OA: it's not just about the access

2013_Open-Access-Week_Facebook_160x160pxIt has been over a decade since the launch of the first major open access (OA) journals by  BioMed Central and PLoS, but controversies still  surround the field. Many of these concern the legitimacy of some of the many open access journals that are now available. Of these, a subset of OA journals have collectively been termed ‘predatory’ due to their questionable publication practices. As with every new business model, there are people who try to exploit it, and it is important to know who to trust and how to identify the miscreants. In this blog, I want to continue that discussion about how you – as readers, researchers and prospective authors –  can know which journals to trust.

A few months ago, the publication of John Bohannon’s sting on some OA journals highlighted weaknesses in editorial quality control. Let’s not go into the how’s and why’s of the methods with which this sting was conducted – arguments for and against have already been covered extensively in the blogosphere (see here). Instead I’d like to focus on the very real problem that the existence of predatory OA journals creates: the publication of ‘unsound’ science, which in turn leads to the mis-direction of further research, and a breakdown of trust within the research community.

I’ve been working in the editorial teams of OA journals for almost six years now. The time we take to learn the trade of editorial work is not trivial – and a large focus is on learning and adhering to the highest standards of publication ethics and practice. So, it’s extremely troubling when a subset of OA journals start to have a negative impact on the reputation of OA journals in general.

Committees such as OASPA and COPE  have been hard at work to outline the code of conduct OA journals should adhere to. To highlight the importance of transparency further, in December last year a joint statement  was released by WAME, DOAJ, COPE and OASPA to outline the publication practices that journals need to demonstrate if they are to qualify as members of their organizations. Journals which do adhere to such standards also need to make this clear on their homepages – thereby allowing readers to easily identify legitimate OA journals. Researchers who wish to identify a legitimate journal should look to see if they are members of one of these organizations.

At the recent International Autoimmunity Congress in Nice, I was given the opportunity to address an audience of clinicians and researchers about the development of OA publishing. In that talk I covered trust and innovations in peer review. By far the most discussion that was generated from the audience was regarding the volume of papers that are being published, and therefore how the peer review of these can be effectively implemented. Researchers care a great deal about the replicability of published data – at the same time they care about the burden of peer review that is placed upon the research community.

Peer review is a provocative topic in life sciences and medical publishing – mainly because the jury is still out on what the most peer revieweffective, thorough and fair method is. Innovations in peer review have been a focus for BioMed Central for quite some time, with the full open-peer review model operated on BMC series medical titles (including BMC Medicine),  and the re-review opt-out model pioneered by BMC Biology in order to prevent endless review and revision cycles.

Further innovations are gaining ground again – this time outside the immediate publishers’ sphere with independent services such as Peerage of Science, Axios Review and  Rubriq  offering authors a venue to have their research reviewed before submitting to a journal. Also, the open science journal F1000Research, has implemented the innovation of publishing the submitted version of the manuscript which then undergoes post-publication peer review in ‘full view’ of everyone. Interesting times are ahead of us, as we are set to witness how these innovations in peer review will affect scientific and medical publishing.

Open access is not just about the access to journal content. Ultimately, we need to ensure that journals – regardless of their publishing model – offer a fair, thorough, efficient and transparent service to authors and readers. As long as journals and editors have ensured the published research has been appropriately evaluated, that research should then reach the widest possible audience and go on to fuel ideas for further discoveries and critiques in science and medicine.

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