Scientific publishing is currently making the news headlines. With the recent Amsterdam call for action on open science (building up on the earlier Budapest, Bethesda and Berlin statements) for all publicly-funded research output to be Open Access by 2020, things are certainly moving in an interesting direction, namely the unquestionably needed transition away from paywall-protected publishing.
As a professional researcher, you might feel that these developments are all that is needed. If this is the case, there is no point in carrying on reading. If, however, you feel that current developments represent only a fraction of the developments one could call for, then it is perhaps worth your time to read on.
The greatest obstacle to change is the difficulty of convincing fellow scientists that change is possible and worthwhile. We are all naturally risk-adverse traditionalists, we remain too busy with our research, supervision, teaching, refereeing, administration and grant writing, and cannot conceive keeping all these balls in the air while spending a significant amount of time overhauling the world of publishing by ourselves. But think about it: we already do all the foundational work, without which publications could not even begin to exist: we perform the research, we write the papers (and typeset them), we review each others' papers, we proofread the papers. Why don't we publish them? There is one extremely positive aspect of thinking of doing precisely such a thing. As the arXiv has taught us, the best developments can naturally only come from within the community itself. And the community, by implementing a publishing system with no other interests than serving science, can focus on its true mission: science itself.
Tasked with designing a system from scratch, with your main objective being set at serving the interests of science itself and of the scientists who produce it, one might among others wish for a publication landscape in which
- access to publications is unrestricted
- as an author, you do not have to pay article processing charges
- as an author, you maintain copyright over your work
- scientists are in control of the whole publication process
- refereeing is not run behind closed doors (though referee anonymity can be protected)
- refereeing work is recognized and credited
- feedback and extensions on existing publications can easily be provided.
The first point is self-evident: having a paywall for viewing publications is a business model that seemingly can only succeed in academia, and is a serious detriment and decelerator to the spread and development of scientific knowledge. Reader accessibility is the one point which is indeed successfully being addressed in the current Open Access calls and initiatives mentioned above.
Openness, however, can mean much more than this.
Publishing should be open both ways: in addition to cost-free reader access, there should be no paywall for authors to publish. There is no question that publishing carries costs, but the currently-developing marketization of Article Processing Charges does not find its justification in the interests of science or the researchers who produce it. Funding and processing such APC payments represent additional administrative burdens which have been transferred to researchers, who too often overlook the implications of this development. A better system would shield researchers from this.
Moreover, the refereeing process currently used in most journals cannot call itself `open': a few editorially-selected referees are consulted, their reports are often not peer-verified in any way, and the editorial decision is mostly taken behind closed doors. One consequence is that refereeing work, despite representing a substantial investment in time and effort to the scientists who perform it, remains more or less completely uncredited. Applied here, the idea of openness calls for at least two improvements. First: giving the possibility to professional academics to provide pre-publication feedback on manuscripts, even if they have not been specifically invited to referee. Second: exposing the reports to the scrutiny of the community (not necessarily by removing anonymity: it is sufficient to make the report publicly accessible, though true openness ideally calls for signed reports). Some groundbreaking initiatives have clearly demonstrated the fact that the quality and the usefulness of the whole refereeing process is measurably enhanced by implementing more openness. It is natural to hope that habits will eventually change and these productive, efficient and quality-enhancing open methods be more generally implemented, because such changes are good for science.
These thoughts have motivated the recent setting up and launch of SciPost, a nonprofit foundation run by and for scientists, dedicated to providing publishing services to professional researchers. It is our hope that you will find many tools useful for your work on SciPost.org. In particular, we hope that you will feel that this initiative belongs to you as a professional researcher, and that we can count on your commitment to help make it a success.
On behalf of the SciPost foundation,
Prof. dr Jean-Sébastien Caux
Published 25 June 2016