By Shan Sutton

Readers of “In the Open” are familiar with the ongoing machinations of Elsevier and other major commercial publishers as they seek to tighten their grip on elements of the scholarly communication system. As Mike Taylor points out, these developments bring to mind the underlying issue of who controls OA infrastructure, and the notion that resistance to commercial domination should be largely based on the academy establishing its own dissemination infrastructure, ideally with substantial investments from funding agencies. Recently, a new funder-supported open dissemination platform, Wellcome Open Research, has emerged as an alternative to vehicles controlled by commercial publishers, and in a separate development, the SocArXiv repository has been released as an alternative to Elsevier’s newly acquired Social Science Research Network. Wellcome Open Research in particular offers an intriguing model that raises the question of how funder and university-supported elements of OA infrastructure can coalesce into a more integrated system in the future.

Wellcome Open Research will be launched by the Wellcome Trust in the fall as a platform for its grantees to make their research outputs (articles, data sets, etc.) openly available at no charge to the author. The article component of this platform will utilize post-publication, open peer review by “carefully selected peer reviewers.” In the initial coverage I was struck by a quote from Robert Kiley, Wellcome’s Head of Digital Services, “We hope that other funders will follow our lead. We also hope that, over time, funder-specific platforms will merge into a single international platform that’s open to all researchers.”

It will be interesting to see the level of author uptake achieved by Wellcome Open Research. To what degree will authors buy into the Wellcome brand and open peer review as indicators of quality compared to the impact factors and blind review process of traditional journals? Could this platform’s success inspire other funding agencies to eventually follow suit and coordinate their efforts, leaving behind funder models based on paying APCs or requiring manuscript deposits of articles published elsewhere?

However quixotic it may sound at this point in time, the development of integrated dissemination platforms among research funding agencies could be a major turning point in establishing OA infrastructure that is not beholden to commercial interests. University-supported disciplinary and institutional repositories could supplement and integrate with these platforms by developing comparable services to disseminate the considerable amount of scholarship that does not fall under the auspices of research funders. In order for this scenario to unfold, authors (and their institutional reward and recognition systems) would need to sufficiently embrace article-level publishing and metrics as viable alternatives to traditional notions of journal prestige and impact factor.

Assuming traction with authors could be realized, a serious level of coordination among funders and academic institutions would obviously be critical, but the technological and economic elements of the system could probably be sorted out if there was a collective political will to make it happen. Thus far, universities have largely distributed their OA eggs into baskets that are directly (funding APCs) or indirectly (hosting article manuscripts) tied to commercial publishing. Some have viewed this as a necessary transition phase as new models emerge. Hopefully, the emergence of new platforms such as Wellcome Open Research will lead to more active engagement among funders and universities to envision how a scholarly communication system encompassing funder platforms and university-managed disciplinary and institutional repositories could provide a sustainable path to universal OA for research outputs.

Shan Sutton

Shan Sutton is Dean of University Libraries at the University of Arizona, where he advocates for models in which academia assumes responsibility for preserving and disseminating the scholarship its members produce. Sutton also asserts the principles of Open Access truly began with Grateful Dead tape trading.

Comments (1)

  1. Wellcome’s model raises some of the same questions that were troubling when university presses were used solely to publish the writings of faculty at the universities with those presses. Even now there is sometimes still a stigma attached to a faculty member publishing with his or her home press.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *