release, “bringing the abstracts from many publishers and from multiple disciplines together without these restrictions will enable new kinds of discovery tools and analyses, without requiring us to individually scrape millions of article pages at thousands of publisher websites”.

As the I4OA website explains, many publishers are already submitting bibliographic metadata and references for their works to Crossref, so that the addition of abstracts is a natural extension, and Crossref already has the capability to receive and distribute abstracts. At present, however, abstracts are only submitted for ~7% of the publications Crossref records. I4OA thus calls on all scholarly publishers working with Crossref to make their abstracts openly available by submitting them to Crossref, taking further advantage of an established and trusted open repository that they already support.

At launch today, we have more than 50 organizations supporting the initiative. These include some you might expect, funders such as Wellcome, UKRI, and Gates and others such as OASPA and EIFL. The Research on Research Institute (RoRI) is also a supporter. SPARC, Clarivate and many other organisations from across the scholarly publishing ecosystem are also endorsing the initiative. 

Importantly,  40 ‘launch’ publishers have already committed to making their abstracts openly available,including commercial publishers, university presses and scholarly societies. By signing up, publishers are expressing their commitment to contribute to a new open scholarly infrastructure that enables more effective research discovery. Some who have signed up have not yet started submitting their abstracts to Crossref (e.g. PLOS) but being at 0% is not a problem (and note that most won’t achieve 100% because some articles do not have abstracts). Rather, what’s important is the signal of intent and the indication of the road you are on. We hope that many other publishers will take this opportunity to join us.  


Catriona MacCallum

Director of Open Science, Hindawi Limited

This blog post is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY)

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