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Facing challenges

Sven Lidin
[President's travels]
Left: the spice market in Oaxaca in October. Right: a beautiful day in Novosibirsk in early February.

After a little more than a year as the President of this Union I’m still struck and amazed by the richness of this organization. During this year, I’ve had the privilege to attend many types of meetings in many parts of the world, from the large, global or regional meetings such as the IUCr Congress in Hyderabad, India, and the ECM in Oviedo, Spain, to smaller local meetings like the inaugural meeting for the crystallographic facility in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, and the conference on crystallography, microscopy and synchrotron radiation in Oaxaca, Mexico. From meetings of well established scientists at the German Crystallographic Association meeting in Essen to young and aspiring students at the Russian Chemistry Olympiad in Novosibirsk. We are truly global, representing crystallographers worldwide. I’m proud to be part of this organization.

[abidjan]Nobel Prize winner Dan Shechtman together with young crystallographers in Abidjan.

Still, we are facing many challenges. One is the different opportunities offered to scientists in different places. Access to high-quality X-ray, neutron and electron facilities is one of the prerequisites for high-quality science. Many things can be accomplished with in-house sources, and it was a very positive experience to see the new facility in Abidjan. It is an important feature of synchrotrons and neutron sources that they tend to be open to users from all over the world, often with travel support as an additional feature. This has the additional benefit of providing the sources with the best experiments. Large-scale facilities are, however, not available everywhere and not to everyone and in order to qualify for beam time, you must first be experienced enough to put together a good proposal. Our challenges are not only geographical. Science in general has a history of being a pursuit dominated by men. Crystallography is no exception, and even if the situation has improved, we still have a long way to go. A small, but significant step is the formation of the IUCr Gender Equity and Diversity Committee headed by Jenny Martin. The terms of reference for this group may be found here.

Finally I would like to raise the issue of Plan S and what it may mean for IUCr publishing. Plan S is an initiative that is aimed at curtailing excessive publishing costs by forcing a wholesale conversion to open access rapidly. While I understand the need to curb exorbitant prices and sympathize with the general idea, I am worried that plan S is going ahead too quickly. Plan S rules out the use of hybrid models, where some articles are published open access and others require subscription for viewing. This is a model frequently used in learned society publishing, such as many of the IUCr journals. Using this model we are able to maintain relatively low subscription fees and manageable open-access fees and it is a way for us to manage a slow transition from one model to the other. Small publishing houses such as the IUCr are vulnerable to sudden changes and there is a significant risk that a rapid implementation of Plan S will be devastating for small-scale operations such as the IUCr. The effect will then be a reduced diversity of journals. This will be one of several important points to cover at our next Journals Management Board meeting.

18 February 2019