US scientists wary of authors’ publication fees

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American scientists are wary of the cost and equity implications of the Biden administration’s transformation order earlier this year to make published results of federally funded research immediately and freely available to all. readers, a national survey found.

Most researchers currently don’t have money to pay their own publication costs and aren’t sure how easily they can find it, with particularly high risks for women and young researchers, according to the survey of 422 scientists conducted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

AAAS is the largest multidisciplinary scientific society in the world, and it is also a publisher of one of the most prestigious research journals, Science. Science himself refrained from criticizing President Joe Biden’s decision, although the industry’s leading trade group, the Association of American Publishers, has complained that Mr Biden announced the plan in August without consulting to merits the parties concerned.

The Biden order requires federal agencies to establish rules so that, by the end of 2025, a version of any published description of taxpayer-funded science is simultaneously made freely available to the public, followed by a rapid release of underlying data.

It would largely undo the current, decade-old federal policy that allows journals to keep their published articles behind subscription-based paywalls for up to a year.

The Biden policy does not prescribe any specific method of compliance, although the AAAS survey is based on the widespread expectation that journals use the article processing fee model in which authors pay fees to journals to cover the costs of review, editing and publication. Biden administration officials, in announcing the new requirement, specifically noted the possible use of APCs and suggested that scientists could use federal research grant money to cover those costs.

But the AAAS, in describing the results of its investigation, warned of the risks of this approach. “While open access has tremendous benefits,” AAAS said, the expected reliance on APCs “has created some concerning unintended consequences.”

Among its main findings, the AAAS survey showed that about two-thirds of researchers had already paid for an APC. Of those who paid for CPAs and answered a question about where the money came from, 70% said they used grant money. Still, among those who had paid for an APC, a slight majority described the experience as difficult or very difficult, with the problem more pronounced at smaller institutions, AAAS said.

In addition, a large majority of researchers using APCs have made sacrifices, including foregoing purchases of materials, equipment, or tools, and not attending workshops or conferences relevant to their work, a said the AAAS.

Women were more than twice as likely as men to skip workshops and conferences to pay for their APCs, he said. Of the 89 institutions represented in the survey by librarians and administrators, only about a third said they have money to cover APC payments by students and other authors who need it. Fifteen percent of these researchers said they paid for APCs with their own personal funds.

These findings potentially add to concerns already raised by publishers that they cannot sustain operations without subscription revenue. Academics are particularly concerned about the fate of small, not-for-profit science corporations that use revenues to fund scholarly activities.

Many others within academia and beyond, however, have cited fundamental inequity and harm to scientific progress in perpetuating a status quo where American taxpayers spend tens of billions a year on research but cannot then not see and share published results.

The AAAS findings underscore a legitimate concern about a system that conforms to the Biden order by relying heavily on APCs, said Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition. , a long-time advocate of open access science.

“In particular, the data shows that employment opportunities for young people at the start of their careers – undergraduates, graduate students and postdocs – are taking a hit in favor of publication payment,” Ms. Joseph said. “This is extremely problematic – as is the indication that women’s professional development opportunities appear to be more negatively affected than men’s.”

A clear solution permitted by Biden policy, she said, would be for authors to continue working with subscription journals if they prefer them, and then publish a copy of their paper in an online repository freely accessible to all. the readers.

This development could end up costing traditional journals their subscribers, Ms. Joseph acknowledged. But, she said, “because very few — if any — journals only publish articles that come from U.S. federal funding, libraries are unlikely to drop their subscriptions, especially to published journals.” by non-profit organizations that are still relatively affordable.

“There is a real challenge as to who can afford these article processing fees,” said Sudip Parikh, AAAS chief executive and executive editor of Sciencesaid at the AAAS’ Annual Forum on Science and Technology Policy, where the company released the survey results.

Dr Parikh warned that other publishers with for-profit models have created journal families so they can incentivize scientists to pay APC in hopes of being published in their top-tier journal, but then keep the APC and publish the article in one of their smaller newspapers.

This system also creates an “unholy alliance with the tenure process,” fueling the incentives for scientists to publish more papers, Dr Parikh said.

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