The open access dream: research for all

We have all heard about the era before digital publishing. Our mentors often tell us about the days when searching for scientific literature was done by browsing through books, with patience and hope that the information you need is not too many pages ahead or not too many libraries away. Back then there were no embargos or digital paywalls, just physical barriers in the form of time and paper distance. Nowadays, digital libraries make scientific literature easy to find, but sometimes hard to access. Moreover, there is an imbalance between the scientific results that are accessible by academics and those accessible by the general public, or even by academics in less financially blessed universities. The solution to granting us all access to high quality information, irrespective of geographic location, is open access. Here we provide a brief introduction to the world of open access for researchers and hopefully it will spark your interest and maybe you will even join the open access movement.

What is open access? Open access entails that full-length online publications are freely accessible to everyone, be it researcher-by-calling or those curious-by-nature. It can be divided into three types: gold, green and diamond. Thanks to the negotiation efforts of the Association of Dutch Universities (VSNU), researchers in the Netherlands can publish their work in thousands of journals open access with all (or at least part) of the costs being covered by the university libraries. The Netherlands embraced open access early on (in 2005) and last year there were 12 registered open access policies, one of which was at the University of Groningen.

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What are key advantages of publishing open access? To start with, there’s visibility. Studies have shown that articles published open access are quoted and downloaded more often than those published in subscription-based journals. Publishing open access allows your work to reach a wide audience. Moreover, it gives researchers from all around the world access to scientific literature, be it (potential) collaborators, taxpayers (they are to thank for a great deal of research being financially possible) or researchers at less wealthy universities. A second benefit is time. Many open access journals take pride in the shortened time from acceptance to publication. This could prevent work from becoming outdated before it even reaches the press and can shorten the road from discovery to commercialization or from bench to bedside. Lastly, another advantage to open access publishing is the reusability of data. Having free access to a broader range of journals allows researchers to think outside the boundaries of the university library subscriptions, opens up possibilities for inter-disciplinary collaborations and creates awareness of existing raw data.

What do journals have to gain from open access? This is where the discussion becomes a bit tricky. Financially speaking, journals lose subscriptions: whether or not this is a true financial hit is up for debate. Although authors who want to publish open access need to pay article processing charges, in contrast to subscriptions, these are paid only once. On the other hand, being an open access journal means that you are supporting the open access scientific goals, which brings with it a certain prestige and image boost. Despite this, publishing open access policy does not correlate to the impact factor of a journal (or too weakly to raise enthusiasm). Many open access journals are in their early phases and lack an impressive impact factor. Nonetheless, a few prestigious journals such as PLOS ONE have adopted the open access mentality, which shows that open access is slowly gaining terrain.

Who will win in the fight between paid and open access? In 2017, the National Plan for Open Science was presented to the Dutch government. This plan sets the ambitious target that all scientific publications that have been financed by taxpayers in the Netherlands should be open access by 2020 by everyone around the globe. If you're rooting for open access, we encourage you to take action by following the advice of the Budapest Open Access Initiative. Still, a large number of researchers are choosing for paid access over open access. In 2015 the Nature Publishing Group and Palgrave Macmillan asked over 500 000 authors from both the applied and the social sciences why they had not chosen to publish open access in the previous three year. Researchers expressed concern about the quality of articles published open access and the need to pay for open access. While open access is not perfect, it does hold the promise of an accessible scientific future for all, irrespective of academic degree, geographical location or financial resources. I therefore encourage you to spread the word about open access, push for universal access to research publications and to choose for a journal with open access opportunities for your next paper.

 

Special thank you for the information provided by one of our local experts at the University of Groningen, José Sikkens, academic information specialists. For more in depth information on open access at the University of Groningen, check out this link or feel free to contact openaccess@rug.nl .

Sandra Nagy