Mastering Scholarly Communication – Part 3: Open Access - ACS Axial
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Mastering Scholarly Communication – Part 3: Open Access

The ACS Style Guide has always been a classic handbook for scientific publication. But in 2020, it was revised and expanded as the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication. The ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication not only provides students, researchers, educators, and librarians with professional guidance, it also helps researchers at different stages of their careers to respond to the evolving world of publishing.

This ACS Axial series contains excerpts from the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication. Parts of the original text be available for free for a limited time under an ACS Free to Read License. Specific sections will be indicated at the end of each post. 

Open sharing is the most recent movement in scholarly communication that aims at cultivating more transparent, reproducible, and collaborative research practices in the digital era Open Science by Design: Realizing a Vision for 21st Century Research, published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in 2018, summarizes the goals of open science: “to ensure the free availability and usability of scholarly publications, the data that result from scholarly research, and the methodologies, including code or algorithms, that were used to generate those data.”

To enable open science, many scholarly communication stakeholders, including researchers, libraries, information service organizations, publishers, funders, and universities/research institutions, will need to coordinate their efforts. All stakeholders are motivated to ensure the sustainable development of open science with the proper protection of intellectual property. However, these stakeholders have different priorities.

Scholarly communication stakeholders and their priorities driving the development of open science.

About Open Access

Open Access publications are most commonly defined as research publications that are freely available for all readers, in contrast to the traditional “toll access” model in which readers pay for access. Between 2002 and 2003, the principles of open access were formalized during three influential forums: the Budapest Open Access Initiative, the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing, and the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities. Open access generally requires a published work to:

  1. Be freely accessible online without a technical barrier
  2. Include licensed reuse by humans and machines (i.e., computer software and algorithms
  3. Be free of most copyright and licensing restriction except that authors retain control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly cited

Biomedical research is the discipline that publishes the most open access articles by far, in large part because the field’s primary funding body requires open access articles. Chemistry as a discipline has the smallest percentage of articles designated open access.

For more information on open science and attitudes toward open access across different disciplines, please refer to section 1.5.1 of the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication.

Benefits & Challenges of Open Access

Some benefits of publishing research open access include the ability to:

  1. Gain: Open access articles are, by definition, more accessible for a broader audience; there is an undeniable gain in readership.
  2. Retain: Under traditional publishing models, chemists either transfer their copyright to publishers or they license exclusive publishing rights to their content. When publishing open access, researchers may have the option to retain some rights or remain the copyright holder.
  3. Comply: Research in chemistry and related fields is often funded by a wide range of organizations. Many funders have issued mandates on publicly sharing articles and data for research they fund, and these mandates have become a significant driving force for other stakeholders, especially the publishers and funded researchers, to accelerate their pace toward openness.
  4. Influence: Researchers can directly influence how scholarly communication evolves, as both the creator and consumer of research articles, data, and information.
  5. Improve: The open access movement is helping change the way research is assessed and valued. Opening up different types of research output and the associated metadata is the first step toward better metrics and impact assessment.
  6. Enable: With the open access movement, researchers in the “global south” (across Africa, South America, and Asia), now have increased access to research.

Some of the challenges of open access publishing include:

  1. Authors may desire—or face pressure to—publish in certain journals that are perceived as prestigious in order to advance their careers, but these journals may not offer open access options or offer only expensive open access options.
  2. For authors, covering the cost of publishing open access can be an additional financial burden.
  3. Managing open research and publishing workflows requires additional resources, infrastructure, and time.
  4. Readers can also be challenged by so-called predatory journals—low-quality, fully open access journals that do not follow accepted norms such as peer review or Committee on Publication Ethics guidelines, or are not indexed by the Directory of Open Access Journals.
  5. For publishers, the challenge is to create a new and sustainable business model to support open access while maintaining the quality of peer review, publication, and value-added services to the research communities.
  6. Funders are working on resource and policy environments that provide sufficient incentive, guidance, and support for researchers.
  7. Libraries, universities, and research institutions need to harmonize the complex resources, infrastructure, practices, and culture shift to allow their researchers to focus on the research itself.

For more information on the benefits and challenges of open access, please refer to section 1.5.2 of the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication.

Different Types of Open Access

Journals offering open access options have adopted different business models, which are categorized as green, gold, platinum, bronze, diamond, and hybrid models. They are summarized in the chart below. These business models vary based on the APC charge, who pays for the APC, the timeline for openness, and the licenses available. Hybrid models are used by publishers who offer green, gold, platinum, and diamond open access options side-by-side with traditional pay-to-read articles.

Explore the Different OA Publishing Options

Different open access business models

For more information on different types of open access, please refer to section 1.5.3  of the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication.

Licensing Options

Authors can choose from different open access licenses for their article and specify how the readers and machines can reuse the work. The table below lists different types of open licenses used when publishing open access and what these different licenses allow end users to do. Among them, Creative Commons (CC) licenses are commonly used for open access.

Spectrum of openness for authors, machines, and readers. Reprinted from SPARC*. Licensed under CC BY.

Authors can choose a license when publishing open access, based on the options offered by their publisher. The APCs for choosing different licenses vary among different journals as well. Preferences in license types can vary by subdiscipline, geographic region, or funder. Creative Commons, an international nonprofit, facilitates interoperability through maintaining the standard set of terms with legal and technological consistency. Authors should choose carefully, as the license often cannot be changed.

For more information on open science and attitudes toward open access across different disciplines, please refer to section 1.5.4  of the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication.

How to Evaluate Open Access Journals and Licensing

As discussed, authors need to think about several issues when choosing to publish open access. Consider the following:

  • Who are the authors?
  • How will the publication timeline affect your research or career plans?
  • When does the research need to be disseminated? How competitive is the research subfield?
  • How is the research funded and what institutions are involved?
  • Are there mandates for open access or open science?
  • How do the authors desire to use this work in the future (e.g., for tenure promotion, patent, teaching materials)?
  • What are the community norms for the research area?
  • Is waiting for the embargo period to expire reasonable?
  • What is the cost and how will the APCs be paid?
  • What is the target journal?

For more information on how to choose open access journals and how to better understand open access, please refer to section 1.5.5 and section 1.5.6 of the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication.

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