Jonathan Foster
Jonathan Foster
PhD, Materials Science, University of Cambridge

What do Early Career Researchers (ECRs) think of Open Access? Following on from Daniel Amund’s post on the topic for OA Week 2014, another Wiley Advisor Jonathan Foster, winner of last year’s essay competition, shares his perspective.

“If I have seen further, it is because I am standing on the shoulders of giants”. This famous quote, attributed to Isaac Newton, highlights the importance of a reliable and accessible literature to the scientific method. Scientists must build on the latest research in their fields, new discoveries must be effectively scrutinized and research must be communicated to peers and beyond if science is to make progress. This role has traditionally been filled by publishers who facilitate the peer review process and curate the literature into relevant and graded segments in the form of subscription print journals. In an age where the internet means we expect content to be available at the touch of a button for free, it is unsurprising that traditional publication models have come under scrutiny as changes in technology and expectation take effect.med226056_243812759_243812760_256224451.jpg

Gold open access, which requires an upfront fee paid to publishers to allow articles to be made freely available, is increasingly becoming the favored model by UK research councils. The argument that publically funded research should be publically available is a compelling one and pay walls represent a barrier to innovation and scientific progress. However, the sheer scale of the literature and rate at which it is growing means that identifying relevant and reliable research is a challenging one. Free access to something you don’t know exists and can’t trust is of no value to anyone. If publishers can add value to the scientific process by creating innovative platforms to search and access content, efficient mechanisms to scrutinize, administer and promote worthwhile and groundbreaking research, then surely this is a service worth paying for. The danger of this model is that upfront fees provide short term incentives for journals to accept papers from anyone who has the money to pay, regardless of their scientific value or accuracy.  In the longer term, damage to the reputation of journals, and researchers, that take this approach will mean such papers are not worth the silicon they are encoded in and the market should correct itself. Opening up science to a larger audience by removing pay walls is a good idea but reputable publishers still have an important role to play in ensuring the public have easy access to the high quality science they paid for.

However, shifting the costs of publishing from the reader to the authors brings access problems of its own. Having always worked in institutions with good access to subscription journals and in a field where open access journals aren’t well recognized, the cost of publication has never factored into my decision of where to publish. For well-established academics with access to the considerable funds required to make publications open access in the best journals this is unlikely to change. However, where funds are limited, the question of whether you can afford to publish may become an increasing factor alongside the quality of your science. Funding for positions is often scraped together from multiple grants meaning some researchers won’t have access to a pot of money assigned for publishing open access. Research is often published years after a thesis has been written or a grant has run out. Many early career fellowships have fixed stipends which often scarcely cover salary and consumables let alone publishing costs meaning fellows will be more dependent on PI’s and departments. With publications being such a vital metric for individual students and post-docs (as well as their supervisors) it is important that group politics doesn’t become the determining factor of whose research gets published. If we are to go down the gold open access route and ensure the best research is brought to the widest possible audience, we need a fair funding process that provides open access for authors as well as readers.

Do you agree with Jonathan’s viewpoint? Let us know in the comments below or Tweet us @WileyExchanges.

Jonathan is a member of the Wiley Advisors program, a group of early career researchers and professionals who serve as a voice for their communities. For more information, please visit Wiley Advisors online or on twitter @WileyAdvisors.

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