Science: How Close to Open?

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The programme (including abstracts) for the workshop Science: How Close to Open? is available here.

On the occasion of the Open Science Conference organised by the Dutch Presidency of the Council of the EU, EuChemS organised the workshop Science: How Close to Open?, which took place in Amsterdam on 5 April 2016.

This event looked into the present and future of intellectual property boundaries in chemistry research and debated questions such as:

  • Which model for peer-review publishing?
  • Who owns research data and how to share it?
  • Which approach is better for creating innovative products and services?

David Cole-Hamilton,EuChemS President and Chair of the event, opened the workshop by giving an insightful overview on the history and models of scientific publication which is now reaching a new stage where openness seems to be taking the central place.

Wolfram Koch, GDCh, presented GDCh´s position paper On the future of scientific publishing, which came out of discussions with academia, chemical industry, publishers, libraries, and funding organisations, as well as GDCh´s experience with the gold open access model (where the author or his institution pay to publish) with the publication ChemistryOpen. Wolfram Koch mentioned chemists are sceptical about gold open access and that the green open access model (where an article becomes open after a closed period) would be a preferred option. He also pointed out that there should not be non-scientific criteria in the publication process.

Emma Wilson, Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), started her presentation with statistics showing that chemistry is one of the disciplines with lower open access publishing, being the green open access the preferred model for publishing. RSC journals always have gold open access options, and about 10% of RSC´s content is published under this model. Emma Wilson also showed that the landscape around Europe regarding the publication of open access articles is rather variable from country to country.

José Cotta, DG Connect, European Commission, focused on the principles of open science and how to better achieve them via the digital single market. The importance of the flow of data and the reform of intellectual property that can protect authors, publishers while making science more efficient, transparent and interdisciplinary, and enabling broader societal impact and innovation. He also mentioned that beneficiaries of Horizon 2020 must ensure open access to all peer-reviewed scientific publications relating to its results. José Cotta also highlighted the importance of infrastructure in open science and the upcoming European Open Science Cloud, a virtual environment bringing together existing and emerging data infrastructures for all European researchers to store, manage, analyse and re-use data.

Cristina Todasca, University Politehnica of Bucharest, pointed out the advantages of open science for society and on the challenges that open access presents to young researchers. Open publication makes it easier to use research to influence policy, allows researchers from all around the world to easily access papers, while increasing citation rates, but many questions still have to be answered. Who should fund open access, grant holders or institutions? How to cope with the different fee levels between open access journals that might enable elitist journals only accessible to researchers from higher GDP Countries? Finally, given the fact that publishing in open access needs to be paid by the researcher or his institute, there must be a fair mechanism to deal with the foreseeable increase in the number of unpublished work.

The next speaker, Eva Wille, Wiley-VCH, inquired if scientists are drowning in a flood of papers and data.  She presented the increasing numbers of open access articles in Wiley-VCH publications and provided an answer to the question why is chemistry below average regarding open access – the historical links between academia and industrial research, the complexity of the topic, and a great sharing culture where those interested always had access and shared. Eva Wiley also alerted to the need to properly storage and to structure access to research data in a consistent manner where standards must be well designed from the beginning, and that these new databases will certainly change the way we do research, through the automatic recognition of patterns and the use of artificial intelligence.

Steffen Pauly, Springer, explained in detail how Springer is dealing with the open science paradigm shift, not only through open access journals and hybrid journals, but also through open books, open peer review (which is not commonly used in chemistry), open data, and new other collaborative tools. Examples presented included in particular Springer Compact pilot agreements and the Springer Nature extended content-sharing initiative Steffen Pauly highlighted the importance of dialogue as sustainable publishing models are developed in partnership between Springer and other key stakeholders such as authors, librarians, research institutes/funders, and scientific societies.

A fruitful discussion with the audience followed the presentations, allowing the formulation of some conclusions:

Sharing and storing data – There are different levels of development regarding data sharing and chemistry could benefit by looking into disciplines where the use of open data is more widespread, for instance in life sciences. Open Data must go hand-in-hand with the harmonisation of intellectual property rules between countries. The publication of supporting data for published papers should be encouraged. Standards for datasets (and content in general) should be clear from the beginning to assure interoperability, searchability, and reusability.

Peer-review – Open peer-review is not a common practice in chemistry and raised the attention of the audience. In the open peer-review model the reviewers´ names are published alongside with their comments, thus allowing the reader to be aware of the discussion preceding the article and also enabling more post publication debate. It is important to note that the proponents of the blind review model argue that the open model might put reviewers under constrains such as fear of retribution.

Rethinking the readers of tomorrow –  Even though scientific journals are meant to be read by a specialised audience, it is important that citizens in general have a good level of scientific literacy.  Also, digital reading is changing the way researchers consult articles, as they now spend less time on each article but consult a larger number of articles. Not only this, but it also allows artificial intelligence to find patterns (in both articles and datasets) that humans would not be able to find, a fact that will surely open many new doors to researchers.

Quality vs quantity – Open publishing, where the researcher pays to go open, will certainly create divisions in publishing. Journals that want to publish open articles while maintaining a high level of quality will have to reject proportionally more articles, thus resulting in higher publishing fees. On the other hand, journals with lower fees will allow the publication of cheaper papers but with a lower overall quality. In between these two possibilities, researchers will have to make choices regarding how much and where to publish. It is also important to notice that science advances not only through published research but also through unpublished research. Moreover, researchers from lower income countries should not be left aside in open publication due to high publication fees.

As this workshop made clear, the path to reach an Open Science is open in itself, with many different possibilities for solutions, but whatever choices are made, they must be beneficial for the progress of science and society.


You can see the video recording of the event at