Friday, 4 May 2012

Open access to Public Understanding of Science

This post is by the Public Understanding of Science editor-in-chief, Professor Martin Bauer, and managing editor, Dr Sue Howard.

PCST-12 conference in Florence (17th-20th April 2012) raised the issue of open access, a hot topic at the plenary session celebrating 20 years of Public Understanding of Science, and beyond. The movement for open access is most pertinent in biomedical and natural science publishing, where pricing and profits are in a different league than in the social sciences. But journals like PUS nevertheless need to address this issue. Let us restate the position and contribute to the debate.

Sharing specialist knowledge and critical reflection is our objective and we need to find practical and cost effective ways to do this. At the moment,
PUS is a subscription journal. Libraries and individuals have to pay to give access to readers. With the Public Library of Science (PLoS) model of 'open access', the cost is transferred to authors, who pay to publish with readers viewing the paper for free.

What we want to know is: what is the fairest system, bearing in mind the context of

Let us have a debate online - tweet us, comment, email - we are keen to have your input on whether our concerns about discrimination are irrelevant or empirically unfounded. Let's debate the following motion:
PUS believes that paid for open access will discriminate against authors from the developing world.

The current position of
PUS with regard to open access is as follows:

PUS is not against open access, the promotion of which we consider, in principle, a good idea. It is clearly not conducive to the distribution of scientific knowledge that publishers like Elsevier can reap 37% annual profit from publishing academic papers on research that has been funded by other sources (see Economist, April 14th 2012). We know that social science publishers like SAGE, the publishers of PUS, are not in this league.

2. In early 2010,
PUS took a 'wait and see' position to evaluate the situation. We are anxious that open access might interfere with the long term strategy of PUS, which includes two things: a) to broaden its empirical and authorship intake across the world and b) to avoid privileging research with large grants. Scholarship is not the same thing as grantsmanship.

3. Our current position with our publishers is that we are not part of "
Sage Choice", their partial open access scheme, where the author decides whether to pay $3000 to purchase open access. We do not want a two-tier system: open access for the rich and subscription access for everybody else. This position was reached after consulting the editorial board, other journal editors in our field and contributors. We consider temporary open access to promote certain papers. We are currently investigating whether this position stills holds with SAGE, who have ceded to requests from a small number of authors applying for open access.

4. We would immediately agree for an open access solution on the opt-in model for
PUS if we gained a dedicated fund for the journal either by donations from charitable organisations like Wellcome Trust, or the Ford Foundation. Or we could increase the author contribution for open access from currently $3000 (£1600) to $4000 (£2130) from which we would lift $1000 (£533) into the fund. This would allow us to support 10-15 papers per year from non-funded research or cash-strapped sources.

5. We will make the argument with SAGE to reduce the level of pricing for opt-in Open Access, and to make this more affordable.