2019 In Review

2019 Was Big for Academic Publishing. Here’s Our Year in Review is an article by Diana Kwon in TheScientist on December 27, 2019. Some of the OA-related issues that are reviewed include:

  1.  A brief mention of “concerns about the presence of predatory journals on PubMed”.
  2.  A brief mention of a trend toward “more scientists are opting to deposit their [supplementary] files into online repositories hosted by universities, research institutions, and companies“.
  3.  A section entitled: “UC breaks with Elsevier“. The University of California (UC) has tried to obtain, from Elsevier, “a contract that combines subscriptions to read paywalled journals and publishing in open-access formats into a single fee“. So far, this effort has been unsuccessful. Since July 2019, those at UC have been unable to access new articles published in Elsevier’s paywalled journals.
  4. In the next section, entitled “Deals are Made, three deals are noted that do support publication of OA articles, as well as provide access to paywalled papers, all for a single annual fee. These deals are between Wiley and academic consortia in Germany, Norway and Hungary, Deals that involve OA elements are often called “transformative”, Publishers other than Wiley have made transformative deals, even including (more recently) Elsevier, which appears to have become more flexible.
  5. In a final section, entitled “Changes to Plan S”, the current status of Plan S is reviewed. One of the noteworthy changes is “a softened stance on hybrid journals—they will now be allowed for a limited time if they are a part of a transformative agreement“.

This review provides an excellent summary of noteworthy OA-related developments that happened in 2019.

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Plan S, a Work in Progress

Plan S is a controversial European initiative designed to revolutionize scholarly publishing. As summarized by Anette Breindl:

“Plan S mandates that starting in 2020, scientists funded by the national agencies or research councils of 11 nations – Austria, Britain, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovenia and, partially, Sweden – will have to publish their research open-access immediately. (The U.S. NIH has been mandating that NIH-funded research be open-access six months after they are first published.)”.

The Wikipedia entry for Plan S provides detailed information about the initiative.

Tony Ross has provided Thoughts on Plan S implementation guidelines. He suggests several issues about which futher clarification is needed.

Koen Hufkens has authored critique of objections to Plan S. Some controversial aspects of Plan S are addressed.

Concerns about Plan S from the perspective of a commentator from the Global South are discussed here.

Concerns from the perspective of Society Publishers are described here.

Diana Kwon, in an article in The Scientist dated December 19, 2018, presented a perspective on Plan S that included a paragraph entitled “A work in progress“. It can be fearlessly predicted that there will be more progress in relation to Plan S in 2019.

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Preprint repositories gaining traction

A preprint “is a version of a scholarly or scientific paper that precedes publication in a peer-reviewed scholarly or scientific journal” (Wikipedia). Examples of lists of preprint servers are available here and here. A list of disciplinary eprint repositories can be found here.

A blog post, The rising tide of preprint servers, provides a brief description of evidence that preprint servers such as  bioRXiv are gaining wider acceptance. One example is provided by the statement (March 24, 2017) by Andy Collings, the Executive Editor of the Open Access journal eLife, that Authors can now submit a preprint to bioRxiv while submitting to eLife.

A short history of preprint servers is available in an article (September 29, 2017) by Jocelyn Kaiser in Science magazine, entitled: Are preprints the future of biology? A survival guide for scientists. It’s mentioned in this article that: “In the 1960s, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, mailed photocopies of draft manuscripts to groups of biologists…”. The project was short-lived. I’ve provided a few details about these Information Exchange Groups (IEGs), and have suggested that  they can be regarded as Predecessors of preprint servers.

My own opinion is that Overlay Journals have a rosy future. For more about Overlay Journals, see: Open journals that piggyback on arXiv gather momentum. I’m not aware of any Overlay Journals in Biology or Medicine, but predict that there will be some (eventually).

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Reviews about Open Access in 2016

The purpose of this post is to highlight two reviews (and an article) about Open Access (OA). The first review is: The year 2016 in open access. Cracks in the mainstream – a subjective review, by Witold Kieńć. Topics include the popularity of Sci-Hub, the fall of the impact factor, and the common roots of OA with the open source movement.

The second review is: Open Access Rewards Passionate Curiosity: 2016 in Review  by Elliot Harmon. It begins by noting, with approval, the OA publication of the first direct detection of gravitational waves. It then continues with comments about some OA-related activities during 2016 by the publishing giant Elsevier. Following a summary of some noteworthy recent OA-oriented issues in the USA, the final paragraph includes this excerpt: “…open access publishing rewards the passionate curiosity of readers and researchers all over the world, regardless of their institutional connections“.

An article that merits attention is: In Montreal, a wee opening in the closed world of science research, by André Picard in The Globe and Mail newspaper. He provides an eloquent report on a pioneering Open Science undertaking that’s being initiated by the Montreal Neurological Institute. Two excerpts from his report:

Is the best way to nurture that process – to accelerate the accumulation of knowledge – to have individual researchers hoard their findings in the hope they will hit paydirt someday, or is it to share discoveries openly to spur others?


In the long run, it’s hard to imagine how people will not benefit more from openness and sharing of knowledge than from secrecy and hoarding of findings

.Comments about these, or other developments in 2016 related to OA, would be appreciated.


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Popular OA topic in December 2015

A popular OA topic in December 2015 was the current status of negotiations between the giant academic publisher Elsevier and the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU). On December 10, it was announced that the Dutch Universities and Elsevier have reached agreement in principle on Open Access and subscription.

A commentary about this agreement, written by John Bohannon and dated December 11, appeared in Science. An excerpt:

…For no additional charge beyond subscription fees, 30% of research published by Dutch researchers in Elsevier journals will be open access by 2018.

“It’s not the 100% that I hoped for,” says Gerard Meijer, the president of Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and the lead negotiator on the Dutch side. “But this is the future. No one can stop this anymore.”

Several tweets about this deal have appeared in December. One example: From Richard Poynder “In unique deal, Elsevier agrees to make some papers by Dutch authors free” https://twitter.com/RickyPo/status/675606958624415744

Another example: From Open Access Top News “Dutch universities and Elsevier reach deal over open access”

There was also a good deal of interest in this tweet: “What If Elsevier and researchers quit playing hide-and-seek?”. For example, from OA Tracking Project https://twitter.com/oatp/status/677894862717358080

An excerpt from the article linked to in the latter tweet:

Publishing giant Elsevier recently made headlines with its attempts to curb sharing of its papers. When Elsevier persuaded a court to order two websites taken down, they quickly reemerged at different URLs. The story demonstrates what anyone who uses the Internet already knows: copyright lawsuits only temporarily slow sharing. They don’t prevent it.

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Due diligence when invited to join the editorial board of a new OA journal

I’ve received an unsolicited (spam) email informing me that a new open access journal, International Journal of Stem cell Research & Therapy, has been launched. The publisher is  ClinMed International Library (CMIL). I was invited to join the editorial board of the new journal, and to submit an editorial. I’ve refused the invitation.

One should undertake due diligence before joining an editorial board  (or submitting an article) to a journal of this sort. Currently, CMIL publishes 16 journals. At present, the archives of all of these journals are empty. It’s stated in the Open Access section that the journal uses article processing charges (APCs) to cover its costs, but I could find no information about the magnitude of these APCs. I looked for this information in the FAQs section, but it’s empty at present.

In the Guidelines section, it’s stated that: All the articles are distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided that the published work is properly cited. This seems to refer to a CC BY license, but this isn’t stated.

Finally, I checked Beall`s List of questionable, scholarly open-access publishers. Yes, CMIL was on the list. The criteria for inclusion of publishers onto Beall`s List are available here.

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Open Access: Sweet Dreams and Nightmares

I’m a supporter of Open Access (OA) and have been for more than a decade. Over that time, the uptake of OA has been encouraging, but rather slow. According to Björk and Hedlund, a reason for this is that established journals and publishers have not had strong enough incentives to change their business models. Year after year, I’ve been hoping that the adoption of OA would reach a tipping point, after which uptake would be very rapid. A pessimistic opinion: although adoption continues to increase, it isn’t obvious that such a tipping point has been reached yet.

For anyone unfamiliar with OA (why are you here?), the OA literature has been defined by Peter Suber as literature that is “digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions“. OA is sometimes also used to refer to online literature where only price barriers have been removed. Such literature has been termed “gratis OA” by Peter Suber.

There are two main routes to OA, described in the Budapest Open Access Initiative. One is the self-archiving of articles in open electronic archives or repositories (“Green OA“). The other is publication in OA journals (“Gold OA“). There continues to be debate about the relative merits of Green and Gold OA.

A variation on Gold OA is “Hybrid OA“, where only some of the articles are in the journal are OA (after payment of a fee). There are problems with Hybrid OA. A major one is “double dipping”, where libraries are charged for content, even though an article processing fee (APF) has already been paid to make it available OA.

I daydream from time to time about OA. I’ve had some dreams that are sweet, and some that are nightmares. Two examples:

Sweet Dream #1: No embargoes for articles in PubMed Central (PMC).

Embargoed articles in the PMC repository are not immediately free on publication, but only after a specified time period. At present, embargoes of up to one year are permitted by the Public Access Policy of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). The number of embargoed articles in PMC is not a negligible proportion of the total. For example, on May 27, 2014, a search of PMC was done for the keywords “stem cell”, with limits activated so that embargoed articles were included in the search result. This search yielded 7,187 embargoed articles within a total of 110,156 articles (6.5%).

Mike Taylor, a scientist (palaeontologist), has argued that every manuscript accepted by a publisher should be immediately made freely available with no embargo. His view (March 15, 2013):  “Any publisher that argues against this policy is saying that the value they add is inadequate” (his boldface). For a publisher-oriented contrary view, see: Getting Open Access Embargoes Right: Rational Policy Must Be Evidence-Based. (The comments section of this blog post includes several exchanges between Mike Taylor and those opposed to his argument. They illustrate the difficulties faced by those who seek Green OA without any embargoes).

The number of articles published in credible fully OA journals is accelerating. Such Gold OA journals have the desirable feature that they always provide immediate, unembargoed OA to peer-reviewed research articles. So, if all articles in PMC had been published in Gold OA journals, the percentage of embargoed articles would be zero. Nice dream.

Nightmare #1: Support for PMC is withdrawn.

There has been a series of attempts aimed at reversing the NIH’s Public Access Policy. One illustrative example is the Research Works Act (RWA). It was introduced into the US House of Representatives on December 16, 2011. After much opposition, especially from activist members of the scientific community, support for the RWA was withdrawn on February 27, 2012.

The RWA wasn’t the first attempt to reverse the NIH’s Public Access Policy (see the Wikipedia entry for the RWA). So, one can assume that it won’t be the last. A very bad dream involves a scenario where an attempt to reverse the Public Access Policy finally is successful, and, as a result, PMC ceases to be useful and is no longer supported.

Sweet Dream #2:  The PeerJ business model succeeds and is copied.

Peer J, an OA megajournal launched in 2012, has an innovative business model. Unlike other Gold OA journals that charge an APF, it uses a “pay once, publish for life” business model. There are several publishing plans. A low-cost example is US$99 for one peer-reviewed publication per year. Another is US$299 for unlimited peer-reviewed publications. For articles with multiple authors, only the first 12 authors per paper need to have a paid publishing plan.

Those with paid publishing plans are asked “to contribute one question, comment, or peer review (if qualified) to [PeerJ] every 12 months, or risk their publishing plan lapsing“.

There’s a review, “PeerJ’s $99 open access model one year on” (March 13, 2014) in Times Higher Education (THE). It’s asked in the review “will others go on to ape its low-cost, multi-featured, user-friendly model?“.

If this low-cost Gold OA publication does survive, and develops a widely-recognized, very favorable reputation, then one can dream about this business model being copied. Perhaps a truly competitive market involving low-cost megajournals would develop. Another nice dream.

Nightmare #2: PeerJ is sold to Elsevier and prices rise sharply.

PeerJ isn’t self-sustaining yet (perhaps by 2015 – see the THE article) . If it does succeed in becoming self-sustaining without changing its current prices, then it could become attractive to one of the larger publishers. An example is provided by BioMed Central (BMC), a Gold OA publisher that was founded in 2000. BMC was a pioneer in the successful use of a business model based on article processing fees (APFs). In 2008, BMC was acquired by the large publisher Springer.

It seems possible that the even larger publisher Elsevier might succeed in buying PeerJ. Elsevier could then add PeerJ to its set of OA options. It could also decide to increase the prices for publication in PeerJ. Bad dream.

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