Revolution in scientific publishing: as from 2020, scientific results that have been obtained with funding from public sources cannot be published anymore in scientific journals that charge for subscriptions. Researchers, medical doctors, patients, and industry will get access to scientific data without having to pay. This has been announced by funding agencies from eleven European countries in September 2018.

Researchers, medical doctors, patients, and the publishing industry are preparing for a change
Access to scientific publications will be free in 2020 - editorial scientific opinion
In the new publishing model, scientists are only allowed to publish “open access”, in journals that make content freely available, after a one-time contribution to cover editing and publishing costs. Even the most prestigious journals as Nature, Science and Cell will be forbidden territory for European scientists, unless these journals change their business model, from subscription-based to open access. These journals do already offer the possibility to “buy out” scientific reports and make them freely available. However, the fees that researchers have to pay to make their report freely accessible are extremely high, and the journals continue to raise income through subscriptions. This hybrid system was intended for a short period of transition, but the major journals have made this their main publishing system. This system will disappear with the new legislations.

Although changing from subscriptions to open access seems straight forward enough, there are still three major hurdles to take before the open access model becomes a success.

1. Costs

Universities pay a fortune each year for subscriptions, while the publishers make big money from the hard work scientists put into gathering their data. To illustrate: the scientific branch of Elsevier had a profit of 800 million euro (about 700 million US dollars), from a revenue of 2.2 billion euro (about 1.9 billion US dollars). This makes Elsevier’s relative margin higher than that of Apple, Google or Amazon. Open access should stop this: the universities pay a one-time publishing fee, and the publisher makes the scientific study freely available online.
And this is exactly the problem. Publishing open access still costs a lot of money, which has not been included in any budget. Publishing fees vary, from nothing to 5,500 euro (4700 USD). Take the average of 2500 euro (2150 USD), and multiply this by 33,000 articles per year published by researchers from The Netherlands, and you end up with 80 million euro (69 million USD), or double the amount of the subscription fees that Dutch universities pay each year.

2. Publication record

Scientists are being evaluated by the number of publications they have written, the quality of the journal in which the studies have been published, and how often colleagues cite the papers in their own publications. These are all easy to measure, but bring problems: friends can cite each other, scientists can publish insignificant studies to get more publications, whereas some other studies are not being published because they are not spectacular enough to the journals.
The scientific community should therefore change its obsession with publication records as the sole criterion of scientific quality. One could think of other ways research could be evaluated, such as how the research contributes to science and society. This can be in the form of books, internet presentations, an important dataset, or a theory that becomes leading for experiments. However, it is as yet unclear how scientific quality will be evaluated in the new era of open access publishing.

3. Making the world a better place

The aim that Europe has set for itself is that through free access to science for everybody, the results of science can be used much more efficiently to make the world a better place. While this idea sounds wonderful, there two aspects to it that need consideration. The first is that scientific publications are written in jargon that can hardly, if at all, be understood without the help of experts. It is thus important that scientific publications are translated into texts that are easy to understand by non-experts. The second aspect is that open access may exclude a number of scientists, especially those from less-favored countries or beginning scientists who do not have the money to pay the publication fees.

The role of Sciencebriefss

We at Sciencebriefss welcome the transition to open access publishing. It aligns with our believe that data from scientific research should be made available to the general public. At the same time, we recognize some of the difficulties that should be overcome to make open access publishing a success. Sciencebriefss sees a role for itself to remove some of the challenges in the following manners:

1. Present results of scientific studies in easy to understand language. Being scientists ourselves, we can translate jargon into regular English.
2. Summarize the most important findings of a study. We write mostly short science news articles, with the aim to focus only on the news that matters, and prevent information overload.
3. Give a perspective at the end of the short science new articles to highlight the significance of the major findings for society or science.
4. Place studies into perspective in editorials, to express our view on where a particular field of research is going, or what the main challenges are.

If you want to know how Sciencebriefss can help you to bring your science to the attention of the general public, please contact us through our contact page.

Editorial article by ScienceBriefss

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