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ScienceOpen: the next wave of Open Access?

The internet is transforming the way researchers communicate. And the pace of change is increasing. A number of issues have arisen under increasing public scrutiny. These include peer-review transparency, open data, evaluation of research impact—both based on articles and authors—as well as research reproducibility. At the same time, demand for real time Open Access (OA) to the latest scientific and medical results has rocketed.

As a result, the number of information sources and service providers is expanding. It is into this crowded and competitive—yet vibrant and creative environment—that we launched ScienceOpen in May 2014. It is a self-described “research + OA publishing network” that is designed to offer rapid publishing services and to facilitate expert peer review after publication either of the articles our network publishes, or of one of the OA articles from ArXiv and PubMed Central—which encompasses the content of OA publishers such as PLOS, F1000R and PeerJ content—aggregated under the umbrella of our publishing platform.

Origin of the concept

The idea stemmed from my experience of working for two decades as a physicist, a publisher and now as a professor of publishing management at HTWK Leipzig. This convinced me that there was too much revenue at stake within the traditional publishing industry to facilitate the rapid evolution of truly open communication of scientific ideas and results. Legacy publishers seem to be prisoners of their past. They are trapped by the business model that they have inherited. They are squeezed by their shareholders. Above all, they are paralysed by their need to maintain the high profit levels to which they have become accustomed.

Transitioning away from the publishing industry into academia, gave me the time and space to more objectively view the challenges that face scholarly publishers. And to better understand the perspective of the audience of researchers that they serve. These scientists seem to have largely been forgotten in the publishing process.

From these observations, I concluded that newcomers in science publishing would need to display greater openness. To demonstrate this vision of the future of scientific publishing, I partnered with Tibor Tscheke, a scientific publishing expert who runs a content management software company, called Ovitas, based in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Together we decided to launch ScienceOpen.

Underlying philosophy

What lies at the heart of our vision for our new publishing network is the premise that scholarly publishing is not an end in itself. Instead, we believe that it is the beginning of a dialogue to move research forward. We do not want to be just another new OA journal. But will develop our platform into a service-provider for research authors from all disciplines; from the natural sciences and medicine to the humanities and social sciences. This way, we wish to spread OA to all research in its broad diversity and make even more of the world’s knowledge freely available to read and re-use.

Our idea is to offer an improved service during the publishing process. For example, we have brought back basic author services that used to be a de facto publishing standard but disappeared from some OA services, such as proofing, copy editing and language help. We have also addressed the revision process, which takes place, for example, in response to peer review recommendations. It seemed to us that versioning would be helpful. This is why we facilitate two versions—minor or major—to ensure that the full history of the article is completely visible.

To address a key issue of concern to researchers, we wanted to improve the pace of publishing. Rather than waiting months for research to be published under a traditional pre-publication peer review system—such as that still used at PLOS ONE—we set ourselves a goal of publishing results online with a Digital Object Identifier (DOI), within about a week after an internal editorial check. We call this a preview article since it has a DOI and is published under the ISSN ‘ScienceOpen Research.’ Since our publishing network was built on a flexible content management system, we are able to offer all article types for cost-effective price of $800 (€640).

Naturally, we believe that OA is a pre-requisite for the future of scientific publishing. But it is not the only dimension that needs fixing! Put simply, the current peer review system does not work. In traditional peer review, editors attempt to predict the future importance of an article. By acting as gatekeepers, they effectively ensure that a great deal of submitted manuscripts will never be published. In addition, the behind-closed doors peer review selection process also slows science down while being rewarded by higher impact factors. Both of these aspects makes the traditional publishing cycle difficult to break.

Post-publication peer review

As a solution to this dilemma, we offer non-anonymous post-publication peer review as illustrated in these examples. Authors can suggest up to ten people to review their article. Reviews of the articles we publish and any of the nearly 1.4 million other OA papers aggregated on our platform, are by named academics. To be eligible to become post-publication reviewers, researchers need to have at least five publications on their ORCID ID. This is our way of maintaining the standard of scientific discourse. We believe that those who have experienced peer review themselves should be more likely to understand the pitfalls of the process and to offer constructive feedback to others.

All reviews require a four point assessment—using five stars—reflecting the level of importance, the validity, the completeness and comprehensiveness of the work. There is also space to introduce and summarise the material. To give credit to busy researchers, who are tired of participating to peer-review without recognition, each review receives a DOI. This means that others can find and cite the post publication peer-review analysis. The contribution thus becomes a registered part of the scientific debate.

When peer review is done in the open by named individuals, we believe it should be more constructive. And potential issues will surface more quickly. The resolution of matters arising is not simpler or quicker because they are more obvious, but at least they can be seen and addressed.

 Participatory science

The aggregated OA articles on our platform are from other leading OA publishers such as PLOS, F1000 Research, PeerJ. Over the coming months and years, we will expand this mirrored content.

We would like to explore what advances become possible when a growing proportion of the literature—be it from scientific, medical or from other disciplines—is published on a single platform, and is available for curation by the research community. This is why we recently announced the ability for members of the community, called Community Editors, to create and visually customise their own content collections and receive a modest stipend for their efforts. We also hired Richard Gallagher, an esteemed Nature and Science Alumni, to lead this part of our vision.

We believe that access to the data that underlies articles will likely become an extremely important element in the way communication surrounding research is taking place. Each article then increasingly becomes merely the ‘wrapper’ for an ongoing conversation about the research. This may reveal in the future that the article format is not adequate for this task.

What is also clear is that replicating and reproducing experiments would be facilitated by an increasing focus on the data. This means that –in the spirit of full transparency– negative results also become a vital part of this equation.

Next stage

It has taken approximately ten years for OA to lay the ground work for a more open dialogue around research. This is not a quick shift by any means. Nonetheless everyone involved has a great deal to be proud of. I think that science publishing will continue to evolve and that the pace of change is starting to increase in a way that is noticeable.

My wish is that all research stakeholders, including previously underserved authors, will benefit from better, faster and cheaper OA publishing services. I also hope that this will enable science to move forward more rapidly and transparently. Ultimately, I hope that public faith in the way research is communicated will be restored through greater replicability and fewer retractions.

Alexander Grossmann

Co-founder and President ScienceOpen, Berlin, Germany

Photo credit: Alexander Grossmann

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11 thoughts on “ScienceOpen: the next wave of Open Access?”

  1. Demand from institutions for publishers and their vendors to pass
    metadata, acceptance notifications and even manuscripts through to them
    automatically will continue to grow in 2016. Many librarians and
    research managers are now expected to monitor levels of OA publishing
    for both internal and external reporting purposes, and are exploring
    opportunities to capture this information more effectively in their
    internal systems. This will open up the possibility of extending
    publishing workflows right through to institutions’ current research
    information systems, thereby joining up the workflows of author and
    librarian, and eliminating the manual (and potentially error-prone) data
    entry that is taking place today.

  2. Hi Irina,
    Thank you very much for your feedback. Just to comment some of your useful remarks:

    – Article fee: yes, this is a principal situation for all open access models in which the author has to compensate the editorial efforts for an immediate (so-called “Gold”) OA publication. These fees differ from a few hundred to several thousand Euros or USD in dependence of the OA journal and the publisher. As an Observation, as more prestigous the journal, as higher the fee. ScienceOpen’s article processing fee is related to true internal costs (not the prestige).
    Moreover ScienceOpen is offering a waiver policy for low-income countries to reduce or waive publishing fees to those who demonstrate need. Our waiver policy is open to those authors who apply and are based in one of the countries enrolled in the HINARI program of the World Health Organization. (See: http://about.scienceopen.com/faqs/ )

    – Review: the situation which you described can happen as I have experienced myself more than one time when working at journal editorial offices of major international publishers or as a reviewer myself. The best way to avoid poor quality reviewers’ reports is full transparency as ScienceOpen has established as its policy: if a reviewer has to disclose his/her identity together with the publicly available report, there should be at least a higher motivation to put more effort in the reviewing work. This is also what a majority of researchers expected when being asked about their opinion of this question in a recent survey – it’s quite obvious I must agree.

  3. Everything is nice. Very quick publication et cetera.
    Main minus, in my opinion, is that there will be discrimination among authors. Somebody can pay $800 without any problem, and some others (and there are many such others) will not have this possibility.
    As a result, we can lose interesting experimental data, only because authors of the experiments have no enough money to pay for publication. Or this does not matter?
    Second is review of this publications. You offer 10 potential reviewers? OK, why not? A couple of months ago I reviewed manuscript written by Chinese authors. In fact, it was terrible, a lot of mistakes. I did not reject it just because I never do this. I wrote 4 pages of comments and sent my comments to Editor. It was a big surprise for me to see that second reviewer wrote that this manuscript can be accepted without corrections(!). Yes, sometimes it possible, but that time it was absolutely impossible. This means only that reviewer had no time to read manuscript. Or(?) he might be a friend of author and author asked him in advance to assist with review

    1. Great points Irina. Open Access needs to be within financial reach for all. This is why we offer a full or partial fee waiver for those who demonstrate need from low and middle income countries and we recently extend this to those in less well funded disciplines such as social sciences and humanities. You can find out more here http://about.scienceopen.com/editorial-policy/#more-65

      As to your experiences of peer-review reported above, it sounds like this was Pre-Publication Peer-Review since you sent your comments to the Editor. We only offer Non Anonymous Post-Publication Peer Review (PPPR) to experts with five or more publications per their ORCID)) to avoid this problem, among others. If you had reviewed that article for us, you would have pushed your review live and received a DOI for it so it can be found and citations counted. The article under review would already be published so no need to reject it. If the author then wished to make revisions based on your comments, then up to two versions are included in the fee. I also very much doubt that the second reviewer would have accepted it without corrections if they had also operated under an open system.

      I guess the major difference from Peer Review done the old way and what we offer here is that problems like the one you mention are more visible, it doesn’t mean that they are easier to resolve but at least they get aired in public and perhaps there is less chance of nasty surprises!

      If you want to see PPPR in action at ScienceOpen then please check out this post: http://blog.scienceopen.com/2014/10/non-anon-post-pub-peer-review-in-action/

      If you want to read more about our Reviewing process then please take a look at:
      http://blog.scienceopen.com/2014/09/scienceopen-making-publishing-easier-why-review/

  4. Re: The internet is transforming the way researchers communicate.

    An Open Access acquisition perspective should not be a scientific community concern only [ScienceOpen]. This point needs to be addressed more loudly than this article does.

    The Social System we live in “has chosen ignorance” – i.e.: http://openletter.euroscience.org/open-letter/ – because the way Public Administrators, Politicians and Marketers communicate is still refusing to acknowledge the new [functional and behavioural] standards enabled by the Internet.

    The lack of comments for articles on Responsible Research and Innovation [RRI], …. http://www.euroscientist.com/abridged-genealogy-rri-concept/ … shows that the possibility for science policy to explicitly include society [or “the social system”] is at risk of rating as a naive expectation.

    Somebody should look back and reconsider what happened when the European Commission “had a dream” and “blessed” a workshop called EWOS [European Workshop for Open Systems], where standards required by the acquisition of an Open System Environment were studied and investigated, for the sake of application and people “interoperability” across heterogeneous systems.

    In loving memory of what – 21 years ago – could have been addressed as “the social aspects of open system interconnection”: https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/101438010163979157405/albums/5409122553506398401

    #OpenSystemEnvironment