It seems a long time since I sat in New Jersey watching dawn silhouette the skyscrapers of Manhattan as I wrote my last Faculty blog. Today I am sat in the (slightly) less inspiring location of Building 85 having come from a meeting on the University’s preparations for the new General Data Protection Regulations that come into effect next year (watch out for more communications from me on that topic in the near future!).
My list of urgent jobs jotted down on a list seems to have stem-like qualities of self-renewal as it never grows shorter, no matter how many tasks I seem to complete. However, I find it hard to go a day without spending some time on research and, in addition to my lab meeting this morning, today’s job was to comment on an early draft of a manuscript prepared by my Research Fellow and think about the best journal to submit the paper to. These days there seems to be an almost unlimited number of journals to choose from, and that is even with discounting the predatory publishers who spam my email box every day announcing yet another new journal. But where should we publish and does it matter?
In deciding where to publish our research, we have to consider why we do research. While some of us would probably undertake research for the intellectual challenge or excitement of discovery alone, for many of us it is important that our research will impact society in some way. This may be from contributing to the advance of our scientific discipline, or through the use of our research by the public, policymakers or industry. For all of these to come to pass, there is a basic premise that our publications can be found and accessed by those who can make use of the information they contain. Hence one of the key decisions around choice of where to publish is to think of the audience that reads the journal, and whether to make your paper Open Access.
Open Access refers to material that is free to all readers at the point of use. There are two routes into Open Access – gold or green. Gold Open Access is where the author makes their article Open Access in a journal, sometimes for a fee. This journal may be exclusively Open Access, or it may have a mixture of Open Access and subscription-only articles (a hybrid journal). Green Open Access is where the author publishes in a journal and then deposits a version of this article into a subject or an institutional repository such as PURE.
There are many reasons to make papers open access. Firstly, there are lots of people telling us that we need to make our papers open access including the funders of our research, such as the MRC and the Wellcome Trust; HEFCE, which has mandated that papers returned to the next Research Excellence Framework (REF) exercise must be made open access (either gold or green) within three months of the date of acceptance of the article; or the University, whose Open Access Policy requires us to upload a version of our article into our institutional repository where possible (hence the annoying emails from me when we find your latest publication hasn’t been uploaded to PURE!).
However, we shouldn’t think of open access as yet another task to complete that is handed down from on high, but as a positive choice to improve the visibility of our research. There have been studies that have provided strong evidence that papers freely available in a journal will be more often read and cited than those behind a subscription barrier (1), although others argue that flaws in the study design has inflated the size of the open access effect on citation rates to an extent (2). But if you stop to think for a moment, in the era of citizen science, where patient groups can use Google translate to read a conference abstract and then design, carry out, and publish the results of a clinical trial testing a potential new therapy for their condition (3.4), you can see how visibility of research to those without institutional subscription privileges can only help speed the pace of research.
It is not just greater adoption of open access that is changing the speed at which the results of research is being shared. More and more papers in biology and the life sciences are being posted online before peer review – in so called preprint archives (5). You can read the results of one research project I have recently been part of on BioRxiv here, while we are still waiting for peer review (6). Physical scientists have been publishing their work this way for decades, and it is now routine for their research to be submitted to the arXiv preprint server before publication. While it still pays to check, more and more journals are changing their policies to expressly allow the publication of research previously posted to preprint servers.
It is not just our papers that we are being asked to share. Funders such as RCUK are also mandating sharing of the underlying data supporting papers and this is also now a condition of publication in many journals. Arguments that support this include that doing so increases the speed of research, allowing others to build quickly on your results; improves replicability; and allows other to check our methodologies. Look out for a future blog from me on the benefits of open data, or check out the information on the library’s research data pages.
If you want to learn more about the benefits of open access and open data then the library has lots of information on its research services pages and runs staff training courses on Promoting your Work: Exploring Open Access Publications (a previous version of which I have shamelessly plagiarised for the title of this blog). Just remember, there are good reasons to positively embrace open access in your scientific life, and not just because people are asking you to comply with mandates.
Right, back to my list of jobs. Blog – tick, written and submitted for open access to eNews!
- MacCallum CJ, Parthasarathy H (2006) Open Access Increases Citation Rate. PLoS Biology 4(5): e176. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0040176
- McCabe MJ and Snyder CM (2015). Does Online Availability Increase Citations? Theory and Evidence from a Panel of Economics and Business Journals. Review of Economics and Statistics 97(1): 144-165. doi:10.1162/REST_a_00437
- Millar H. Citizen Scientists Unite. Genome (2016). Available from http://genomemag.com/citizen-scientists-unite/ – .We9ovhNSzOR
- Wicks P, Vaughan TE, Massagli MP, Heywood J. Accelerated clinical discovery using self-reported patient data collected online and a patient-matching algorithm. Nature Biotechnology (2011) 29:411–414 doi:10.1038/nbt.183
- Callaway E and Powell K. ‘Hug a preprint, biologists!’ Nature (2016) 530(7590):265 doi:10.1038/530265a
- Beaumont RN et al. Genome-wide association study of offspring birth weight in 86,577 women highlights maternal genetic effects that are independent of fetal genetics. bioRxiv 034207; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/034207