Working in the Open Access Team it is clear to us that opinions on publishing open access can vary quite considerably from department to department and from researcher to researcher. As part of the work of the Open Access Team we strive to develop our understanding of these opinions by speaking directly with our researchers.
We interviewed Kislon Voitchovsky and asked him to share his own thoughts and experiences on publishing generally and more specifically on publishing open access. The aim was to provide information and guidance for early career researchers and doctoral students but it should be interesting reading for all.
It may make it clear to you just how different the publishing environment is for researchers in a field other than your own or it may convince you of the potential benefits of publishing your research open access.
If you would like to share your opinions on and experiences with open access we would love to hear from you – firstname.lastname@example.org
Tell us about yourself and your research area
I am an associate professor in the Physics department and I have a background in, well, physics but I have also touched a lot on material science, biology, chemistry and the research that I do now is very much on the boundary of all these fields – in nanoscience. Very often, defining a question as being physics, chemistry or biology is much more to do with the perspective we take on a problem than the problem itself that we are trying to solve.
Why is it important for research outputs to be published?
In research there is a very selfish aspect, and this is the ability to research on a topic simply because you are very interested in it. But, all of the research that I do costs a lot of money. And the money usually comes from the taxpayer. Leaving aside any other aspect of it, to me it is just completely normal that my selfish aspect is limited to the topic that I can choose to research on. Anything I find on it I think that it is just completely normal that anyone should be able to have an opinion on it, know about it, build on it, or contradict it but the bottom line is that it needs to get out there and people need to be able to see it.
The only reason that I see that research would not be made available would be if there is some commercial conflict of interest and this can happen sometimes but then the funding would have to come privately from a company that would make a profit from that.
Ultimately, when I work with funds that are governmental, funds that come from the taxpayer, then I feel that my research belongs to everybody, to the taxpayer, because they have paid for it.
What does publishing open access mean to you?
To me, publishing open access, means removing all of the financial barriers that exist in order to access whatever chunk of knowledge you are interested in.
So if I… have some results, some scientific findings, and I want to publish them I really would like anybody from anywhere in the world to be able to just download that report or whatever I have published and read through it. And not find the portal [providing that paper] will provide access to that information but that you will have to pay £35, £100, depending on the journal.
“I really would like anybody from anywhere in the world to be able to just download that report or whatever I have published and read through it”
It’s not straight forward because there are costs involved in making all of that available – the server costs, the editing costs and so on. But ultimately, if we want to make an impact, if we want to make a mark, then it should be open access and that is part of the research costs as I see them. When you have found something… make everyone aware that you have found that thing.
What are your thoughts on gold v green open access?
Personally, I prefer gold open access. I believe it is easier to find and most of the time, when people look for something through the research databases and search engines based on keywords, trying to find out what are the latest findings on a particular topic – they will usually find the link to the published content. It’s great if people can then go there and find all of the materials available. So that is very much my preferred option. However, I appreciate that there is a cost associated with that. We need to find a compromise between that and what is sustainable and best value for money for the taxpayers who are financing it. So I can see why green open access or another form of open access may be more sustainable and beneficial in the long run.
“We need to find a compromise between that and what is sustainable and best value for money for the taxpayers who are financing it”
What has been your experience of publishing open access in terms of impact?
The impact is bigger because when I go around and I speak to people I see that they are very much more aware of my work. At conferences people will say I have seen that you have published X. It triggers discussion and allows, essentially, to push the field forwards. Being more aware of the research allows people to build on it or to go precisely in the other direction because they think it is a silly idea but either way it provides the information for people to use.
People are very keen on measurables when it comes to assessing impact. One of the ways that we can do that is through seeing how many times your work has been formally cited in other people’s work. And with open access this shoots through the roof. Whether metrics are reliable means to measure impact I don’t know.
I would like to think that my research can genuinely be transformative for the field and can genuinely change the way people think about it. When the research is out there it has a very broad reach because it stimulates research, it stimulates new developments, and it stimulates the industry. There are a lot of people in industry that are interested in research like mine but they are not going to pay £100 each time they find an article. They won’t know what is it and they can’t be sure if it will be of interest to them.
It has definitely had a big impact for me. And the way it is organised now makes my life a lot easier – due to the central Block Grant. I used to have to budget it in my grant and hope that costs could be covered. You don’t know in advance where you will publish and what the actual costs involved will be. So, having that centrally managed makes my life easier and I can concentrate and what is the most appropriate conduit for my research.
“… they are not going to pay £100 each time they find an article. They won’t know what is it and they can’t be sure if it will be of interest to them”
Do you have any concerns about open access?
What concerns me the most is the financial aspect of it. There are some well-established publishers that are well-respected and, in a sense, publishing with them is like a guarantee, to the outside world, that the paper is of a certain level of quality. There are a number of exceptions; there are plenty of very prestigious publications which publish papers that turn out to be of low quality. But, in general, there are probably about 1000 papers coming out a day that could potentially be of interest to me. There is no way, with the best will in the world, that I could keep track of all that. So I have to make choices. What I do is that I tend to follow certain publication outlets and certain research teams across the planet and I see what’s coming out and who is doing what and so on. It is a very restrictive way of looking at it and it means that, ultimately, I still tend to trust certain publishers over others. Because of that we are a slightly held hostage by certain publishers and then they will say that you can publish open access but this is the cost of it. That is where I see a bit of a danger. We are then paying for a brand as it is seen somehow as a quality guarantee.
“… there are probably about 1000 papers coming out a day that could potentially be of interest to me. There is no way, with the best will in the world, that I could keep track of all that. So I have to make choices.”
There are some journals that are publishing gold open access and keeping costs to a minimum, perhaps just a few hundred pounds – what it might actually cost to do the work. Editing is usually done on a voluntary basis. Refereeing is also done on a voluntary basis. The costs are, therefore, not that high. There are server costs and other costs but the fees charged do not have to be so high. There is then the question of why should we be paying £3000 for an article to be open access? Where is this money going? There is a bit of a lack of transparency there that is quite frustrating and there is a concerted effort to try to replace the established publishing model with a new group of publishers. Some are doing relatively well and I support that very much. I am an editor for two of these open access journals. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that when a new journal starts from nowhere and says that it will publish everything for free it looks a little bit suspicious at first-sight until we are convinced that the journal is a serious scientific journal and not something that will just publish whatever comes their way.
“Editing is usually done on a voluntary basis. Refereeing is also done on a voluntary basis.”
There needs to be a country-wide concerted effort to get publishers to change their ways. If a country decides that it will not fund research unless it is published a certain way – that will only pay a certain amount and everything has to be open access – then the publisher will have to adapt. If it is just one person and they say I’m not going to publish with you because it is not good value for money then the publisher will just say suit yourself, good luck.
[Ed. – For information on current national and supra-national approaches to open access, see our information on Plan S, and Durham University’s consultation with academics and response earlier this year]
Do you have any specific advice for early career researchers and doctoral students?
If you can, always try to go open access. With gold – consider the costs and whether it is worth it but I see that open access is always good.
In academia we do research not for financial gain but we do it for the broader community, for society as a whole, and for pushing science and research forward.
The only reason I would suggest that you think a little about it is if your work has an obvious practical, commercial application or it will be published in a book and you may need to claim ownership, rights and patents then be a bit careful. This isn’t just about open access though this is about being careful about how you publish generally. Once something is out there you cannot take it back. And, if it is open access, even more so.
“If you can, always try to go open access. With gold – consider the costs and whether it is worth it but I see that open access is always good.”
As soon as you have agreed with your team that it should be published, do go open access. Not going open access to me is like trying to eat a hot ice cream – if you are going to publish then, by definition, you want to try to make it available to everybody. So why would you hamper yourself by not publishing open access? It does not make sense and is a contradiction as far as I am concerned.
[Dr Kislon Voïtchovsky’s recent publications include https://doi.org/10.1039/C8NR06339G, which looks at how Sodium, Potassium and Ribidium ions interact with the properties of soft interfaces, such as allowing for the tuning its mechanical properties with nanoscale precision. The article, and supplementary information, are open access under a CC BY licence]
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