Open Access week at Communications Biology

To celebrate Open Access week at Communications Biology, we asked the authors of some of our most accessed articles how Open Access publishing has helped with the progression of their research fields and careers.
Published in Ecology & Evolution

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October 19-26, 2020 marks the 13th annual Open Access week for which this year’s theme is ‘Open with Purpose: Taking Action to Build Structural Equity and Inclusion’. As an Open Access journal, here at Communications Biology we asked the authors of some of our most accessed articles how both publishing Open Access and freely accessing the work of others has advanced their research fields and careers.

Dr David Duffy, who is an Assistant Professor of Wildlife Disease Genomics at the University of Florida, is the corresponding author for the Comment article ‘Perspectives on the expansion of human precision oncology and genomic approaches to sea turtle fibropapillomatosis’. It was published in February last year following the earlier release of their article ‘Sea turtle fibropapilloma tumors share genomic drivers and therapeutic vulnerabilities with human cancers’ and has been downloaded over 35,000 times.  Dr Duffy’s main research interests are focused around understanding the causes and consequences of anthropogenically implicated diseases and threats facing endangered wildlife, particularly sea turtle species. He applies tools from human precision medicine to understand the molecular drivers of wildlife disease and uses environmental DNA approaches to track the transmission of pathogenic wildlife viruses.

With regards to the benefits of Open Access publishing, Dr Duffy states:

‘Open access publishing has made our research findings widely available. This is particularly important for our research as fibropapillomatosis tumors affect sea turtles worldwide across tropical and subtropical regions. Therefore, many of those interested in combatting the disease are not necessarily associated with well-funded academic institutions and as such have limited access to research that is kept behind a paywall. Many groups tackling fibropapillomatosis are grassroots conservation organizations and rehabilitation facilities, and every dollar goes towards their conservation and animal rehabilitation objectives. Most organizations of this kind simply do not have the resources to pay for access to the most up-to-date research findings. Additionally, as some of our research is funded by charitable organizations and government funders (i.e. tax dollars), putting the results behind a paywall rather than making them available to all might be considered somewhat unfair.  Open access enables the maximum return on those investments, as conservation and research groups can continue to equally benefit and build on this information. Such discrepancies between public funding and private access are partially recognized by the growing number of funders who require findings to either be published in open access journals, or at least have non-formatted versions of manuscripts available in public repositories.

Our open access research being highly accessed led directly to being invited to submit a number of comment and opinion papers.

Furthermore, having our results freely available to all not only provides greater access to others, but has return benefits to our research. I believe that open access publishing has enabled us to build meaningful collaborations and connections with a variety of sea turtle conservationists and researchers around the globe, thus progressing and strengthening conservation and research in this field.

Having our results immediately available to individual researchers, conservationists and media outlets has increased visibility and raised the profile of the rehabilitation hospital, the research lab, and myself personally. I have just returned to the University of Florida (UF) as a new faculty member, having spent the previous three years in positions in Ireland and the UK. Five years ago, this month, our rehabilitation hospital at UF had just opened and I had only just arrived at UF to initiate sea turtle research, having previously researched human cancers and invertebrate evolutionary developmental biology. Open access publishing certainly facilitated us in rapidly integrating into the wildlife disease field and in gaining support for our cutting-edge sea turtle research programs, while simultaneously leading to novel career progression opportunities’


We also spoke to Dr Colin Khoury, a researcher at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and Saint Louis University, who published the article ‘Science–graphic art partnerships to increase research impact’ last August, which has had over 24,000 downloads since publication.  At the time of publication of this article, Dr Khoury’s project involved bringing together a number of food and agricultural scientists, who work on challenging issues that are sometimes misunderstood by the general public, with professional graphic designers, to see if what they came up with did prove of value to the scientists, and if so, what lessons about collaboration could be learned along the way. He reports that without exception, the scientists found the collaborations to be useful, and all participants learned valuable lessons. In the article, he includes recommendations for researchers and artists, and a discussion of the value of such collaborations, as well as the challenges. 

With respect to how Open Access publishing has assisted with the advancement of his research field and career, Dr Khoury says:

Open access is a core value of my work as a public researcher, and a core value of the international and national organizations I work for. It has been essential to my career, with all of the articles that I have published that I think have affected any real change - in policy, action, or future research - having reached their intended audiences through open access venues. Examples include documenting the increasing homogeneity in national food supplies around the world and the geographic origins of our food, along with the graphic art paper in Communications Biology. These products have certainly opened a myriad of new avenues in my research, including by providing an avenue by which I have met many colleagues (i.e. we found each other through our open access research, and got in touch and decided to collaborate. One such person was Yael Kisel, one of the excellent graphic artists in this project), by generating sufficient interest in my work to have garnered invitations to speak/collaborate in important venues (e.g. to have been part of a think-tank type activity at the Aspen Global Change Institute, where I met Ellie Barber, another of the fantastic artists in this project), and by convincing my own institutions to support the research directions I have felt are most interesting and needed.

We thank both Dr Duffy and Dr Khoury for their informative contributions as well as all of the authors who choose to publish Open Access with Communications Biology. We continue to publish high-quality research, reviews and commentaries in all areas of biological science, which is freely available worldwide.


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