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Opening up. The Royal Society's headquarters in London.

Opening up. The Royal Society's headquarters in London.

Wikimedia Commons, Tom Morris

Royal Society Joins Open-Access Bandwagon

Less than a week after AAAS, Science’s publisher, announced the launch of its first open-access online journal, Science Advances, Britain’s Royal Society has done the same. Royal Society Open Science, slated for launch later this year, will “provide a scalable publishing service, allowing the Society to publish all the high quality work it receives without the restrictions on scope, length or impact imposed by traditional journals,” a statement issued today says. The journal will cover life sciences, physical sciences, mathematics, engineering, and computer science.

The Royal Society is the world’s oldest scientific society and publisher. Next year, it will celebrate the 350th anniversary of its Philosophical Transactions.

There are several open-access business models, but the Royal Society, like AAAS, has opted for "gold," meaning that scientists pay for submission and then published papers are available to everyone for free straightaway. Some publishers of traditional journals—for which submission is free but readers must pay a subscription—have shied away from open-access journals because it was not clear whether they would be profitable. But an increasing number are now going down that route and some journals are making a profit.

The society says that Royal Society Open Science will publish all papers that are scientifically sound, irrespective of their importance, and will encourage postpublication comments. Its editorial team will draw on the expertise of the society’s fellows and the journal will accept direct submissions as well as referrals from other Royal Society journals.

Philosophical Transactions was the first journal dedicated to scientific endeavour and introduced the concepts of scientific priority and peer review. Today more than 20,000 scientific journals around the world are based on these two key principles and it is difficult to imagine a research process functioning without them," Royal Society President Paul Nurse said in the statement. "The publishing model is continually evolving and it’s important that the Royal Society’s own journal offerings do so too.”

Not everyone agrees, however, that the Royal Society is following the best route. “The [Royal Society open-access] journal launch is welcome, but probably premature. While most of the established must-have journals are still subscription journals, paying to publish articles in an [open-access] journal is not only an additional expense for institutions that still have to pay their must-have subscriptions, but it is needlessly over-priced,” says open-access proponent Stevan Harnad of the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.

Harnad argues that institutions and funders should mandate that articles published in the subscription journals be made “green” open access by self-archiving them in the author’s institutional repository. Once this becomes common practice worldwide, such repositories will become the standard home for papers, subscriptions can be canceled, and journals can downsize to just providing peer review at a fair, affordable, sustainable price, he says.