AOASG Director, Professor Ginny Barbour spoke at the IP & education in the age of COVID-19 research symposium at QUT on 29 July 2020.
Here’s the presentation:
AOASG Director, Professor Ginny Barbour spoke at the IP & education in the age of COVID-19 research symposium at QUT on 29 July 2020.
Here’s the presentation:
Scientific publishing is not known for moving rapidly. In normal times, publishing new research can take months, if not years. Researchers prepare a first version of a paper on new findings and submit it to a journal, where it is often rejected, before being resubmitted to another journal, peer-reviewed, revised and, eventually, hopefully published.
All scientists are familiar with the process, but few love it or the time it takes. And even after all this effort – for which neither the authors, the peer reviewers, nor most journal editors, are paid – most research papers end up locked away behind expensive journal paywalls. They can only be read by those with access to funds or to institutions that can afford subscriptions.
The business-as-usual publishing process is poorly equipped to handle a fast-moving emergency. In the 2003 SARS outbreaks in Hong Kong and Toronto, for example, only 22% of the epidemiological studies on SARS were even submitted to journals during the outbreak. Worse, only 8% were accepted by journals and 7% published before the crisis was over.
Fortunately, SARS was contained in a few months, but perhaps it could have been contained even quicker with better sharing of research.
Fast-forward to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the situation could not be more different. A highly infectious virus spreading across the globe has made rapid sharing of research vital. In many ways, the publishing rulebook has been thrown out the window.
In this medical emergency, the first versions of papers (preprints) are being submitted onto preprint servers such as medRxiv and bioRxiv and made openly available within a day or two of submission. These preprints (now almost 7,000 papers on just these two sites) are being downloaded millions of times throughout the world.
However, exposing scientific content to the public before it has been peer-reviewed by experts increases the risk it will be misunderstood. Researchers need to engage with the public to improve understanding of how scientific knowledge evolves and to provide ways to question scientific information constructively.
Traditional journals have also changed their practices. Many have made research relating to the pandemic immediately available, although some have specified the content will be locked back up once the pandemic is over. For example, a website of freely available COVID-19 research set up by major publisher Elsevier states:
These permissions are granted for free by Elsevier for as long as the Elsevier COVID-19 resource centre remains active.
Publication at journals has also sped up, though it cannot compare with the phenomenal speed of preprint servers. Interestingly, it seems posting a preprint speeds up the peer-review process when the paper is ultimately submitted to a journal.
What else has changed in the pandemic? What has become clear is the power of aggregation of research. A notable initiative is the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset (CORD-19), a huge, freely available public dataset of research (now more than 130,000 articles) whose development was led by the US White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Researchers can not only read this research but also reuse it, which is essential to make the most of the research. The reuse is made possible by two specific technologies: permanent unique identifiers to keep track of research papers, and machine-readable conditions (licences) on the research papers, which specify how that research can be used and reused.
These are Creative Commons licences like those that cover projects such as Wikipedia and The Conversation, and they are vital for maximising reuse. Often the reading and reuse is done now at least in a first scan by machines, and research that is not marked as being available for use and reuse may not even be seen, let alone used.
What has also become important is the need to provide access to data behind the research papers. In a fast-moving field of research not every paper receives detailed scrutiny (especially of underlying data) before publication – but making the data available ensures claims can be validated.
If the data can’t be validated, the research should be treated with extreme caution – as happened to a swiftly retracted paper about the effects of hydroxychloroquine published by The Lancet in May.
While opening up research literature during the pandemic may seem to have happened virtually overnight, these changes have been decades in the making. There were systems and processes in place developed over many years that could be activated when the need arose.
The international licences were developed by the Creative Commons project, which began in 2001. Advocates have been challenging the dominance of commercial journal subscription models since the early 2000s, and open access journals and other publishing routes have been growing globally since then.
Even preprints are not new. Although more recently platforms for preprints have been growing across many disciplines, their origin is in physics back in 1991.
So where does publishing go after the pandemic? As in many areas of our lives, there are some positives to take forward from what became a necessity in the pandemic.
The problem with publishing during the 2003 SARS emergency wasn’t the fault of the journals – the system was not in place then for mass, rapid open publishing. As an editor at The Lancet at the time, I vividly remember we simply could not publish or even meaningfully process every paper we received.
But now, almost 20 years later, the tools are in place and this pandemic has made a compelling case for open publishing. Though there are initiatives ongoing across the globe, there is still a lack of coordinated, long term, high-level commitment and investment, especially by governments, to support key open policies and infrastructure.
We are not out of this pandemic yet, and we know that there are even bigger challenges in the form of climate change around the corner. Making it the default that research is open so it can be built on is a crucial step to ensure we can address these problems collaboratively.
FAIR was never intended to be just for research data. Increasingly, the FAIR principles are being applied to diverse research outputs and hence a variety of organisations from publishers to institutions are involved in implementing policies and processes to support FAIR. This joint CAUL/ AOASG webinar, facilitated by ARDC, discusses FAIR from a number of different perspectives and will propose some simple approaches institutions might take to support FAIR. Click the icon below to access webinar on YouTube.
In February 2020, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the National Science and Technology Council’s Subcommittee on Open Science put out a Request for Information on: Public Access to Peer-Reviewed Scholarly Publications, Data and Code Resulting From Federally Funded Research.
There has been much debate on this topic on twitter #OAintheUSA
AOASG made a submission which is available here and below.
AOASG Response to OSTP RFI on Public Access, May 2020
The Australasian Open Access Strategy Group (AOASG) is writing to respond to the Request for Information from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) concerning open access to U.S. federally funded peer-reviewed research.
Immediate open access to research is a global priority and the importance of ensuring such access has only been heightened in recent months as the world faces the current global health emergency.
The benefits of open access to research have now been documented repeatedly. Research that is open can be read and used more quickly and easily by other researchers. Open research can also be scrutinised more carefully by other researchers, leading to higher quality and more reproducible research. Finally, open research can be read by the general public, who are both financial contributors to and ultimate beneficiaries of research.
For more than 20 years funders, libraries, individual academics, research institutions and policy groups have proposed a range of initiatives for open access to research. Some of these initiatives are international and cross disciplinary such as Plan S; others are specific to one country or to a specific research specialisation. Though each of these initiatives have a common goal, their long-term success or not is very much dependent on whether they can garner high-level, long-term support. Furthermore, the adoption of many of these initiatives has been held back since traditional subscription-based publishers have been largely unwilling to be proactive in investing time and resources in reworking their processes to support universal open access. It is clear that without strong national mandates and leadership from countries such as the U.S., the change to open research will only happen in a piecemeal and gradual way.
In Australia and New Zealand, several groups are active advocates for national approaches to open access. The main research funders in Australia, the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), have had open access policies since 2012/13; however, these policies only require access after 12 months. There are no nationwide policies in New Zealand.
We believe that were the U.S. to adopt a policy of immediate (no embargo) open access to federally funded research, this would be a key driver in the development of similar policies globally. We would therefore very much welcome the leadership of the U.S. government in adopting such a policy.
Thank you for your consideration of this important topic. We would be happy to address any questions.
This article by Professor Ginny Barbour & Martin Borchert has been peer reviewed and was first published in April 2020 by the Australian Academy of Science
In the few months since the first case of COVID-19 was identified, the underlying cause has been isolated, its symptoms agreed on, its genome sequenced, diagnostic tests developed, and potential treatments and vaccines are on the horizon. The astonishingly short time frame of these discoveries has only happened through a global open science effort.The principles and practices underpinning open science are what underpin good research—research that is reliable, reproducible, and has the broadest impact possible. It specifically requires the application of principles and practices that make research FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable); researchers are making their data and preliminary publications openly accessible, and then publishers are making the peer-reviewed research immediately and freely available to all. The rapid dissemination of research—through preprints in particular as well as journal articles—stands in contrast to what happened in the 2003 SARS outbreak when the majority of research on the disease was published well after the outbreak had ended.
Many outside observers might reasonably assume, given the digital world we all now inhabit, that science usually works like this. Yet this is very far from the norm for most research. Science is not something that just happens in response to emergencies or specific events—it is an ongoing, largely publicly funded, national and international enterprise.
In Australia there is a well-established base of scientific research conducted by thousands of researchers. Most of these researchers are in universities, associated public institutes such as medical research institutes, or CSIRO. These organisations receive substantial taxpayer funding. The Australian Research Council (ARC) and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) administer most of the funding that goes by competitive grants to researchers and institutions—approximately $1.6 billion per year.
Australian research is highly diverse: it may be very specific—aimed at a cure for a particular disease, for example—or much more theoretical. Theoretical research (also called ‘discovery’ or ‘basic’ research) may often not have an immediate application but can lead to long-term benefits. One example is the work by CSIRO scientists on radio physics that led to the development of Wi-Fi, on which many of us rely today as we stay at home to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Having a strong scientific research base ensures that when emergencies happen, there are already groups across Australia and around the world who are working on relevant areas and can rapidly turn their attention to the new problem. Of course, most of these scientists are geographically remote from each other and the success in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic has depended fundamentally on open science: scientists being able to rapidly see what others have done, to check its validity by accessing both the underlying data and the researchers’ interpretation of their research, and to build on it for the next advance.
This success has been enabled by calls from organisations that already support open research for a coordinated global open science effort. However, the very reason these calls are needed is because the current system is not open by default. Researchers are not incentivised to share before journal publication, since research is a highly competitive process. This includes acquiring funding for research, which is largely based on just one part of a research effort: the journal publication.
In 2019 for example, the NHMRC only funded 13.2% of grant proposalssubmitted to its Investigator Grant scheme. Publication of research in academic journals itself is competitive, can take many months, and tends to favour only the sharing of positive results (including for the most important of clinical studies, controlled clinical trials)—all of which is highly problematic in emergency situations where it is equally important to understand what does not work. Sharing of the underlying data that journal articles are based on is not yet a universal requirement for publication, nor are researchers usually recognised for data sharing.
There are many benefits associated with an open science model. Image adapted from: Gaelen Pinnock/UCT; CC-BY-SA 4.0.
Once published, even access to research is not seamless. The majority of academic journals still require a subscription to access. Subscriptions are expensive; Australian universities alone currently spend more than $300 million per year on subscriptions to academic journals. Access to academic journals also varies between universities with varying library budgets. The main markets for subscriptions to the commercial journal literature are higher education and health, with some access to government and commercial.
The Department of Education and Training statistics indicate 1.5 million students and 130,000 staff members are in universities, while the Department of Health indicates there are 600,000 health workers. Together these comprise about 2.5 million people or 10% of the Australian population, noting that the largest group, university students, move through universities and may actually lose access after graduation. This percentage is likely to be similar for other developed nations but will be much worse for those in countries with developing economies—they simply cannot afford the subscription fees.
One reason for this lack of access to published research is because the means of sharing of research largely sits outside of universities. Furthermore, most of the journals—and indeed much of the infrastructure that underpins research dissemination—are owned by a small number of companies with high profits. Just one of these, Elsevier, made almost AUD2 billion (£982 million) profit in 2019. Hence, despite the enormous sums spent globally on publishing, which could support research being open, traditional publishers of research (i.e. non-open access ones) have an inherent interest in, at the least, slowing the transition from the status quo. Publishers know that lack of access in emergencies is unacceptable and have indeed made much research on COVID-19 open, just as they did during the Ebola epidemic and the recent Australian bushfire crisis, only to quietly close off access afterwards.
There are signs that publishers are thinking about how to reinstate control after the emergency. On its corporate site for COVID-19 research, Elsevier states that ‘these permissions are granted for free by Elsevier for as long as the COVID-19 Resource Center remains active’ and the publisher requires its own ‘els-covid’ licence terms on collective resources. Some publishers have notably not participated at all in coordinated calls to make coronavirus-related articles discoverable and accessible to facilitate text mining (computer-aided searching and analysis of research) and secondary analysis—the American Medical Association, publisher of JAMA, is one example.
Opening up research on the specific topic of the current crisis is really only a gesture. In the current pandemic, researchers are also searching for information from the past literature on many topics, such as on the properties of ventilators and face masks as well as on previous coronaviruses. These papers, especially older ones, have largely not been made available in, for example, the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset (CORD-19) of scholarly literature.
The roots of this system are complex and come from a time when sharing research via paper journals and subscriptions were the only options. This has left us with a research system that is much less efficient than it could be: duplicated funding, duplicated effort, and more time taken to solve big scientific and health problems. We now need a system that not only works for but also exploits the opportunities of a world where research is digital from beginning to end—where seamless connections are the key to fully interoperable research.
The open research practices on COVID-19 are acting as a real-time lesson for how the system could work in the future. However, moving to an open system will not be trivial, especially as some current open access initiatives have led to publishing costs falling on individual researchers, which is not appropriate or sustainable in the long term. It requires a reimagining of the whole research infrastructure which includes a systemic, national and international rerouting of financial flows. This money is already in the system but is currently paid piecemeal. A system that was designed to be open would ensure the costs of that openness are built upfront into the research support and funding processes themselves so that, for example, the costs of data curation and the costs of final dissemination become simply part of the cost of doing research.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, groups and individuals in Australia and across the world have been working on a variety of initiatives to open and speed up science. These initiatives include making journal articles open (free to read, share and reuse—that is, the open access mentioned above) which both the ARC and NHMRCsupport through policies, national efforts to promote better data management in organisations such as the Australian Research Data Commons, supporting open infrastructure, and developing open educational resources (OERs). Indeed, OERs have become especially important in the past few weeks as many schools and universities have had to rapidly transition to online learning. Despite communities of practice and innovation by researchers and other experts, an assortment of organisations and companies, and repeated calls for a national approach, global and Australian initiatives remain largely fragmented. International efforts outside of times of emergencies have not had uniform buy-in and there is no ongoing nationally coordinated Australian effort for open science.
The current crisis offers an opportunity to refashion a better system—to make it open and FAIR so that not just humans but, increasingly, machines can be enlisted to ensure that research is maximised. For this to become the norm, it will require the reshaping of research systems and investment at many levels: practical, legal, financial and human. It also requires careful thought around equity, both of participation in research and access to that research, including consideration of initiatives such as the CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance.
Taking the FAIR principles as a guide illustrates some of the issues. For research to be findable requires that all research publications, the research data behind them and the researchers who produce the work are all uniquely identified through permanent machine-readable identifiers. For research to be seamlessly accessible, subscription or other barriers have to be removed, while at the same time there is a need to be mindful of the management of sharing sensitive data. For research to be interoperable requires a workforce that has the skills to curate research data and other outputs. Finally, for research to be fully reusable it needs a legal framework, which is achieved through the application of open licences.
How might this look in practice? In the current pandemic an effort coordinated by the White House gathered together a massive, freely-available, well-curated and machine-readable set of research on the COVID-19 pandemic which can be used by researchers globally for further research and which has already been downloaded thousands of times.
The COVID-19 pandemic is leading to rapid rethinking of how many parts of society function. It should also be the catalyst that finally lays to rest the myth that closed research as the norm is acceptable, either morally, economically or technically. We need a whole-of-system coordinated reshaping from grassroots initiatives through to national policy and political commitment, that aligns with international initiatives—such as the Sustainable Development Goals for which access to information is key—and which are sensitive to national needs. Though there are many issues to work through, as for the other challenges we are facing with COVID-19, these issues can be solved if we only choose to do so. Arguably, we can’t afford not to.
This topic’s links to the Sustainable Development Goals:
Views expressed in this feature remain those of the authors. Conflict of interest declaration: Professor Virginia Barbour is employed by AOASG, which advocates for open access.This article has been peer reviewed by the following experts: Associate Professor Lucy Montgomery Program Lead, Innovation in Knowledge Communication, Centre for Culture and Technology, Curtin University; and members of the Australian Academy of Science’s National Committee for Data in Science (Professor Virginia Barbour, a member of the committee, was not involved in the peer review process).
© 2020 Barbour and Borchert. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
CAUL and AOASG welcome moves by commercial publishers to open up their content at this critical time. The rapid development of tests, potential treatments and vaccines to clinical trials has been made possible by the frictionless and immediate sharing of new and early stage research and data by researchers and access to previously paywalled content being provided by publishers.
The speed with which many publishers have enabled open access to COVID-19 related content is commendable, and some have also taken the significant step of relaxing access restrictions to content more generally.
It also demonstrates that open access to research should be the new norm. The time has come to make free and open access to all research a reality. It is critical that once the pandemic is over, in order to accelerate the global transition to free and open access, publishers do not once again restrict access to COVID-19 content. This will be especially crucial in light of the economic challenges all sectors of society will be facing, including universities dealing with constrained scholarly content budgets.
Therefore, we urge publishers to make a commitment to:
It is crucial that the advances gained from sharing of information at this difficult time are not lost once the emergency is over. An open scholarly publishing environment that ensures FAIR and seamless sharing, access and use of research and data will put humanity in the strongest possible position to face future global challenges.
With more than 750 individual and many more institutional subscribers here at the AOASG we feel we have a pretty good idea about what sort of news piques the interest of our regular AOASG newsletter readers.
Looking at our readership stats, it’s comforting that our most frequently clicked links are those in the Australia & New Zealand news section. Given the global nature of open access, this level of engagement on the local scale warms the cockles of our hearts. Also noteworthy is that the newsletter is increasingly being read by those outside university sector which shows how Open Access is becoming a matter of public interest in the wider community.
Of much interest to readers (11.8% of all clicks) in our most recent newsletter was an Open Access ‘cookbook’ – Engaging Researchers with Data Management. This freely available online book is a collection of case studies from around the world showing how to engage researchers with managing their data. We hope that by sharing these types of resources, as well as the blogs and scholarly writing we are reading, we can continue to keep the scholarly community informed. Australia is by far the most common location for our newsletter readership with around 81% of all readers, then the US with around 7%, New Zealand with 5%, the UK 2.5% and Switzerland with around 1%.
Those who do read the newsletter will be aware that we cover Open Access news from around the globe, and over past 18 months have provided a regular section on the Plan S initiative, along with our other areas of interest including Preprints, Reports, Data & upcoming Conferences. If there is any other news you think we should be covering, we would love your feedback is appreciated so please contact us. And if you don’t subscribe to the newsletter already, you can sign up here.
By Mandy Henk, CEO Tohatoha (AOASG affiliate member)
I’m writing this as the medical and scientific community are working toward creating the knowledge we need to face a serious global public health emergency.
Unfortunately, as the number of cases of the novel coronavirus in China (COVID-19) rises, so has the spread of misinformation, disinformation, and confusion. As a community of people who care about sharing information, this is a time for us to step forward and work towards doing our bit to promote the spread of accurate and useful knowledge over false news designed to encourage hate, racism, and chaos. I wish you all the best as you work within your communities to educate and share the knowledge that will keep us all healthy and well.
But it’s also a time for us to rejoice in the realisation of the benefits of open access to scholarship and data. Open access is so crucial in times like these. Accurate, widely available information is how we will work together to make each other safe and healthy.
Leading on this is the Wellcome Trust and the 91 signatories have committed to ensure wide access to scientific and medical knowledge during this public emergency. Specifically, they have committed to work together to help ensure:
Open access communities can take real pride in our work today. Knowledge matters and sharing matters. The groundwork that we have laid is helping make the world a better place. We deserve a pat on our collective backs.
Please stay well and remember to look after those who are targets of hate and racism during this crisis. As the Director General of the World Health Organisation put it, “This is the time for facts, not fear. This is the time for science, not rumours. This is the time for solidarity, not stigma.”
Let’s hope the rest of 2020 brings more sharing, more knowledge, and most of all, solidarity and care for each other.
This blog originally appeared in the Tohatoha newsletter
While much of our International Open Access Week activities have concluded here in Oz, our New Zealand cousins are continuing through November with more activities and advocacy. This year’s theme of Open for Whom? Equity in Open Knowledge has been the focus of many university activities with guest lectures, roadshows, workshops, and the creation of resources for academics and researchers the chief ways of getting the Open = Equity message across.
In October, Tohatoha launched a campaign for greater openness, sharing, and equity in the digital world, including open access and open reuse of government, scholarly, and scientific knowledge. CEO Mandy Henk presented at the annual internet community talkfest NetHui, and spoke on Radio NZ’s afternoon program, and this week she spread the good OA word on 95bFM about democratising our digital world. This was a great complement to the OA work of CONZUL. Massey University live streamed a presentation: Open Knowledge mātauranga Māori: contradictory or consistent and the University of Otago ran a series of blogs around citation advantage for open access articles, and the importance of depositing manuscripts in open repositories.
Some of our favourite activities in Oz have been the commissioned chalk art work by Armidale artist Nadia Waters at the University of New England (UNE) library, and its race to 100 challenge to get 100 new Open Access outputs into its RUNE repository during October. University of Western Australia got on its bike with a pedal-powered tour with stops around campus everyday with OA giveaways. Southern Cross University library ran a panel on Access and Indigenous Knowledge. QUT and the University of Newcastle each ran a series of “Five things about Open Access” blogs. La Trobe University ran a series of events, including a tweet chat on OA and activism. Charles Sturt and Flinders ran Open Access workshops for staff and researchers. James Cook University created two great videos of academics advocating for Open Access.
Work carried out this year by New Zealand’s Council of New Zealand University Libraries (CONZUL) Open Access Project Group shows a clear citation advantage for repository based OA over closed access articles. This great infographic summarizes their research.
The full report is available here. Furthermore, CONZUL have updated their statement on open scholarship, which is available here. Importantly it notes the acknowledges the rights of Māori to maintain autonomy and control over access to taonga and intellectual property.