In the last post of a short series reflecting on the Getting in the Access Loop webinar organised by the Humanitarian Centre, HIFA2015 and PLOS, Marina Kukso discusses the challenges faced by the Open Access movement as it comes of age.
Open access (OA) scholarly publishing has passed the initial proof of concept stage and can now be considered a mature field. Many of the earliest OA publishers are now widely-known and well-established and new open access journals are launched every day.
As the OA publishing field has broadened, what challenges exist to the success of all actors within the OA publishing community and to the health of the entire OA publishing landscape? Is actual access to publication in OA journals (and all of the attendant capacity-building benefits) occurring or do barriers to access follow historic and geographic inequalities?
There are several challenges currently facing the success of all actors in the open access ecosystem and the health of the system overall:
- Rise of “predatory” open access publishers: As science librarian Jeffrey Beall describes it in an interview in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Predatory open-access publishers are those that unprofessionally exploit the gold open-access model for their own profit.” The significant rise in number of predatory OA publishers damages the credibility of the OA movement which continues to encounter misconceptions regarding the quality of OA science. Predatory publishers are also damaging to researchers who mistakenly join fake editorial boards and wind up publishing in journals with little review or editorial oversight.
- Perverse side effects of fee waivers offered by many Western OA journals: As new open access journals launch in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs), they are often dependent on author fees for fiscal solvency and do not have the margins to provide fee waivers. As a result, authors from LMICs with limited funds and have a perverse incentive to publish their findings in Western journals that do offer fee waivers. This has a stunting effect on new OA journals launched in LMICs and limits the capacity-building effects of locally-run OA journals.
- Can OA solve historical barriers to publication for authors from LMICs?: The goal of the OA movement is to enable all researchers to access research and share their own research with a global scientific audience. However, barriers and misconceptions remain. Among them are the challenges of authors with English as a second language, the perceived need to have colleagues from the West listed as co-authors on papers produced mainly by teams based in LMICs, and the perception that topics of relevance primarily to those who live in developing countries will not be considered relevant to major international OA journals (that are still perceived to mainly cater to audiences in the West). Cross-disciplinary mega-journals such as PLOS ONE, Scientific Reports (Nature Publishing Group), BMJ Open, and SAGE Open should counteract these misconceptions, but is there more that OA journals can or should do to counteract these historical barriers?
What responsibility do open access publishers have towards being responsible actors within the larger open access ecosystem and to global capacity-building in scientific communication? Aside from publication ethics norms, profit-driven publishers may not necessarily feel a responsibility to the success of other scientific publishers or to the well-being of the entire scientific publishing landscape. For PLOS and many other OA publishers, encouraging a complete OA scholarly publishing landscape and enabling participation in the global scientific discussion is a key part of our mission. As a result, PLOS welcomes the adoption of OA across the scholarly publishing system and pushes for increased global author participation. However, as the open access field matures, not every OA publisher will necessarily share these priorities.
What possible steps can be taken to ensure the success of participants across the OA landscape to maximize access and build capacity? We invite discussion in the comments and in future HIFA webinars and discussions!
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