We’re continuing our Research Integrity Toolkit blog series with Scholastica in honor of this year’s Peer Review Week theme "Research Integrity: Creating and supporting trust in research." In this post, Gareth Dyke, discusses ‘The Importance of Open Research’. Be sure to check out the corresponding tools for journals on the Scholastica blog!
Research must be reproducible. That’s one of the key things the peer review process will be assessing.
Can your data, methods, results and conclusions be replicated? What steps can you take to ensure your work is more reproducible?
In this post, we’ll explore reproducibility in the context of open research – ensuring your research has the best possible chance to be read and widely cited.
What is Open Research?
This concept is quite simple. Open research refers to the idea that research (especially the results of research) must be open and accessible to all. The data you collect, the results reported as an outcome of a study, should be made available to anyone who wants to see them. The research can be either on a website, via download from a journal site as supplementary materials, or perhaps on a preprint server.
Most people would agree with this idea: Reproducibility. Once a research project is completed, colleagues and workers in the same field must have access to the data to check results, verify conclusions, and build on work in the future.
Issues with Open Research
Researchers agree open research is a good thing overall. However, this has been an issue historically, especially given that not everyone has access to journal articles once they have been published. Depending on the type of subscription or access model your institution or university has with a major publisher,, you might not have easy access to the published work and data of others.
What is Open Access?
Journal choice for the publication of research results brings us to the widely debated and well-known concept of open access (OA) publishing:
- Should academic papers be available for everyone to read, irrespective of their institution, country, workplace, employment, etc.?
- Should the kind of subscription your university has with a major publisher influence the level of access to published work that you have?
Many people and an increasing number of funding agencies argue ‘no’: research (especially publicly funded research) should be accessible to everyone.
OA as a publishing model is well known these days. Once accepted for publication, your research paper is freely available for download to anyone.
Are many journals currently open access? How does this work?
As you are probably aware, more and more academic journals are advertising themselves as OA, but there are often two problems with this encountered by authors:
- Impact factor
Issues with open access journal publishing
1. The concern with open access outlets - impact factor
Although the vast majority of academic authors want their papers (their research results) to appear in OA journals (as we have discussed, most academics think open research and OA are good ideas) they worry about the ‘quality’ of available OA outlets. It’s often the case that OA journals simply don’t have the same high impact factors enjoyed by some of their ‘subscription’ counterparts.
This is because of the way that impact factors are calculated in journal publishing and the fact that these metrics are still used by most universities and national funding agencies to assess academic performance. Whether, or not, the use of impact factors in this way (to measure your career ‘success’) is a good thing will be subject of a later article, but for now let's accept that this is the case. People want to get their research published in journals with higher impact factors, if possible, and these invariably tend to be the older, more established outlets in our field that are controlled by major publishing companies. For this reason, researchers tend to select older, more established journals in their field for publishing their articles – because these will help their careers. They might think less about whether, or not, these journals are OA because this publishing model per se (at least at the moment) is not necessarily advantageous to their career.
Think about journal impact factors as proxies for ‘readership’, the number of people who read that particular publication, because – fundamentally – this is what they represent. Journals with higher impact factors are read by more people, they are more ‘cross-disciplinary’ or ‘multidisciplinary (good words for putting into your next grant application!). Impact factors are also built up over time: if I launched a new journal tomorrow, for example, it would be two years at least before it would be given an impact factor. Journals have to demonstrate that they are regularly publishing articles and that they have a consistent readership level before they can be listed for these numbers; why would authors choose to use my newly launched journal in the meantime, over the period of time where it did not have an impact factor? Good question.
2. Cost of open access publishing
The second major issue with OA journal publishing is cost. One of the most common questions we get asked in our author training workshops (perhaps the most common question) is: how can I select a journal that has a high impact factor and that is free to publish in? I cannot afford to pay the publication fee.
Most OA journals charge authors a so-called article processing fee (an APC) once a paper is accepted to cover their costs and ensure the paper is available to anyone as a free download. The average APC across the industry is around 1,300 US dollars. As you can imagine, the cost of this publishing model for many authors is a huge issue.
We know that researchers like the concept of OA publishing (actually, they like it very much and tend to support it enthusiastically) but are often put off by relatively lower journal impact factors and the costs associated with this option.
Why has no-one developed a series of ‘free-to-publish-in’ journals with high impact factors? Well, quite. That’s a good question.
What does this mean for me? Should I aim for open access with my papers?
These are interesting times for academic publishing. When I started my academic career almost 20 years ago, journals were not yet widely available online. OA was almost unheard of. Everyone published their results in established, academic journals available to institutions via subscription.
We will see what happens as this develops over the next year or so but: now is the time to become more aware of this issue and plan your future research publishing strategies.
Think about the OA journals available in your field and have a look at their impact factors. Have a look at their APCs and see which ones might be available to you for your next project publication. Can you or your team afford to pay the APC? Could this come from your institution? What do you think about Plan S and OA? We’d love to hear your feedback.
Get up to speed with Open Research and Plan S: What’s best for your career?
You’ll be familiar with the concepts of open research and Plan S: Research results, including the publications that result, should be freely available for all to see, download, read, and cite.
On the face of it, this seems like a very good idea. Surveys suggest most researchers around the world are very supportive of this idea. They want their publications available to everyone once peer reviewed and accepted by a journal.
Imagine: you’ve just completed a piece of work, gathered data and results, and you are about to start the write-up process. Which target journal should you choose? (*Remember: we recommend you should choose a target journal for your work before you start to write) It’s time to select a decent journal with a high impact factor, reach, and reputation with your community.
Not all high impact journals are open access
Here’s the problem: although most researchers want their papers to appear in OA outlets, it’s not always the case that high impact factors (IF) journals are OA. Because of the way that the academic publishing industry has evolved over the years, many journals continue to be published based on the business model that people, readers, must pay to access content.
Many high IF journals lie behind ‘paywalls.’ Their content is not available to all, free-of-charge and open.
Consider top journals like Nature and Science that are behind the paywall.Most researchers would love to get their papers published in these outlets. If they do, it’s not necessarily the case that researchers all over the world will be able to read and access published content. It depends on the kind of subscription package your readers have. Or individuals have to pay a one-off fee to access your work.
This is the dilemma often faced by researchers: they want their work to be fully OA.Their funding agency wants this too (like Plan S). But the journals available are sub-optimal. Would you turn down the chance to publish a paper in Nature even if the output was not fully OA? Probably not.
Article processing charges
Journals and publishing companies have addressed this issue by charging so-called article processing charges (APCs). These are common to many journals, including a number of well-known and well-respected OA series like Frontiers and PLoS. You submit a paper, it gets peer-reviewed, hopefully accepted, and then you pay a fee before publication, the APC. This ensures your work is fully OA and can be downloaded by anyone from the journal site.
Problems with APCs
Two problems: there’s a charge (and not everyone has the money) and, often, the IFs of OA journals are just not as high as those that characterise other, more traditional outlets like the older society journals.
One good example is The Lancet: very very popular with doctors and medical researchers (one contact in Beijing told me recently that he dreamt about publishing in The Lancet: just one paper there and he’d be sure to be promoted at his University). There’s a balance to be faced up to in your publishing career: OA journals are not necessarily the best, or most respected.
What should you do?
Make a list of 10 or fifteen journals in your field where you’d love to see your research published. Rank them according to their IFs. Submit your work to outlets with higher IFs. (This is a trick that we were taught when we were PhD students in the UK.)
You’ll face rejection, of course; but this is one constant of academic life. As a researcher working at a university, you’ll face more rejection than perhaps any other career (with the exception of working in sales).
Papers. Grants. Job applications. It's how you react to rejection that matters in academia. Always take the positives from peer review of your papers and grants, build on the good things people say about your work, and consider suggestions for improvement. Re-work, re-submit and you’ll eventually get those papers published in good, high IF journals…just perhaps not your first choice of Nature and Science!
One of the keys to success as an international researcher is confidence: belief that your work is good, high-quality, and deserves to appear in a high ranking journal. You’ll get there.
If you choose to publish a paper in a journal that is not fully OA, you’ll almost certainly not be allowed to post a PDF of the paper on your own website or academic networking site like ResearchGate or academia.edu. Journals, academic publishers, will retain copyright (you’ll have signed a form to this effect when you first submitted your paper) because they use content like your article to make money. This is the business model for standard, traditional non-OA academic publishing.
How can you get your article published in a good journal without having to pay?
One of the most common questions we get asked at our paper-writing workshops is ‘how can I get my article into a good journal but without having to pay?’
There’s no good answer to this question. As we’ve discussed, high IF journals are often behind paywalls.There’s very often an APC to pay to publish in a full OA journal. This is a real issue for academic authors, especially in countries where perhaps less money is available for publishing charges.
Watch out for predatory journals in open access
There is also another side to this issue: predatory journals. Be very careful with journals you select. The rush towards OA around the world has led to a big rise in the number of shady publishers only interested in getting their grimy hands on your money. A few minutes searching online will be enough to be convinced that many, many predatory journals are advertising and searching for papers.
Why pay for OA if there’s no peer review, and the journal you chose has no listing in a standard compilation like ISI, Scopus, or PubMed?
It’s well worth taking the time to research the journal you’ve chosen as an outlet for your work: quick publication might not be worth it, at the end of the day.
Finding a balance between OA publishing and doing what’s best for your career can be difficult in today’s confusing world. We see hundreds of new academic journals launched each year, but how good are they? Are they listed in academic databases? Do they have ISSN numbers? Do their papers carry document identification (DOI) numbers? What are you actually getting for your money?