Open Access to Reliable Science

Published in Chemistry

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The ideal of Open Access publishing is irresistible. It promises free access to scientific publications for all researchers, whether in academia or industry, and for all interested citizens. It would give global access without a bias. Open Access has been promoted in particular by governmental and private funding agencies to maximize the impact of the research funded by them. It can also be viewed as a democratic ideal for the dissemination of science in society.

The scientific communities and the society expect from scientific publications that they report trustworthy and reliable science. Of course, scientific findings can and should be discussed, and sometimes they need to be questioned and criticized. But as a starting point, we should be able to trust the findings reported in scientific papers.

Sadly, the rise and common acceptance of Open Access publication has coincided with an increase in the prevalence of predatory ‘journals’, which accept basically any manuscript for a fee. These ‘journals’ serve only their own financial interest and have no meaningful scientific oversight. 

We expect that scientific journals are strong institutions with high standards. This requires peer-review and editors, as well as editorial assistants, editorial boards, specialist for graphical layout and language checking, and much more. This costs money. Of course, the way scientific reports are published changes over time and different scientific fields may have different standards for this. However, overall scientific publications require trustworthy organizations or publishers. Open Access would be nothing without high standards for the publications.

Who will we pay for Open Access? Academic institutions and private companies currently pay for access to publications through journal subscription fees and other forms, such as individual access.

Funding agencies and institutions in Denmark and other countries now increasingly require that scientific reports are published Open Access. But we sometimes hear that we are not allowed to pay for the cost for publishing Open Access. Academic institutions already pay for access through subscriptions and may be concerned about possible ‘double payment’.

It seems clear that they way academic and industrial institutions pay for publications will change in the coming decade. Maintaining high standards for acceptance of scientific publications should be the central consideration. The way we publish scientific reports will change in the coming years. As I see it, there is no simple solution for future publishing, when considering all aspects of the problem, in particular scientific standards, trustworthiness, and economy.

Scientists need to follow these changes. But they also need to prepare their PhD students and postdocs for these new challenges.

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