Taking open access to the next level, by giving control to researchers, instead of to academic publishers

Back in February 2022, Walled Culture wrote about diamond open access (OA), perhaps the “purest” form of open access publishing, since there are no charges for either the reader or the researcher. In that post, I mentioned an excellent 2021 report on diamond OA, published by the open access group cOAlition S. The group has been doing great work in promoting open access since 2018, when it launched Plan S, whose main principle is that:

all scholarly publications on the results from research funded by public or private grants provided by national, regional and international research councils and funding bodies, must be published in Open Access Journals, on Open Access Platforms, or made immediately available through Open Access Repositories without embargo.

Now cOAlition S wants to go much further, with its “Towards Responsible Publishing” proposal. This recognises a fundamental problem with the original Plan S – that the focus there on a static snapshot of the research process, the journal-accepted article, is problematic:

First, the traditional journal-accepted article undermines timely dissemination and quality control of new research findings. Articles submitted under the pre-publication peer review model often take a year to get published. Such a long delay is arguably just as detrimental as the 12-month Open Access publication embargo that Plan S has eliminated. Compounding this delay, the cascading of articles from one journal to another, while concealing critical peer reviews, compromises the ability of the publishing system to fulfil its error-correcting and appraisal functions for science and scholarship.

Secondly, the journal-accepted article drives up publishing costs and puts more sustainable and equitable open access models at a disadvantage.

Its new proposal has two radical elements. First:

Authors, not third-party suppliers, decide when and what to publish.

In such a ‘scholar-led’ publishing system, third-party suppliers can still offer and charge for services that facilitate peer review, publication and preservation. However, they will not block scholars from sharing their work at any stage during the research and dissemination process.

This is obviously a major change from today’s system, where academic publishers have a vice-like grip on all stages of academic research. Instead, cOAlition S wants to move closer to the preprint model, where researchers publish what they want, when they want. The second element of the “Responsible Publishing” plan builds on that shift to scholarly freedom:

The scholarly record includes the full range of outputs created during the research cycle, and not just the final journal-accepted version.

By making early article versions and peer review feedback critical elements of the scholarly record, a future scholarly communication system can capture research ‘in the act’. Shining a light on how research progresses towards increasingly trustworthy knowledge creation offers opportunities for reviewing and filtering scholarly outputs for the purposes of curation and research assessment.

This essentially re-invents what publishing academic research means. It would no longer result in a single artefact, generally controlled by publishers through copyright, but open access to the entire scholarly process, including the full range of related research outputs (such as data and software), and associated peer reports.

It’s an exciting project, albeit one that is guaranteed to meet stiff resistance from academic publishers, who will see their fat profits threatened by it. cOAlition S is asking for feedback from individuals and organisations, and will be running focus groups and an online survey to gather more views. In the meantime, more details about the idea can be found in a short document, and researchers can take part in the early feedback survey online.

Featured image by cOAlition S.

Follow me @glynmoody on Mastodon.

Cookie Consent with Real Cookie Banner