One of Europe’s biggest science spenders could soon branch out into publishing. The European Commission, which spends more than €10 billion annually on research, may follow two other big league funders, the Wellcome Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and set up a “publishing platform” for the scientists it funds, in an attempt to accelerate the transition to open-access publishing in Europe.
A commission spokesperson says the two charities, which opted for a system in which papers are reviewed after publication, are “models,” but that the commission is only “considering” the idea. But last week in Berlin, at a closed meeting of the Open Science Policy Platform (OSPP), European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas suggested a “decision” to create the platform had already been made, says Michael Mabe, CEO of the London-based International Association of Scientific, Technical, and Medical Publishers (STM). OSPP member Sabina Leonelli of the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, who tweeted from the meeting, confirms Mabe’s assessment.
“This could be the start of something,” says Peter Suber, director of the Harvard Library Office of Scholarly Communication. “This idea has now occurred to two or three big, important funders. It might influence others.”
Last year, European leaders adopted an ambitious plan to make all papers published in the union open access by 2020. But the new plan suggests the commission believes the publishing industry is moving too slowly, says Leo Waaijers, a former chief librarian at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. “I think there’s an element of desperation here,” says Waaijers, who welcomes the new idea.
The Gates Foundation announced on 23 March that it will launch its own platform, Gates Open Research, in the third quarter of 2017. It will be operated by F1000, a London-based company that also runs Wellcome Open Research, launched in November 2016. F1000 Managing Director Rebecca Lawrence says deals with other funders and institutes are “fairly close.” (The firm also operates its own platform, F1000Research.)
The charities aim not just to make it easier to publish open access, but also to speed up the review process and make it completely transparent. Researchers upload manuscripts, which typically become public within a week and can’t be submitted elsewhere. Then, reviewers suggested by the authors make comments, which are signed and public as well, and the authors post revisions; once two reviewers have “approved” a paper, it gets indexed in PubMed and other databases.
Speed and openness aren’t the only advantages for scientists, says Robert Kiley, head of digital services at Wellcome. Authors can also update their papers after publication, and the platform welcomes protocols, software studies, and negative results, which are hard to publish in traditional journals. Roughly half the 54 papers published so far by Wellcome Open Research fall into one of those categories. Wellcome doesn’t require the researchers it supports to use its platform. But by funding it, Kiley says, the trust hopes to signal its priorities and instill confidence in researchers not comfortable with postpublication review.
Kiley says he’d be “delighted” if the commission also made the leap to publishing. STM, which represents many subscription publishers, is less enthusiastic. Mabe predicts scientists will prefer branded journals they know over the new venture. “Our view … is that this could be a potential waste of public money,” he says.
Leonelli says OSPP has not debated the commission’s idea but is about to make recommendations on another key obstacle to open access: the fact that jobs, grants, and promotions still tend to depend heavily on papers published in high-impact journals. (In a move to address that problem, the U.S. National Institutes of Health announced on Friday that it will allow researchers to include preprints and unpublished manuscripts in their grant applications.) “You can launch all the platforms you want, but it won’t matter if you don’t change the incentive structure,” Leonelli says.