During the period preceding 1st April the researchers from IT Services attached to the OAO project explored Oxford researchers’ existing awareness of, and attitudes towards, Open Access. We spoke with nine individuals in research roles – PIs of research teams and individual researchers – and a small number of doctoral students. However, in this blog post I also draw from our conversations with librarians and research facilitators where these provided additional insights into academics’ perspectives.
We uncovered a generally positive disposition towards OA across all divisions, as shown by these representative quotations:
‘I believe firmly that whatever we do should be made available to others.’
‘I think that Open Access is the best way of going forward; I genuinely believe in Open Access.’
The benefits given for OA included:
- greater control over the rights to one’s work in comparison with traditional publishing models (in which copyright is signed over to the publisher);
- accessibility to non-academic readers, individual members of the public as well as small- and medium-sized enterprises: ‘It’s fantastic that members of the general population, people around the world, can read what you write’;
- accessibility to academics in developing countries that cannot afford journal subscriptions;
- transparency to the taxpayers who ultimately fund the research: ‘If you’re being paid by the taxpayer to do research, then you should demonstrate to the taxpayer what you’ve done’;
- indispensability for practice in certain fields e.g. evidence-based medicine.
At least two interviewees were already publishing in OA journals, one of whom was still willing to contribute to subscription journals. Two interviewees were on the editorial boards of OA journals and another was involved in an online-only departmental journal that was ‘gratis’ but not ‘libre’ (i.e. authors sign over copyright to the department). A fourth regretted that his faculty lacked the financial resources to publish an online OA journal.
Factors in deciding where to publish
Only one person specifically cited the access status of a journal (i.e. open versus subscription) as a criterion in deciding where to publish. One of the two seasoned OA contributors also cited value for money (in terms of impact) as a factor when choosing an OA journal. Others made their choices on the basis of the audience whom they wished to reach or on the journal’s fit to their subject. The computed impact factor of a journal appeared to be a less important consideration than its prestige, particularly in minority fields.
Attitudes towards Creative Commons licensing
We were aware anecdotally of concerns about the RCUK’s preference for the CC BY licence, which permits derivatives of articles to be made even for commercial purposes. However, our interviewees seemed relatively unperturbed by requirement to publish under this licence: as one researcher from Medical Sciences put it, the primary issue at stake is whether the article can be ‘read, and challenged, and discussed.’ Even so, one person proposed that authors should be able to negotiate licences with publishers individually.
Green OA and self-publishing
Awareness of the Green route to OA varied among interviewees, and those who were already familiar with it largely favoured it over Gold. However, attitudes differed regarding the version of an article to be deposited under Green OA. On one hand, people were happy to make available the accepted version (or even the submitted version, as is common for deposits in ArXiv). On the other hand, reservations were expressed about placing anything other than the publisher’s version in the public domain.
In effect, Green OA builds on a longstanding tradition of self-publishing: that is, making available one’s working papers (and, in some cases, articles where the publisher’s embargo has expired) on personal websites, on departmental websites, in subject repositories (e.g. RePEC), or in ORA. As one person put it, publishing one’s work openly online ‘is just the obvious way of increasing [the] visibility of my work.’ We noted that, where departments maintain their own repositories, the papers are often automatically deposited in ORA as well. However, not all interviewees were aware of the value of attaching a Creative Commons licence to self-published works.
Self-publishing also extends to the use of social media for academic purposes, and a number of our interviewees maintained their own blogs and/or Twitter accounts. Even some of those who did not perceived value in these practices; for example: ‘It’s wonderful actually when … other scientists blog, and you can see different points of view, and you can see what the debates are, and it’s all outside the publishing arena.’ Others felt a social media presence to be a form of self-advertisement, or that it was more important for one’s papers to be discoverable through a general-purpose search engine such as Google.
Other ‘open’ practices
The rise of open access, and indeed of open research in general, has brought with it suggestions for alternative models of peer review. While one or two interviewees expressed interest in some of these, the general consensus remains in favour of the current model, although it was proposed that the actual peer reviews might be published too.
Most interviewees were aware that the open availability of data is the likely next step after open access. Unsurprisingly, their perspectives varied. The doctoral students from MPLS with whom we spoke were very positive, and indeed some were already sharing their data and/or program code through the figshare website. For another interviewee, the reproducibility of some scientific research is critical: making one’s data and code available would enable others to validate that work and, thereby, make an informed decision about using it as the basis for their own research. In contrast, an interviewee working with qualitative data that are strongly bound to context favoured extremely long embargo periods.
Although perspectives on open data differ according to discipline, we cannot make generalisations at divisional level. Influencing factors include whether the data are quantitative or qualitative; the geographical area over which they have been collected; the perceived sensitivity of the data; and the culture of a particular research community.