Coronavirus speeds journals’ shift towards open access

Scientists fighting for more publicly available research say changes made during Covid-19 crisis have influenced their efforts

May 13, 2020

The unrestricted sharing of scientific papers during the coronavirus pandemic may have hastened the shift towards more open access publishing, scientists believe, as several leading journals move to make content publicly available.

Last month, the UK’s Biochemical Society became the latest organisation to make all of its published content free to view, citing the “extraordinary times with the current Covid-19 pandemic” as its reason for lifting paywalls on its Portland Press imprint until further notice.

It follows the decision by Springer Nature, announced on 8 April, to offer researchers a route to publishing open access in Nature and most Nature-branded journals from 2021. The scheme will allow the titles to become compliant with Plan S, an international open access initiative, which has softened its guidelines and expectations around hybrid journals, which allow some content to remain behind paywalls.

That move has prompted the editorial board of a leading Elsevier title, Neuron, to demand a similar switch to open access.

“The writing is on the wall for journals with a paywall, and many of us can no longer serve in good faith on the board of such journals,” says the letter calling for the change, which was signed by more than 75 leading scientists.

Matteo Carandini, GlaxoSmithKline/Fight for Sight professor of visual neuroscience at UCL and one of the signatories, told Times Higher Education that the pandemic had influenced him and his colleagues to demand change. “This idea was simmering for a long time…but the Covid-19 quarantine has given us a bit more scope to think about broad matters such as this one rather than focusing on running our labs.”

In a statement, Elsevier said it was “already investigating options for providing immediate open access to Neuron and other Cell Press titles in a sustainable way”. It added that 90 per cent of its 2,500 or so titles offered a gold open access option, and it pointed out that the number of open access articles it published in 2019 was 40 per cent higher than the previous year.

Robert-Jan Smits, the president of Eindhoven University of Technology, played a key role in the creation of Plan S while he was director general of research and innovation at the European Commission. He said there was “no doubt that the corona crisis will accelerate the move towards full and immediate open access”, which could soon become the “new normal”.

“The public letter of the board of Neuron makes it once more clear that the time has come to step away from the subscription-based model and make the output of scientific research available through open access,” said Mr Smits, who called on Elsevier and other commercial publishers “to play the role society expects them to play and be the server of science instead of its ringmaster”.

“Let’s turn this abnormal situation, in which Covid-19-relevant papers and data are shared widely, into a normal situation,” added Mr Smits.

Samuel Moore, research fellow at Coventry University’s Centre for Postdigital Cultures, said he believed other titles could be ushered towards open access if their editors also “exercised their power in this way”.

“Editorial boards are an untapped source of power in the search for greater accountability over publishing and the move to open access,” said Dr Moore.

However, a “more transformative shift” towards greater academic governance of journals was required to accelerate the transition towards open access and “more ethical and accountable publishing cultures”, he said.

“Without a shift in governance, editorial boards will still have to go cap in hand to publishers [to demand open access] rather than exercising control over the journals they edit,” said Dr Moore.


Print headline: Coronavirus collaboration speeds journals’ shift towards open access

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Reader's comments (2)

It’s great to be heading for open access but the hefty charges academics have to pay to publish their own work need to be looked at. The academic/ scientist does the work, Often with poor funding, writes the paper, carries out peer reviews without any payment or recognition, and has to pay these outrageous charges for publishing their own work . These charges are prohibitive for many, whilst the publishers continue to make huge profits. Crazy system.
The article by Jack Grove, 'Coronavirus speeds journals’ shift towards open access of May 13, 2020, observes that the Covid-19 crisis has accelerated open access publishing. However, in the context of Springer Nature's decision of 8 April to offer researchers a route to publishing open access in Nature and most Nature-branded journals from 2021, it is stated that "Plan S (...) has softened its guidelines and expectations around hybrid journals...". In fact, quite the opposite is true: cOAlition S, the group of 24 funders that have adopted Plan S, have developed the Transformative Journal Framework to encourage subscription publishers to move away from hybrid and make a firm commitment to transition their hybrid journals to full open access. Far from softening Plan S guidelines and expectations, this framework clearly states the stringent conditions that subscription journals have to fulfill if they wish to receive payment for Open Access papers published in these journals. Springer Nature decided to accept those challenging criteria. There is nothing soft about them. cOAlition S and Plan S remain committed in their opposition to any hybrid model of academic publishing that is not under a Transformative Arrangement as defined in Plan S. Johan Rooryck, OA Champion, cOAlition S