Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Dr. Steven Arndt, Distinguished Scientist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and President of the American Nuclear Society.
Like many researchers, I long ago recognized the significance of debates about open access (OA) publishing. However, I had not become too deeply involved, knowing that I alone could not directly influence any outcomes.
Recently, two things have changed.
The first is the recent memo from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), commonly referred to as the Nelson Memo. In this memo, grant recipients are guided to provide immediate public access to research papers and data resulting from federally funded research. The second is my recent election as President of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) — I now find myself facing very concrete decisions that need to be made soon.
A national journey to OA
The US government has long encouraged public access to funded research; the Nelson Memo is the product of a policy journey that in our fields started over ten years ago.
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy changed its rules to encourage free access to research. Like many publishers at the time, ANS responded by adopting green open access language in article publication agreements. The Holdren Memo set forth a 12-month embargo for public access to research papers, and under the Trump administration, a draft executive order would have mandated all papers resulting from federally funded research to be made freely available with zero embargo, although these efforts were eventually tabled.
Now years later, on August 25, 2022, the U.S. White House Office of Science and Technology Policy updated its guidance to require that results of taxpayer-supported research be immediately available to the American public at no cost. Moreover, the OSTP memo embraces open research principles, recommending that beyond public access to research papers, a study’s underlying data should also be made freely available. The new policy calls for all federal agencies to update their public access and data sharing plans by mid-2023 and calls for all agencies to have the updated public access policies in place by the end of 2025.
No such thing as a free lunch – the challenge of open access publishing
Like many other publishers, the ANS looks at this new mandate with some trepidation. It is true that OA provides substantial benefits for both authors and consumers: giving researchers and institutions a bigger audience, increasing the impact of findings, and propelling research progress through collaboration. Simultaneously though, it presents a challenge for the publisher. As noted by an article about OA in The Scholarly Kitchen, “We have rediscovered the truth that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Providing free content and services inevitably requires some form of revenue from somewhere.”
The funding needed to maintain the quality of journals – be it through stringent editorial checks, editing, peer review, publication, or marketing – will be significantly reduced without the income from subscription fees and paywalls. The concern becomes one of squaring the virtuous circle of open access publishing: if readers no longer subscribe to read, how do scholarly publishers fund and maintain quality? This concern is something that is well understood, especially if it means publishers need to fund essential editorial services by requiring researchers to pay an article processing charge (APC). Sometimes referred to as the “pay-to-publish” model, there are fears that the OSTP policy (combined with similar policies in Europe) will push publishers towards such an APC-based model, which solves one problem but could introduce others, such as potentially making it more challenging for researchers working in poorly funded disciplines or in developing economies to publish their work.
It is not all-or-nothing: the ANS approach to open research
Some publishers have been quoted as saying it is too soon to tell if this mandate will impact their journals. My colleagues and I at the ANS have known for some time that our journals would be impacted by the wider movement toward open research publishing. In many ways, the OSTP’s latest public access guidance is a big win for federally funded researchers and the entire nuclear community. ANS has recently published numerous OA supplements alongside some national US labs and the benefit to authors and researchers is far-reaching. The Nelson Memo only reaffirms that we as publishers must continue to be proactive in finding sustainable solutions that work for authors, the publishers of those journals and for society. We are ready to move forward.
But it is not an all-or-nothing approach. The ANS has long taken a progressive stance to ensure that we stay at the fore of the evolution of scholarly publishing, whilst ensuring that we continue to meet the needs of our members and our wider research community.
We introduced a hybrid model for our journals several years ago which has enabled our community to test the waters of OA whilst continuing to benefit from the cachet of our well-established journals’ reputations. It is the nuclear community itself that will lead on this and the ANS will take its cue from them. And, thanks to the overwhelming appetite and appreciation from our community to publish much more openly, we are now going one step further in our own open journey and are actively working with F1000 to establish an innovative, ‘beyond OA’, fully open research publishing venue for the ANS.
The Nuclear Science and Technology Open Research Platform (NSTOR) will truly complement and extend our publications portfolio (and not just replicate what we already have but with a different business model). The Platform will provide a wide variety of peer reviewed and non-peer reviewed article types not currently supported by our other journals, offering our researchers more opportunities to publish, and to increase visibility, reach, and exposure of all their research outputs. Launching in early 2023, NSTOR will adopt a post publication peer review model, combining the benefits of pre-printing (providing rapid publication with a focus on sound science) with mechanisms to assure quality and transparency (invited and open peer review, archiving, and indexing). All research outputs (including peer review reports and data) will be free to access and read, with community encouragement for early career researchers and support to help with APCs where needed. Similar publishing venues have been successfully established by other research organizations such as the European Commission, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Wellcome. With papers that have passed peer review on Wellcome Open Research recently exceeding the 1,000 threshold since its launch six years ago, the Platform is now the top publishing venue of choice for Wellcome’s researchers.
Moving forward with open research publishing
I have no doubt that open research will soon be the norm in publishing. While we will continue with our existing hybrid model of publishing, ANS is taking steps to future-proof academic publishing in the field of nuclear science, and we are excited to be moving forward with our publishing journey.
Will it be easy? Certainly not. There will be challenges. All actors in the scholarly ecosystem will need to come together to truly realize the benefits of open research publishing. But, as a publisher and a professional society that wants to support our researchers and our broader mission to ensure technology improves the lives of everyone in our community, we must embrace them. ANS will move forward to provide a fully open access option that will support our authors and earn the support and goodwill of our community.