Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Preface: Open Divide?

Last year I was asked to write a preface for a new book called Open Divide? Critical Studies on Open Access, edited by Ulrich Herb and Joachim Schöpfel

The book was sent off to the publisher at the end of last year. Below is a copy of the preface I wrote.

Photo from Wikimedia CC BY-SA
When the internet emerged open access to publicly-funded research appeared to be a no-brainer. The network, it was argued, could dispense with scholarly journals’ print and postage costs and allow papers to be shared more quickly, more cost-effectively, and in a way that would level the playing field for those in the developing world – since it would be possible to make articles freely available on a global basis. As a result, the 2002 Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) declared, the research community would be able to “share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich … and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge.”

As proof of concept, OA advocates pointed to arXiv, the online preprint server that physicists have been using to share their papers since 1991.

But while the potential benefits of open access are undeniable, making it a reality has turned out to be a slow and difficult process, and it remains far from clear that it will lead to an inexpensive or levelling way of sharing research.

It turns out, for instance, that researchers are a surprisingly conservative bunch, a characteristic reinforced by the promotion and tenure (P&T) systems that operate in academia. Consequently, most authors have continued to share their work in the traditional manner using traditional publishers, and in ways that reinforce the traditional hierarchical and elitist culture that has prevailed in the research community since time immemorial.

Publishers were also initially cautious about open access – amply demonstrated in 1999, when the then director of the US National Institutes of Health, Harold Varmus, proposed the creation of E-Biomed. Intended to replicate and extend the arXiv model in the biomedical field, Varmus’ plan envisaged a biomedical preprint server and new electronic journals managed by an E-Biomed governing body. It also assumed that authors would retain copyright in their works, a proposal that, in itself, was enough to give publishers the jitters.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, publishers responded to the E-Biomed proposal with doomsday predictions about the imminent collapse of the scholarly communication system and intense political lobbying. This saw Varmus’ proposal significantly watered down and launched as PubMed Central in 2000. Gone was the preprint server, gone were the new journals, and gone was the expectation that authors would retain copyright. Gone also was what had, in essence, been an attempt by the research community to wrest control of scholarly communication from legacy publishers. For the OA movement, this was a significant defeat.

But advocates persisted in their calls for open access, and publishers had eventually to conclude that they could not hold the tide back indefinitely. Fortuitously for them, new-style open-access publishers like Public Library of Science (co-founded by Varmus) and BioMed Central (subsequently acquired by legacy publisher Springer Nature) had by then demonstrated that it is possible to fund OA by levying publication fees in place of subscriptions (i.e. offer pay-to-play gold OA). 

Incumbent publishers realised that if those fees were set high enough they could embrace OA without any diminution of their substantial profits. So, they began to launch their own OA journals, and to introduce hybrid OA, which allows researchers to continue publishing in traditional journals and make their papers OA – so long as they pay a premium (c. $3,000 per paper).

However, some OA advocates pointed out that gold OA would unnecessarily enrich publishers at the expense of the research community, not least because hybrid OA provides publishers with an additional, rather than a replacement, revenue stream – i.e. subscriptions and publishing fees. As such, they suggested, researchers should continue publishing in subscription journals without paying a fee, and then self-archive copies of their papers in their institutional repositories, and in this way make them freely available to all – aka green OA. Attracted by this more cost-effective approach, funders and institutions began to introduce open-access policies requiring researchers to self-archive – with, it has to be said, limited success since most researchers simply ignored the policies. 

Seeing green OA as a direct threat to their revenues, publishers began imposing ever more lengthy embargoes and ever more complex and onerous rules over when, where, and what version of a paper can be made OA. They could do this because – as a condition of publication – authors are required to assign copyright in their work to the publisher. The consequent complexity of green OA served to strengthen researchers’ resistance to self-archiving, and today green OA looks like a failed strategy. Gold OA, by contrast, has gained considerable traction.

A key moment came in 2012, with the publication of the Finch Report. Produced by a UK government-appointed committee overrepresented by publishers, Finch concluded that pay-to-play gold OA was the best approach, not least because it protected publishers’ existing revenues. It was at this point that publishers began to co-opt open access – a development amply aided by the fact that OA advocates were by now thoroughly divided over how to achieve open access, or even exactly what it is. As a result, funders and governments began to turn to publishers for direction more often than to the OA movement.

Thus, in the wake of Finch, other national and international initiatives have emerged that also prioritise gold OA. In 2016, for instance, a number of European funders launched the OA2020 initiative “to convert the majority of today’s scholarly journals from subscription to Open Access (OA) publishing”. The same year the EU called for ‘immediate’ open access to all scientific papers by 2020 (which inevitably implies gold OA).

The appeal of gold OA is that it is far simpler, and allows the final version of a paper (rather than a preprint) to be made freely available. Moreover, since it means that no embargoes need be imposed papers become immediately available online. Importantly, publishers far prefer gold to green OA. The problem is that gold OA increases rather than reduces the cost of scholarly communication, and so confounds BOAI’s expectation that open access will be more cost-effective.

For researchers based in the global South, the emergence of pay-to-publish OA is especially troubling. Increasingly incentivised to publish in prestigious international journals (which are invariably based in the global North) researchers in the developing world face the prospect of having to pay publishing fees of hundreds or thousands of dollars every time they need to publish a paper, something few can afford to do.

As such, OA’s promise that it would level the playing field has also been confounded. Indeed, OA now looks set to widen rather than narrow the North/South knowledge divide. Consider, for instance, that BOAI assumed that if a paper was made open access it would be free for anyone to access. 

Elsevier’s response to European calls for subscription journals to be converted to gold OA, however, has been to propose what it calls “region-specific OA”. This envisages that access to papers would be granted or denied depending on a researcher’s geographical location, with access limited to residents of the country/region that has paid the cost of publication. This, of course, cannot fairly be described as open access. Rather it is (counter-intuitively) an OA version of the toll access national licensing schemes that organisations like the UK’s Jisc regularly negotiate.

Elsevier’s idea may come to nothing, but that such a thing as regional OA could be proposed draws our attention to the fact that – far from being inclusive – OA may further disenfranchise those in the global South. After all, Elsevier estimates that 80% of papers are still published toll access. This means that researchers in the global South now face a double barrier. 

To provide faculty with access to the 80% of research behind paywalls institutions in the developing world would need to pay subscription fees, but few can afford to subscribe to more than a handful of journals. This is the historic toll access barrier.

In addition, as journals start to flip to gold OA researchers in the developing world will discover that they cannot afford to publish their own research. This is a new barrier and a direct consequence of the demands for open access; a barrier, moreover, that will exclude researchers in the global South from the “common intellectual conversation” promised by BOAI.

To cap it all, gold OA has unleashed on the world a plague of predatory journals, with those in the South said to be disproportionately impacted.

Meanwhile, anyone whose first language is not English faces a language barrier too, since English has become the lingua franca of scholarly communication. In addition, those without adequate internet access face a bandwidth barrier. These are not barriers that were addressed at BOAI, but they need to be taken into account when discussing open access.

Of course, researchers in the global South have the option of spurning international journals and making their work freely available in their own language, in a local repository. But this cannot provide the visibility that publishing in an international journal can, and it will not satisfy their employers’ P&T requirement that they publish in prestigious journals.

In short, while OA promised to create a cheaper, faster, and more inclusive system of scholarly communication, it now seems likely to be more expensive and to widen the North/South knowledge divide. Indeed, some believe that OA could prove a new source of colonialism, with scientists in the North able to freely plunder knowledge produced in the South while continuing to define and control what counts as scientific knowledge, and who can contribute to it. Those in the developing world will still be locked out of the conversation.

Clearly, if the BOAI promises are to be met the current trajectory of open access would need some adjustment. Two developments might appear to hold out some hope.

First, there is growing interest in so-called diamond open access, in which journals charge neither publication fees nor access charges. Costs are covered by other means – through sponsorship by a learned society, for instance, through endowments, or by means of government grants. OA advocates frequently cite as a model here SciELO – the publicly-funded Latin American co-operative publishing platform. SciELO, they point out, offers a cheaper alternative to the model emerging in the North (SciELO costs are estimated at $90 per article). Given the traction that pay-to-publish has now acquired, however, diamond OA could struggle to gain mindshare.

The second development to note is the reinvigorated preprint movement. As I write this, new services like bioRxiv, SocArXiv, EarthArXiv, and PsyArXiv are emerging on an almost weekly basis. (It is worth noting that bioRxiv is essentially the preprint server Varmus wanted to introduce 18 years ago.

Potentially, preprint servers could deliver on all three OA promises – i.e. provide a faster, cheaper, and fairer system for sharing research. Indeed, in theory, they could make the traditional journal redundant, and so deliver very significant cost savings (it is estimated that it costs just $7 per paper to post and host on arXiv).

On the other hand, papers deposited in preprint servers are invariably later submitted to legacy journals, if only in order to meet the demands of P&T committees. In a gold OA world, this would mean authors were still confronted with high publishing fees. So, it is not obvious that preprint servers will deliver the cost reductions that are essential if the developing world is to become an equal partner in the OA world.

We need also to view OA against the backdrop of a larger drive for openness. Not only does open access now encompass monographs as well as research papers (which presents a new set of problems), but we have also seen the emergence of the open data and OER movements, along with the broader open science movement. Looking further out, there are also the commons/commoning movements. All these movements are products of the internet, and they were all initially infused with a belief that some areas of human endeavour should be based on public rather than private goods.

The challenge all these movements face, however, is that we live at a time when neoliberalism – and a belief in the primacy of the market – dominates both public discourse and public policy. What the experience of the OA movement has taught us is that while alternative solutions intended to operate outside the straightjacket of the market are highly desirable (and highly desired), they are difficult to sustain. Public goods are constantly vulnerable to subversion, marginalisation and/or privatisation by commercial interests. It does not help that some open advocates have sought to promote their cause by promising it will provide commercial benefits as much as non-monetary social value. And when it comes to competing in markets the North continues to enjoy inherited advantages.

Further complicating the picture, powerful global companies like Facebook and Google now manage and control much of the information flow on the Web. Amongst other things, this means that making content freely available on the internet does not necessarily make it visible. We should not doubt that more and more OA content will become available online, but it will increasingly be swamped by the tide of non-research information flooding the network. Locating relevant material, therefore, will become ever more difficult, and will create a growing need for specialist pay-to-find discovery services. Those wishing to participate in the common intellectual conversation who cannot afford such services will be at a disadvantage.

Finally, we could note that the Web has created the so-called “platform economy”, exemplified by for-profit services like Uber and Airbnb. This is the direction that scholarly communication is now taking, with commercial repository services like SSRN, and paper sharing platforms like Mendeley, ResearchGate and Academia.edu leading the charge. Amongst other things, these platforms will aim to capture usage data and sell it back to the research community, with researchers themselves (rather than their research) becoming the product. The implications of this are not entirely clear today, but such services are unlikely to narrow the North/South knowledge divide, not least because the paywalls that the OA movement has spent the last fifteen years trying to pull down look set to be replaced by new ones.

Our conclusion has therefore to be that while most research looks set to become freely available, it is far from clear that OA will level the playing field, or lead to a more cost-effective scholarly communication system. This is unwelcome news for researchers in the global South.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Realising the BOAI vision, by disengaging from voluntary servitude

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI), the meeting that led to the launch of the open access movement, and which defined open access thus:

“By ‘open access’ to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.”

A great deal of water has passed under the bridge since 2002, but as 2017 draws to an end what should the stakeholders of scholarly communication be doing now to fully realise the vision outlined at the Budapest meeting?

That is a question I have been putting to a number of people, inviting them to say what they believe the priorities should be going forward for the following stakeholders: researchers, research institutions, research funders, politicians and governments, librarians, and publishers.

Today I am publishing the response I received from Florence Piron. Florence is an anthropologist and ethicist, and a professor in the Department of Information and Communication at Laval University in Quebec, where she teaches critical thinking through courses on ethics and democracy.

She is the founding President of the Association for Science and Common Good and its open access publishing house, Éditions science et bien commun. Piron has also founded Accès savoirs, a science shop in Laval University.

Florence is interested in the links between science, society and culture, both as a researcher and activist for a science, that is more open, inclusive, socially responsible and focused on the common good, which she interprets as the fight against injustice and environmental degradation. She has been responsible for the SOHA project (open science in Haiti and French-speaking Africa) from 2015 to 2017 and is now leading a research-creation project in theatrical writing and an action-research project on science shops in French-speaking Africa and Haiti.

This is what Florence had to say:

Dans ce billet, je réfléchis au chemin qui pourrait conduire vers une science authentiquement en libre accès dans les pays du Nord et des Suds. Au coeur de mon argumentation se trouve la nécessité que les scientifiques (surtout du Nord) sortent de leur servitude volontaire envers les éditeurs à but lucratif, refusent ou rejettent la pratique des frais de publication et s'efforcent de rapatrier la publication scientifique dans les universités, avec l'aide des organismes de financement, des bibliothèques et des logiciels libres.


Researchers are the key to the implementation of the vision proposed in BOAI, but this depends on their managing to collectively and definitively disengage from their “voluntary servitude” to for-profit scientific publishers, the one group that refuses to implement an authentic open science, despite their strategic recent shift towards pay-to-publish gold open access.

Currently, most researchers, including researchers in the North, seem to me to be in favour of open access, but for very different reasons, some of which may even be contradictory. Here is my list of the six main reasons for endorsing open access, categorised in two groups.

 The first group consists of technical or managerial reasons:

1.       Open access improves the circulation of studies and results, and so increases research productivity and the potential for discovery and innovation, while reducing duplication and unnecessary research.

2.       Publications made open access are more widely read and cited, and so increase the reputation and prestige of authors and labs.

3.       Everybody is already doing this, or will have to do so in order to comply with the open access policies that are being implemented in most countries in the North in the name of fiscal justice (i.e.science funded by citizens must be accessible to those citizens).

In addition to these reasons – which are perfectly compatible with the values of the knowledge-based economy that inspires most of the science policies in the North – there are three “social” reasons. These can be seen to oppose the former by favouring a “knowledge society”:

4.       Open access allows for a return to the classical practice of the free flow of scientific work and communication that was at the heart of the modern science ethos defined by Merton, but which has been subverted by the commodification of knowledge that began in the 1960s. This practice is defined as one in which “all scientists should have common ownership of scientific goods, to promote collective collaboration; secrecy is the opposite of this norm”.

5.       Open access makes it possible to democratise access to science and, consequently, to improve the quality and relevance of the public debate on science and future scientific orientations.

6.       Finally, open access improves the quality of higher education, especially in countries in the global South (where university libraries have very few resources) and the quality of teaching in general by allowing teachers to regularly update their knowledge. Open access science can also help all graduates stay informed and up to date.

Strangely enough, all these reasons can coexist in some Northern researchers’ minds with the idea that open access is impossible because the for-profit publishers won’t allow it. As if the latter were inescapable, irreplaceable and always able to triumph!

In addition to their persistent voluntary servitude, there remains in the minds of researchers some concern about open access, especially for those in the social and human sciences (SHS). Addressing them would help researchers move confidently towards more (green) open access.

One common concern is over the many independent scholarly journals, often connected to learned societies or innovative and original intellectual projects focused on a variety of epistemological positions.

Could open access destroy their ability to sell subscriptions and therefore cause their disappearance? If it did, it would work in the favour of journals produced by large for-profit groups that standardise publishing practices and thinking, and reproduce business models imposed by the United States and Great Britain, the two English-speaking countries that are at the heart of the world system of science.

In the global South, the fear of losing potential revenue from these publication is sometimes cited, but then often followed by the recognition that such revenue is more dream than reality.

More generally, this issue highlights a major epistemological dimension to the open access debate, one often ignored by (epistemologically-indifferent) open access scholars: there is today a real risk that the epistemological and linguistic plurality of science so essential for sustaining a worldwide innovative research activity could disappear. In other words, one consequence of an intensified open access environment could be to reinforce a homogenous unilingual type of science publication at the expense of the ecology of locally relevant knowledge

Another issue with open access as conceived in the North is that it could serve to reinforce the present "publish or perish” system, a system that is increasingly open to criticism, not least because of the shortcomings of the peer evaluation system, the increase of misconduct and fraud, the psychological suffering it causes and the Matthew effect, which leads to the concentration of funding in the hands of a small group of (male) researchers based in the North.

In light of all this, what can we do to advance the Budapest vision of open access?

In the North, the article-processing charge  the publication fee requested from authors by journals who want to convert to open access without losing profits – seems to me to be at the heart of the voluntary servitude to publishers that is blocking open access.

Even if this commercial innovation remains marginal in the ecosystem of journals, especially in SHS, it is becoming increasingly “naturalised” by the groups that practice it, and presented as obvious and unavoidable, even though it is highly questionable for many oft-cited reasons.

Consequently, I advise all those researchers who are sincerely committed to open access (at least in its “social” version) to refuse to pay APCs or to include them in their research budgets.

On the contrary, researchers and scholars need to collectively reclaim scientific publishing and repatriate it to the university, with the help of libraries and free software. Researchers have learnt to be managers of their grants and research units, they can (re-)learn to be publishers!

This vision of universities reclaiming scientific publishing is increasingly being publicly affirmed as the only path to true open science. Consider, for instance, these three very encouraging examples: the manifesto of Fair Open Access, the Radical Open Access movement (which brings together Open source books owned and run by academics) and the new OA2020 site.

However, in the global South, particularly in French-speaking sub-Saharan Africa, the situation is quite different. The risk of scientific neo-colonialism and cognitive injustice posed by open access is very real if the science being made accessible continues to exclude, or remains blind to, the epistemologies, works and research questions specific to these countries, or if the science produced in local universities is not scanned, uploaded online and made open access (which is currently the case).

The difficulties of regular electricity supply, or access to the web, concretely embody the difference between the technical accessibility of science and real access.

Be that as it may, all actions in favour of open access in the global South must absolutely take into account the need to preserve the epistemological and linguistic plurality of published science in order to better decolonise it and make it really useful and relevant for sustainable local development. The development of an African citations index by CODESRIA is good news from this point of view.

I also invite researchers from the North to rein back the current drift towards the ever greater professionalisation of scientific research as this leads to disproportionate importance being given to careers, CVs, grants and money, in favour of engaging sincerely in the construction of the knowledge commons (doing so would also be better for their health and happiness!).

Finally, to researchers who are members of Editorial Boards I would say: In addition to boycotting commercial journals, a number of other desirable actions should be considered: researchers need to create non-profit open access journals, reject the growing practice of paying APCs, and require that public financial support be provided for journals, as is the case in Canada, in Quebec and in France (with Openedition). Consider also that recently the journal Sociologie du travail decided to leave Elsevier (despite the “prestige” of being associated with this publisher) and move towards a more authentic open access policy. 

Journals can use open source software and share secretarial services to reduce their expenses. They can also seek help from university libraries, for example to directly archive the articles they publish. So, the journal deposits its articles in an open archive and then publishes links to the articles on its website. Practising open evaluation or post-publication evaluation in order to ensure the integrity of the process, and the absence of any conflict of interest, is also a possible path to open access.

Research Institutions

Obviously, research institutions must not lose sight of the need to adopt an open access policy in order to promote their institutional open archives, be it by means of a mandate or awareness-raising activities and, depending on the country, encourage faculty to take advantage of fair use rules whenever possible in order to save students money.

And since open access is an integral part of both the globalised system of scientific publication and the professional life of academics, universities in the North and the South should change their evaluation and promotion policies so as to enhance the quality of articles produced rather than chase after the impact factor. They should also incorporate open post-publication evaluation practices into their policies.

They could also count the number of open access articles produced per year in their research centre evaluations.

Universities need also to be aware of the Matthew effect, i.e. the risk of a concentration of funding and publications among a small number of (white male) researchers, to the detriment of the epistemological and linguistic plurality necessary for the ecology of knowledge.

Granting organisations

Notwithstanding the fact that policies vary from country to country, granting organisations must absolutely refuse to fund the costs of publishing articles by means of APCs. On the contrary, they should support (not-for-profit) scientific journals and repatriate them to universities. The 2.5% movement reflects this necessary shift.

Why pay money from public funds to for-profit journals when that money could support non-profit journals run by the same people? Granting organisations could also further support the infrastructure of institutional repositories and open archives, as well as all the collective tools of open access to ensure their sustainability (directories, in particular) and prevent them from being bought by for-profit groups.

They can also play a large role in favour of multilingualism by more generously funding multilingual open access journals.

Finally, by encouraging the use of Creative Commons licenses, they can help to maximise open access, that is, to encourage the circulation and reuse of knowledge.

By contrast, becoming publishers themselves seems to me to be a strange idea.

Politicians and governments

Politicians and governments must continue to support open access through their policies, but they should also abandon the practice of giving generous support for for-profit scientific publishers, while universities suffer from recurrent budget cuts.

They should also devote some critical reflection to the impact factor, and instead seek to support open access research in service to national issues, published in national languages.


Librarians’ role is crucial in supporting researchers as they exit from their state of voluntary servitude and in contributing to the repatriation of journal and book publishing to universities.

By recovering funds through cancelling subscriptions or taking the 2.5% path, librarians can offer help to journals by means of evaluation, hosting, archiving, post-publication review, digitisation of heritage, etc. They can also support the production of open access books.

In so doing, they can contribute to maintaining the epistemological diversity necessary for scientific production. In the global South, they can also help develop scientific digital literacy, which is currently deficient.

Scientific publishers

For publishers the choice is simple: Either they become non-profit entities run by academics, or they disappear.

Earlier responses to these questions from Danny Kingsley, Lisa Hinchliffe, Richard Fisher, Alison Mudditt, Dominique Babini and Peter Suber can be read here, here, here, here, here and here.

A list of some of the more interesting OA developments during 2017 is available here.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Realising the BOAI vision: Peter Suber's Advice

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI), the meeting that led to the launch of the open access movement, and which defined open access thus:

“By ‘open access’ to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.”

A great deal of water has passed under the bridge since 2002, but as 2017 draws to an end what should the stakeholders of scholarly communication be doing now to fully realise the vision outlined at the Budapest meeting?

That is a question I have been putting to a number of people, inviting them to say what they believe the priorities should be going forward for the following stakeholders: researchers, research institutions, research funders, politicians and governments, librarians, and publishers.

Today I am publishing the response I received from Peter Suber. Peter is Director of the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication, Director of the Harvard Open Access Project, Senior Researcher at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, and widely regarded as the de facto leader of the open access movement.

This is what Peter had to say:

Here are some recommendations for key stakeholders. I haven’t included all the useful and effective actions I find worth recommending, just those at the top of my priority list today. In almost every case I could add more detail and supporting arguments.

In some cases, I want to say much more, for example on the kinds of OA policies universities and funders should adopt, the ways that promotion and tenure committees could help the cause, the strategic restrictions to put on OA funds, and the harmful myths about OA to recognize and correct. I haven’t had time to dive into more detail here, but have almost always provided more detail elsewhere.


Above all, make your own work OA. For this purpose, it doesn’t matter whether you make it OA through journals (“gold OA”) or through repositories (“green OA”). Just do it. Make all your new articles OA, starting now. As you find time, make all your past articles OA.

Do the same with your data and code. Do the same with your books and book chapters, though it’s harder to get permission to make books and book chapters OA than for articles, data, and code.

Do the same for your preprints, if you won’t be punished for it. If you might be punished for it, that is, if you might want to publish in a journal that deliberately excludes authors who have already circulated a version of their work, that is, a journal that still follows the Ingelfinger rulethen at least understand the risk and choose your journals with care.

Don’t perform peer review for journals that violate or fall short of your standards for scholarly journals. For example, entirely apart from a journal’s quality, I don’t peer-review for non-OA journals, for hybrid journals, or for any journals, even OA journals, from publishers who lobby against OA policies at universities, funding agencies, or governments.

Write this list your own way, but set your own standards and follow them. Don’t donate your time and labor to publishers who work against the interests of researchers and research. Don’t donate your time and labor to enrich and entrench them. This is one kind of action that doesn’t take time, and even saves time. It’s an action that doesn’t require you to persuade anyone else, just yourself.

Write up a polite version of your “rejection letter” and send it to editors of insupportable journals who ask you to referee a new manuscript. BTW, you’ll be surprised how many editors send sympathetic replies.

If you have a chance to serve on the promotion and tenure committee for your institution or department, say yes. These committees create some of the largest disincentives to make new work OA, and not by insisting on high quality or deliberately trying to thwart OA. They could create some of the largest incentives to make new work OA, and not by lowering standards of quality or deliberately trying to foster OA. The best way to influence them is to join them and work for change from within.

Read your publishing contracts and learn how to understand them. If you’ve followed the practice of signing whatever a publisher puts in front of you, it’s time to stop.

If you’ve never tried to retain key rights, such as the right to make your work OA, it’s time to start. At least know what rights you want so that you can distinguish better from worse contracts.

Work for a rights-retention OA policy at your institution. If others propose one, support it. If others propose a different kind of OA policy, try to make sure it includes rights retention. More on this below, under research institutions.

When you hit a paywall trying to read an article, look for an OA edition using tools like Unpaywall, oaDOI, DOAI, the OA Button, and Google Scholar. Get good at finding OA editions when you need them.

Pass on your tips and skills to students and colleagues. Increase the demand for OA editions. Increase the expectation that research should be OA.

If one of your past articles is paywalled, and a reader asks for a copy by email, send one. But at the same time, deposit a copy in an OA repository. That will help all who need access, not just the tiny subset willing to hunt you down, write, and ask.

You needn’t become an expert in OA, but don’t fall prey to the most common and harmful myths about OA. Don’t let them lead you astray, and correct them when you hear them repeated.

A comprehensive list of these harmful myths would be long, but here are three from the top: that all or most OA is gold OA (OA through journals); that all or most OA journals levy article processing charges (APCs); and that all or most APCs are paid by authors out of pocket.

Or looking at the same myths from the other side: don’t overlook green OA (OA through repositories); don’t overlook no-fee OA journals (which constitute the majority of peer-reviewed OA journals); and don’t overlook the fact that author funders and employers, not authors themselves, pay the majority of APCs for authors who choose to publish in fee-based OA journals.

If you’re an early career researcher, you may feel pressure from your promotion and tenure committee to publish in high-prestige, closed journals. If you haven’t fallen prey to myths about OA, then you know that you can usually accede to your committee and still make your work OA through a repository. You can do this most of the time without retaining any special rights, because most publishers already allow it. You can do it nearly all the time if your institution adopts a rights-retention OA policy.

Do push back against bad incentives from your institution, but remember that this particular bad incentive is an obstacle you can step around. Remember that not all OA is gold OA, that green OA is compatible with publishing in a non-OA journal, and that OA benefits if you get a job, get promoted, and work for OA from within.

Research institutions

Launch and maintain an OA repository, or take part in a shared OA repository.

Adopt an OA policy. Make OA the default at least for scholarly articles. It could be a green-only policy, or green-gold agnostic, that is, satisfiable by green or gold OA at the author’s choice. But it should respect faculty freedom to submit new work to the journals of their choice, and therefore should not be gold-only.

Even if you think OA is more important than academic freedom, at least bring some realpolitik to bear here. Many or most faculty will disagree with you on that point, and you will need their support to adopt the OA policy.

Make sure the OA policy includes rights retention. There’s little point encouraging or requiring deposit in the repository if the repository doesn’t have permission to distribute most of the works it receives or if it must spend a lot of staff time seeking permission.

There are more than 70 examples of rights-retention policies in North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, and more coming all the time. In the UK, you can support rights retention by supporting the UK Scholarly Communications License.

Launch an office to maintain the OA repository and implement the OA policy. Fund it adequately.

Create good incentives for making new work OA. For example, limit the review of journal articles for promotion and tenure to those on deposit in the repository.

Make download stats from the repository public. Publicly recognize papers trending in the repository or receiving press or social-media attention. Reward departments with high deposit rates.

Launch a fund to pay publication fees or APCs for faculty, students, and other affiliates who choose to publish in fee-based OA journals. Adopt strategic restrictions on how the money can be spent. These can make the money go further and create good incentives for authors and journals receiving the money. For example, see the general restrictions recommended by the COPE project or the specific restrictions adopted by Harvard’s HOPE Fund.

Collaborate with other institutions to the extent that anti-trust law will allow. We don’t really know where the anti-trust borderline is, in part because it’s rarely clarified by litigation, and in part because it varies from country to country, time to time, and issue to issue. But there’s little doubt that universities could safely undertake collective action far more often than they do today.

Monitor new and emerging OA infrastructure. First, look for platforms that are non-profit and open-source, in order to resist enclosure and corporate capture.

Second, avoid technological or business-model monocultures, in order to avoid lock-in, fragility, stagnation, and breakage. Look for open code, open standards, modularity, and interoperability. It may be a while before platforms emerge with all these properties plus the features you want. That’s a reason to monitor the scene. It’s also a reason to insert yourselves into the process, help develop the code or influence the specs, in order to increase the odds that at least one of the emerging platforms will meet your needs. 

Research funders

Adopt an OA policy. For work arising from grant-funded research, require OA for articles, data, and code. As with university policies, the OA policy for articles could be green-only or green-gold agnostic, but should not be gold-only.

The OA policy should also require rights retention, at least for the works destined for OA repositories rather than OA journals. Again, the purpose of retaining key rights is to permit the repository to make the deposited work OA without further ado. It avoids cases in which someone must spend time seeking permission, and it avoids cases in which the answer is no.

If you start by permitting embargoes on green OA, plan to reduce permissible embargoes to zero over a few years. Announce the plan in public.

If you start by permitting restrictive licenses on green or gold OA, plan to require CC-BY after a few years. Announce the plan in public.

Pay APCs for grantees who choose to publish in fee-based OA journals. As with university APC funds, put strategic restrictions on how the funds can be spent.

If you support OA by adopting a strong OA policy, covering the results of the research you fund, also consider supporting OA by funding projects to advance OA itself. Many of the most OA-friendly funders cannot do this, because it wouldn’t fit their public mission or charitable purpose. But explore the possibility in your own case. Many OA promising initiatives could use your support.

Politicians and governments

See the section on research funders above. Insure that all public funders adopt OA policies for publicly-funded research. Minimize exceptions, such as classified research or research whose release would violate medical privacy.


Support an OA repository, OA policy, and office to implement the OA policy. See the section above on research institutions.

When negotiating site licenses, don’t sign offset agreements unless the covered journals say they are in the process of converting to OA. When journals do say they are in the process of converting to OA, don’t take them at their word. Insist on putting that promise into the contract. More generally, don’t use your limited budgets to reward hybrid journals for remaining hybrid.

Think about redirecting funds from supporting paywalled journals to supporting OA. Think about a timetable for doing this. Think about doing it in concert with other institutions.

Notice that large-scale cancellations almost never trigger the faculty protests that many people fear and predict.


Here I’m only making recommendations for OA publishers and those conventional publishers transitioning to OA and sharing the goals of the OA movement.

Join the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) and live up to its code of conduct. Submit your journals to be listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). When authors are confused about which journals are predatory and which are not, OASPA membership and DOAJ indexing are two ways to flag your professionalism.

Another way to put this: Don’t underestimate how the existence of predatory journals, and the fear of them, are harming legitimate OA journals. Take steps to avoid becoming collateral damage.

Publish your research articles under CC-BY licenses.

Never publish in PDF-only. Always offer at least one other file format friendlier to text mining, visually impaired users, and low-bandwidth parts of the world.

Require authors to provide ORCIDs. Publish their ORCIDs alongside their names and institutional affiliations.

Don’t refuse to consider preprints as submissions. Don’t follow the Ingelfinger rule. If you’re a book publisher, don’t refuse to consider OA theses and dissertations as submissions, especially when they’re revised for publication.

If you charge APCs, then waive or discount them in cases of economic hardship.

Likewise, if you charge APCs, then don’t charge whatever the market will bear. Charge your production costs and a modest surplus to grow the enterprise.

While there’s an obvious market incentive to dismiss this recommendation, at least today, there’s some self-interest on the other side to consider as well. We may never see a market in which APC-based journals compete at the fee level to attract authors. But many organizations are experimenting with incentives to create such a market, in order to keep fees as low as possible. Don’t bet against them, or don’t deliberately step away from an advantageous market position if these incentives should start to take effect. You could even help that cause, and help yourself, by lowering your APCs to test the waters.

Finally, consider flipping subscription and hybrid journals to full OA. Look at the many approaches or scenarios for doing this, and don’t assume that flipping a journal must mean flipping to an APC-based business model.

The full range of these scenarios is documented in the journal-flipping literature review commissioned by Harvard Library in 2016, and conducted by David Solomon, Mikael Laakso, and Bo-Christer Björk. Among other things, the study concluded, “Journals that picked a scenario that fit their circumstances were able preserve or enhance their readership, submissions, quality, and financial sustainability.”


Earlier responses to these questions from Danny Kingsley, Lisa Hinchliffe, Richard Fisher, Alison Mudditt and Dominique Babini can be read here, here, here, here and here.

A list of some of the more interesting OA developments during 2017 is available here.