Almost every day I receive an email from an academic publisher of scientific journals (not The lancet, Elsevier, I might add), who is inviting me to contribute to one of their Open Access titles. The promises are extravagant. Becoming guest editor of a special collection of at least ten gold open access papers will advance my career and demonstrate my leadership; make a meaningful impact; give me invaluable editorial and organizational experience; and expand my research networks. All the publisher asks is that I identify potential contributors in advance. I can submit two works of my own. An item handling fee (APC) will of course be charged. Some invitations clearly state the fee and warn that I must agree to pay the APC before submitting my work. The publisher has a higher opinion of my abilities than I deserve. In the past few days, I’ve received requests to submit papers on cell transplantation, child and adolescent addiction, allergy and immunology, health services, men’s health, clinical oncology, and Alzheimer’s disease. This scramble for research papers comes at a good time. Recently released guidelines from the US Office for Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) of the White House require that the results of taxpayer-supported research be made freely available to the public without delay. All US agencies must fully implement this directive by December 31, 2025 at the latest. dr Alondra Nelson, Head of OSTP, commented: “When research is made widely available to other researchers and the public, it can save lives and give policymakers the tools to make important decisions and achieve more equitable outcomes in all sectors of society .” The OSTP guidelines were generally welcomed.
Audrey Smith and colleagues at the University of Florida last year reported a study of more than 37,000 articles from Elsevier’s Mirror Journal system. In this arrangement, a parent hybrid journal has a gold open access mirror. When comparing the two journals – one open access, one not – the geographical diversity of the authors of open access papers was significantly lower. Authors of Open Access articles mostly came from high-income countries. The Florida team concludes: “Our results for Elsevier’s mirror parent system are consistent with the hypothesis that APCs [article processing charges] are a barrier to Open Access publications for scholars in the Global South”. Publishers will argue that they are applying waivers to authors who are unable to pay the APC. at lancet We regularly agree on APC exemptions for magazines. However, Smith and colleagues note that the waivers in their study clearly resulted in authors from low-income backgrounds not encouraging submissions. The message of this work is that open access – and open science more broadly – may not be entirely free, despite the best efforts of publishers. Open Science aims to usher in a new era of efficiency, quality, innovation, knowledge transfer, public engagement and global collaboration. But while open-access publishing may be a boon to some scientists, it seems to be closing the door to others.
What the flood of invitations to publish in Open Access journals suggests is that scholarly publishing is undergoing an amazing cultural shift—from quality-driven to quantity-driven. The math for publishers is simple: the larger the number of articles published, the higher the turnover. At a time when the subscription model is dying, a replacement revenue stream will come from APCs. The new incentive for some publishers is to persuade their editors to accept and publish more articles, but not necessarily better articles. This change in culture and incentives is not insignificant. It’s actually historical. The entire basis for the integrity of the scientific record is shifting. Some open science advocates have recognized the danger and warned of negative consequences. registered mail Nature Earlier this year, Tony Ross-Hellauer wrote about the “unintended consequences” of open science. He warned that open science could create conditions where “the advantages of those already privileged will grow, especially given that they have the greatest impact on how open science is implemented”. A shift in scholarly publishing culture from value to volume, driven by a motive to protect revenue, risks compromising the very purpose of scholarly publishing itself. quality is threatened. justice is threatened. Publishers need to ask themselves: What do they stand for? And market share isn’t the only answer to that question.
Released: September 24, 2022
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