Times Higher Education
The push for open access is making science less inclusive (Global)
Researchers in developing countries could be frozen out by high article charges unless wider publishing reform is undertaken, say four Brazilian researchers. It is hard to argue against the view that research developed predominantly through public funding should be openly accessible to everyone. Of course, it was always possible to request a copy of a paper from the authors, but while that facilitated contact between readers and authors, it was inconvenient. Nor are preprints an adequate substitute. Their quality is highly variable, and their sheer quantity is such that even solid work typically attracts attention only after it is peer-reviewed and published in a recognised periodical. But the removal of paywalls comes at a cost to scientists and institutions – and, in developing countries, that cost threatens to be prohibitive. As open access mandates proliferate, it has become increasingly clear that we developing world scientists are likely to be increasingly excluded from publishing in a large subset of journals. Article processing costs (APCs) have been climbing well above inflation and well above the estimated costs of running open access services – which vary between $200 (£146) and $1,000 per paper. There are open access providers that operate within that price range, such as SciELO: Scientific Electronic Library Online, a Latin American digital library with more than 1,000 journals. However, the disciplinary journals in which we aspire to publish charge at least $2,500, while APCs of $4,000 are considered within the normal range. Springer Nature recently announced it will charge $11,390 for more than 30 of its prestigious Nature journals. Here in Brazil, federal two-year research grants are capped at between $5,640 and $22,560, depending on researcher experience. Even our most generous research funding agency, São Paulo State’s FAPESP, caps its regular research grants at just under $30,000 per year. This sum is used to cover all equipment, consumables and services, including APCs. When we mention these economic barriers to international colleagues, we are often told the solution is a waiver system for struggling economies. Indeed, Plan S, which spearheads the push for open access, stipulates that “the journal/platform must provide APC waivers for authors from low-income economies and discounts for authors from lower-middle-income economies”. But most Latin American countries with significant scientific output, such as Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, as well as large countries such as China and the Russian Federation, are classified by the World Bank as upper-middle-income economies. Scientists in these nations must therefore ask for individual waivers (based on, as Plan S puts it, “demonstrable needs”) after manuscript acceptance. If the waiver is denied or the discount insufficient, the only right an author has is to take the manuscript elsewhere, restarting the already lengthy revision process.
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Times Higher Education