Science journals to offer select authors open-access publishing for free

By SalM on February 5, 2021 in News

AAAS, which publishes the Science family of journals, announced today it will offer its authors a free way to comply with a mandate issued by some funders that publications resulting from research they fund be immediately free to read. Under the new open-access policy, authors may deposit near-final, peer-reviewed versions of papers accepted by paywalled Science titles in publicly accessible online repositories.

For now, Science’s approach, known as green open access, will only apply to authors of papers funded by Coalition S, a group of mostly European funders and foundations behind an open-access mandate that takes effect this month. The funders say immediate access will accelerate scientific discovery by disseminating new findings faster. Up to 31% of research papers in the flagship journal Science and four other Science titles have cited funding from Coalition S, said Bill Moran, the journals’ publisher. Until now, these papers had been available immediately only to journal subscribers, although the paywalled Science journals do make all papers free 12 months after publication.

Articles made public under the new policy will carry an open-access license, and authors will retain copyright, another of Coalition S’s conditions.

AAAS said it will pilot the new policy for 1 year, allowing it to judge whether the policy causes revenues to suffer. University librarians and others might drop subscriptions if they can access research articles for free, Moran acknowledged. But he said some librarians have told him they value Science enough that they will continue to subscribe to help keep it going. Depending on how AAAS’s revenues fare, it might even consider expanding the policy to allow other kinds of authors to publish open access in the same way, he said.

In choosing the green route, the nonprofit AAAS (which also publishes ScienceInsider) deliberately chose not to expand its use of the so-called gold open-access business model, under which authors pay a fee to make a paper’s final, published version immediately free to read. A sixth AAAS journal, Science Advances, charges a fee of $4500 per paper for publishing articles under the gold model.

Had AAAS chosen to convert its flagship Science to the gold model, the likely publication fee would have been prohibitively expensive for many authors, especially those in poorer nations or working in disciplines with meager funding, Moran said. The fee would have been “along the same lines as, if not higher” than the top charge of €9900 per article that the Nature family of journals offered starting this month for gold open-access publication, as part of its response to the Coalition S mandate. Moran said Science would need to set a high fee in order to cover the staff costs involved. What’s more, he noted, like NatureScience does not collect publishing fees for articles not containing original research, such as news stories, commentaries, and reviews. (Science’s news department is editorially independent.)

AAAS’s new policy is not a radical departure from its previous one, which allowed authors to immediately archive the near-final version, called the author-accepted manuscript, on personal websites and in institutional repositories when the final version was published. The new policy extends this to allow authors to post in nonprofit, subject-based repositories, such as the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s PubMed Central.

AAAS is not the first nonprofit scientific society that publishes journals to have adopted such a policy. The Massachusetts Medical Society announced a similar approach in October 2020 for The New England Journal of Medicinecovering authors funded by Coalition S members. Other publishers with similar policies include the American Geophysical Union, American Society for Cell Biology, the Microbiology Society, and the Royal Society.

The Royal Society started a version of the policy several years ago, and “We see high levels of subscription renewals annually (typically > 95%),” wrote Stuart Taylor, its publishing director, in an email. But in a recent blog post, he and other officials at some other nonprofit societies, which otherwise support open access, voiced worries that details of Coalition S’s policy could actually slow the increase of open-access articles and have other negative consequences. The policy includes a provision that could allow authors to immediately archive a paper’s final version, not only the near-final one. That could undermine subscription revenues and give journals little incentive to help authors make more articles open access, they wrote.

What is more, the near-final version, although usually very similar to the final one, typically lacks some useful parts that are contained in the final version, such as supplementary materials. And posting the near-final versions can make it more difficult to ensure the integrity of the scientific record, the society officials wrote: Publishers typically add any corrections or retraction notices for a paper to its final version of record maintained on their websites. But some authors may not replace articles they archive with such updated versions.

“Green has never been an ideal route to open access [OA],” the blog writers said. “It is wholly reliant upon precisely the model that the OA movement was trying to overturn—namely subscriptions. … Green has been the workaround, not the desired endpoint.”