There was an excellent turn out for the Oxford Open Access Week screening of ‘Paywall: the Business of Scholarship’ documentary on 6th March, complete with popcorn to enhance the experience. The audience watched the documentary then the event chair, Prof Tim Coulson, introduced a panel of Oxford academics who explained their interest in open access.
- Verena Heise, Postdoctoral Fellow, Nuffield Department of Population Health. A molecular biologist and neuroscientist by training, she is passionate about reducing research waste through promoting Open Science, good research practices and changing incentives. She is involved in several working groups at Oxford (including Oxford Reproducible Research) and the UK to instigate cultural change in research, and serves on the advisory board for Credibility in Neuroscience at the British Neuroscience Association.
- Lisa Lodwick, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, All Souls College. She is investigating changes in agricultural strategies in the Roman world through studying ancient plant remains. She is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the newly-established Theoretical Roman Archaeology Journal, published by the Open Library of Humanities. She has a keen interest in data publication and reuse practices in archaeology. In her spare time she edits Wikipedia, to write biographies of women archaeologists.
- Jonathan Prag, Professor of Ancient History, Faculty of Classics. His research focuses on ancient Sicily and the Roman Republic, and he is currently co-directing an excavation on the north coast of Sicily. He has an active interest in developing tools and methods for ‘digital epigraphy’ and directs the I.Sicily project to create an open access online digital corpus of inscribed texts.
- Tim Coulson is Associate Head of Department, Dept of Zoology, Professorial Fellow of Jesus College.
Reflections and discussion
The panel agreed with the film’s message of global free access to research, but felt that dialogue with publishers rather than ‘yelling’ about problems was a better way forward. As an advocacy film it’s a useful prompt for debate although it blurs the lines with other separate problems such peer-review processes. Its science bias reflects the fact that in the life sciences there is no real reason NOT to publish Open Access, whereas on a wider scale there are different ways of publishing and other factors involved, not all related to OA. The inclusion of Academia.edu was considered problematic, as a profit-based service; many humanities academics use it for want of an obvious alternative. There was general concern about learned societies that may need income from their publishing activities. The issue of high and rising journal subscriptions remains invisible to most researchers. The challenge for the audience and the University was how to change things for the better? It was agreed that we should be doing something about the problems raised in the film, and further discussion of these and other issues ensued.
Publishing and open access: audience concerns, views and experience
A quick straw poll of the audience revealed that 4 people had boycotted a journal or publisher. It was acknowledged that such action would be difficult in small specialist fields where there are no/few credible alternative journals.
In humanities, impact factor is of less concern compared to other disciplines, but a bigger issue is one of recognition (well-known journals versus new/unknown OA titles). For monographs it is the imprimatur that is paramount, and in the case of some conference proceedings, more important to have a printed publication than a peer-reviewed one. This was a surprise to some scientists, where the norm is online-only and early-view. The case of the linguistics journal Glossa prompted a suggestion that senior people with influence in a discipline should found new OA journals or flip existing ones, but that university support would be required.
The main concern from attendees in science and medicine was about the costs involved in publication – not just the price of journals, but also Article Processing Charges (APCs) – and that OA is not actually reducing profits of major publishers and thereby costs to authors. Examples of funder or country approaches were discussed, such as the Wellcome Trust’s OA block grants and publishing platform, and Norway, where every university is awarded a sum to pay publishing charges.
A member of the Law faculty reminded the audience of the case brought by a group of publishers against a copy shop in India that was photocopying content for inclusion in course packs; the case found in favour of the students. This prompted discussion of publisher restrictions on dissemination or reuse through certain channels, authors’ general desire for dissemination using all available options, and the issue of copyright transfer to the publisher. Authors were urged to become more aware of their rights, to avoid copyright inhibiting access to educational materials.
The audience was asked what they object to more: that publishers ‘take over’ their publications, or the considerable profit margins of some major publishers? It was understood that of course publishing entails costs, whether OA or not, but the profit levels were a concern, especially with authors providing ‘free labour’. Asked what they considered the best routes to OA, and whether free labour was the only option, the response was simply that authors want whatever model is available to achieve the goal of dissemination. Citing pre-print servers, some questioned the need for publishers. Pay-to-publish was acceptable if an appreciable portion is returned to the academy, for example by not-for-profit publishers. Authors cared about how much is paid and were unhappy when encountering poor service from publishers – potentially giving away their copyright for little in return. This was especially true when authors are formatting their own work.
There was nevertheless some appreciation of the services provided by publishers, with differences between journals and books. In the case of journals, media and marketing were rated the most highly. For monographs and books, it was editing and especially the production and distribution of the printed volume that were felt to be the most valuable. In humanities, a print version is crucial; online-only is not enough at present.
How to change author behaviour and enable culture change?
One of the main problems with engaging authors with Open Access is that they, even senior academics, feel pressured about producing works for the REF, and OA falls down their list of concerns. When asked what would change behaviour of authors with respect to publishing ‘openly,’ innovative formats and the incorporation of data with the publication were felt to be important. Show the benefits of openness – doing research better and faster, and improved discoverability. There was a wish to have a local means to publish small open access journals, at a very low-cost or free. There was also a plea for more openness in the process of getting on editorial boards, such as open calls for new members.
Peer Community In: researchers reviewing and recommending, for free, unpublished preprints
Prof Coulson described an initiative he is involved with: Peer Community In, and the PCI Ecology section he co-founded, to address the problem of perfectly publishable papers being rejected from one or more journals, and the papers being submitted to other journals for review – the result being considerable time and energy being spent on review that can be ill afforded and the inefficiency of not being able to cascade papers and review across publishers. As well as tackling the problem of multiple rounds of peer review, the aim is to get signed, better peer reviews.
The problem of the journal impact factor arose. Although there was general agreement that fixation on JIF should be broken, and that hiring and promotion decisions should be based on the quality of outputs, it was felt that recruitment or REF panels could be tempted to take the easy route of checking publication location. (Note: the REF 2021 Panel criteria and working methods para 207 states ‘No sub-panel will use journal impact factors or any hierarchy of journals in their assessment of outputs. No output will be privileged or disadvantaged on the basis of the publisher, where it is published or the medium of its publication.’)
The event ended with the question of what Oxford as a community can do in this space. Suggestions: join the Reproducible Research Oxford network (details below). Learn from other disciplines about their research processes and preferences, such as finding out from scientists about their practice around data and archiving. Come to the forthcoming seminar on 3rd April organised by Prof Coulson, ‘Peer Community In … the beginning of a revolution in Open Access?’ (details were circulated to attendees).
The general feeling was that there is plenty of interest in this area and encouragement to get involved.
This event was jointly organized by the Bodleian Libraries and the Reproducible Research Oxford group for Oxford Open Access Week 2019. Special thanks to the panel for leading a most engaging discussion.
Reproducible Research Oxford
This is a network of researchers at Oxford University who are keen to promote open and reproducible research across all the divisions of the university. Reproducible Research Oxford is the local node of the recently established UK Reproducibility Network. RRO organises educational events (e.g. workshops and journal clubs) and aims to instigate culture change towards a research culture that rewards good research practices. Follow them on Twitter (@RR_Oxford) or join the mailing list to get updates on events and news.