OASPA Board Members are appointed via an annual election process and serve for a term of three years, playing a vital role in OASPA’s work to support and represent the interests of Open Access journal and book globally. In the first of a series of posts highlighting the important contributions of the Board, OASPA’s Events and Communications Coordinator, Leyla Williams, talked to Mark Patterson, Executive Director of eLife, who was a founding member of OASPA, joined the Board in 2008, and was reappointed in 2013.
Thanks for talking with me today, Mark. First off, how long have you been working in Open Access publishing?
I’ve been working in Open Access publishing for about fifteen years now. I started working as a launch editor for PLOS Biology, the first journal of the Public Library of Science (PLOS) in 2003, stayed at PLOS for about nine years, and then moved to eLife. But in terms of how long I’ve been working in academia and publishing more generally, I worked in genetics research for about thirteen years in the 1980s and 90s, and moved into scholarly publishing in 1994. As a result, I have seen first-hand how the internet has shown the power of data sharing within my field of genetics. So when I was offered a position at PLOS in 2003, I jumped at it; the Open Access movement was underway and really resonated with me.
Could you talk a bit about your role at OASPA, and what you see our role to be within the publishing community?
I’m a founding member of OASPA, and joined the Board in 2008; I’ve seen it change over time. In the beginning, a group of publishers, including me, wanted to create a trade association that would strengthen Open Access publishing, also bringing in a community of scholar publishers. We also began to host an annual conference. Over the years I think OASPA has helped to establish Open Access publishing as part of the mainstream. We’ve also brought in a much wider variety of members, and the debate around Open Access has changed from ‘is this a good idea?’ to ‘how do we transition from the current system, how do we make this work?’. OASPA has developed a strict set of selection criteria to tackle predatory publishing practices, raised awareness of standards, and brought together a dynamic collection of individuals who promote debate, trust and respect within OASPA and the broader scholarly publishing community.
Why is it important to you to be a member of the OASPA Board?
On a personal level, I’m just as committed as ever to see a world in which one hundred percent of research outputs are Open Access. There’s still a lot of work to do to get to where we want to be, but I’m looking forward to continuing to work towards making those changes happen. I also really enjoy the conversations I have in OASPA; we collaborate very well.
It’s also important for eLife, of course, to continue to play a vital role in the Open Access conversation through OASPA. We’re in a unique position in that we are supported by major funders and we have a mandate to experiment and catalyze change in research communication. We need to play our part in the transition to open access and open science, and so we’ve been supporting initiatives like JATS4R, I4OC, and DORA, all of which are incredibly important efforts to reform scholarly publishing.
What has changed most about publishing since you first joined the Board?
Things have really changed within scholarly publishing since I first joined the Board in 2008. Open Access publishing has grown massively since then; you can see the growth of Open Access by looking at data such as OASPA’s graph (Growth of Articles in Fully OA Journals Using a CC-BY License). Open Access publishing has become very much part of the mainstream; the big legacy publishers are a very important part of the picture now, which has really helped to solidify and grow Open Access. Saying that, I do worry about the way the Open Access publishing market is developing; big consortium and nationwide deals often combine subscriptions and Open Access, and given that the subscription market itself is pretty dysfunctional, I wonder if these Open Access deals are the right way to go. It’s really important that we have a diverse, competitive, and balanced market in scholarly communications, and with the growth of Open Access publishing among the big publishers, I worry that smaller Open Access publishers might get squeezed out. Hindawi’s Paul Peters discussed some of these concerns, especially around the risks to small publishers, at the recent COASP meeting in Lisbon.
What are the main challenges you encounter in your roles at OASPA and eLife?
At eLife we want to encourage transparency and integrity in science; our mission is to help scientists accelerate discovery. Toward those ends, we’re running an open access journal, building communities of researchers and developing new open infrastructure. What OASPA and eLife have in common is a goal to expand Open Access, and both are striving to overcome inertia in scholarly publishing and drive change. A major challenge that we both face is that the academic reward system is currently based on publishing research articles in prestigious journals, and academics are often reluctant to publish in newer, less established venues. But it’s these new journals that are often the Open Access journals, or the more experimental journals trying more open approaches – like eLife and PLOS. We need to do as much as we can to reform the way the incentive system works, so that we can encourage more open behaviours. There are some positive signs of change, but it’s going to take some time before we really see big changes in this system.
Are there particular organisations – alongside eLife – that are doing particularly innovative work to progress Open Science?
There are many groups within scholarly publishing who are doing innovative work, from big established organisations to smaller companies. We are in a scholarly communications transition, so we need a lot of experimentation to try things out and see what works (and what doesn’t).
Funding agencies are getting more and more involved in communicating science, and they are having a big effect. There are all the Open Access policies of course, but now there are publications created by funders like Wellcome Open Research and Gates Open Research, and the European Commission are getting involved too. Societies like The Electrochemical Society have committed themselves to converting their entire publishing system to Open Access in their ‘free the sciences’ campaign; this is really inspiring and we need more examples like this. There is also a lot of activity around the development of high-quality open infrastructure to support research communication. These tools could help to reduce unnecessary competition and will ultimately benefit both the producers and the consumers of knowledge.
As for the business of publishing, organisations like the Open Library of Humanities are doing innovative and creative work to explore new ways to support Open Access publishing beyond article processing fees. There are many other inspirational examples too, but these are some that spring to mind.
How can Open Access publishing be run sustainably in a difficult economic climate?
The scholarly publishing industry is highly profitable. The challenge is how to re-route funds to support a more open form of scholarly communication. The APC financial model that PLOS, BioMed Central and others pioneered is working in certain fields. In the humanities disciplines where there’s less funding, organisations like the Open Library of Humanities and Knowledge Unlatched have been showing how other approaches can work.
As I said, if scholarly publishing is all caught up in ‘big deals’, then it becomes harder for smaller organisations to innovate and be sustainable. We need libraries and institutions to take an active role in fostering change and supporting newer models, and we can see this happening with the organisations I’ve already mentioned. My overall sense is that the scholarly communication ecosystem is in transition. There’s a lot of money circulating in the system, and we need to ensure that we’re making the best use of that money.
Where do you hope to see Open Science in five years’ time?
For me, Open Science means a variety of behaviours in science: sharing the outputs of science like software, data, materials, protocols, as well as articles, ideas and critiques. It’s about making research communication more constructive and transparent and it includes things like open peer review as well. It’s also really important that scientists that are using more openly available materials aren’t just citing the paper, but also citing the resources, data and methods they use, so that the researchers who are sharing their work in the most effective ways, are rewarded for doing so. The people who are evaluating scientists – institutions and funders – need to take a much broader view of scientific contributions, and reflect these in their policies around tenure and promotion, funding and job applications, even in job adverts. There needs to be a culture supporting this open scholarship.
I get most optimistic around the changes we’re seeing in scholarly communication from my experiences with the early career community. Their appetite and drive for change make me feel so positive. What we as publishers need to do is ensure that the early career community have a voice and are properly represented and engaged in the research communication ecosystem. That’s the way we can help to design a system that will really support science and future generations of researchers.