Free Your Work

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

With scientific journals reaching ever higher profit margins, restricting access to research paid for by taxpayers, and double charging universities for subscriptions and publishing fees, it’s hard to find a scientist who loves our current publishing system.

And yet, professors willing to cut ties with the system that brought them success can be even harder to find. While the biomedical science community as a whole is lagging behind, a few trailblazers have been creating easy to use tools to increase transparency and reproducibility in research. Even scientists who dream of a CV filled with Cell, Science, and Nature papers can get behind these open access practices.

Submit your published journal articles to Escholarship

Librarians in the UC system are not waiting for faculty to get on board with open access. Their commitment to informing the California public paired with budget cuts and a 320% price increase in journal subscriptions over the last 20 years won’t allow them to.

Passing the UC open access policy was a key first step. This policy states that faculty members retain copyright privileges on journal articles written after the enactment of the policy in 2013. This was further amended in 2015 to include any UC employee, and means any author on an article published in a journal can submit the final article copy to any open access repository.

Conveniently, eScholarship was created by UC for this exact purpose and has tracked close to 50 million views across the world.

Selfless motive: The small effort of uploading a copy of your final article can allow anyone to view your work without a paywall.

Selfish motive: Papers that are open access get more viewership, leading to more citations. Also, it’s technically required by the university.

Power to the pre-print

BioRxiv is a nonprofit preprint server run by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory that allows you to post and view articles free of charge. It was started to make scientific findings immediately available to the public without the months or year-long delays characteristic of the classic publishing process.

The number of BioRxiv articles posted monthly has risen from 200 per month in 2016 to almost 1500 per month. This steep growth rate is evident on campus, from grad students scrolling through it every morning over coffee to labs reviewing BioRxiv papers in journal clubs.

Selfless motive: Getting your work out to other scientists immediately allows scientists to move at a faster rate, instead of waiting for “Reviewer 3” to get on board.

Selfish motive: Submitting a pre-print gives you a time stamped digital object identifier (DOI). This can be used to stamp your contribution on a topic, as well as to cite your work in papers and grants during the year long battle to get your paper into Cell.

Practice research transparency with open protocols

Most scientists have experienced the painstaking work of optimizing a passed down protocol. Details get lost through the years as scientists move on to other jobs, leading to a big headache and wasted time for the new grad student or postdoc. Detailing the evolution of a protocol, to those in and outside your lab, can help solve the abundant reproducibility problem faced by scientists.

Protocols.io8 is an open access platform created to help scientists share and replicate research findings. It allows labs to create private pages to document their protocol evolution, and to enable public access to facilitate rapid crowd sourcing of solutions to challenging protocols. Last month received a grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and is now free for labs with fewer than fifteen people.

Selfless motive: Scientists around the world can learn from, and avoid repeating, the year long struggle you faced optimizing your transformation your second year of grad school.
Selfish motive: Next time your thesis committee pushes you into a new experiment, you can immediately reference the protocol evolution posted by your lab and others with a simple search function. This definitely beats searching through twenty illegible handwritten lab notebooks.

Everyone can agree that the public deserves access to taxpayer-funded research. To efficiently fight pressing global issues like disease and climate change, we need to create an open global scientific community. Pay-walls directly counteract this goal.

We can debate how the transition is best done. Getting informed about the various ways scientists and librarians are tackling the move to open access is a great place to start10 and you can do so on campus by joining UCSF’s Open Access Group. And the next time you’re contemplating where to publish your paper, consider open access journals.