ecancermedicalscience

Policy

An Open Access future? Report from the eurocancercoms project

R Kenney and R Warden

European Association for Cancer Research, EACR Secretariat, School of Pharmacy, University of Nottingham, Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK

Correspondence to: R Warden. Email: rachel.warden@nottingham.ac.uk


Abstract

In March 2011, as part of the background research to the FP7 Eurocancercoms project, the European Association for Cancer Research (EACR) conducted an online survey of its members working in Europe to discover their experiences of and attitudes to the issues surrounding academic publishing and Open Access. This paper presents the results from this survey and compares them to the results from a much larger survey on the same topic from the Study of Open Access Publishing (SOAP). The responses from both surveys show very positive attitudes to the Open Access publishing route; perhaps the most challenging statistic from the EACR survey is that 88% of respondents believe that publicly funded research should be made available to be read and used without access barriers

As a conclusion and invitation to further discussion, this paper also contributes to the debate around subscription and Open Access publishing, supporting the case for accelerating the progress towards Open Access publishing of cancer research articles as a particularly supportive way of assisting all researchers to make unhindered progress with their work.

Copyright: © the authors; licensee ecancermedicalscience. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Published: 12/09/2011; Received: 17/08/2011


Background

In 2010 EACR conducted a survey on professional communication activities across its European membership [1] with particular reference to the use of the internet and barriers to communication. Over half of the survey respondents were working in basic cancer research, a further third in translational research and the remaining respondents in epidemiology or medical oncology. From a range of interesting information and opinions, the survey revealed that the internet is used by 94% of cancer researchers for professional activities every day with the majority accessing PubMed and online journals daily or 2–3 times a week. These simple statistics place access to published research findings online at the centre of support for cancer researchers’ work: a crucial sharing of information which can accelerate progress in the scientific battle with cancer.

While the survey had not focussed on Open Access specifically, comment banks and discussions at consensus meetings following the publication of the survey results highlighted the issue of access to subscription journals, the barrier to essential and urgent information that a ‘paywall’ creates, and the need for free access. Recognising this issue to be an important one EACR completed a second survey picking up on the issue of Open Access publishing in March 2011. This paper publishes the results of that survey, which was again conducted across the European membership of EACR, and cross references responses with selected data from the Study of Open Access Publishing (SOAP) 2011 [2] which was undertaken across all academic disciplines. The SOAP data are freely accessible and can be mined for information by anyone who wishes to. A number of questions were included in the survey that mirrored those used by SOAP, allowing the direct comparison of results. In this article, a comparison has been made between the responses provided by cancer researchers to the EACR survey and the 7,433 respondents to the SOAP survey from the Biological Sciences. (Over 43,000 responses were received across all disciplines to the SOAP survey.)

Figure 1. Access to articles of interest for research.

Figure 2. How many peer-reviewed research articles have you published in the last five years?

Figure 3. Approximately how many of the research articles you have published in the last five years were published in an open access journal?


Responses to the survey

The comment banks from the survey can be found in Appendix A.


Demographics

The professional experience of respondents working in cancer research was well balanced across categories: 31% (18%) had less than 5 years experience, 38% (40%) 5–14 years and 31% (42%) 15 years or more. The figure for the Biological Science respondents to the SOAP survey is given in italics and leans towards greater experience. This is most likely due to the overall profile of EACR membership which includes a high number of students and early career researchers.

Figure 4. What factors are important to you when selecting a journal to publish in?

Figure 5. Attitudes to the principle of Open Access.


Access to research articles and impact on work

Recognizing the importance of access to published findings highlighted in the earlier report, respondents were asked first how easily they could gain access to peer-reviewed journal articles of interest to their research. A quarter experienced some difficulties or could rarely access the articles they needed. The cancer researchers’ experience was similar to that of the Biological Science respondents to the SOAP survey (29%).

Following this line of inquiry, respondents were asked how often the articles they wished to consult were unavailable because they did not have free access to a particular subscription journal. Over 68% experienced this problem sometimes or often and over 40% could rarely or never compensate by finding the article in an Open Access repository. As a result of this situation, almost 59% of respondents indicated that a lack of access sometimes or often slowed down their work.

The comment banks also revealed that research is being hindered by a lack of access to the articles that are required and that valuable time is spent on attempts, sometimes futile, to find what is needed. Comments show that some solutions could be found informally but required resourcefulness, persistence and placed great reliance on informal international networks of friends and colleagues.


Experience of and attitudes to Open Access publishing

Respondents were then asked about where they were published and their experience of and attitudes to Open Access publishing.

When respondents were asked how many peer-reviewed research articles they had published in the last five years (Open Access and not Open Access), 41% (39% SOAP) had had 1–5 articles published but there were also 33% (42%) with 6–20 articles published and 13% (13%) had published more than 20 articles; 12% (5%) of respondents had not published in the last five years.

Fifty-eight per cent (65%) had published 1–5 research articles in Open Access during the same period, and 15% (11%) had published 6 or more. The proportion who had not published in Open Access during the same period amounted to 27% (19%).

The distinct similarities between the EACR and the SOAP survey data are more significant than the relatively minor variations, variations that are likely to be due to the relatively more experienced profile of the SOAP respondents which were alluded to earlier. With 73% of EACR respondents already publishing in Open Access journals, there is clearly growing acceptance of and engagement with this route to publication.


Choosing where to publish and why

When respondents were asked which factors were important to them when selecting which journal to submit to for publication, a combination of ‘Journal Impact Factor’ and the ‘Prestige/Perceived Quality of the Journal’ was seen as the most important. Over 95% (94% and 90%) regarded these issues as important and more than 50% indicated (48% and 41%) that they were ‘extremely’ important.

These factors were closely followed by the importance of the journal to academic promotion, tenure or assessment with more than 85% (73%) highlighting this factor as important. At 85% (90%), this rating was matched by the relevance of the journal for the researcher’s community. Also important to respondents with scores of over 80% were the speed of publication of the journal, the likelihood of acceptance and a positive experience with the publisher/editor of the journal.

Over 30% regarded the policy fit of the journal with the researcher’s organization, journal copyright policy and personal recommendation of the journal as important factors, with ‘irrelevant’ ratings never exceeding 25%.

The Open Access nature of the journal was seen as important by over 40% when choosing a journal to publish in, and less than 10% regarded this as irrelevant.

These are particularly interesting statistics as the three factors cited as most important in choosing a journal are related to impact, high esteem and quality: factors that reflect well on the author and support job security and career progression. Unsurprisingly perhaps, only a handful of respondents see any of these factors as irrelevant. The choices are pragmatic and well embedded in the professional culture.

Set against this, the score for Open Access offers encouragement for those who hope to see this form of scholarly publishing continuing to grow quickly in the future. Very few cancer researchers see the choice of Open Access as irrelevant and approaching half see it as important. This reflects the earlier concerns about the difficulty of access to articles as a reader when you need the information to advance your work and suggests that if Open Access can address any remaining concerns over esteem and quality, authors will progressively move across to this model.


Securing access

Money to meet publication fees and the opportunities for publication in Open Access journals come from a variety of sources; 33% of respondents were able to publish without being charged a fee, 23% had money for publication included in their research funding and a further 24% had their fees paid by their institution, and 4% of respondents paid the fees themselves. SOAP did not enquire about Open Access publication without paying a fee so direct comparison of data is not possible here. However, it was also only a small percentage in the SOAP data that met their own costs (6%).

The EACR survey went on to explore how many researchers were mandated by their funding body to publish in an Open Access repository after a certain time had elapsed following publication in a subscription journal. Only 13% indicated that they were required to follow this route, with the others divided between those who were not required to follow this route and those replying ‘Don’t know’. Of the small number required to comply, a third found it difficult or very difficult to do so.

The survey also explored how long an embargo was considered reasonable before an article published in a subscription journal could be placed in an Open Access repository; 71% of the respondents were closely divided between suggesting the reasonableness of 3- and 6-month embargos with 17% of respondents believing that it should be the publisher’s decision when to release.


Attitudes to the principle of Open Access

The most challenging statistic from the EACR survey is that 88% of respondents believe that publicly funded research should be made available to be read and used without access barriers: a figure just a little lower than the (90%) score recorded by the ‘Biological Sciences sample’ in the larger SOAP survey. Such a high score is a direct challenge to those involved in subscription publishing, as are the responses that indicate attitudes to Open Access are very positive. Respondents feel that articles that are available by Open Access are likely to be read and cited more often than those not Open Access 73% (67%), with only 10% (11%) disagreeing; 77% (74%) believe researchers should retain the rights to their published work and allow it to be used by others.

There are a number of key areas of concern in respect of Open Access publishing, and paramount among these is the perception that paying publication fees will mean less money available for research 66% (53%) and that this could penalize research intensive institutions with a large publication output by making them pay high costs for publication 40% (28%). However, only 19% (11%) and 22% (14%), respectively, believe that Open Access publishing undermines the system of peer review or leads to the publication of poor quality research.


An Open Access future?

There is only one real reason why most publishers have not fully embraced Open Access publishing as a business model and moved from the subscription model: Open Access will not and cannot generate the level of income and profit that is presently produced by the current business model.

The traditional subscription model is simply too attractive to publishers but completely out of balance for the funders of research, the authors of research articles and the subscribers:

(a) Cancer research is funded by the public through taxation or charitable donations. The output is then published with no requirement on the publisher to compensate the author or funder of the research.

(b) A peer review process is essential, and the cooperation of senior researchers in various capacities is essential to the process.

(c) Contracts between the author and the publisher are drawn up that protect the publisher’s interests by securing the article behind a ‘paywall’.

(d) Public money comes into play again as journal subscriptions are purchased by librarians and resource managers. This provides selective access for most but by no means all of the researchers active in cancer research.

(e) Subscriptions provide online access not only to newly published papers but to the archive as well, but if the archived articles have not been placed in an Open Access repository following a period of embargo or for any other reason, access to the archive will be lost by the subscriber if the subscription is cancelled.

No reasonable person would deny that the investment of the major publishers in the IT infrastructure for their journals is impressive and that a return is required for such an investment, but that return does not have to be secured through the restrictive practices of ‘paywalls’ and copyright licenses.

Open Access journals may offer free publication and access if provided with a funding stream from a foundation or other interested organization but many will only be able to function if a publication fee is charged. However, there should not be any difficulty with a ‘pay to publish’ model if,

(a) The research funder includes money to meet publication fees if they are required.

(b) The publisher accepts that the income from journal publication will fall but that there is ultimately no alternative as the landscape and expectations are rapidly changing in the digital age—not as dramatically yet as in access to recorded music and news publishing, for example, but the changes will not go into reverse. Publication fees will provide income and perhaps we can trust, at least initially, that free market competition will keep downward pressure on publication fees.

(c) Publication costs are defrayed in some manner by website advertisements or by using a ‘community’ as a basis for market research as is the case with the website Doctors.net.uk

The ‘Green route’ to Open Access offers the opportunity to see more articles reach those who need to read them but only after a period of embargo imposed by the publisher of a subscription journal. Not all publishers allow this route to be taken and where they do, legal complexities around copyright and licensing abound, with the definition of which version of a paper may be released post-publication being just one.

Authors themselves can do without the additional burden of managing the journey of their article into the Open Access domain after the publisher’s embargo period—and many apparently do, as underlined by Robert Kiley [3] who indicated that only 43% of mandated researchers presently observe the requirements that have been set by the Wellcome Trust.

The ‘Hybrid’ model also has a superficial allure where established subscription journals accept articles on an Open Access basis with a publication fee for inclusion. However, it is certain that an unbalanced business model will obtain where librarians, and others paying the subscription charge of a journal, will be buying access to some journal content to which access has already been purchased using public money. The Wellcome Trust is one body that has expressed its concerns about Open Access fees being paid twice [4].

The publisher may of course on grounds of fairness reduce the price of the subscription proportionately, as has been done by OUP for its hybrid journals [5] and for the EMBO Journal and EMBO reports published by NPG on behalf of EMBO [6], but there has been no great move in this direction. As Stephen Pinfield points out, ‘As publishers’ income has increased from OA fees in the hybrid model, there has been little or no let up in journal subscription inflation, and only a small minority of publishers have yet committed to adjusting their subscription prices as they receive increasing levels of income from OA options’ [7].


Is an Open Access future inevitable?

Publishing of cancer research articles is a valuable service provided by publishers. However, publishers are driven by the profit motive and must necessarily satisfy their shareholders. Their business is entirely dependent on public money, and that from the charitable giving, that funds the research and then pays for the published results.

In ‘Will open access compete away monopoly profits in journal publishing?’, Bergstrom and Bergstrom present a concise and cogent view of the ethical and economic argument for Open Access publishing stating in their conclusion, ‘A powerful technological reality looms over this entire discussion. With electronic access, the marginal cost of allowing an extra person to read a scholarly work approaches zero. When publishers—even non-profit operations interested in maximizing circulation—rely on subscriptions to generate revenue, distribution is inefficient because potential readers are excluded though it would cost nothing to allow them access. Open access publishing is one way of realizing the enormous potential gains that the internet offers’ [8].

In ‘The Access Principle – The Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship’, John Willinsky states that ‘commitment to scholarly work carries with it a responsibility to circulate that work as widely as possible’. He sees that in the digital age, that responsibility includes exploring new publishing technologies and economic models to improve access to scholarly work. He argues that Open Access benefits all, from the established and well-supported researcher to those struggling hard to find resources [9].

Change is inevitable as funders challenge the extraordinarily restrictive and profitable business models and choose different directions. A positive recent example is the approach to be taken by three important partners.

‘The Wellcome Trust, the Max Planck Society and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute are set to launch an open access research journal that will attempt to compete directly for submissions with Cell, Nature and Science. They will publish the first issue of the as-yet unnamed online only publication for biomedical and life sciences research in summer 2012. Authors will not be charged fees and anonymous reviewer comments will be published …. It is unusual for research funders to get involved in journal publishing. The group says that the move is an attempt to resolve scientist frustration with the publishing models used by the top journals’ [10].

There is a moral imperative for Open Access, the internet provides the platform for its realization and funders, and other interested bodies can provide the means to accelerate change.

The responses from the cancer researchers in EACR, particularly when married to the complementary data in the SOAP survey, give significant support to a new model that will allow researchers to access the latest published findings in their community as soon as they are available. The strongly supported view that publicly funded research articles should not be placed behind a ‘paywall’ should also help maintain the momentum for change. One doubts that members of the general public, funding cancer research through taxation and charitable giving and hoping for advances to combat the disease, would be any more sympathetic to the restrictive practice of subscription publishing.


Data

The full survey data can be found on the EACR website at: http://eacr.org/about/eurocancercoms.php


Conflict of interest

The authors declare that no competing interests exist.


Acknowledgment

This research was made possible by Eurocancercoms, an FP7 European Commission funded project, grant no. 230548.


Appendix A Survey comment banks


References

1. EACR’s survey of cancer communication. Accessed from: http://www.eacr.org/about/eurocancercoms_survey.php

2. Study of Open Access Publishing. Accessed from: http://project-soap.eu/

3. D-lib Magazine (2010) Berlin 7: Open Access Reaching Diverse Communities, Elena Giglia, University of Turin. Volume 16, number 3 / 4. Accessed from: http://www.dlib.org/dlib/march10/giglia/03giglia.html

4. UK PubMed Central Blog (2009) Wellcome Trust calls for greater transparency from journals on open access publishing costs. Accessed from: http://ukpmc.blogspot.com/2009/10/wellcome-trust-calls-for-greater.html

5. Oxford journals. Accessed from: http://www.oxfordjournals.org/oxfordopen/#FAQs

6. About NPG (2009) Open Access uptake prompts 9% price reduction for The EMBO Journal and EMBO reports PRESS RELEASE FROM NATURE PUBLISHING GROUP. Accessed from: http://www.nature.com/press_releases/emboopen.html

7. Pinfield S (2010) Paying for open access? Institutional funding streams and OA publication charges. Learned Publishing 23 39–52. Accessed from: http://m.friendfeed-media.com/1acb4475607910fe97653cf4d94936f5e48adb92 https://doi.org/10.1087/20100108

8. Theodore C, Bergstrom CT (2004) Will open access compete away monopoly profits in journal publishing? Accessed from: http://octavia.zoology.washington.edu/publishing/BergstromAndBergstrom04b.pdf

9. Willinsky J (2005) The Access Principle, The Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship (The MIY Press). Accessed from: http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?tid=10611&ttype=2

10. Chemistry World (2011) Funders unveil ‘elite’ open access journal. Accessed from: http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/News/2011/July/04071102.asp

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