10 steps to open access success

Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svgIt’s Open Access Week! For a lot of people, ‘open access’ (OA) is a synonym for ‘more work’. Advocates often don’t appreciate that this is a genuine concern. There’s also a lack of appreciation for the perceived risks of sticking your neck out with an OOIDH (open or it didn’t happen) position.

So here is some advice – based on my own experience – on what you as an individual should do to become an open access author and advocate. No grand commitments, boycotts, costly APCs or threats to your career progression – I promise.

Take the following 10 steps in turn and then climb upon your open access advocate high horse. If you do, we’ll be 10 steps closer to a genuinely open access world of scholarly publishing.

1: Learn the basic principles

Get to grips with some of the basic terminology such as green, gold, pre-print, post-print and Creative Commons. If you know it all, jump to the next step. If you’re still unsure then do a little reading. Wikipedia is always a good place to start. If you work at a university, you will likely find people in your institution who are eager to help you to get started. Go to your institution’s website and search “open access”. For the University of Nottingham (my own institution) I can find an introductory pamphlet, FAQs and a training course.

2: Get to know key services

There’s a big infrastructure out there to support the open access agenda. Familiarise yourself with SHERPA/RoMEO for details on journals’ copyright and open access policies. Similarly, visit JULIET for funders’ policies. Have a look at the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). Try out some novel apps such as the Open Access Button. If you have the time, explore the Open Access Directory.

3: Make yourself personally accountable

This is the most important step if you’re going to succeed. Create a spreadsheet. In the first column list all (and make sure it really is all) of your published articles, book chapters, monographs – whatever. One row per publication. In the second column (which might be headed ‘Gold’) enter “YES” if the article is published in an open access journal or “NO” if it isn’t. Once you’ve done this you’ll be able to see what proportion of your publications are open access in the ‘gold’ sense. Seeing this is really important. That list of NOs is the start of your OA to-do list – your goal is to turn all of those NOs into YESes. On your journey to OA nirvana you’ll be adding some more columns to this spreadsheet.

It’s also important to make sure you’re personally accountable in terms of the time you dedicate to making your publications open access. You need to check your spreadsheet regularly. As you proceed through the steps below you’ll see a growing (but entirely manageable) list of actions. Decide how much time you want to dedicate to OA. In the first instance, why not set aside a weekly recurring 30 minute slot in your calendar? Or alternatively you could set a target for the number of NOs you wish to turn into YESes per month.

4: Make yourself publicly accountable

This could be the real clincher. Once you’ve made sure you’re personally accountable, you should make yourself publicly accountable. Open up your spreadsheet to scrutiny. In the first instance you could just share your OA percentage. Tweet it! (#myOAlevel?) There are also other services you can use, such as ImpactStory, which will share this information.

Have a look at my own example where I list all of my publications along with accessibility for 6 different locations, shown by either a  if it’s open access, a £ if it’s paywalled or a  if it’s just not there. I’m 69% .

5: Upload to your institutional repository

This will probably be the most time consuming step, but it’s also the most fundamental: actually making your articles OA. Most universities have an institutional repository – find yours via your institution’s website or via OpenDOAR. This is a place where you can share your articles via the ‘green’ route. Check SHERPA/RoMEO to see what you’re allowed to upload. There will usually be staff behind the service checking what you submit, so you needn’t worry so much about getting things wrong.

Add another column to your spreadsheet headed ‘Institutional Repository’. Again, you want to add a “YES” or a “NO” for whether your article is available via the repository. You might find that some of your co-authors or university staff have already added your paper to the repository, in which case you can add a “YES” and move on. But there will probably be a lot more NOs. You might also find that there are entries for your papers but without actual PDFs that can be downloaded – these count as NOs.

6: Upload to other services

Open access isn’t just about having a PDF available in one place. It’s about making your article easily accessible to as many people as possible. This means adding more columns to your spreadsheet. Add as many different services as you can, prioritising those which you believe contribute most greatly to the accessibility of your article. Services to consider are ResearchGate, Academia.edu, Mendeley, PeerLibrary, Zenodo and ImpactStory. Add a column for each to your spreadsheet.

7: Start sharing working papers

A great way to make your research open access is to do so before publishers can get their hands on the copyright. Publish working papers or ‘preprints’ for free at a subject-specific repository, such as arXiv, PhilPapers, RePEc or SSRN. If you don’t have a good repository in your discipline use a generic repository like Zenodo, or just use your institutional repository. If you think sharing your article before peer-review is a bad idea, you’re probably overstating the value of pre-publication peer review.

8: Share other types of output

If you’re becoming a bit of a green OA pro, move on to other types of output. Your data and conference posters – in fact, any of your output – can be published online. Familiarise yourself with services like DRYAD and figshare.

9: Explore gold OA funding options

For your future publications, consider gold OA. Unfortunately you’ll probably need some funds available to do this. Ask your institution if they’ll pay. Ask your funder. If all else fails, there are now some low cost gold OA publishing options. PeerJ currently charge just $300 for unlimited lifetime gold OA publishing.

10: Be an advocate

Now that you are an exemplary open access advocate you can use your moral high ground to persuade your colleagues to do the same. Lobby your institution, your government, your professor. Maintain pressure and let them know that open access is important to you. Attend an open access event. And be sure to take part in Open Access Week!


Priorities in academic publishing: quality vs quantity

A recent Twitter exchange got me thinking about academic publishing again. It seems to me that much of the current debate about peer review, publication bias and open access boils down to a conflict between quantity and quality, and I have a favourite: quantity.

Quality (the problem)

This is why we have peer review, to ensure that only the good stuff gets published. Clearly this doesn’t work, but I do still feel there is a place for peer review; not in the selection of the ‘best’ papers, but in the filtering-out of erroneous work. In the UK, the REF, and by extension universities, encourage quality over quantity. I have often heard school heads and research group leads trumpet the need for fewer, higher-quality papers. No wonder, if that’s what brings in the money.

Quality is important, for sure (even if our ways of defining quality are weak). However, in my opinion, these incentives are totally unnecessary for ensuring quality. The reason an economist might give half their right thumb to publish in American Economic Review over any other journal is not simply because of quantifiable career benefits and employability. No doubt the prestige gained (or the envy induced) is a sufficient incentive.

Quantity (the solution)

Isn’t this what current campaigns are striving for? We want to reduce publication bias through the publication of uninteresting or negative results. We want datasets and detailed methodologies made available. Yet academics are encouraged not to waste their time on these things and instead strive for that publication in AER/Science/Nature/NEJM. We want academics to stop prioritising prestigious journals with unscalable paywalls, yet this is exactly what they are currently incentivised to do.

Incentives for quantity should be appended to my previous suggested solution to the problems of academic publishing. The REF should reward quantity instead of quality, for example. Some research suggests that academics face a quality/quantity trade-off, while others suggest that the two may go hand-in-hand; no doubt this depends on the field of research. Nevertheless, a re-alignment of incentives towards quantity and away from (self-sustaining, immeasurable) quality would surely be better for academia as a whole.

doi: 10.6084/m9.figshare.1138635

One suggestion for a new model of academic publishing

Problems exist with various aspects of academic publishing: open access, peer review, publication bias. I’m not going to go through all the issues here, as they’ve been covered eloquently elsewhere. I suggest reading The Scholarly Kitchen. Anyway, here’s me weighing in with a possible new model that could solve most of the problems with academic publishing*.

A simple regulatory framework

Regulation is costly to maintain and enforce, so it’s often best to try and keep it to a minimum. Nevertheless, academic publishing is big business, so pussyfooting around won’t achieve much; strong policies need to be drawn up. In my proposed model, research resulting from government funding (and government funding resulting from research) should be subject to two conditions:

  1. All outputs must be published with open access and
  2. <peer review of all publications must be handled by an independent third party.

These two requirements would be enforced by bodies that fund research, such as the NIHR and Research Councils UK, or the NIH in the US. They would also be necessary criteria for inclusion in REF (and its international equivalents). We’re close to achieving the first criteria, but I’m not aware of any discussion of the second.

The ideal outcome

I think this environment could result in desirable outcomes. The new pressure upon academics from universities and funding bodies to conform to the two conditions above would lend to a system in which academics cease to submit articles to journals. Instead, journals would ‘bid’ for papers. They would compete in various ways; on quality, distribution and price. The price would be in the form of the publication fees charged; The American Economic Review could demand a higher fee than The Journal of Health Economics. New journals looking to build credibility could even pay the academics for the right to publish their paper. Universities would pay publication fees on behalf of academics. It’s also likely that they would fund the peer review process through subscription fees to the companies providing it. A lot of time and money would be saved by enabling the transferability of reviews and removing the need for academics to make multiple submissions. I also suspect that, not having to go through this rigmarole, academics would be more inclined to publish negative results.

In this world, the process of publication would go as follows:

  1. Academic writes paper;
  2. Academic submits paper to peer review company;
  3. Peer review company obtains reviews from numerous academics, including reviews of reviews;
  4. Journal editors are given access to the manuscript and all reviews;
  5. Journal editors ‘bid’ for the right to publish the article;
  6. Academic selects journal for publication;
  7. Paper is published.

The necessary organisations for this model already exist. Creative commons provides a variety of open access licences. Companies like OAK have popped up to deal with the administration of publication fees. Peerage of science is a company providing portable peer review, with growing interest from open access publishers. As the market expands, other companies would inevitably enter the arena.

Maybe the ‘simple regulatory framework’ set out above wouldn’t result in the ‘ideal outcome’ described… but I reckon it might.

*this model may very well have been proposed elsewhere, but I am unaware of it.

doi: 10.6084/m9.figshare.1101321