More Open Access – take the pledge

The Island of Doctor More Open, by Rob Jenkins

“Come on in, the water’s fine!” tweeted Jonathan, one of the Research Whisperers.

I hope you’ll agree with him and join us for a More Open Access splash.

Why do we need more Open Access (OA)?

Many research articles are still not available

Despite substantial movement towards Open Science, we’re not there yet.

Many papers are still behind paywalls. And even those that are shared in repositories are often not indexed in Google Scholar, a frequent starting point for literature searches.

This is a serious problem for several reasons. I’ll focus on the practical ones. Most importantly, we expect practitioners in medicine, psychology, education and other fields to conduct ‘evidence-based practice’. How is that possible if they do not have access to that evidence base? The same is true for policy advisors – how can they base their policies on evidence, if they don’t have access to the evidence base?

Also, more and more citizen scientists are doing excellent, relevant projects. They could do even better if they had access to the literature. With much academic research being conducted with public funds, there is a moral imperative for those projects’ findings to be made publicly available.

Finally, a substantial number of researchers still can’t access all literature. This is a problem, especially in low-resource settings. There have been several great initiatives to improve access for researchers in low- and middle-income countries, from the Egyptian Knowledge Bank to Sci-Hub. These are partial solutions, and they are not known or accessible to all. There are grey areas when using ‘pirate’ sites such as Sci-Hub or #ICanHazPDF: access to research should be legal and free. Yet, arguably, these methods only exist because of a publishing system that is failing.

So, what do we do about it?

With members of the Global Young Academy, we have set up the More Open Access pledge. The goal is to help make research findings widely available in a way that is feasible for as many researchers as possible, irrespective of discipline, level of seniority, and resources. Of course, we want to increase awareness of the issue, but awareness has been raised for over a decade and it’s not enough: we need action.

Pledging means committing to submission of at least one (1) manuscript to a quality OA journal or a widely used pre-print server by the end of 2016. You can sign up right away.

Isn’t OA unhealthy for your career?

It shouldn’t be, and we have good evidence that it doesn’t have to be. You are likely to get more visibility and citations with OA publications than if they’re behind a paywall. More and more funders and universities recognize the importance and advantages of making research findings accessible.

Unfortunately, there are still university committees who ignore OA journals in their tenure and hiring decisions. It creates inequalities that have nothing to do with the rigor of the research. As a community, our ultimate goal is to develop and share robust knowledge, and the quality of our research should be rewarded, not the medium by which it gets disseminated (idealistic, I know, but I still believe it).

The pledge only asks for one article. In many disciplines, researchers publish multiple pieces a year. We know we’re pushing you, with only a few more months to go in 2016. But who wouldn’t want to get another paper submitted before the end of the year?

Won’t this push us into crappy science publishing?

It’s true that more high-quality OA journals or platforms need to be developed. However, a number of quality OA journals already exist, including PLOS One, PLOS Medicine, PeerJ and eLife. These journals do serious peer-reviewing.

You obviously wouldn’t want to fall into the trap of ‘predatory’ publishers, who are happy to take your money for plonking your manuscript on the internet without any true quality control. Beall’s list gives useful information about this, to avoid louche publishers. I also like think-check-submit.

As a little bit of countering as well: paywall publishing is not free of peer review issues. See for example this ‘rant on peer review’, comments about the high retraction rates of Science and Nature, and this piece on a peer-review cartel. So, yes, we should be careful but we should also not become more catholic than the Pope, as we like to say in Dutch.

What about the cost?

Cost is an issue and there is a lot of room for improvement here. I hope that academic publishing eventually becomes a not-for-profit endeavor, although some for-profit publishers are developing interesting models. It’s not all black and white.

There are a number of solutions to the cost issue. Several publishers waive fees if you can show that there is no budget for your publication. Collabra, based at the University of California Press, has an innovative model where reviewers can donate their review compensation (unusual in itself) to a fund that can be used by authors without a budget. Personally, I’ve also split costs with colleagues, which makes it a lot more feasible. Some OA journals are free (e.g. eLife). And then there are the no-cost pre-print platforms such as arXiv, BioRxiv and the new SocArXiv.

We hope that the pledge for one, not all, of your papers makes this a feasible endeavor. 

I put my papers on my personal website

Great! But No – not good enough. For outsiders, it is hard to navigate all these individual researcher sites. Also, personal sites are often not indexed in the same way that repositories and journal sites are. Search engines are improving rapidly but for the near future, we need publications to be centrally published in addition to your own personal site.

University repositories are OK, though. While the papers on many university repositories can also be hard to find, the infrastructure and indexing that sit behind them are totally different from personal sites. Moving a single repository to international metadata standards improves the discoverability of all of the papers on it.

I’m in! What do I need to do?

Yay! First, sign-up! You can do so here: More Open Access.

Second, submit a manuscript to an OA outlet before the end of 2016. In brief, these are the rules:

  • Should be in an OA outlet, either peer-reviewed OA journal or widely used pre-print platform.
  • Excluded are: predatory OA; paying for your article to be open access within an otherwise closed journal; your own website.

Third, let us know when your manuscript has been accepted! We’re looking for ways to help you share your research even further. The Australasian Open Access Strategy Group, a group of librarians and other advocates of OA, have already offered to help promote those from the Australasian region.

One of my colleagues said:

“Your pledge has the dual benefit of commitment to submitting one more thing in 2016 (which academic wouldn’t want to commit to this…) and commitment to OA.”

So come on in, the water’s fine. 🙂

With thanks to Robert Lepenies and Martin Dominik for helpful feedback on a draft of this blogpost.

7i8skr7iEva Alisic is a senior research fellow at Monash University, Australia, where she leads the Trauma Recovery Lab. She is also a visiting scholar at the University Children’s Hospital Zurich, Switzerland.

She studies how children, young people, and families cope with traumatic experiences, and how professionals can support them.

A generous and engaging colleague, and a scholar with great initiative, Eva has just finished a stint as co-chair of the Global Young Academy.

Eva writes on the Trauma Recovery blog and tweets via @EvaAlisic.

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