Author + information
- Christopher M. O’Connor, MD, Editor-in-Chief, JACC: Heart Failure∗ ()
- ↵∗Address for correspondence:
Dr. Christopher M. O’Connor, Editor-in-Chief, JACC: Heart Failure, American College of Cardiology, Heart House, 2400 N Street NW, Washington, DC 20037.
Many of us have been part of the clinical investigative process for years, but we have rarely thought about the ecosystem of scientific publication. Let us take federally funded studies as an example. The investigators use their skill, time, effort, pilot data, and institutional backing to compete for federal dollars to conduct original, larger, and longer projects. These grants require considerable investment by the investigator, the institution, and the funding organization. At the end of the project, a report is submitted for publication, usually targeting the most competitive and highest-impact journals. The paper undergoes a review by paid or unpaid editors, and typically unpaid reviewers representing peer members of the scientific community. Upon publishing, the papers are available behind a firewall through a subscription between the institutional libraries and the publisher for 1 year or through an open access policy where the investigator, sourced by the institution, self, or grant monies, supports a significant fee to publish. The positive financial recipients of this current system rest with the publishers and, in some cases, the societies. Some societies depend on these dollars to support other activities that have no margin, such as education, research, awareness, and advocacy. The current model partially impedes immediate and universal access to information through these financial and institutional barriers.
As the digital transformation in our society continues, there is a large appetite for immediate global information. This has resulted in a number of initiatives to promote universal access of scholarly work. The European S plan and S coalition have articulated a potential 2021 goal that scholarly publications reporting the results of research funded by public or private grants that are provided by national, regional, and international research counsels and funding bodies must be published in open access journals or made immediately available to open access platforms (1).
The guiding principles of this S-PLAN include several important components:
1. Authors or the institution will keep the copyright of their publications with some restrictions.
2. The funders will develop principles for high-quality, open access journals and platforms.
3. Multistakeholders will establish and support the open access infrastructure.
4. Open access fees will not routinely be provided by individual investigators, but from funding agencies or home institutions.
5. Open access fees must be transparent and commensurate with services provided.
6. The stakeholders should align their strategies, policies, and practices to foster transparency.
7. The principles should apply to all scholarly publications, although scientific papers will be the initial priority.
8. The funding institutions will support the hybrid model (subscription + open access) over a transition time and with evidence of more open access publications.
9. A compliance system will be set up.
10. The funding agencies will commit to assessing research output based on merit and not on journal metrics or publisher.
These principles represent aggressive goals by the European scientific community to the open access state by the potential date of 2021, but in the global community of information dissemination, will the rest of the world be ready?
Recently, multiple stakeholders have pushed back on some of the founding principles and timelines. Individual journals existing in the hybrid model will be considered compliant if the transition demonstrates a commitment to more open access publications over time. Some restrictions to the licenses will be allowed. Although some disciplines could be heavily affected, the biomedical field is less dependent on these funding agencies (2).
Now, the current U.S. administration is considering an executive order to promote open access for all federally funded studies and scientific reports, originating from the Office of Science and Technology (3). For scientific fields like immunology, the vast majority of studies are federally funded, in contrast to cardiology, where 20% to 30% of scientific reports in cardiology journals have federal funding.
While I applaud exploring broader open access and the principles of early, immediate, and wide dissemination of medical information, the pace of conversion must be taken into account, as there could be some adverse consequences.
1. This policy could be perceived as a restriction of academic freedom as stated in the recent International Committee of Medical Journal Editors recommendations (4). Are we ready for a policy that prevents investigators from publishing in journal x, because it was deemed not a qualified journal?
2. Decrease in the quality of review and subsequent quality of scientific publications. In the process of peer review, significant augmentation of the quality of the paper occurs through a multi-review process. This involves not only recommending additional analyses, study augmentation, and adjustments to the analytical plan, but also identifying major and minor errors and correcting these reports before appearing in public. Peer review provides one guard against scientific misrepresentation.
3. Increase in scientific misinformation, as it will be easier to promote reports in the open access forum without safeguards. Although some members of the scientific community believe that science is self-correcting, it can sometimes take years and can impose harm that could get into medical practice from erroneous conclusions that may affect patient care. Take the case of some recommendations against vaccines and statins.
4. Important financial strain to small nonprofit subspecialty societies. The conduct of publishing journals through professional societies allows modest dollars to come into the smaller societies and support other important activities that may not have full support, such as education, conferences, research grants, patient awareness, and advocacy. These important initiatives would have to be re-evaluated in societies and may affect patient care by reducing other venues and methods of information dissemination and policy advocacy. As Dr. Mann has called out in his previous communication (5), it is important that we have a serious dialog about open access immediately and thoroughly, as this train has left the gate; it is up to the broader scientific community to delve into the details of how we transition from our current system that has served the community well in the past, but will not be the ecosystem of the future.
Ready or not, open access is here. Let us make sure our community is part of the transition process.
- 2020 American College of Cardiology Foundation
- ↵“Plan S” and “cOAlition S” Available at:. https://www.coalition-s.org/. 212020.
- ↵Holly E. Ambitious open-access Plan S delayed to let research community adapt: Funders behind the policy tweak rules after major consultation. Nature 2019 May 30. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01717-2. Accessed January 2, 2020.
- ↵Harington R. Politics and Open Access. The Scholarly Kitchen December 16, 2019. Available at: https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2019/12/16/politics-and-open-access/. Accessed January 2, 2020.
- ↵Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals. ICMJE December 2019. Available at: http://www.icmje.org/icmje-recommendations.pdf. Accessed January 2, 2020.
- ↵Mann DL. What Are the Off-Target Effects of Plan “S” For Translational Investigators? J Am Coll Cardiol Basic Trans Science 2019;4:132-3.