I promote and support open access at Newcastle University as part of the Library Research Services team. I have previously worked as a researcher (virology) and in staff development on the use of technology in higher education.
As part of Newcastle University’s Research Strategy, we are evolving our research culture in collaboration with the whole research community. We invite the research community across career stages, job families, and disciplines, to join this first Skills Academy Research Culture workshop: Towards Open Research.
The workshop will invite participants to consider open research practices and reflect on how they and the university can move towards a culture of more open research. In this workshop, we will consider open research principles and practices that increase transparency and rigour and accelerate the reach of our research.
Open research describes approaches to increase openness throughout the research cycle, including collaborative working, sharing and making research methodology, software, code, data, documentation and publications freely available online under terms that enable their reuse. Open research thereby increases the transparency, rigour and reproducibility of the research process and so can promote inclusivity, accelerate impact and improve public trust. However, understanding and adopting open research practices can be challenging. This workshop therefore will explore strategies for culture change here at Newcastle University.
In this guest post Jan Deckers, senior lecturer in bioethics at Newcastle University, explains his vision of how a ‘Wide in Opening Access’ approach can allow all quality research to be published.
It is probably safe to assume that most authors like their work to be read.
The traditional model of publishing operates by means of the ‘reader pays principle’. In this model, readers must generally pay either to purchase a book or to subscribe to a journal. They might do neither. However, where readers do not pay themselves, others have to do so for them. Frequently, these others are libraries. However, most libraries that lend books and provide access to journals limit access, frequently requiring the reader to be a member of an institution and/or to pay a subscription to the library.
In the age of the internet, access to published work is much greater than what it used to be. Some books are available electronically, and many journals are. In spite of this rapid change, some things stay the same: publishers must still make their money. In order to provide open access to readers, many now demand that authors pay book or article processing charges. This disadvantages authors who seek to publish books and who cannot pay such charges, unless book publishers can rely on third party funds that cover publication costs for authors who cannot pay themselves. Where such funds are not available, other options are available. Authors can still find plenty of publishers who will offer contracts, free of any charge, to those who are able to produce good work. This option exists as many book publishers stand by the traditional model, at least in part because many readers still prefer the experience of reading a tangible book to that of reading a virtual one. Another option is self-publication, where authors can publish books at relatively low cost, essentially by taking on the publishing cost themselves. In sum, whilst open access book publication presents an ethical dilemma where it supports the ‘writer pays principle’, its benefits for readers and the availability of reasonable alternatives for authors who are excluded from publishing in the open access mode makes open access book publication, in my view, a relatively sound moral option.
Open access journal publication presents a different challenge. Some journals find themselves in a position where, rather than to adopt the ‘writer pays principle’, they are able to get the money from elsewhere, for example from governments and other institutions that are willing and able to pay. This is the ideal scenario and – in the current world – the exception rather than the norm. This is why open access journal publication raises a massive moral challenge: what does one do, for example, when the leading journal in one’s academic specialty decides to become an open access journal that charges authors, where neither the author nor the institution that they may belong to can pay? To address this challenge, the journal may be able to offer free publication to some authors, effectively by elevating the processing fee for authors who are able to pay so that it can cover the cost for authors who are unable to pay. Some journals do this already by offering either a discount or a fee waiver to some authors. The problem is that such discounts may not be sufficient and that the criteria for discounts and waivers frequently are too indiscriminate. For example, offering waivers indiscriminately to authors who are based in particular countries both fails to recognise that those authors might be relatively rich and that authors who live in relatively rich countries might be relatively poor.
The only way that I can see out of this is to ‘de-individualise’ the article processing charge completely. Journals would then be able to publish any article that survives the scrutiny of the peer-review process, regardless of the author’s willingness or ability to pay. Such de-individualisation would also address another concern that I have with the open access journal publishing movement: how can we prevent publishers from publishing work that falls below the academic standard? One might argue that peer review should be able to separate the wheat from the chaff, but the problem is that the publisher is incentivised strongly to turn a blind eye to peer review reports, which – in the worst case – might be biased themselves by the knowledge that the author is willing to pay.
Journals that are unable to raise enough funds to publish all articles in the open access mode may provide an option for authors who can pay to publish in the open access mode and for other authors to publish in the traditional mode. Many journals now operate in this mode, and are therefore known as hybrid journals. I do not consider this option to be ideal as it sets up a two tier system, where authors who publish in the former mode are likely to enjoy a wider readership. However, it may be preferable to the traditional mode of publication as this model is not free from problems either, providing access only to readers who can pay themselves or benefit from institutions, such as libraries, that pay for them.
The world in which authors, editors, and peer reviewers must navigate is complex. In spite of this complexity, I call upon all to resist any involvement with journals that do not provide authors with the chance to publish good quality work. Whilst I hope that open access journal publishing will become the norm for all articles, I recognise that journals may not be able to publish all articles in the open access mode due to financial constraints. As long as these constraints are there, however, I believe that journals should continue to provide the option of restricted access publication according to the ‘reader pays principle’.
This is why I only publish with and do editorial or peer-reviewing work for journals that adopt what one might call a ‘Wide in Opening Access’ (WOA) approach. It consists in peer-reviewed journals being prepared to publish all articles that survive scientific scrutiny through an appropriate peer-review process, regardless of the author’s ability or willingness to pay. It guarantees that authors who produce good journal articles and who cannot or will not pay are still able to publish. In this sense, it is ‘wide’. It is wide ‘in opening access’ as it fully supports open access publication becoming the norm. Whilst it adopts the view that articles from those who cannot or will not pay should ideally also be published in the open access mode, it recognises that this may not always be possible.
With this blog post I call upon all authors to support the WOA approach in the world of journal publishing. You can do so, for example, by stating your support for it on your website. Without such support, writers who do not have the means either to pay themselves or to mobilise others to pay for them will be left behind in the transition towards greater open access journal publication. Without support for the WOA approach, those without the means to pay to publish will be disadvantaged more than they are already in a world in which the ‘writer pays principle’ is gaining significant traction. To debate the WOA approach as well as other issues in publishing ethics, I created a ‘publishing ethics’ mailing list hosted by Jiscmail. You can (un)subscribe to this list here.
Our transformative agreements allow researchers to publish their articles as open access for free in thousands of journals from publishers including Wiley, Springer, T&F, OUP, CUP, BMJ and the Royal Society.
To help familiarise authors with the publishing workflows of these new agreements we are running an online ‘open publishing week’ where publishers will present details of how the agreements work in practice, explaining what authors should expect at each stage of the publication process.
Author profile pages were also some of our most popular pages, so we’d encourage researchers to keep their publication list is up-to-date.
Adding publications to ePrints makes them eligible for REF, but also means they are more visible and can have more impact. We optimise ePrints for research discovery and syndicate content to aggregation services such as CORE and unpaywall. That helps people find free versions of research that would otherwise be inaccessible to them as well as making text and data mining more feasible.
Our aim for 2021 is to increase the proportion of research outputs we make open access in ePrints. That will be helped by our new transformative agreements with publishers that make open access free for our authors and by funder policies like that of the Wellcome Trust and Plan S that increasingly mandate this.
Authors will also be required to apply a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence all their accepted manuscripts and inform the publisher of this when submitting articles to journals. This is intended to allow authors to retain rights to comply with the policy in otherwise non-compliant journals.
To find out more about the new policy and how we can support you with it, register for one of our online briefings.
The Charity Open Access Fund (COAF), a block grant provided through a partnership of health research charities to enable publications to be immediately open access, ends on 30 September 2020. All COAF partners remain committed to open access and will continue to fund associated costs, but how they do so will vary.
COAF was established in 2014 and since then has awarded block grants annually to 36 institutions. As one of those institutions, we have allocated £1.5 million of COAF grant funds to make over 600 papers open access and help increase their visibility, reuse and impact. So, from our perspective it is a shame to see COAF end, but we understand why it must as the funders start to adapt their previously shared policy to Plan S at different rates.
However, this does not mean that researchers funded by the former-COAF partners can no longer make their papers open access. The Wellcome Trust, CRUK and BHF will be providing separate block grants to the university to support their researchers. Blood Cancer UK and Parkinson’s UK will now allow open access to be costed into their grants or applied for directly from the funder. Versus Arthritis researchers can also request funds for open access directly from the charity.
We’ve updated the funders’ information on the open access website to reflect this and are adapting our processes to support researchers funded by the different charities. If you have publications you plan to submit or that have already been accepted and want to discuss how this might affect your paper, please do contact the open access team.
As you may have picked up from reading this, many funder are changing their policies to implement Plan S. For the Wellcome Trust, that will be from Jan 01 2021 and for CRUK from Jan 01 2022, but that’s a topic for another blog post.
Our ‘Read and Publish’ agreements with publishers allow researchers to both read subscription journals and to make articles they publish in those journals open access at no cost. We have already signed agreements with publishers including Wiley, Springer, IOP and the RSC, meaning you can publish open access for free in thousands of journals. Further agreements with other publishers are currently being negotiated and evaluated.
This is intended to restart a transition to open access that stalled with ‘hybrid journals‘ (subscription journals that offer open access for individual papers.) While these have allowed more research to be made open, the separate revenue streams journals continued to receive for both subscriptions and open access wasn’t sustainable.
To address this these new ‘transformative agreements’ require publishers to make an explicit commitment to transition to open access. They must demonstrate an annual increase in the proportion of content published as open access and convert to full open access once an agreed proportion is reached. For example, the R&P deal with Wiley will lead to 85% of UK-authored articles in Wiley journals being open access by the end of this year, reaching 100% by 2022.
These agreements will also make a wider range of research open access, regardless of the discipline or research funding that may have supported it. Again using the Wiley agreement as an example, since starting in March 2020 we have approved 50 articles by researchers working in a wide range of disciplines. Without this agreement only 15 of these articles could have been made open access using funds from our UKRI or COAF block grants. Our agreement with Sage shows a similar pattern – we’ve approved 25 papers since June 2020 and could otherwise have made just two of these open access. Our longest-standing agreement is with Springer and has allowed us to make more than 300 papers open access since 2015.
At a more practical level these agreements also greatly reduce
the amount of administration required from authors and from the open access
team. When an eligible paper from one of our authors is accepted the publisher will
send us a request to approve open access under the agreement. All we need to do
is click ‘approve’. We don’t need to raise purchase orders, wait for invoices
to arrive, send them to finance for payment, all of which means your papers are
likely to be published open access more quickly.
There is of course a cost to these agreements. The price we pay for these agreements is based on our current subscription spend with a publisher and our average open access spend with them in previous years. Significantly however these agreements set out and constrain future costs to make them more transparent and sustainable.
In considering which publisher agreements to sign up to we have evaluate not just the costs, but the relative benefits. For example, while many agreements offer unlimited open access publishing, some limit the number of eligible papers at either an institutional or national level. Others may restrict the types of articles that are eligible. However, more and more suitable agreements are emerging from national negotiations and we intend to sign up to as many of these as we can to play our part in helping transform academic publishing to full and immediate open access.