Open Access Week 2018: time to stand up for science
With autumn finally upon us or fast approaching (at least here in Sweden) we have seen several important scientific events (besides the Nobel Prize) in the last month or so. First it was Peer Review Week in September celebrating the essential role that peer review plays in maintaining scientific quality. And it comes as no surprise to most of you that this week is Open Access Week, an increasingly important celebration in the name of free research. This year’s theme reflects the importance to ensure that – when open access increasingly becomes the default – these open systems are inclusive, equitable, and truly serve the needs of a diverse global community. There has been for some time a move towards openness and many organizations, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, now encourage open access publishing. If I for example were to receive funding from our Swedish Research Council, they only accept articles that are published with open access in my reporting on grants. The idea is that anyone should be able to learn about current scientific research—that scientific findings are a public good. Of the about 3 million articles published every year around one third is now available through open access and with more than 33 000 peer reviewed English language journals publishing this year, it is hard to keep track of them all. It is therefore recommended to check the list of open access journals available in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).
Lately, preprints have also become an increasingly important aspect of open access (see for instance the chat with the PREreview team in last week’s post). A preprint, or working paper as they are called in some areas, is basically a scientific text that has not yet undergone peer review for publication in a scientific journal, but the definition may vary between disciplines. Starting in physics – and later fields like mathematics, statistics and computer science – with arXiv and recently in life sciences through the server bioRxiv (where PLOS participates), preprints now spreads to more research domains like engineering (engrXiv), social sciences (SocArXiv) and psychology (PsyArXiv). Some research funding bodies are now also allowing preprints in their applications meaning that applicants do not need to wait for a completed peer review process in order to share their research.
When interests collide
However, while scientific publication is in the middle of a transition from publication in traditional subscription-based journals to open access and general openness, the financial model is still based on the old subscription model, with payment of fees to the publishers. In addition to these license fees for reading, publishers have also begun to charge for online publication – known as an article processing charge (APC). This has led to coexisting models of both traditional and open access where universities not only pay for the license but also to make the research available through fees for open access, which has spurred a rapid increase of costs for both reading and publishing. As an example do Swedish researchers publish approximately 4 000 articles per year in journals belonging to one of the largest scientific publishers and spent around $ 1.3 million on article processing charges last year, on top of the $ 13.6 million that organizations spend on licensing fees for reading the content of this one publisher.
In order to take steps towards the national goal of immediate open access by 2026 set by the Swedish Government the license agreement with this publisher was not renewed this summer after 20 years of collaboration. The reason for this was that the demand from The National Library of Sweden of a sustainable transition to open access was not met by the publisher. Hence, as of 1 July 2018, Swedish researchers cannot reach journals belonging to this publisher which obviously make things harder. At the same time this fight has to be taken and other European nations have already cancelled or are considering termination. In some countries researchers now even refuse to act as reviewers or editors for articles belonging to journals owned by the publisher.
In a 50-year perspective the emergence of today’s modern publish environment as we know it has basically happened from the Millennium and onwards. PLOS started as a nonprofit open access publisher in 2001 and launched its first journal PLOS Biology in 2003 (now celebrating 15 years). Only three years later PLOS ONE was a reality as the first multidisciplinary open access journal. Most of us surely agree that open access is here to stay and therefore sustainable price models that enables a transition to open access must be presented. Obviously, there is also problems with the growing misuse of open access and predatory publishing, which I wrote about in last year’s post for Open Access Week. It is therefore of great importance that ECRs also take the fight for openness and do not take this freedom for granted nor accept the exploit of open access.
Featured image Benefits of Open Access byis used under a CC BY 4.0 Creative Commons CC license.
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