Two years ago we asked the Chefs and our broader community the question: How can we achieve equitable participation in Open Research? There were too many responses to include in one post! While two years have gone by, there is still much work to be done to improve equity in research. So this month, in support of Open Access Week, we asked the same question again. Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is now available as well.

"Come In We're Open" Sign

Alison Mudditt, Scholarly Kitchen Chef, CEO the Public Library of Science (PLOS)

Looking back at both my response and others’ reactions to this same question two years ago, I’m somewhat frustrated by our collective lack of progress. We’ve continued to advance towards a future in which the research literature is fully and immediately open (although we’re still arguing about exactly how to get there). But, as I’ve maintained before, the increasing focus on so-called “transformative” deals risks locking in both the high cost and market power of the subscription model. And this focus does little, if anything, to address the fundamental challenge of who gets to participate – better funded and wealthier disciplines, institutions, and countries retain their privileged position at the top of the heap.

While there are many geopolitical and economic issues over which we have little control, 2020 has given us an opportunity – and a responsibility – to rethink much of what we took for granted.

While there are many geopolitical and economic issues over which we have little control, 2020 has given us an opportunity – and a responsibility – to rethink much of what we took for granted. For PLOS, this effort has been focused on two key areas.

The first is business models. It’s clear that an all-APC or Gold OA landscape cannot be equitable for all participants (and waivers are simply a band-aid for the underlying problem). That doesn’t mean that there’s no role for APCs going forward, but we have to get serious about developing a range of alternative models. The challenge is that there’s little incentive for large incumbents to do this and too few dollars for smaller publishers to innovate at scale. We’ve begun to pilot new models including our new Community Action Publishing program and our partnership with CDL. I’m encouraged by the early support of partners such as Jisc and CDL, but both funders and libraries have to be willing to support change with meaningful dollars if they are to have a shot at providing sustainable alternatives.

The second is a deeper reassessment of how we show up in the world, and weaves together both our internal DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) journey with our future strategic plans. 2020 has been a challenging year, but it has helped us see where we are and where we need to be. We know that we need to do a lot more to address systemic barriers to inclusion and that this has to go far beyond implicit bias training or diversifying our editorial boards. We intend to start this work by spreading our roots deeper globally, absorbing researchers and local practices more fully. The difference between this and more traditional “global sales” approaches is that we want to learn from, and partner with, different communities to build a system for Open Science that’s designed, owned, and shared with the communities that use it. Creating a future for PLOS that is open to all is our future, and we’re excited to get started.

The difference between this and more traditional “global sales” approaches is that we want to learn from, and partner with, different communities to build a system for Open Science that’s designed, owned, and shared with the communities that use it.

Catriona J MacCallum, Director of Open Science, Hindawi

My sense is that we can’t answer this question until we begin to explore and understand how inequity manifests itself in the communication and practice of research in general, regardless of whether it is ‘open’ or not. The way research is taught and practiced, and how research outputs are published, accessed, discovered, reused, and evaluated primarily reflects a US- and Euro-centric approach. This approach has also been increasingly driven by a hypercompetitive individual-centric culture and environment. At its worst, it privileges articles over other research outputs, journals over other potentially more effective ways of communication, and brand, status, or reputation over reliability, integrity, collaboration, and innovation. And feeding into this melting pot of what we have kidded ourselves is a meritocracy (i.e., based solely on skills and talent) are all the inherent biases and prejudices that humans bring with them, especially when they are stressed, have high workloads, and face unfair competition. These biases favor men over women and the old guard over the young or stack the deck in your favor if you are white, or straight, or from the ‘right club’. This impacts not just who can access research but who is allowed to contribute their expertise to the research process — be they authors, reviewers, editors or publishers. If you’re not published in the right journal or trained at the right institute or come from the right region, you have many more hurdles to overcome than those that do fit the ‘required’ but often unspoken phenotype. This is inequity and requires more than just leveling the playing field or making the hurdle the same height for everyone.

The way research is taught and practiced, and how research outputs are published, accessed, discovered, reused, and evaluated primarily reflects a US- and Euro-centric approach.

COVID19 has showcased some amazing research practices that are truly benefiting both science and society but the pandemic has also exposed some fundamental systemic flaws in publishing and research practices — both old and new. But we have a huge opportunity. If we can apply a curious and evidence-based approach to what we do, then openness is just an instrument — a tool — that can help throw light on what works and what doesn’t. Open research is not a goal in itself but an instrument with which we can try and make research more effective, more reliable, more collaborative, and more equitable. This applies not just to research and researchers themselves but to publishers, their own organizations, and to the content and infrastructure services they provide that contribute towards the integrity, utility, validity, and equity of research.

Open research is not a goal in itself but an instrument with which we can try and make research more effective, more reliable, more collaborative and more equitable.

Alison Denby, Vice President, Journals, Oxford University Press

As a mission-based university press and the largest university press publisher of open access (OA) content, Oxford University Press (OUP) is committed to publishing a diverse range of voices across disciplines, geographies, and formats. We need the move to open research to not only be sustainable for us as a press, but also equitable and inclusive for all members of the research community.  

Our aim is to make participation in OA publishing possible for researchers in low and middle income countries, and all of our fully-OA journals offer waivers on fees for authors in our developing countries program. We’ve recently joined the Research4Life OA task force to further explore more areas where we can provide support. OUP is committed to pursuing fair and sustainable Read & Publish agreements across the world, with a goal of publishing diverse content with a greater range of contributions from outside traditional publishing centers such as North America, Europe, China, and Japan. 

New open access journals offer us an opportunity to do things differently, so we are focused on expanding our OA publishing program. But we need to go beyond just thinking about business models and to instead ask questions about equitability and diversity in every aspect of our publishing – from editorial recruitment, to peer review, to the way articles are written. We’ve launched a new journal,  FEMSMicrobes with the Federation of European Microbiological Societies which puts special emphasis on the participation of early career researchers (ECRs) in the publication process by creating and relying on a special database of ECR reviewers. The goal is to bring in more voices to the publication process, as well as helping educate the next generation of researchers in best practices for experimental design and evaluation.  

But we need to go beyond just thinking about business models and to instead ask questions about equitability and diversity in every aspect of our publishing – from editorial recruitment, to peer review, to the way articles are written.

Through our Oxford Open series, we are trying different approaches to create more inclusive and equitable journals. Oxford Open Immunology encourages authors to follow SAGER (Sex and Gender Equity in Research) guidelines and allows open annotation of articles. We are piloting a new approach to editorial recruitment for future Oxford Open titles which puts diversity at the center, and which we will share more details on soon. We are always looking for new approaches and welcome ideas.  

As a major publisher in the humanities and the social sciences, we are committed to open research in the broadest sense, but with a recognition that different fields and different communities need different approaches — what works well for well-funded cancer researchers may not be relevant for historians. We are launching new OA journals in various fields to give us a better understanding and a means of experimenting with new types of OA outputs, and providing researchers in all disciplines the opportunity to participate in open research. We recently launched Global StudiesQuarterly with the International Studies Association, one of the first high-quality OA outlets for authors in international studies. While our Read & Publish agreements democratize access to OA publishing for authors across all subject areas, we recognize that more opportunities are needed for participation in the global scholarly conversation, regardless of the author’s geographical location or funding level. 

While our Read & Publish agreements democratize access to OA publishing for authors across all subject areas, we recognize that more opportunities are needed for participation in the global scholarly conversation, regardless of the author’s geographical location or funding level. 

Haseeb Md. Irfanullah, Scholarly Kitchen Chef, aquatic ecologist, and editorial board member for Bangladesh Journal of Plant Taxonomy 

The research ecosystem shows a strong north-south divide. While universities in the Global North spend millions of dollars, in the South they struggle to pay a few thousands. The cost of publishing an article by a top-ranking journal is USD $4,000, by a megajournal it is USD $1,500, while by a Bangladeshi JCR-indexed society journal it is around USD $100. The divide is also in investments in research — countries of the North invests 2% of their GDP, while it is less than 0.5% of GDP in the South.

Given the financial challenges around research grants, journal subscriptions, and Article Processing Charges (APCs), many southern researchers are following alternative ways to access and publish research. They can get access to thousands of journals through initiatives, such as Research4Life. But some big publishers are still not participating in such ventures. Thus, reliance on generous pirates, like Sci-Hub, is very high, although researchers do not easily admit that. ResearchGate is another avenue to access research. Requesting articles from friends and colleagues living or studying in northern institutions is also an option.
To publish research, more alternatives are there. If I can’t pay the APC, I can just be happy with publishing articles in good journals, which look good on my CV, although are not freely read by others. I can collaborate with northern institutions who can pay the fees for the papers I would co-author. If I think my research is not good enough for top journals or I do not want to wait for a long review process, I can publish my research in journals published by learned societies or institutions of my country. I would not bother worrying about ‘indexing’ or ‘impact factor’ of these journals, since my recruitment and promotion system also does not bother with these. Predatory journals may also find their way in, since my institutions may not have a white-list or preferred journals list or may show less awareness of unethical practices in scholarly publishing.
So, it means that the present less equitable open research ecosystem already has some sub-systems within it to counter the inequity. Now the question is — shall we allow the system to evolve organically towards equilibrium or push for some significant disruptions?

So, it means the present less equitable open research ecosystem already has some sub-systems within it to counter the inequity. Now the question is—shall we allow the system to evolve organically towards equilibrium or push for some significant disruptions?

Liz Ferguson, Vice President, Open Research, Wiley

As with any industry, publishers must understand the varying needs of the communities we serve. Excellent examples of equal participation result from initiatives led by research communities that are enabled by publishers. We can look back for example on the researcher-led, publisher-supported policy of the Joint Data Archiving Policy; coupling policy and workflow required and enabling all appropriate authors to share data openly. More recently, by combining simple workflows with a compelling proposition, 86% of 75,000 researchers have participated in transparent peer review processes in 61 of our journals. Preprinting is becoming far more widespread. In these cases, for the most part, there are no barriers to participation beyond the researcher themselves deciding whether to engage.

Preprinting is becoming far more widespread. In these cases, for the most part, there are no barriers to participation beyond the researcher themselves deciding whether to engage.

The challenge of financial participation in open access is one of the biggest to solve in the search for equity. If we look at transitional agreements through this lens, both funded and unfunded researchers can publish openly. Early career researchers benefit just as much as senior research leaders. In many cases, there is also now expanded access across multiple institutions to the subscription content offered. However, transitional agreements currently remain the preserve of higher income countries. Publishers offer full or partial waivers as standard to authors publishing in open access journals from low- and middle-income countries and these are used, but having to request a waiver represents a hurdle in itself. This – and lots of research having no direct funding – means that APC-based publishing cannot be a sole endpoint. There is an increasing number of inclusive models at play, as well as many OA journals that don’t charge APCs, but it is not yet clear how scalable these are. It’s also vital to recognize that participation in OA is an additional challenge to the work needed to lift barriers to equitable participation for researchers as authors, as peer reviewers, and on editorial boards, irrespective of underlying business models. Collaboration is key: meaningful progress is more likely when initiatives to improve equity are developed and delivered in partnership. While progress is being made, we have much work still to do.

Collaboration is key: meaningful progress is more likely when initiatives to improve equity are developed and delivered in partnership. While progress is being made, we have much work still to do.

Vrushali Dandawate, Ambassador, DOAJ India; Librarian/Head Central Library AISSMS College Of Engineering, Pune

European countries are looking forward to the implementation of “Plan S”, but most low and middle-income countries are still not able to promote open access among their researchers. If we are thinking of equitable participation in open access by every country’s researcher, there must be better support for APC charges. Many researchers are not yet able to publish in open access journals due to high APC charges. The ‘Serials Crises’ is a major problem to low-income countries’ libraries. Some national consortia help researchers, but it is not enough. Local journals can solve the problem, but the quality of these journals is questioned. Predatory publications are another concern for these countries.

INASP is supporting the global visibility of local journals through the Journals Online program, but many countries have not yet benefited from this program, and many good-quality journals are not yet indexed in global journals databases like Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).

INASP is supporting the global visibility of local journals through the Journals Online program, but many countries have not yet benefited from this program, and many good-quality journals are not yet indexed in global journals databases like Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). Very few journals waive publishing fees for developing country researchers. Aside from the scholarly publication issue, equity can be achieved with the help of international funders; they can support developing countries by giving support for open access training programs. Online or offline technical support and support to build institutional repositories will also help to achieve equitable open research everywhere.

Individual country governments’ roles are also important here to build and support open access policy. Open access communities like “Open Access India”, “Open Access Nepal” and “Open Access Bangladesh” can help to promote open access research culture in the region. Every country should come forward to build such communities.


We’ll continue to offer responses from those in our community in our post tomorrow.

Until then, please share your thoughts: How do you believe we can achieve equitable participation in Open Research?

Ann Michael

Ann Michael

Ann Michael is Founder and CEO of Delta Think, focused on strategy and innovation in scholarly communications. Throughout her career she has gained broad exposure to society and commercial scholarly publishers, librarians and library consortia, funders, and researchers. As an ardent believer in data informed decision-making, Ann was instrumental in the 2017 launch of the Delta Think Open Access Data & Analytics Tool, which tracks and assesses the impact of open access uptake and policies on the scholarly communications ecosystem. Additionally, Ann has served as Chief Digital Officer at PLOS, charged with driving execution and operations as well as their overall digital and supporting data strategy.

Alison Mudditt

Alison Mudditt

Alison Mudditt joined PLOS as CEO in 2017, having previously served as Director of the University of California Press and Executive Vice President at SAGE Publications. Her 30 years in publishing also include leadership positions at Blackwell and Taylor & Francis. Alison also serves on the Board of Directors of SSP and the Center for Open Science.

Haseeb Irfanullah

Haseeb Irfanullah

Haseeb Irfanullah is a biologist-turned-development practitioner, and often introduces himself as a research enthusiast. Over the last two decades, Haseeb has worked for different international development organizations, academic institutions, donors, and the Government of Bangladesh in different capacities. Currently, he is an independent consultant on environment, climate change, and research systems.

Discussion

2 Thoughts on "Ask the Community (and Chefs): How Can We Achieve Equitable Participation in Open Research?"

I agree that low and Middle income countries should support the Open Access Journal concept in their own countries by either directly supporting the finances involved in publications of journals or indirectly incorporating publication fees in the budget they allocate when funding research projects. However, they should also make sure those OAJs are held accountable and responsible for helping combat the publication of extremely low quality researches in the many OAJs.
They should develop a mechanism to ensure that only quality research is published in the OAJs.

  • Fazal Ghani, Professor and Dean Postgraduate Dental Sciences, Peshawar Dental College, Warsak road, Peshawar 25160 (Pakistan).
  • Oct 21, 2020, 9:25 AM

Totally agree with your thoughts. But I think LMICs are far from having internal systems in place to monitor and hold their journals accountable.

INASP introduced Journal Publishing Practices and Standards (JPPS) a few years back (https://www.journalquality.info/en/). That is helping LMICs’ journals hosted under ‘Journals Online’ (JOL).

It would be interesting know if some LMICs have internal journal quality assurance mechanisms.

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