Open Science Now: A Follow-Up Interview with ACS Publications President Dr. James Milne - ACS Axial
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Open Science Now: A Follow-Up Interview with ACS Publications President Dr. James Milne

In February 2020, Dr. James Milne became the President of ACS Publications. He marked that occasion with a discussion about open science, a subject that is both personally important to him, and essential to the future of chemistry. Eighteen months later, a great deal has changed, both in the world at large, and in the world of open access publishing. In this interview, he continues that conversation around the future of open science.

What are some of the most significant developments in open science this past year and a half?

The last 18 months have been challenging not just for the chemistry community, but that hasn’t held back the steady adoption of open science principles. We’ve seen a marked increase in publishing output worldwide, which led to ACS Publications publishing more open access papers than ever before. From 2018 to 2020, we recorded a 63% increase in open access papers published by ACS.

At the same time, the popularity of preprints continues to soar. We’ve seen article posts to ChemRxiv, the preprint server we co-manage with four international chemical societies, more than triple over the last two years, while downloads during the same time period have increased by over fifteen-fold!

This trend is driven by changing funder mandates and the proactive and positive conversations we’re having as a community around open science principles. There’s broad agreement that open science is good for chemistry. Now we need to make sure we’re creating a sustainable system that supports the broader chemistry enterprise.

What has ACS Publications done to advance open access publishing since our last interview with you in February 2020?

The landscape has changed dramatically and at lightning speed over the last year. At the end of 2020, we were publishing three open access journals: ACS Central ScienceACS Omega, and JACS Au. With the launch of our ACS Au portfolio of nine new discipline-specific journals in early 2021, we now offer twelve fully open access journals. This clearly demonstrates our dedication to advancing open science and open access publishing. We’ve also changed our copyright policy to enable our authors to retain copyright, and we introduced a new journal publishing agreement workflow that effectively integrates several of our publishing platforms. All of this makes publishing open access with ACS Publications easier for authors and institutions than ever before.

We’ve also seen tremendous growth in global ACS Read + Publish agreements. More institutions worldwide are meeting their open access publishing goals by entering into transformative agreements with us because these agreements are easy to administer and easy for authors to understand. As a result, we saw 90% more articles published under ACS Read + Publish agreements in the first quarter of 2021, compared with the same time period in 2020.

What effect have these efforts had on the publishing behavior of ACS authors?

We know that publishing open access is important to our author community, with 66% of ACS authors recently saying they expect to publish an article open access in the next five years. The introduction of our new, streamlined open access publishing workflow has contributed significantly to this activity. Now, authors with accepted manuscripts at institutions with ACS Read + Publish agreements are automatically identified and prompted to publish their work open access. This technology has driven a 50% increase in authors choosing to publish open access.

What about open data? What new activities has ACS Publications undertaken in this area?

We continue to support Figshare and SciMeetings, two innovative open science platforms that provide a home for research data and non-traditional research outputs such as conference poster presentations. And more recently, we have been advancing research data curation and preservation across our publishing activities. This supports reproducibility, reinforces discipline-specific data standards, and aids discoverability by introducing innovative metadata tagging to enhance data mining opportunities.

How are significant changes in funder mandates, such as the Coalition S Rights Retention Strategy, affecting the publishing business?

It’s important to remember that Coalition S and ACS Publications share a common goal: We want to create a publishing ecosystem in which scientific knowledge and advancements are widely available, enhancing collaboration and innovation across disciplines to benefit the Earth and everyone on it. Where we don’t agree is on how best to structure that system. At ACS we’ve long said that the publishing framework needs to be sustainable and needs to preserve the highest quality standards both in service to researchers and for the quality of research published. That means the framework must respect the integrity of authors’ work, and it must ensure that publishing organizations are incentivized to support the effective editorial and peer review activities to sustain quality.

While we can support the primary ‘gold open access’ publishing option of Coalition S, ACS Publications shares serious concerns about the predictable consequences of their so-called ‘Rights Retention Strategy’ (RRS). Without supporting the peer review process and economic models, the RRS approach makes it harder for publishers to continue to invest in the high-quality open access journals and publishing options the community needs. Additionally, authors rely on being able to maintain the integrity of their work and to take credit for it. By removing almost all rights relating to their article, as the RRS requires, authors invite others to “remix and transform” their scholarly manuscripts however they choose.  We remain optimistic that a way forward can be found to enhance access to science without undermining the systems that support it.

Any predictions for 2022?

That’s a great question, and a tough one to answer with any surety. However, I will predict the raw number of papers we publish open access will continue to climb. And what’s more, the overall percentage of our total output that we publish open access will increase. Over the last two years, downloads of ACS open access articles have doubled, and we expect that upward trend to continue. As a result, you’re going to see the citation totals for open access journals continue to rise, as more and more authors recognize the value of that broader reach to a larger audience.

I think also we’re going to see a shift in the discussion around open science in two significant ways. First, we’re finally going to move beyond the questions of whether and how to implement open access publishing as we focus increasingly on making the experience utterly seamless for everyone involved. The question won’t be ‘Who supports open access?’ It’ll be, ‘Who implements it best?’ At ACS, we’re already making smart investments in the technology to design and create the best open access publishing experience for our authors and institutions, and our efforts in this area will continue. And finally, we’re going to see people’s attention increasingly turn toward other components of open science, such as open data and open methods. That’s where the real innovation is still waiting to happen.

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