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.
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.
You are invited to comment on the third draft of “The Hong Kong Principles for Assessing Researchers: Fostering Research Integrity” posted on the conference website here
Please send your feedback by completing the feedback form and returning it to Dr David Moher (firstname.lastname@example.org) by September 13, 2019.
The AOASG welcomes, and is thrilled to be a part of this exciting new global initiative Invest In Open Infrastructure.
We have been vocal in calling for the need for infrastructure for open scholarship including following the Australian Federal Budget and ahead of the recent Australian election and we hope that this new initiative will provide a further global push for open infrastructure. Workshops and webinars on this initiative are listed here – the first on May 28.
Invest In Open Infrastructure (IOI) is a global initiative to increase the availability and sustainability of open knowledge infrastructure.
The needs of today’s diverse scholarly communities are not being met by the existing largely uncoordinated scholarly infrastructure, which is dominated by vendor products that take ownership of the scholarly process and data without appropriate governance and oversight from the communities they serve. We imagine a world in which communities of researchers, scholars, and knowledge workers across the globe are fully enabled to share, discover, and collaborate using tools and platforms that are designed to interoperate and complement one another rather than compete and exclude.
IOI will consist of two functions, one is an assessment and recommendation framework that will regularly survey the landscape of open scholarly infrastructure with respect to its functionality, usage, health and financial needs and make funding recommendations for that infrastructure.
IOI’s second function will coordinate funds to follow the recommendations of the framework. Coordinating financial resources from institutions, agencies and foundations, we will work to increase the overall funding available to emerging and critical infrastructure.
IOI grew out of last year’s Joint Roadmap for Open Scholarly Tools (JROST) and within the context of Plan S, the European Open Science Cloud, the US NAS Open Science by Design effort, SCOSS, AmeliCA, and the UC Declaration of Rights and Principles to Transform Scholarly Communication. It’s clear that while the advances of digital scholarship have resulted in many benefits, that scientists and scholars who generally work in the public interest have a need for more open infrastructure which mirrors their social focus.
As Geoffrey Bilder, Jennifer Lin and Cameron Neylon put it in 2015: “Everything we have gained by opening content and data will be under threat if we allow the enclosure of scholarly infrastructures.”
IOI is a collaboration between many, including the Joint Roadmap for Open Scholarly Tools (JROST), SPARC Europe, SPARC, Mapping the Scholarly Communication Infrastructure, Open Research Funders Group (ORFG), OPERAS, and the Open Platforms Group.
IoI’s steering committee includes Ginny Barbour (Australasian Open Access Strategy Group), Arianna Becerril (Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México), Leslie Chan (University of Toronto Scarborough), Raym Crow (SPARC), Peg Fowler (Hypothesis), Heather Joseph (SPARC), Pierre Mounier (OPERAS), Cameron Neylon (Curtin Univ), David Lewis (Mapping the Scholarly Communications Infrastructure), Lucy Ofiesh (Center for Open Science), Vanessa Proudman (SPARC Europe), Kristen Ratan (Coko Foundation), Danielle Robinson (Code for Science and Society), Mike Roy (Middlebury College), Katherine Skinner (Educopia), Ina Smith (Academy of Science of South Africa), Greg Tananbaum (Open Research Funders Group), Evviva Weinraub (Northwestern), Dan Whaley (Hypothesis), and Maurice York (University of Michigan).
This is the beginning of a process for which community feedback, a truly global perspective, and participation by all stakeholders will be critical to its success.
With this announcement, IOI:
As next steps we will be securing funding to support several leadership positions, and will be recruiting in both Europe, the United States and beyond. Prospective candidates or those with recommendations should email email@example.com.
We appreciate the various voices who have shared their perspective about this effort:
Chris Bourg, Director of Libraries, MIT
“With the right infrastructure, created and sustained by and for the scholarly community, we have the potential to fully unleash our cumulative knowledge on solving the world’s greatest challenges and addressing growing information inequality. Global, collective investment in open community owned infrastructure is essential to the future of open science.
Creating a future where ‘enduring, abundant, equitable, and meaningful access to information serves to empower and inspire humanity’ (our vision at MIT Libraries) requires global collaboration and new means of collective investment in infrastructure that reflects and supports the values we hold dear in academia and knowledge-producing communities everywhere.”
Dr. Virginia Barbour, Director Australasian Open Access Strategy Group (AOASG)
“The Australasian Open Access Strategy Group recognises the critical need for sustainable, open infrastructure to support open scholarship. The increasing consolidation of scholarly infrastructure in the hands of commercial organisations poses a substantial threat to the future of open scholarship and its transformative potential, and risks mirroring the position we currently see in the ownership of journals. We therefore welcome the formation of the Invest In Open Infrastructure initiative, supports its aims and look forward to collaborating in future.”
Professor Etienne Ehouan Ehile, Secretary General of the Association of African Universities
“The African Higher Education Institutions and the communities of researchers, scholars, and other global knowledge workers need products, tools and infrastructure to fully enable them to share, discover, and work together. The ownership of the scholarly process and data must remain with the researchers who produce it. The Association of African Universities supports the creation of open infrastructure systems to enable research and knowledge communities to work in more integrated, collaborative and strategic ways.”
David Prosser, Executive Director, RLUK (Research Libraries United Kingdom)
“In the UK we have long recognised the value of open infrastructure for open scholarship — for example, though our long-term funding of resources such as the SHERPA/RoMEO database or Directory of Open Access Journals. However, we also recognise the challenges in building and maintaining these resources in a sustainable manner. As UK funders further refine their open access policies having signed Plan S, open infrastructure becomes ever more important for our authors and institutions. We therefore very much welcome further coordinated efforts to provide the basic underpinnings of a fair and equitable open system of scholarly communications.”
Karina Batthyány, CLACSO’s Executive Secretary, and Dominique Babini, CLACSO’s Open Access Advisor
“The Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO) — a network of 680 research institutions in 52 countries — welcomes and congratulates the Invest in Open Infrastructure (IOI) initiative. In Latin America, where research and scholarly communications are mainly publicly-funded, community-led, free to read and publish, and has active regional open infrastructures, there is a strong need for international coordination to raise our governments awareness of the need of public investment in open science/open access/open evaluation indicators infrastructures. And global collective investment is needed to strengthen the existing regional initiatives in our region to adapt its infrastructure and procedures to comply with growing demands of open science and evaluation review, and to be able to contribute to the advancement of community-controlled open science infrastructure worldwide.”
David W. Lewis, Dean Emeritus of the IUPUI University Library
“Digital technology, if it is open, has the potential to make the results of research and scholarship freely and easily available to everyone anywhere who wishes to use them. To make this possible requires an open infrastructure to support the discovery, access, evaluation, and preservation of research results. Today the available open infrastructure is underfunded and uncoordinated. It is simply not up to the task. It requires more and wiser investment. This is what the IOI initiative seeks to provide. It is a critical step in creating the system of scholarly communication the world, with all the challenges we face, needs.”
Cameron Neylon, Co-author of the Principles for Open Scholarly Infrastructures
“Infrastructure can be the great leveller. This was our core motivation in writing the Principles, that infrastructure built by the community, for the community, and with broader communities has the potential to solve existing problems, enable new classes of solution, and most importantly create value that is harnessed by the community and stays within it. The IOI initiative is a step towards reshaping what we are capable of in scholarly communications, by enabling the maintenance and building of platforms that enhance our collective capacity to build knowledge.”
There will be a webinar on
Australia needs a national strategy for open scholarship.
We are at a stalemate in improving access to scholarly research because of the tension between the needs of research institutions, which want to disseminate their research outputs as widely as possible, and commercial publishers, who dominate academic publishing, and who primarily serve the needs of their shareholders.
Australian universities alone pay more than $280 million each year for access to academic research publications, yet that access is limited to only those who work in universities. In the 2018 Excellence for Research Australia (ERA) exercise universities reported that only 32% of articles submitted for ERA evaluation are openly available.
The Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) and the Australasian Open Access Strategy Group (AOASG), which are led by experts in access to knowledge, have been advocating for many years for open scholarship: making the outputs of publicly-funded Australian research openly available in alignment with the F.A.I.R. (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) principles to ensure that anyone can find, read, use and reuse research outputs.
Widening access to academic research increases opportunities for collaboration among researchers and industry, especially internationally; increases the pace of discovery; increases the trust of the public and their engagement with research; and supports a stronger evidence base for the development of policy.
Over the past ten years Australia has gone from being a world leader in widening access to research outputs, mainly through the establishment of a national set of institutional repositories, to lagging behind international initiatives in open scholarship policies and practices.
Plan S, a relatively new initiative, initially from a European-led coalition but now global in scope, intends to make research from coalition partners open by 2020. Plan S offers the opportunity to catalyse a discussion on how Australia can match the rest of the world — a discussion that would involve Australian researchers, research funders, industry partners, government and academic publishers.
A re-invigorated commitment to open scholarship will help ensure that Australian researchers can continue to collaborate with international colleagues, access international funding programs, and contribute to major global projects.
To achieve these goals, Australia needs a national strategy for open scholarship.
In its 2018 inquiry into the Australian Government Funding Arrangements for non-NHMRC Research, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training recommended “that the Australian Government develop a more strategic approach to Australia’s open scholarship environment”. CAUL and AOASG supported this recommendation.
It is now time to implement that approach through the establishment of a cross-sectoral body charged with developing and implementing, within three years, a national action plan for open scholarship – a plan that would include recommendations on changes to the policy and funding framework for Australian higher education. Open scholarship should also be included in the terms of reference for any post-election reviews or inquiries on Australian higher education and research.
Achieving fair and open access to Australian research outputs would be a realistic and significant accomplishment for a new or re-appointed Minister after the election, and a priority for government. CAUL and the AOASG are ready to offer their experience, expertise and knowledge to the goal of open scholarship.
More information on open scholarship, the F.A.I.R. principles, and CAUL and AOASG can be found in our joint background briefing.
By Thomas Ingraham
Historically, funders had no reason to get involved with publishing: they were experts at funding research, publishers were experts at publishing research – why venture into a role that is already well-serviced by established professionals?
However, since the advent of online publishing and the open access movement, and the subsequent realization of potentially widespread irreproducibility and publication bias in the scholarly literature, the interests of funders are growing increasingly at odds with conventional scholarly publishing.
Funders (like ARC & NHMRC) are mandated to ensure maximum impact is achieved from the projects they fund. This means:
Further, funders want publishing to be as rigorous and transparent as possible, to ensure the system’s accountability and so build academic and public trust in the published literature, after it took a knock during the reproducibility crisis.
Several funders have implemented policies encouraging open access and data sharing but feel the progress has been too slow and the wider publishing system too resistant to change. There is also the issue of the cost effectiveness of current immediate open access options. Most are expensive and funders are worried costs could escalate further, especially for prestige and hybrid journals.
Some funders felt they couldn’t simply wait for the publishing system to realign itself with these goals; they need to get actively involved in kick-starting a better way of disseminating research.
So, in late 2016, Wellcome became the first funder to decisively move into the publishing game with the launch of Wellcome Open Research. Other major philanthropic and public funders have since launched their own open publishing platforms, namely: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Health Research Board Ireland, and most recently AMRC (a consortium of 24 UK-based biomedical charities). Earlier this year, the European Commission put out a tender to create its own platform, which would make it the biggest funder by far to move into this space.
The platforms allow a funder’s grantees (and their collaborators) to openly share any research they think is fit to publish, along with any dependent raw data and code, within a few days of submission; referees openly review the work and if they deem it scientifically sound, the work is indexed. Articles can be updated if and when necessary.
The platform development and publishing work is contracted to an independent publisher, partially to make use of their expertise, partially to avoid potential funder conflicts of interest influencing editorial decisions. Currently, F1000Research is the sole provider of these platforms, but this may well change after the European Commission announces the results of its tender. However, the platform is owned by the funder and operates under its name; the latter is important as this endorsement helps ease their grantee’s minds, knowing anything they publish on the platform will be considered eligible for evaluations.
Funder publishing platforms are a still a very new development, and there are issues that need to be navigated carefully. These include but are not limited to preventing funder-editorial conflicts of interest; how smaller funders can get involved; who pays in joint-funder collaborations; avoiding vendor lock-in; and arranging long term governance of the platforms. These issues all look to be resolvable, and it will be exciting to see how much these platforms might disrupt the publishing ecosystem over the next few years.
Tom Ingraham is Scholarly Communications Officer at the University of Queensland. He was formerly an Associate Editor and Publisher at F1000Research, spending six years at the company from its inception in 2012 until early 2018 managing several of its publishing initiatives and community-based article collections.
The National Science and Innovation Agenda has sharpened the focus on leveraging commercial and public value from Australia’s research. Research outputs, whether data, software, methods or publications, underpin innovation and are a critical component of future research. Yet Australia does not have an overarching statement of principle or policy with respect to access.
In July 2016, under the auspices of the Universities Australia’s Deputy Vice-Chancellors (Research) Committee, a working group of representatives of university, research, business and the not-for-profit sector, with observers from government bodies, drafted a national statement of principles aimed at opening up access to Australia’s research. The draft statement was sent for consultation across the Australian higher education sector as well as to relevant government agencies, peak bodies, and industry associations involved in research in Australia. High-level feedback was also sought from relevant international bodies working in open access.
The resulting statement, available here, proposes a framework for this access that builds on principles already established for data: namely that all Australia’s research outputs should be F.A.I.R. (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable).
“This statement affirms the need to make Australia’s publicly funded research outputs F.A.I.R., recognising this will require different approaches across different types of research output, a long-term national commitment, and consideration of the global change agenda.”
The working group has completed its work and the Australasian Open Access Strategy Group is now undertaking coordination of the statement and responses to it.
We welcome expressions of support for this statement as we seek to make F.A.I.R. access an integral part of Australia’s national research and innovation framework.
Linda O’Brien, Chair, Australian F.A.I.R. Access Working Group
Virginia Barbour, Executive Director, AOASG