‘Broken access’ publishing corrodes quality

I’m passionately in favour of everyone having open access to the results of the scientific research that their taxes pay for. But I think there are deep problems with one of the current modes for delivering it. The author-pays model (which I call broken access) means journals increase their profits when they accept more papers and reject fewer. That makes it all too tempting to subordinate stringent acceptance criteria to the balance sheet. This conflict of interest has allowed the proliferation of predatory journals, which charge authors to publish papers but do not provide the expected services and offer no quality control.

The problem is not addressed, in my view, by the Plan S updates announced in May …

But I know of a fix, and I have seen it in operation. I propose a model in which journals compete not for libraries’ or authors’ money, but for funds allocated by public-research agencies. The major agencies should call for proposals, similar to research-grant applications. Any publisher could apply with its strategic plans and multi-year budgets; applications would be reviewed by panels of scientists and specialists in scientific publishing.

The number of papers published would then become one of a journal’s qualities that could be assessed rather than the clearest route to economic viability. Other assessable factors could include turnaround times, quality of searchable databases, durability of archiving, procedures to deal with fraud and retractions, innovations in cooperative peer review, and the option of post-publication review. Although the updated Plan S calls for many such factors to be reported openly, it does not provide any clear mechanism to reward their implementation.

I call my proposed approach Public Service Open Access (PSOA). It uncouples the publisher’s revenues from the number of papers published, removing incentives to publish low-quality or bogus science. Crucially, scientists would decide how to allocate resources to journals….

The journal that I have directed for the past four years, Swiss Medical Weekly, has functioned in this way since 2001. Readers don’t pay for access, authors don’t pay for publication and reviewers are paid 50 Swiss francs (US$50) for each report. The journal’s costs (roughly 1,900? Swiss francs for each published paper, although automated systems might lower costs in the future) are covered by a consortium of Swiss university and cantonal hospitals, the Swiss Medical Association, the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences and charities — which have evaluated our model and prioritized it over those of other publishers….

In the past, journals were only economically viable if their value was deemed worth their subscription fees, thereby collimating the publisher’s and the readers’ interest. A mechanism must be restored to align the financial interests of publishers with the research enterprise’s need for high-quality (rather than high-quantity) publications.”

Plan S: what’s the point of policy consultations? (part 2) – Samuel Moore

“Earlier this year I wrote a post about the Plan S open access policy consultation process. I explored what I feel is the purpose of policy consultations, arguing that they are not radical or deliberative democratic exercises but are instead intended to confer a sense of legitimacy to top-down policy mandates…

Today the revised guidance for Plan S has been released in accordance with consultation feedback, including a helpful explainer on the rationale for each change. I thought it would be worth offering a quick assessment of the revised policy in accordance with my previous post….”

Researchers reject APC-based OA publishing as promoted by Plan S – For Better Science

“Lynn Kamerlin, Bas de Bruin and their colleagues have been the most vocal critics of Plan S from the very beginning, braving continuous opposition from certain OA leaders. Now that final Plan S guidelines were released, the chemists publish this Open Letter expressing their worry about a possible dystopian OA future….”

OhioLINK Breaks New Ground Creating Central Fund for Open Access Publications with Wiley | Wiley News Room – Press Releases, News, Events & Media

“OhioLINK, a library consortium serving 118 libraries and 89 Ohio colleges and universities, announced today the signing of a Wiley Open Access Account agreement. A Wiley Open Access Account will enable OhioLINK-affiliated researchers to use a central fund for Article Publication Charges (APC). The partnership reflects both parties’ growing commitment to open research and advancing scholarly communications. OhioLINK is the first North American library consortium to centrally fund the creation and dissemination of open access research….”

The open access wars: How to free science from academic paywalls – Vox

“This is a story about more than subscription fees. It’s about how a private industry has come to dominate the institutions of science, and how librarians, academics, and even pirates are trying to regain control.

The University of California is not the only institution fighting back. “There are thousands of Davids in this story,” says University of California Davis librarian MacKenzie Smith, who, like so many other librarians around the world, has been pushing for more open access to science. “But only a few big Goliaths.”

Will the Davids prevail?…”

The gold rush: Why open access will boost publisher profits | Impact of Social Sciences

“An important justification for transitioning from a subscription based journal publishing system to an open access journal publishing system, has been that whereas printing and distributing physical copies of journals is an expensive process, the cost of digital publication and dissemination are marginal. In this post Shaun Khoo argues that whilst a shift to gold (pay to publish) open access would deliver wider access to research, the lack of price sensitivity amongst academics presents a risk that they will be locked into a new escalating  pay to publish system that could potentially be more costly to researchers than the previous subscription model….”

Should India adopt Plan S to realise Open Access to Public-funded Scientific Research?

“Timely and affordable access to scientific research remains a problem in this digital day and age. Around three decades ago, the radical response that emerged was making public-funded scientific research “open access”, i.e. publishing it on the Web without any legal, technical or financial barriers to access and use such research. Several Indian public research institutions also adopted open access mandates and built self-archiving digital tools, however, the efforts haven’t yielded much. Most countries including India, continue to struggle with implementing open access. The latest international initiative (created in Europe) to remedy this problem is Plan S. Plan S is has been positioned as a strategy to implement immediate open access to scientific publications from 2021 – which India is considering adopting. This article unpacks the disorderly growth of open access in India, and discusses the gap between the Plan’s vision and current Indian scenario in some respects….”

UC Davis and Frontiers form open access publishing agreement – Science & research news | Frontiers

The University of California, Davis supports its researchers in making their research more widely available. As part of this support, UC Davis Library has entered an institutional agreement with Frontiers. Under the terms of this agreement, UC Davis-affiliated corresponding authors will benefit from a 7.5% membership discount on article processing charges (APCs) when publishing in any of Frontiers’ open access journals, irrespective of what fund covers the APC….”

Journal transparency rules to help scholars pick where to publish | Times Higher Education (THE)

“New requirements for journals to be more transparent about their editorial processes could help researchers to make more informed decisions about where to submit their work, as the European-led Plan S initiative moves into its next phase.

Freshly revised requirements for the open access mandate – which is now due to come into force in January 2021, a year later than originally planned – outline a series of mandatory conditions that journals and other platforms must adhere to if academics financed by participating funders are to publish in them.

This states that a journal must provide on its website “a detailed description of its editorial policies and decision-making processes”, with a “solid system” in place for peer review that must adhere to guidelines produced by the Committee on Publication Ethics. “In addition, at least basic statistics must be published annually, covering in particular the number of submissions, the number of reviews requested, the number of reviews received, the approval rate, and the average time between submission and publication,” the guidance says. 

David Sweeney, executive chair of Research England and co-chair of the Plan S implementation task force, described greater transparency in journals’ editorial and publishing practices as the logical “next step in the puzzle” of creating a “fairer, more open publishing landscape”. …

Journals will also be required to price the services they provide, such as reviewing and copy-editing, since funders will find themselves supporting the article processing charges associated with many forms of open access publishing….”