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Reflections on OpenCon 2016

When checking in to the third annual OpenCon Conference, every individual is given the customary conference badge indicating name, institution, and Twitter handle. But, unlike other conferences, there is a selection of bright green tags that denote preferred pronoun(s) that attendees are to place underneath their badges. From this moment onward, it was clear that the commitment to breaking down barriers goes far beyond paywalls at OpenCon.

Election colors conference discussion

This year’s OpenCon Conference was held in Washington D.C., just days after the contentious election of Donald Trump for the presidency. Concerns about the future implications this election has for open science permeated nearly every panel discussion, beginning with an opening address from Michael Stebbins of the Arnold Foundation.

“The truth is that the steps that the United States government takes (toward scientific publishing) over the next couple of years will reverberate across the world,” said Stebbins.

Internet Archive founder, Brewster Kahle, echoed Stebbins’ comments in his keynote address, where he discussed his vision for a decentralized web and emphasized the importance of OpenCon attendees advocating for open access in the current political climate.

OpenCon attendees go through a rigorous, highly selective, application process to attend, and in the end 60 countries were represented in the 2016 cohort. This year, the conference organizers tried something new with story circles, where smaller groups of attendees answer the question “What brought you to where you are now?”. In my story circle, the participants did not recite their resumes or use this as a networking opportunity, but instead each shared an unexpectedly candid and personal narrative that culminated in attending OpenCon in 2016. Although our story circle (and the OpenCon cohort in general) came from vastly different backgrounds and disciplines, we shared a common belief that learning is for everyone, and that the pursuit of knowledge should not be limited.

Missed the conference? Watch a video archive of the full conference.

“Open is about having a conversation”

The panel that truly encompassed the spirit of OpenCon and overall theme of this year’s conference was titled “Equity and Open,” and featured three outstanding speakers with diverse perspectives and experiences: Mark Puente, the director of diversity and leadership programs for the Association of Research Libraries, April Hathcock, a lawyer and scholarly communications librarian at New York University, and Penny Andrews, a doctoral researcher at the University of Sheffield specializing in complex identities.

For all three panelists, the personal was political and the election served as the cornerstone for this dialogue. Mark Puente opened the panel by acknowledging that “…our work fundamentally changed last Tuesday” after the U.S. Election.

“How much at risk is the funding for the National Science Foundation?” said Puente. “The Institute of Museum and Library Services? The National Endowment of the Humanities? And other agencies in the U.S. that undoubtedly have implications throughout the world?”

Puente also spoke candidly about his fears for the advancement scientific research and preservation of knowledge under this administration, and also his personal concerns as a gay, Latino man living in a deeply divided state. His remarks received a standing ovation from the crowd.

Next, April Hathcock captivated the room as she fluidly switched between Portuguese, French, Spanish and English in her introduction. She explains that by framing open access as a global issue but then limiting the conversation to the English language, we exclude so many voices and limit potential of the open movement. By instead embedding inclusivity in the definition of open science, Hathcock said, we can improve the diversity of thought and participation in the global community.

“One of the things that I appreciate about OpenCon is simply put the way that the money is spent,” said Hathcock. “So someone like me who only had to hop on a train from New York City and come on a three-hour trip, I can be here. But also Arslan who spoke to us yesterday can be here from 11,000 miles away in Pakistan.”

Penny Andrews closed the conversation by speaking to the different barriers so many people in the open research community encounter and the fatigue that follows fighting discrimination day-to-day.

“The people that I teach are not necessarily going to be the brightest and best minds in the world who are going to cure cancer, they’re people who just want to live in the world,” said Andrews. “And it’s really difficult to live in the world at the moment. It’s really difficult to not have privilege.”

Andrews ends the panel with a comment that reflected the positive and supportive feeling of the entire conference.“I’m so glad OpenCon gets better every time, because it’s a beautiful place to be.”

Introducing #AllofPLOS

Each year at OpenCon, the Right to Research Coalition presents the Next Generation Leadership Award for attendees that made great strides in advocacy for open.

This year, the award (cape included!) was presented to Chris Hartgerink in recognition of his aggressive legal campaign to get Elsevier and other publishers to release their corpus for his text and data mining research. His narrative shows the lengths closed access publishers will take to curtail access and maintain their copyright, even at the expense of scientific advancement and discovery. At one point, Hartgerink’s campaign led to Elsevier cutting off his personal access, as well as his university’s access, to their published content. Librarians helped re-secure university access, but his efforts to reform the European Union’s copyright policies continue.

PLOS has been an open access publisher since its inception in 2003, and our commitment to transparency continues with our new ORCID iD policy to improve author credit, our data availability policy and much more.

Coincidentally, while at OpenCon, I announced the release of #AllofPLOS which refers to the easy-to-download corpus of all PLOS articles published since the launch of PLOS Biology in 2003 through October 2016. All of PLOS includes the XML file and metadata for all published articles during this time period, although any accompanying data, images and figures are not included.

#AllofPLOS can be easily downloaded and shared (, and all that we ask is that anyone who downloads the corpus then shares with us how they used this information to advance discovery.

To guide you along the way, PLOS released a new Open Data Collection, which features articles about how different research fields have used open data. There are different methods, tips, and tricks included in the research that can help early career researchers use our corpus to its full potential.

Any questions about #AllofPLOS?

For technical questions about All of PLOS, please email our researcher Elizabeth Seiver at or tweet to her @tweetotaler.

For other questions, please contact me, Sara, at and tweet @PLOS or @sarakassabian.

Interested in attending OpenCon next year?

Applications for the 2017 cycle of OpenCon will arrive in the new year. In the meantime, we encourage you to apply for the PLOS ECR Travel Award, a $500 grant for eligible PLOS authors, which will help offset the costs of travel and conference entrance fees. To apply for this cycle, share your thoughts on what makes for the ideal preprint server. This cycle closes on December 31, 2016, so apply today!

Additional Resources

Watch the video archives of PLOS-sponsored live stream of OpenCon 2016.

#AllofPLOS Corpus download:

Read the PLOS Open Data Collection.

Read the archive of the PLOS Science Wednesday “Ask Me Anything” session on Nov 16 featuring Brewster Kahle and other OpenCon ECRs:

More information about the PLOS ECR Travel Awards.

Featured image: Three happy OpenCon 2016 attendees. Photo by Slobodan Radicev.



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