Six myths about open access were addressed in an open research workshop at the 2015 Naturejobs Career Expo in London.
Guest contributor Gaia Donati
How open-minded do you feel about open access publishing?
The Open Research workshop at the 2015 London Naturejobs Career Expo, led by Mithu Lucraft (head of Open Research Marketing at NPG) and Ros Pyne (Research and Development manager of the Open Research Group at Springer Nature, who manage the Open Research portal), explored several myths about open access publishing, now a well-established alternative route to disseminating scientific results.
Myth 1: Open access benefits readers, but not authors
Open access is great for readers, but the advantage for researchers may seem less obvious at first. A study of open access and subscription-only PNAS articles found that earlier, more frequent citations characterize the former category when compared with the latter. A more recent study of the citations for papers published in Nature Communications (before it became fully open access) seems to confirm these findings and extends the observations to downloads and social-media interest, with open access articles experiencing higher downloads. Interestingly, these also appear to be sustained over a longer period of time – “attention lasts longer,” said Lucraft. In this way, open access – together with similar initiatives such as open data – may well be a primary route to accelerate and facilitate science while ensuring reproducibility.
Myth 2: Open access is risky for early-career researchers
If open access can be a valid alternative for established scholars, is it not equally true that early-stage scientists are sometimes advised to avoid publishing their results in open access journals? With commentaries and blog posts documenting how young researchers can be told to just publish in high-impact titles and disregard open access, this aspect is a genuine challenge that will probably need a further cultural shift. Nevertheless, scientists have already taken action. In the latest Author Insights survey, run annually by Nature Publishing Group, about 50% of the early-career scientists between the ages of 25 and 34 chose to publish their work in open access journals.
Myth 3: Open access is low quality
This concern is fuelled by predatory publishers – a term adopted by librarian Jeffrey Beall to describe journals that demand publication fees without ensuring editorial and publishing standards and good practice. Beall owns a blog, Scholarly Open Access, where he manages a list of journal titles to memorize and avoid. Hopefully this list will grow thinner as the reputation of open access grows even stronger and authors choose this route to disseminate high-quality research. “The reality is [that] peer-review standards don’t change just because a title is open access,” concluded Lucraft – at least not for “genuine” open access publishers.
Myth 4: Open access is too expensive for authors
“I can’t publish open access, I don’t have funds to pay an APC” epitomizes yet another myth about open access journals, according to Pyne. The good news is – an increasing number of funders and institutions set aside a portion of their budget for article processing charges (also known as APCs). On the other hand, a survey on 1000 respondents who published in open access journals in the past three years indicated that 15% were not sure that there would be APC funding available at the time of submission. In this sense, open access does require budget planning ahead of time – and if no funding at all is available, many publishers offer open access membership schemes and in some cases may offer waivers for the processing charges.
Myth 5: Open access makes funders happy
You may be tempted to think that your freshly pressed open access article ensures that you comply with your funder’s open access policy, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Open access policies are proliferating worldwide, and they are sometimes very nuanced. The Author Insights survey showed that 40% of authors in the scientific, technical and medical sector don’t know what their funder asks for in terms of licensing and self-archiving. The Wellcome Trust, for example, found that 54% of the open access papers that they funded were licensed differently from what the charity requires. These issues are more than mere bureaucratic imprecisions: authors may be subject to penalties ranging from cuts in their funding to losing the possibility to apply for further financial support.
Myth 6: Open access is too open
The practical intricacies of open access are not limited to funders’ policies. Researchers have raised concerns over the CC BY license – a common choice among open access publishers. Some fear that this license constitutes too weak a framework to protect from plagiarism and appropriation. However, ‘freely available to read, share and modify’ doesn’t mean ‘wild and unregulated’. The CC BY license sets clear rules and boundaries: authors hold the copyright to the paper. Whenever someone shares the article, they have to add a link to the original publication; any modification to the content must be clearly detailed. If publishers become aware of an infringement, they often step in on the authors’ behalf to protect their rights.
Open access certainly requires an equally open mind; you may be suspicious at first, but chances are that the overall benefits will obscure the initial hurdles. And when in doubt about where and how to publish open access, search for guidance and information – the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association and the Directory of Open Access Journals are a good starting point. Safe (and open) publishing to everyone!