“[T]he Federation of American Scientists (FAS) is partnering with the Center for Open Science and the Wilson Center to source ideas that can chart a course for the next decade of U.S. government action.” See below our response to the call.
Motivation: What is an important challenge and/or opportunity in open science you hope to address? Why and why now?
The current scientific publication system is heavily reliant on journals. Journals provide multiple functions bundled together in a single publishing process: they 1) disseminate research, 2) seek to enhance its rigor and presentation through peer review, and 3) curate and attribute prestige through editorial selectivity. Because researchers are often judged (by funders, institutions, and informally by their peers) on the journals in which they publish, many researchers defer submission of their work so that they can assemble a complete “story” that is more likely to pass editorial selection at high-profile journals; once they finally submit, a protracted peer review and revision process awaits. This system actively delays the dissemination of research outputs, slowing the process of scientific discovery.
Moreover, bundling peer review with curation renders it adversarial, inflexible, and invisible. Reviewers focus on journal fit rather than improving the paper. Furthermore, journal review only involves a small number of peers, an increasing problem as science becomes more interdisciplinary. The efforts of these scientists are also largely invisible, and the quality of their review is typically opaque to everyone but the authors and journal editors.
Finally, the journal publishing system is dominated by entities that extract huge profits from libraries and researchers, diverting federal funding from its intended purpose of producing discoveries.
Policy Customer: Who within the federal government is well-suited to address this issue (e.g., White House OSTP, National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, etc.)
Funding agencies could act independently, but a directive from the OSTP, similar to the Nelson memo, would be most effective. Given the interdisciplinary nature of research, many researchers seek funding from more than one agency. Therefore, it is important that changes to the publication system are synchronized across agencies.
Research is also international. The recommendations below would synergize with proposals by the EU council of ministers, the International Science Council, and cOAlition S, reducing friction for researchers.
Plan of Action: What specific initiatives or policies are you recommending those federal actors take? Be as specific and direct as possible.
OSTP could begin by directing federal agencies to adopt recommendations following from the “Recognizing Preprint Peer Review” workshop co-organized by HHMI, EMBO, and ASAPbio in December 2022 (Report: https://osf.io/cht8p/):
- Consider preprints and their reviews in evaluations for funding, hiring, degree requirements, fellowship eligibility, tenure, and promotion. Make this consideration explicit on your website and in application instructions, for example by adopting a CV format that enables listing preprints and their reviews (where candidate is an author of a preprint) and reviews of preprints (where candidate is a preprint reviewer).
- Allocate funding and support for preprint review services.
Financially supporting platforms that publish first and review later (like funder-supported publishing platforms, or an ecosystem of preprints and preprint reviewing projects) will allow researchers to publish without paying APCs from grants. Over time, support for paying APCs from grants could be reduced and ultimately eliminated. Moving away from the Gold OA business model would provide equitable opportunities for researchers to publish and could help to control overall publishing costs. This approach would complement the “no pay” model proposed by the European Union’s council of ministers.
As a further step, OSTP could require that all papers resulting from federal funding are preprinted no later than at submission to peer review, and that these preprints are updated with each subsequent revision.
Additionally, federally funded research outputs should be published under an open license that permits reuse, such as CC BY.
Outcome: What becomes possible if the program is successful and fully implemented?
We expect a “publish, then review” model to offer several benefits:
- Research is available sooner, and society benefits more rapidly from new scientific findings. With preprints, researchers share their work with the community months or years ahead of journal publication, allowing others to build off their advances.
- Peer review is more efficient and rigorous because the content of the review reports (though not necessarily the identity of the reviewers) are open. Readers are able to understand the level of scrutiny that went into the review process. Furthermore, an open review process enables anyone in the community to join the conversation and bring in perspectives and expertise that are currently excluded. The review process is less wasteful since reviews are not discarded with journal rejection, making better use of researchers’ time.
- Taxpayer research dollars are used more effectively. Disentangling transparent fees for dissemination and peer reviews from a publishing market driven largely by prestige would result in lower publishing costs, enabling additional funds to be used for research.