Open access: Top 5 ways to engage, why you should, and precautionary measures to consider


Evaluating a researcher’s impact with non-open access publications is just the tip of the iceberg.

Today’s post was written by Kristina Kangas and Chris Shaver.

There’s a lot of hype about open access (OA). Anna Goldstein did a great overview of Open Access Explained, and 55% of respondents to the poll say, “Viva la revolución! I only publish in open access journals.” If you are not yet a part of this vibrant, emerging world of scientific dissemination, here are five ways and reasons to engage in open access as well as precautionary measures worth considering, to ensure that you are not infringing on copyright laws.

5) Help develop OA tools (even if you’re not a programmer!)

Why: Think about your research process. In what directions should progress be made? You know what tools you have and how they work, and maybe you’ve made some compromises to personal comfort or convenience to accept how these tools are structured. Meanwhile, new ways of organizing and presenting information are being constructed without understanding how researchers navigate this terrain. Imagine giving directions to lost friends in your hometown over the phone. You need to start by knowing where they are (position) before telling them where they need to go (direction). Scientific researchers are like the lost friends of technologists, trying to navigate the tech-terrain of scholarly research platforms. Let technologists know your current position so as to determine the ideal direction for progress.

How: Please take a moment to fill out a very brief survey (<5min) to provide feedback, working towards the development of threads to organize scholarly information. Share this survey with your colleagues and your departments.

4) Check out OA Berkeley (it’s happening in your backyard!)

Why: University policy on open access is being discussed behind doors that aren’t necessarily closed, but they are in buildings into which we do not typically venture. Choices you make as a researcher at Berkeley (or anywhere) and how you are incentivized will be shaped by how your host university presents your options. OA Berkeley is working towards overcoming barriers to scholarly information (e.g. copyright, language, etc), and it is important to understand this process as it shapes dissemination practices without and outside of Berkeley.

How: An important front in this effort at Berkeley is the Open Access Initiative, which aims at facilitating the adoption of open access publishing through both technology and policy. Many resources already exist for Berkeley scholars to move towards open access publishing, but awareness of these resources are not yet widespread, and conversations happening in groups like the Open Access Initiative are centered around disseminating this information and promoting interest in open access publishing.

Amongst these resources, an important one is the Berkeley Research Impact Initiative, which offers funding for the publication of academic work in open access journals. This initiative is particularly important because the cost of publication is some of these journals has been a roadblock to their adoption. Policies and funding circumstances of individual research groups may otherwise prevent authors from moving to open access.

To engage, check out Open Access Berkeley, their Facebook page for events, subscribe to the mailing list, or follow on Twitter to be notified about how university policies on open access are changing.

3) Know your rights (and which rights you sign off) when you publish

Why: In some platforms, you do not own your work anymore once it is posted. You pay the publishers, they own it, and then the university pays to subscribe to the journals so you can see it again. This is the current state of affairs, and researchers working at universities that can not afford subscription fees will not be able to access your work, legally.

How: Sherpa/Romeo has information on publisher copyright policies and self-archiving. Read the Terms and Agreements. Know to what you are agreeing when you submit your paper, and be aware of who has access to your paper (and who does not) in a certain journal.

2) Use OA vehicles to share your own work (so everyone with internet can access it!)

Why: Open access means anyone in the world with internet can read your work, including tax-payers that directly or indirectly fund it. Use alternate metrics to track your work (viewers, downloaders, etc.), instead of relying on a journal’s impact factor to represent the impact of your paper.

In the space of open access journals, there are many attractive options now available provided by forward thinking organizations such as eLife. This new journal offers a comprehensive peer review process centered around a single master reviewer, who consults other reviewers. eLife claims that this process provides fast and clear feedback to authors allowing for a rapid path to publication. Articles published in eLife’s online journal are formatted as sophisticated web pages that incorporate varieties of data and media. These articles can be exported as pdf, xml, or accessed via an open source REST API, allowing it to be freely reformatted or integrated into other forms of online media. This journal truly represents the beginning of the future of scholarly publishing in the internet age.

How: Find an OA Journal near you. Top researchers are publishing in peer-reviewed journals such as eLife Sciences and PLOS, just to name a couple. Also, you can share previously published works to an open access postprint platform run by Berkeley, eScholarship. Just refer to #3 to check on copyright rules of your previous publications.

1) Spread the word about OA (the more OA, the more OA)

Why: The more people who publish on openly accessible platforms, the more people will mutually trust the territory of OA. Old publishing models are self-perpetuating, but new models can be as well. Also, there is greater emphasis on the importance of reproducibility of data. If data is not being organized and saved in a format that will accommodate this future demand, we can anticipate a waste of money and resources to repeat experiments to re-obtain lost data. Even non-OA journals such as Nature Publishing is raising standards and consulting statisticians to check the data.

How: Talk about it in lab meetings. You can use the Future of Research Communication and E-Scholarship to guide your discussion. Make sure everyone is on the same page with saving data and ensuring it is reproducible.

Efforts to advance open access models in academic publishing have arisen recently from many directions and groups, including those in Berkeley. These groups are beginning to form larger more cohesive communities, sharing in common many aims regarding the future of scholarly communication. In particular, advocates of open access publishing believe that the fruits of academic research should be made freely and openly available. Many of the general aims constituting the achievement of progress in academic publishing hinge on this freedom and openness as a basis. By promoting open access, we can ensure that the science we are doing is ethical and working towards expanding our knowledge and understanding of the world, not to benefit just one individual with a publication in a high-impact journal, charging subscriptions and gatekeeping knowledge from other researchers.

Image adapted from Michelle Willmers, Assoc. Prof. University of Cape Town