The Future of Scientific Publishing is 'Open'


Have you ever stopped and wondered how much it costs UCSF each year for all those articles you read? The UCSF library spends approximately 85% of their collections budget, just to maintain their current subscription load.

During a recent panel, “The future of scholarly publishing” held by the UCSF library, Rich Schneider, associate professor of orthopedic surgery, estimated that UCSF spends $60 million a year on closed access publishing (this figure includes faculty’s personal subscriptions in addition to the $48 million spent by the university).

Science publishing is an $8 to 10 billion a year industry, where 85% of the content sits behind a paywall and 65% are published by for-profit companies. The current publishing system monetarily does very little to promote science education or the actual research done in labs, but rather lines the pockets of shareholders.

On average, journal costs have increased year over year by 6% for the lowest subscription tier; however, UCSF and other tier-1 research medical schools pay for a higher tier that sees greater annual increases.

With growth higher than inflation, maintaining the current pool of online subscriptions is unsustainable. This isn’t just a problem facing public universities, in a memo dated April 17, 2012, Harvard Library’s Faculty Advisory Council advised that the current increasing subscription costs would be unsustainable and were eroding collection efforts in other areas, stating: “The library has never received anything close to full reimbursement from overhead collected… …on grant and research funds.”

If wealthy universities are struggling to maintain journal access, then what hope is there for the smaller schools? The current system helps fuel a selective advantage regarding journal access for more well-funded universities.

What does a more accessible and level playing field for scientific publishing look like? The panel laid out several visions of the future from preprint servers, requiring raw data and software sharing earlier, and non-article shaped publishable units of science.

Keith Yamamoto, vice chancellor for science policy and strategy, laid out a proposal for the future where preprints would become the status quo for how scientists “publish” their work with the cost of managing traditional peer review and editing shared between funders and institutions.

Prestige of a journal, so called “false metrics,” would be replaced with real metrics of the impact of the article in the field and ordering of authors would be superseded by a concrete statement of all authors roles in the study.

With respect to a preprint’s current value, Stephen Floor, assistant professor, emphasized that bioRxiv permits a timed-release of your research, which can be critical for grant and fellowship applications.

As an early career research, he hopes that there will be standardized ways in the future to formally communicate important results that may not be a “complete story” in the traditional sense.

In the short term, funders like the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative are requiring all grantees to submit preprints, share any code as they develop it, and standardizing data infrastructure to facilitate a more rapid dispersal of critical datasets.

UCSF has committed to the OA2020, a global alliance backed by Max Planck to accelerate the transition to a completely open access publishing model. A fully open publishing model would save a lot of wasted time spent on trying to access articles behind paywalls and allow equal access across all universities.

Currently only 15% or articles are published in open access journals, which at the current growth of 1% per year wouldn’t see a completely open ecosystem until the next century.

Professor Yamamoto doesn’t think it will be overwhelming difficult to get everyone to choose open access. You only need one or more visible institutions to say they will mandate only open access publications.

So, UCSF faculty and students, will you lead the charge?

If you are interested in getting more involved with setting the policy around open research or want to join the conversation on how we can shape the future of science communication follow @ASAPbio_ & @FORsymp