On publishing research

Much has been said recently about the Research Works Act so I won’t go into too much detail again. For me, the trigger was Stephen’s post on his refusal to review a paper published by Elsevier. After that, I started avidly reading other’s take on the issue namely, Tim Gower’s “call to arms” and Cameron Neylon’s views on the subject. I recommend all of these and related links, if you are interested in understanding the backdrop of the current discussions. I don’t aim to thoroughly analyse the discussion and all different arguments, just give you my own personal impression.

Wide access to research results, particularly when derived from publicly-funded work, is something I have supported for a long time, even before having anything close to a research career. Back in early 2001, even before finding a PhD position, I was told about an online petition that asked scientists to pledge to stop publishing in┬ájournals that would not make them freely accessible to all and eagerly signed it as well. This petition later led to the creation of a new publishing model, the Public Library of Science, now becoming a main player in science publishing, with several respectable journals. After 10 years working in research, I now know how naive I was in that pledge. Even so, 6 years ago, the most important paper of my PhD was published in PLoS Biology – a risky move back then, for a recent postdoc aiming to have an academic career. Both decisions have stood the test of time and I continue to support any iniatives that will take research and science to a more open and wide access world. So it was I joined Tim’s boycott.

In discussions with colleagues and friends, a key point is how likely are we to actually stop submitting papers to Elsevier’s journals (rviewing and editing is possibly more easily acheivable). For early career scientists, this is even more complicated. Postdocs and PhD students will rarelly have the power to make that decision and even junior lectures will find it difficult to give up the idea of a high ranking journal for an open acess alternative. Even if they do, convincing collaborators could still prove complicated. So, how honest is this pledge?

In my case, I can only say that I will continue to do what I supported over 10 years ago and support wide access options. This means that, whenever possible and feasible, I will seak alternatives that will also guarantee the paper gets the recognition me and my co-authors think it deserves.

More importantly for me, initiatives like the boycott serve a more important and immediate purporse: get everyone talking. Not just discussing specific points, but, more importantly, get us discussing alternative ways to publish research, new models more in tune with the plethora of new technologies available today. And for that, the boycott has already been worth it, as showned by Elsevier’s open letter and comments, quickly followed by the replies and commens from researchers like Stephen. I am, therefore, glad I pledged my support.

What comes next is for all of us, the research community, the funders, the publishers and the policy makers, to discuss and develop.

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