Please see this post about OASPA’s role in providing a platform for members’ views. The views presented in this post are the views of its signatories and do not represent the views of OASPA.
The signatories of this post are members of OASPA. We strongly support OASPA’s mission to develop and disseminate solutions that advance open access (OA), preserve the integrity of scholarship and promote best practice. We proactively work with stakeholders to make OASPA’s call a reality – the transition to a world in which open access becomes the predominant model of publication for scholarly outputs. The rise and emphasis of immediate green OA as an equivalent or otherwise satisfactory method for delivering OA runs contrary to everyone’s interest in trying to achieve open science.
The authors of this statement include representatives of the pioneers and early adopters of OA publishing. As individuals we have personally dedicated years, and in some cases decades, to building trusted OA publishing, even before most funders were ready to embrace it. Indeed, we have contributed to bringing on board many of the funders who today mandate OA. Some of us have worked within full OA publishing houses, some have moved from full OA to with mixed models and some have worked from within the mixed model environment.
As pioneers and early adopters, we know the difficulties of establishing business models to support gold OA (here including so-called diamond, platinum and other models).
All of us recognise the value of full open access to the Version of Record (VOR). We want to ensure that for those who are committed to OA, this route is fully enabled and supported.
We all agree that a sustainable Open Research model – where information is credible, accessible, linked and searchable in perpetuity, is the ultimate goal.
The reaction of the scientific community, decision makers, and civil society during the Coronavirus outbreak has revealed the need for rapid, trusted scientific and epidemiological data sharing and the importance of international scientific collaborations, only serving to heighten the interest and desire to transition towards a sustainable OA future.
We discuss in this post our views on how to achieve this, some of the issues currently facing us in attaining this shared aim, particularly those created by cOAlition S’s recently announced Rights Retention Strategy, and we end with a series of requests to cOAlition S members and other funders.
Importance of the Version of Record
In order to achieve transition to true and full open research, we need to ensure that researchers and readers have immediate access to the quality-assured, value-added VOR. By enabling access to this authoritative version of the research paper, we are seeking to open the door to a wider open research network, in which the VOR is connected to a range of further open outputs that add value and insight. From preprints, which can provide an early view of work under review, to open research data, open protocols, open code, and transparent peer review reports, open research is about much more than just access to the text of a paper.
Open research seeks to accelerate progress, but green OA can never deliver on this promise of an easily accessible, navigable, and interconnected Open Research ecosystem. Instead, it confuses the scholarly record with multiple inferior versions of manuscripts. Do we want researchers to have to search through repositories for an earlier version of a manuscript, and then spend further valuable time seeking out accompanying data, or checking whether there have been post-publication corrections? Or would we rather that they have immediate access to the trusted and enhanced VOR on the publisher platform, with links to relevant data and other outputs? It sounds like a simple question, but if , funders, and institutions choose to enable green OA as an ‘easy’ alternative to focusing our efforts and resources on driving a transition to immediate access to the VOR, we are condemning ourselves to falling short in achieving full open research at a time when there is evidence of real progress.
Open Access to the Version of Record is growing exponentially
Open access to the VOR is growing at unprecedented rates. DOAJ now lists more than 15,000 journals and more than 5.3m articles. The ESAC Registry contains information about 125 current transformative agreements in place across 20 countries in Europe, Middle East, Asia and North America. These agreements cover between 3 and 9,500 articles per year, reflecting the diversity of the 33 represented in the database who have committed to making a total of nearly 100,000 articles available per year through these agreements – twice the number that it was last year. An OASPA report published last year showed that members had collectively published more than 350,000 articles under a CC license during the previous year, most of which were CC-BY.
Publishers – of all types and sizes – are committing by their actions as well as their words to a future of open access. Unfunded requirements that deliver an inferior product for all concerned risk undermining and potentially undoing the progress reported here.
An emphasis on green OA is not constructive
We are concerned about the growing emphasis on the green route to OA, and how this might establish green as the default at the expense of full OA to the VOR. The Rights Retention Strategy as part of the Plan S approach is argued to be a means of providing OA compliance in subscription journals. Plan S funders state that they support access to the VOR as their preferred approach, however, by giving the immediate green route the same standing and prominence as routes delivering the VOR, the policy risks undermining progress to full OA. This can be seen in the Journal Checker Tool which shows the green option even when gold compliant routes exist.
First, green has never been an ideal route to Open Access. It is wholly reliant upon precisely the model that the OA movement was trying to overturn – namely subscriptions. Driving green OA essentially drives subscription publishing, which we believe is not what Plan S funders are aiming to achieve. Green has been the workaround, not the desired end point.
Second, the approach of the Rights Retention Strategy erodes the advantages of full OA publishing over green OA. Traditional green policies and practices highlight the advantage of full OA journals over subscription journals; namely, full OA provides immediate access at the point of publication under a CC BY licence to the Version of Record, while the established green route respects embargo periods and typically entails delays in access to an inferior and less reliable version. If mixed model adopt the Rights Retention Strategy, allowing authors to deposit the final version of their work without embargo and under a CC BY licence, this gives authors the opportunity to select subscription journals and the subscription model at the expense of full OA titles. Green becomes “good enough” and compliant at the expense of proper OA to achieve open research more broadly. This “good enough” solution is even more attractive under the current budgetary constraints that the covid-19 pandemic has brought with it. Why spend your research grant money on the cow if you can get the milk for free?
Third, what incentives do mixed model have to transition their portfolios to full OA and what incentives do institutions have to work with mixed model to develop creative approaches to redirect subscription spending towards OA? Uptake of OA in hybrid journals is likely to wane where the new green approach is applied, slowing the ultimate conversion of these titles to full OA. There is a risk that transformative deals and transformative journals will be negatively impacted if the new green route is adopted.
For fully OA this too presents a problem; the rise of an ‘easy’ immediate green route to enable open access disincentives funders and other stakeholders to establish and organise the structured funds required to support open access to the version of record. Moreover, where the publishing behaviors of authors were previously being steered toward full OA titles through a growing number of mandates, the Rights Retention Strategy directs authors back to former publishing patterns.
It may not be the intention of cOAlition S, but the signatories to this post see the Rights Retention Strategy as undermining the progress and commitment we have all made to the OA transition in the recent past. If everyone adopts this new green workaround, rather than pursuing the transition to full OA (VOR under various models), none of us achieve the goal of making open the default.
We call upon funders to think very carefully about what they are looking to achieve, and consider whether the policies and strategies that are being put in place are really fit for fulfilling the goal we all share of enabling open access to the VOR.
We ask funders to recognise the hard work , institutions and funders have done together and the progress we are making. We ask funders not to undermine all that we have achieved, but to support and understand the journey we are all embarking on – and the commitments we have made to reach full OA.
We are all agreed that a sustainable Open Research model – where information is credible, accessible, linked and searchable in perpetuity, is the ultimate goal. So let us work together on ensuring that this route is financially and technically supported and all our efforts are moving in the same direction, rather than being diverted down conflicting paths. This is a waste of limited resources and detracts from our shared common ambition.
We now need to work collectively towards a common path to that Open Research future. We stand willing to work collaboratively and constructively with all stakeholders to play our part in making this happen. As part of that collective work, we ask cOAlition S and other funders to devote their full energy and resources to supporting mechanisms that deliver on the full promise of open access to the Version of Record.
Liz Ferguson on behalf of Wiley
Caroline Sutton on behalf of Taylor and Francis
Stuart Taylor on behalf of The Royal Society
Carrie Webster on behalf of Springer-Nature
Emma Wilson on behalf of The Royal Society of Chemistry
Steven Hall on behalf of IOP Publishing
Paul Peters on behalf of Hindawi
Matt Day on behalf of Cambridge University Press
Malavika Legge on behalf of Biochemical Society
David Clark on behalf of Oxford University Press
David Ross on behalf of SAGE
We welcome feedback and discussion through the comments function below.
James Rivington, The British Academy says
If funders wish to achieve immediate OA for research articles, then they should commit to providing adequate funding for OA publication of the version of record. OA policies should not have the perverse effect of undermining the welcome growth in OA versions of record.
Lauren Collister says
Green OA remains an important avenue for authors who do not have funding support for the increasingly unaffordable article processing charges put into place for open access by many , including several signatories to this post. I applaud efforts made by some to find models that do not rely on an APC, and I remain hopeful that those models will be the norm and these outrageous fees will be rarely seen. Until OA is affordable and viable for authors in ALL fields with ALL affiliations, Green OA and rights retention — whether confusing to the scholarly record or not — remains an important avenue for authors whose research work is not supported by grant funding or a rich University.
Lucy Barnes says
Thanks for this comment. It’s remarkable that this post fails to mention APCs, instead falling back on vague references to ‘transformational agreements’ or ‘various models’. Any serious critique of Green OA (and imo there are particular issues with Green OA for books) has to reckon with how authors without access to funding can afford to cover 9,500-euro APCs (to use a pertinent example, given one of the signatories to this post) or how those who don’t have membership of an institution that has signed a ‘transformative agreement’ can otherwise afford to publish OA. It is disappoining to say the least that this post has swerved that problem.
Gaynor Redvers-Mutton, Microbiology Society says
The Microbiology Society has supported the aims of Plan S and as with some of the that have signed this open post, has responded constructively to transform to open access models according to the dynamics of its discipline and in the best interests of its community. Our aim is to ensure all authors have a route to publish, whether or not they are funded. However we cannot operate an unfunded OA route at scale; we need to find alternatives. We appreciate the continuing help from cOAlition S to accelerate our progress through initiatives such as ‘the follow up to the “Society Publishers Accelerating Open access and Plan S” announced on 1st December.
The Rights Retention Strategy, however, seems to run counter to all the collective work undertaken to achieve a fast-paced, sustainable, reliable and robust alternative to subscriptions. Green OA is prone to confuse, self-archiving is haphazard, and the strong arm of ‘compliance’ is not a substitute for working towards clarity and common purpose. The Journal Checker Tool now looks set to create more misunderstandings and multiple interpretations. Its intentions and benefits, like the RRS itself do not point to producing an effective, trusted system of science or research.
Jean-Claude Guédon says
The “Open Post” above displays a familiar confusion between “publisher” and “scholarly communication and publishing”. Publishing, as was detailed in the recent EC report on the future of scholarly communication and publishing (https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/464477b3-2559-11e9-8d04-01aa75ed71a1), can easily be deconstructed into a number of functions (registration, certification, preservation, dissemination) and these functions can be allocated to a variety of institutions. Presently, they appear concentrated within a single institution: the “publisher”, a situation aided by the apparent homonymy between “publishing” and “publisher”. Publishing refers back to a complex set of actions, while “publisher” refers to a single, legally instituted, entity.
The confusion between publisher and publishing is easy to understand: it is a legacy of print. Several of OASPA’s members, because they are “”, may have difficulties imagining how publishing does not coincide with . Moreover, all OASPA “” are not cut in the same cloth. Although the Royal Society, for example, differs from Wiley, the “Open Post” overlooks this important detail. Whether they all pursue the same goals is problematic.
The most remarkable element of the “Open Post” is its foregrounding of a particular notion: the “version of record” (VOR). This notion is not questioned or analysed, and even less criticised. It is presented as a foundation that requires no explanation. However, VOR did not appear on the eighth day of Creation; it really is the spin-off of a particular technology, print.
Print has forced documents to “live”, so to speak, in a peculiar fashion. Print rests on a discontinuous, batch-based, process that cannot easily record the continuous flow of on-going conversations. Yet, the production of knowledge rests on its being propelled forward through a “Great Conversation”. The production of reliable knowledge does not need a VOR so much as a temporarily stabilized statement – e.g. a well-identified version of an article – that can lead to further, open, discussions (see https://septentrio.uit.no/index.php/nopos/article/view/3619).
More fundamental than a VOR is the notion of “Record of Versions” (ROV), that B. Kramer coined. What the production of knowledge needs is a reliable record of versions, similar to what was invented in the first form of digital writing that appeared in history – namely, computer programming. Later, the creators of ARPANET and the Internet spontaneously invented a transposed system of software versioning when they began the long series of RFCs – Request for Comments – that allowed them to identify problems and solutions much faster than any other communication system then available (see https://www.ietf.org/standards/rfcs/). The existing means of publishing that existed around 1969 appeared to slow, too awkward, not nimble and flexible enough.
VOR, however, plays an important, if often neglected, role for “publishing” as understood by “”: it makes the financial underpinning of their activity possible by making intellectual value dovetail with commercial value. Thanks to VORs, any “published” element of the Great Conversation – e.g. an article – can be treated as if it were a material object that can be bought and sold. It does so through by fitting the production of knowledge within a market mechanism, instead of designing financial mechanisms – e.g. public subsidies – that directly support and enhance the Great Conversation.
Profit, of course, is not mentioned in the “Open Post”. What appears instead is the notion of “sustainability”, but that is a linguistic sleight of hand. What does “sustainability” mean? The answer depends on the institution. A publicly traded publishing company with legal responsibilities to its investors will have a notion of “sustainability” that markedly differs (or should differ…) from the sustainability of a learned society, of a library, or of the university presses of old, when they used to be subsidized to publish works that, despite their importance for research, could not hope to succeed in a commercial market.
The problem just identified is compounded by the fact that we are leaving the print world. In doing so, we find it easier to carry the familiar notions of the past into the future, and we try to fit technological affordances into the old mould. For example, a journal has become the competitive reference point for companies working on the assumption of market mechanisms. However, one may wonder whether journals, in this sense, still make sense in the digital world. For example, while specific articles may be usefully associated with one (or several) journal title, is it important for any journal to own its articles? Associating articles with journals may help researchers to navigate the ocean of information that confronts them. By contrast, ownership of articles does not help researchers; on the contrary, it may slow down researchers.
This leaves us with a number of interesting problems that can perhaps be listed as follows:
1. The notion of “quality-assured, value-added, VOR” should be carefully tested against the backdrop that Suart Ritchie has recently drawn out in his important (if incomplete) study, Science Fictions. How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth (N.Y., Metropolitan Books, 2020). The best quality assurance we can hope for is certainly not the opaque, often confidential, relationship between journal editors and the reviewers they select.
2. Do we still need journals? To repeat myself, journals remain useful as navigational tools, but, to play this role fully, they do not ned to own the articles they choose to “publish”. The rights related to a particular version of an article should remain in the hands of the authors of a particular version, and these rights should probably be limited to attribution, even though some room for debate remains here.
3. The debate between Green and Gold OA is outdated. Anyone following the proposals issued by COAR, or studying the achievements of OpenAIRE can readily see that the functions of repositories and those of journals are converging. However, a new, more fundamental, reality is emerging, and that is the nature, interconnection and governance of platforms.
4. Related to point 3, the quest for OA (which should really be renamed Open Science (OS) by now) does not rest on “full OA titles”, but on full OS versions exposed on open, transparent, interoperable and inter-connected platforms. Think software versioning again, and the platforms where these versions can be identified, monitored, and retrieved.
5. The role of funders in publishing has appeared late in the OA-OS debates, and this is a pity. Most of the funders are public entities, and their very presence reminds all of us that the process of knowledge production, at its most fundamental level, is largely financed by public money (plus some significant charitable money). The publishing phase of research results is an integral part of the research process. Its cost, compared to the cost of the rest of research, is of the order of 2% or less. The way we finance this phase of research (subscriptions, APCs) is inefficient, even wasteful, and it appears to threaten the very integrity of research results (see Stuart Ritchie, once again).
In conclusion, the point of OA and OS is not access to some “version of record” obviously owned by some “publisher”, but to a well-designed and reliable record of versions supported by an equally open network of well-designed and governed platforms. The point of OA and OS is to enhance the research process, not the status of “”.
Dear Professor Jean Claude Guédon, your answer is a great lesson about the functioning of the scientific communication system and the tensions between privatization vs. socialization of knowledge. Thank you very much for the opportunity to discuss these issues and reflect without being naive. Finally, I emphasize that there is possibility of depositing pre-prints in open repositories followed by the publication of VOR in Diamantes journals, which does not require APC and this was not mentioned in the editors’ open post. Big hug.
Jean-Claude Guédon says
Federico Leva says
I’m shocked by the sight of some of the signatories of this article, which appears to promote the fetish of the so-called “version of record”* and undermine confidence in academic institutions which run open archives (and pay for all the signatories’ handsome profits).
(*) A term invented/propagated by to pretend that a PDF is bestowed with magical properties as soon as it’s hosted by a private for-profit corporation, properties allegedly denied to documents archived on open archives. Publishers insist on this myth even when are barely able to guarantee DOI resolution, let alone trust-worthy preservation of unaltered files, and said open archives have far superior digital preservation practices, metadata curation and transparency (most institutional repositories do, when run with free/libre and open source software).
Malavika Legge says
Thank you for several excellent points above. Neither green-OA nor APC-funded OA are ideal ways of achieving OA, and a sustainable transition to open scholarship/OS is written in to the mission-led objectives of several learned societies.
Some members of the Society Publishers Coalition – https://www.socpc.org/ (including the Biochemical Society, the Microbiology Society, the Royal Society and others) have transformative pilots/new models that move away from APCs altogether. The focus is very much on achieving OA of the VoR via alternative routes and transition the publishing model while keeping operations for our societies sustainable. As a comment from the Microbiology Society says above, we cannot deliver unfunded OA at scale. We are seeking APC-free alternatives, and our transformative pilots (differing from many others by permitting an uncapped number of APC-free OA papers) is a decisive step in this direction. For instance, over 50% of the OA articles published in Biochemical Society ‘hybrid’ journals in 2020 have had no APCs associated with them.