We Choose to Go to the Moon

The following article was originally published in the winter 2017 issue of Interface.

By: Roque J. Calvo, ECS Executive Director

Free the ScienceUnited States President John F. Kennedy sent a powerful message to the country in his speech at Rice University in1962, “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”

History has shown that it was not necessary to go to the Moon to win Kennedy’s challenge. His primary goal was to elevate U.S. national security during the Cold War when the Soviet Union was advancing as a world power and showing signs of superiority in their space program. The U.S. put a man on the Moon in 1969, but far more important was the spirit of innovation that was created, leading to world-changing new technologies in security, communications, and transportation, which was the true win.

Kennedy understood the importance of innovation and risk taking to the success of a nation and his speech permanently implanted this message into the ideal of science and the role it plays in advancing mankind. He continues to stimulate progress because in his words, “there is new knowledge to be gained … and used for the progress of all people.” It is amazing how Kennedy’s influence has prevailed. In a recent ECS podcast with Steven Chu,* the former U.S. Secretary of Energy and 1997 Nobel Prize winner said, “As a scientist, you better be an optimist … half the science I try to do is really shoot for the Moon.”

When the Board approved the Free the Science initiative in 2013, we created an ideal to tackle the new paradigm of open science in scholarly communications and that has driven innovation to incredible new levels at ECS. As a nonprofit publisher, we have seen a rise in article submissions and dissemination through structural changes to the journals and to the role of our editorial board and divisions. We introduced a series of new publication opportunities including focus issues, perspective articles, and critical review articles in the journals. In the coming months, ECS will launch ECSarXiv, an open science preprint server, to provide a new venue for content to be shared and cited in our technical fields. And most importantly, through the Free the Science initiative we have created many open access opportunities for authors, which have led to the open accessibility of 36% of our journal articles in the four years since we began.

In driving the Free the Science vision since 2013, ECS has experienced innovation and growth in many other programs and services as well. In the area of meetings, ECS has become more diverse, leading to growth in the number of presentations and attendance. Communications have improved dramatically through the creation of a slew of new vehicles: a new organizational website and the Free the Science website; a new digital media center with podcasts, the ECS Masters videos, lecture series, and oral histories; the Redcat Blog; a weekly eNews; and the ECS Digital Library Weekly Digests. These communications have expanded our community reach by increasing our database to over 30,000 constituents (over 3,000 new records so far in 2017) who regularly engage with ECS. And the most interested constituents in the new open science paradigm are the students whose participation in membership, meetings, and publications have all grown. Institutionally, the Board has approved 35 new student chapters worldwide since 2013.

No one gets to the Moon alone, and ECS has developed many new partnerships with organizations who share in the Free the Science ideals (see below). The support of these partners demonstrates the importance of our version of the Moon shot; and, to increase our impact, we seek to engage more like-minded people and organizations as Free the Science grows.

Finally our Moon shot has advanced the ECS mission to disseminate research at an unprecedented pace. Over the past six years, we have seen a dramatic increase in several key metrics including: Journal of The Electrochemical Society citations at 48% and impact factor at 46%, and an incredible 220% increase in downloads from the ECS Digital Library.

For Free the Science to be realized, it requires new funding that can come from various sources that we need to grow. Philanthropic giving has been slow to materialize but our Moon shot has doubled the number of ECS donors and opened doors at the Gates Foundation, the Arnold Foundation, the Sloan Foundation, and many others that are part of the Open Research Funders Group. The initiative has also driven improvement in the profitability of our operations resulting in a 32% increase in our net worth in the past six years bringing it to $18M. We still have a long way to go before we land on the Moon and at times I wonder whether we will ever take that “one giant leap for mankind.” But then I consider what ECS has accomplished since embarking on our mission-based initiative to Free the Science, and I am reassured in knowing we already have.


*Steven Chu was the Plenary Lecturer at the 232nd ECS Meeting, National Harbor, MD, October 2, 2017.

Partners on the Trajectory to Free the Science

ECS collaborates with many organizations and these partnerships have helped us to make great progress with our Free the Science initiatives.

COS – ECS is a signatory to the Center for Open Science transparency and openness guidelines. COS is building a cost saving platform for the Society’s digital library along with ECSarXiv, a preprint server, currently in beta testing, that will also allow ECS to explore publishing different types of scholarly outputs.

Research4Life – Through R4L, ECS is able to provide free or low-cost access to our digital library to developing countries.

SPARC – The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition has supported ECS since 2013 by providing feedback from the library community as we developed our offering. A SPARC representative serves on our Open Access/Open Science Subcommittee.

CHORUS – ECS became a signatory in 2014. Once we become a full member, CHORUS will be indispensable in minimizing OA mandate compliance burdens for our authors.

OSI – The Open Scholarship Initiative convenes stakeholders from around the world, working to improve the scholarly publishing ecosystem. ECS is gaining recognition for Free the Science and building connections among other OA and open science leaders and funders.

OpenCon – ECS was the first scholarly society to hold a satellite OpenCon, bringing together outstanding speakers aimed at creating a culture of change in how research is shared and disseminated, making scientific progress faster.

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