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What is Open Access (OA) Publishing and Why Should I Care?

By Currents Editor posted 02-19-2021 06:57

Michael-Diringer.jpgBy Michael Diringer, MD

The financial infrastructure for scientific publishing is being completely transformed by a desire to ensure that scientific knowledge is freely accessible to all.  The power behind this transformation resides with those who fund research; they are insisting that reports of work they fund be freely and immediately available. 

In the past, scientists published their research in journals at no cost, and publishers made money by charging individuals, universities, and other institutions for subscriptions.  The new concept, referred to as Plan S, seeks to eliminate subscription paywalls, allowing findings to be freely shared.

According to Plan S, funders require that author(s)  pay publishers a fee to make an article freely available on the journal’s website, or submit the article to a free public repository where anyone can download it. 

Adoption of Plan S began in Europe, and this has led to the development of an alternative model.  Large publishers are engaging university systems to enter into arrangements where the university pays a fee to the publishers, allowing free access to journals (as they now do). In addition, the author(s) who are employed by these institutions do not have to pay an OA fee.  How much additional institutions will have to pay for this arrangement is not clear.  Overall, in the U.S. the long-term financial impact on institutions and funders remains uncertain.  

Impact on OA on Authors

By publishing an article OA, the author is assured anyone can read their work.  This appears to lead to increased downloads, online views, and Altmetric scores.  There may be a slight increase in citations, but data suggest this only occurs for articles that are already highly cited. 

Most publishers utilize a Creative Commons license that allows readers to copy, distribute, and transmit the article as long as it is attributed back to the author. Readers may alter, transform, or build upon the article and are granted permission to use the article for commercial purposes.  This differs from non-OA material where permission is required to modify or reproduce the work. 

With OA, authors are permitted to self-archive a pre-print (the version of the article before peer-review has taken place) and the accepted manuscript version of their article on their personal webpages, on institutional webpages, in funder repositories, and/or on a legally compliant preprint server such as arXiv or bioRxiv. 

How Do You Publish OA?

In Europe a growing number of universities and research institutions have executed arrangements where they pay a publisher a single fee that covers open-access publishing by their authors as well as free access to content that remains behind paywalls.

In the U.S. adoption of such arrangements has been slower.  This may be in part due to the ability of authors to comply by depositing the paper in a freely available online repository such as PubMed Central.  Until now, publishers enjoyed a six to twelve month embargo period before authors could deposit the final, peer-reviewed version of a paywalled article. As of this year, the plan requires immediate posting, and it appears most publishers are complying with this. 

Most journal are “hybrid,” meaning some articles are OA whereas others are only available to those with personal or institutional subscriptions. To publish OA, a fee is charged, usually only a few thousand dollars, but it’s not uncommon to see fees as high as $10,000 for prestigious journals.  Fees can be built into research grants, covered by the author’s institution, or paid out of discretionary or personal funds. 

How Do You Publish OA in Neurocritical Care?

Neurocritical Care is a hybrid journal.  Once an article is accepted, the author may elect for the OA option that allows free access to anyone from the Springer website.   If your institution has a contract with Springer there is no cost; otherwise the fee is $3,860.

More information can be found at:

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