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AAAS Publisher Bill Moran Speaks on Open Access at RNRF Round Table

Bill Moran, publisher of the Science family of journals of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), hosted the Washington Round Table on Public Policy of the Renewable Natural Resources Foundation (RNRF) on May 6, 2019. He spoke about issues and recent developments related to implementing Open Access to research published in scientific journals.

AAAS CEO Rush Holt and 30 representatives of scientific societies and publishers were present. Holt supplemented Moran’s presentation with some observations, and attendees asked numerous probing questions.

Moran began with a description of Open Access, emphasizing that in many cases, the adoption of the OA model is a fundamental change to publishing business models. Adopting an OA policy means that all articles are available openly and at no cost, under a Creative Commons license, allowing for the greatest degree of adaptation and reuse. However, this means that publishers no longer charge subscription fees, instead collecting an Article Processing Charge (APC). These charges are covered by authors, their institution, or research funders, in contrast to publishing costs being covered by subscribers under traditional subscription-based models.

There are three different types of OA models. In Green OA, an author self-archives a version of their paper in a repository, keeping it subject to their own copyright and re-use terms. This type of OA is mandated by most funders and many institutions. Gold OA is when journals make final versions of their article fully accessible with few restrictions. In these cases, APCs are paid upon an article’s acceptance to the journal. Journals that use Hybrid OA models offer a Gold OA option, alongside a traditional subscription-based option.

The global policy landscape for Open Access publishing is in a state of flux, largely due to the EU’s recent adoption of Plan S, which was created to require that all scientific research that results from public grant funding be published in Open Access journals or platforms. Under this plan, authors will retain copyright, and publishing fees will be paid by funders or universities, not by individual researchers. There will also be a three- to four-year transitionary period when Hybrid OA models will be acceptable, after which all journals will be fully OA. However, Hybrid models were not originally allowed, and policies still may be changed. Plan S is supported by 15 national funders (cOAlition S) and five charitable funders.

Moran listed a series of concerns with the Plan S model. Primarily, he said that AAAS is concerned about quality. In an Open Access journal, APCs cause revenues to rise if more articles are published, since the journal is receiving a fee for every article they publish. Therefore, OA journals can easily become more concerned with quantity than quality when evaluating articles for publishing.

Another concern with Plan S is that it uses Gold OA as its standard, when Green OA is a more common policy in the rest of the world. Additionally, it mandates that authors and publishers relinquish control of publication rights, including commercial use and adaptations of their work. It also can stifle international cooperation on science. Overall, Plan S undermines the existing publishing system without having a comprehensive plan on how to replace it.

Plan S currently only applies in EU countries, and The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has indicated that it has no intention of following suit with an OA mandate. However, some American publishers are exploring OA options for their journals regardless of OSTP pronouncements. This takes place in the form of transformative agreements being executed, new journal launches that are fully OA, flipping existing subscription journals to OA, and adding additional revenue sources through submission fees.

Libraries and consortia have also been taking action: The University of California system recently terminated its subscriptions with Elsevier in support of Open Access for publicly funded research. Additionally, some funders are beginning to publish research themselves. For example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has created a platform called Gates Open Research which allows Gates-funded researchers to rapidly publish research results. The NIH, in contrast, has a Green OA mandate that requires papers resulting from NIH funding to be made available within 12 months of publication through PubMed Central. Many other funders in the United States have policies very similar to this one, mandating that research be made Open Access on a delayed basis.

Moran also discussed the OA landscape in China. While China has expressed support for Plan S, they have been unclear as to what their own OA policy will be moving forward. Under an OA model in China, total costs would be substantially higher than subscription fees under the current model. Moran also emphasized that China has already passed the US in number of submissions, and as their acceptance rate increases, we will see more research being published out of China.

Overall, the landscape for Open Access publishing is rapidly evolving, both in Europe and in the United States. Moran emphasized the importance of publishers and society members staying up-to-date on Open Access and create new partnerships to collaborate on these issues and communicate thoughts and concerns.

To access Bill Moran’s PowerPoint presentation click here.

Additional information about Horizon 2020 can be found here and here.

AAAS’s official comments on Plan S can be found here.

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