Michael E. Hoffer, MD, professor of otolaryngology and neurological surgery at the University of Miami, and his colleagues believe that research discoveries should to be available to all who want to read them.
That’s why they have published several articles through a process known as open access (OA) publishing. In this system, authors submit to journals and, when their work is accepted for publication, the authors pay the journals to be published.
The concept isn’t entirely new—one of the earliest OA journals, PLOS Biology, launched in 2003—but is receiving a larger share of the spotlight as more and more OA journals appear in the academic publishing landscape.
OA publishing is a burgeoning way to push research into the world at a faster rate than through traditional publication. While different publications have varying business models, OA journals can be read by anyone with an Internet connection, and all ask authors to pay for their manuscripts to be published.
Other payment options in OA publishing include costs paid by research funders or, occasionally, costs that are included in society memberships, said Ivan Oransky, MD, vice president and global editorial director of MedPage Today and the co-founder of “Retraction Watch,” a blog that reports on the retraction of scientific papers.
Authors are asked to submit fees when they publish in OA journals. This is a change from traditional publishing, which typically prints on paper and/or online, solicits advertising, and may be accessed by subscriptions that can be costly to obtain. “Open access publishing is the idea that something is free to read,” said Dr. Oransky. “A lot of people early on were concerned that research, particularly federally funded research, was expensive to read, locked up behind paywalls, and slowing down science—not just to the public, but to researchers in the developing world.”
Making content free to users helps further knowledge, and OA publishing is just another means to do that. “Open access benefits all stakeholders: authors, colleagues, universities, research funders, but most importantly, the society and the people,” said Lars Bjørnshauge, managing director of Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), an online directory that indexes and provides access to peer-reviewed OA content.
He added that the process of OA publication speeds up research dissemination, allows for the replication of research, and benefits industry and innovation. “We are beyond the print age,” he said. “Now, the technologies make [this process] possible.”
In addition to making content free for readers, open access publishing has other benefits. For authors who have longer-than-typical manuscripts or color images and videos to accompany their work, such extra content can be loaded without the publication paying extra for it. “Longer manuscripts that might have required a supplement in the past may be published at conventional rates, which are typically much less expensive than supplement rates,” said D. Bradley Welling, MD, PhD, the editor in chief of Laryngoscope Investigative Otolaryngology, the OA journal of The Triological Society and the first OA peer-reviewed journal associated with a major otolaryngology academic organization.
The move to OA has been driven by research organizations and funders that require studies and data be published in an open forum. Some funding agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, require that research conducted under their grants be published in OA journals. “Funding may come from the grant or the home institution,” said Dr. Welling.
While there are many legitimate open access publishers, there is a growing number of publications considered predatory, questionable, or illegitimate. These titles will take an author’s money and submission and may publish their work as is without cycling it through the peer review or editing processes. “There’s no question there are some journals that do no peer review, and claim that they do,” said Joseph Esposito, a New York-based STEM publishing consultant.
A number of these titles may even list a peer review board, but sometimes the people listed aren’t aware their names and titles are being used this way. “I get a request almost every day to be on the peer review board of some open access journal,” said Dr. Welling, noting that many of these journals have names that are very similar to more established titles. “It’s a continual phishing experience, to be honest,” he added.
Such titles, both online and in print, are most likely to attract submissions from researchers who are younger, who live overseas, and/or who haven’t conducted their own research on which journals to submit to. This is a crucial step (See “Is That Open Access Journal Legitimate?” below).
An Addition to the Publishing Landscape
Open access is just another option in which to publish scientific research, say experts. “It’s the way of publishing now,” added Esposito. “It’s not binary, not a question of predatory publishing versus all others. Open access is just an added service that publishing provides. It’s simply part of the landscape today.”
Cheryl Alkon is a freelance medical writer based in Massachusetts.