Careers, Guest blog

Green and gold: the highs and the lows of open access publishing

From Dr Anna Volkmer

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Each time I receive an email telling me I have had a paper accepted to a journal I feel an absolutely enormous thrill of excitement and pleasure. As an early career researcher, I haven’t written heaps and heaps of articles, but I certainly have a few under my belt by now. All these articles are open access and therefore members of the public as well as researchers can read them. This means that health care professionals and people living with dementia and their families are able to get access to them.

Not all NHS trusts or healthcare organisations can subscribe to every relevant journal. Most NHS trusts employ a tiny number of speech and language therapists, compared to the number of medics they employ. This means that paying for a speech and language therapy journal is likely to cost a lot for a small number of professionals to access. Similarly, a trust may feel investing in cardiac journals is money better spent than a dementia care journal. Yet making these journals available seems like such an obvious and effective way of translating research to practice. If the health care professional is unable to read what the latest research says they certainly cannot change their practice. No wonder we have a 15-year lag between research and clinical practice.

Open access costs vary, from around $400 to $5000. Your University my cover the costs, check with your library.

Similarly, some of the people I work with (patients and their families) ask me how to access information on the latest research in the field. I spend time telling them and directing them to sources such as Rare Dementia Support. Other patients do their own detective work, and some seek out and read the research evidence themselves. Yet there is no way they are going to purchase heaps of different papers to gather this information. Paying for an individual article isn’t cheap, and an abstract only tells you so much.

Some organisations such as NICE or Cochrane can provide access to summaries or syntheses, they aim to translate research evidence into a digestible format by making practice recommendations. They can help professionals and families interpret the quality of the research evidence and what this means in terms of the care that should be provided. Being able to understand and anticipate what to expect on a care pathway or in their own healthcare enables a person to make informed decisions. Importantly, however, these recommendations may not be explicated, and a reader may need to seek the source of a recommendations to understand the exact dosage or timing or procedures of an intervention. Additionally, randomised controlled trials are often considered the gold standard and much of the research in less developed areas (such as dementia research) may be omitted. So, whilst these types of summaries may be more accessible, they do not necessarily support people to access the research itself.

In short making research articles open access from the get-go seems like a plain old no-brainer.

Previously, when funded by my NIHR Doctoral Research Fellowship, I had made provision for publishing around 3-4 articles during my PhD that would need open access costs covered. I included these (estimated) costs in my NIHR application and was able to pay for any journal costs as required. This is called the GOLD route to open access publication. Having finished my PhD I realised that many of the journal I was targeting had a transformative agreement with the university I was employed at. In practical terms this means that the university (I think) pay some sort of annual fee that covers most open access costs between that journal and the university. Alternatively, I was also able to ensure open access to articles by uploading the manuscript to the university repository – an open access platform hosting all the universities employees publications. I believe this is called the Green route to open access publication).

Sadly, I recently experienced a frustrating set back in publishing an article. I had checked a journal out with my library (in January this year), and, believing the university had a transformative agreement with the journal had submitted a manuscript to them. The manuscript went through two round of reviewer edits before being accepted (seven months after submission- in August). At this point I checked again and realised that the transformative agreement had expired end of December the previous year- about a month before I’d submitted my manuscript. Unfortunately, the journal ONLY has a gold route. So, despite checking with all available sources I am currently about to withdraw my article from the journal. This means I have start all over again with another journal.

Not only do I feel like a bit of an idiot but I also feel the loss of a possible open access publication. Every submitted manuscript requires a lot of work and just having a piece of work accepted feels like a massive win. Especially for a researcher from a small discipline such as speech and language therapy working in dementia. Having to withdraw a manuscript feels like a bit of a fail. But next time I will check and check again. Now wish me luck on my next attempt at submitting this manuscript!!! I’ll let you know how I get on.

How much do publishers charge for open access?

The amount that publishers charge for gold open access varies considerably, from nothing to $5200. The charges can differ from what is stated on the publisher website as it depends on whether the institution has a membership or some other arrangement with a particular publisher which might provide a discount. In addition, some publishers offer individual members’ discounts.

Generally the range is between $2000-$3000, though there are a few very expensive journals such as Cell ($5000), The EMBO Journal ($5200) and Nature Communications (£3300).

When deciding which journal to publish in, you should check with your institutions library to explore if they have an open access agreement already in place. This would mean your publication would be open access, and even if they don’t, your institution will usually have a budget to cover costs of publication – but there will generally be a process to apply.

The average open access article processing charge the Open Access Service pays is £2147. This figure is an average across the entire University, although the bias is towards science and engineering journals.

Some research funders e.g. UK Research Councils, Cancer Research UK, British Heart Foundation or the Wellcome Trust, do not need to apply for publishing costs in your grant application. If your funding comes from a member of the Association of Medical Research Charities, you will also have access to publish your article for free through F1000 Research – https://amrcopenresearch.org/ 


Author

Dr Anna Volkmer is a Speech and Language Therapist and researcher in Language and Cognition, Department of Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London. Anna is researching Speech and language therapy interventions in language led dementia and was once voted scariest speech and language therapist (even her children agree).

 

 

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