The Janus Faces of Open Access Publishing | Guest Post by Dr. Frederick Domann

Frederick E. Domann, PhD @RickDomann

by Willow Fuchs

During the month of Open Access Week (October 19-25) we will be highlighting a number of guest posts from University of Iowa Faculty and Staff who have personal experience making their work Open Access.  We appreciate their contributions.

The second guest post is by Frederick Domann, PhD; Director, Molecular & Cellular Biology Graduate Program; Co-director, Radiation and Antioxidant Enzyme Core Service; Co-director, Free Radical Cancer Biology Program; Professor of Radiation Oncology; Professor of Pathology, Surgery

There is little doubt that the open access (OA) model for publishing scientific literature has revolutionized the academic approach to publishing and the publication industry itself. Since the advent of OA publishing there has been an exponential proliferation of OA journals which currently number greater than 10,000 (https://doaj.org).

I personally receive countless requests to serve on the editorial boards of these journals which I typically ignore and promptly delete. Academic institutions have embraced the OA model since traditional journals can cost as much as $20,000 per year for an institutional subscription. Indeed, universities such as the University of Iowa offer incentives in the form of payment of publication fees for their faculty to publish in OA journals. Indeed my trainees and I have benefitted from these incentives and have published several papers in OA journals within the last several years.

One of these (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24672806), published two years ago in the reputable Dove Press journal Hypoxia is currently the most viewed and downloaded paper since the journal’s inception. Clearly this has provided a brilliant showcase for our work and we have benefitted from the university’s OA policy. Open access allows free and ready access to its readers, while passing the costs of production and publication off to the contributors of literary content.

And while this “pay to publish” approach opens opportunities for investigators to quickly and broadly disseminate their findings, OA publishing also has a dark side. This dark side is manifest in the proliferation of “predatory” journals that accept work that may be of questionable quality and significance. Such journals should be actively avoided and are identified on Beall’s list of predatory journals which can be found at http://scholarlyoa.com/publishers/.

One of the perils of the pay to publish model are the presentation of opportunities for blatant conflicts of interest in the publication process http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc1307577). For example, pharma businesses might take advantage of the lower rejection rates and relaxed journal standards in OA journals to publish prematurely or incompletely to promote the interests of their company.  Another troubling aspect of the proliferating OA model is the pressure to provide qualified competent reviewers from a limited pool of knowledgeable experts, the demands on whose time are typically already overextended, to review the avalanche of submitted manuscripts.

Since the material in OA journals is disseminated digitally there are essentially no page limits and so the numbers of papers and rate of papers published is astronomical. Already more than 2 million papers are published in the greater than 10,000 OA journals mentioned above. Almost certainly the rigor of review that is afforded these papers is on average substantially below that of traditional journals. These acknowledgements appear to have led to an improved perception of the value of publications in traditional journals for the communication of highly reliable and reproducible results.

Other digital resources such as ArXiv (http://arxiv.org/) enable investigators to disseminate their own findings before they are peer-reviewed in pre-print form known as e-prints, so the information can be distributed to interested parties without delays or compromising the quality of the finally published work. And while ArXiv may have downsides of its own (http://mathoverflow.net/questions/65090/downsides-of-using-the-arxiv) it may present a viable alternative to OA publishing, and at minimal or no expense.

Hopefully this discussion highlighting the two-faced nature of OA publishing will leave the reader with a better sense of risks and benefits of both publishing in and reading from OA journals.