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Open access: how do we make the exclusive inclusive?

Opinion
Open access: how do we make the exclusive inclusive?

You’ve all heard our mission statement by now: science works best when research is open. But just what exactly are we doing to make scientific knowledge accessible to all, and how are we building a more inclusive, representative, and welcoming home for the diverse research communities that we seek to serve?


The theme of this year’s International Open Access Week, held 25th-31st October, is “It matters how we open knowledge: Building structural equity”. Coalescing with UNESCO’s recent Recommendation on Open Science, which sets out to provide a global framework to encourage the rapid and effective implementation of open research practices in the sciences, Open Access Week 2021 presents an opportunity for open science advocates to reflect on the current publishing landscape while also looking to the future.

With the open science movement showing no signs of slowing down, it’s more imperative than ever that we, as a fully open access publisher, are conscious of the need to push for more openness in research. The article processing charge (APC) publishing model, as uncomfortable as it may be to admit, naturally favors a certain demographic: white, western, middle class (often male) academics from wealthy institutions.1, 2 How can we claim to be contributing to the creation of a more fair, equal, and accessible scholarly ecosystem that, at its very core, divides researchers into two arbitrary camps: those who can afford to pay a publication fee, and those who can’t?

Well, there’s admittedly a long way to go until open science moves academic publishing out of the preserves of the elite. But, at Hindawi, we’re playing our part in building a more inclusive publishing experience that serves both the collective and individual needs of our diverse community of researchers all around the world. 

Hindawi’s commitment to structural equity

As a partner of Research4Life, we adhere to their best practice guidelines for waiver policies, ensuring that researchers from low-to-middle income countries can easily understand what automatic support for article processing charges is available to them. As Charlie Kelner, Researcher Engagement Manager, recently articulated, this makes open access - and the increased visibility and exposure that comes with it - a very real and tangible option for researchers who wouldn’t ordinarily be able to consider publishing outside of traditional subscription journals. 

Hindawi is also a signatory of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s commitment to eliminating bias, along with structural and attitudinal barriers for underrepresented groups, in the scholarly publishing process. As the epicenter of global research starts to pivot towards Asia and research output from the Global South grows, we’re actively broadening the geographical composition of our Editorial Boards and working to increase the diversity of our journals’ reviewer pools. It’s equally crucial that we educate editors and reviewers on the importance of inclusion to prevent ingrained biases against non-traditional research groups from impacting the peer review process, and amplify marginalized voices across a spectrum of disciplines. One way we do this is by lowering the language hurdle for non-native English speakers by providing AI language tools for free to all authors at point of submission (provided by Writefull), and through our partnerships with leading pre-submission author service providers. 

More recently, we’ve adapted our post-publication corrections policy to enable authors to retrospectively change their name on published articles with ease to support a more trans-inclusive publishing landscape. We’re also committed to making our publications more accessible for readers with visual impairments, and now encourage authors to proof their figures in “color-blind mode” to ensure all audiences can enjoy their article to full effect. 

Reflecting on our journey to date

While these initiatives are drivers of progress, it’s also important to acknowledge the limitations of our current editorial policies. Not every researcher based in a wealthy nation has access to the resources required to publish open access, while our mandate to only publish articles written in English remains a remnant of traditional western research homogeneity. 

The theme of this year’s Open Access Week has also forced us to turn inward and reflect upon what Hindawi, as an employer, is doing to facilitate structural equity in the workplace. If we want an awareness of the benefits of open science to trickle down into wider society, we need to ensure we’re living by our external values. We need to confront the fact that our senior leadership team is composed almost solely of white men, as well as the vast majority of our employees being from middle class backgrounds. Neither is unusual within the publishing industry, but we must do more to champion diversity, equity, and inclusion internally and ensure we don’t reinforce stereotypes that we have set out to dismantle.

So how do we make the exclusive inclusive?

We don’t have all the answers, but we do know that it’s not enough to simply give researchers free access to articles and shout “equality” from the rooftops. The key players in the open science movement need to ensure that the playing field is level for everyone, regardless of gender, race, nationality, sexuality, language, income, career stage, and many other factors that have the potential to stifle opportunities within the publishing sphere and beyond.  

Open access publishers have a responsibility to not just sit back and perpetuate the status quo – we need to galvanize change. So let’s invite non-traditional scientific groups and organizations into the conversation, identify ways to tackle biases that hinders the publication of important work and, most importantly, listen and learn from the communities that we aim to serve. After all, science works best when research is open. 

 

References

  1. A. C. Smith, L. Merz, J. B. Borden, C. Gulick, A. R. Kshirsagar, and E. Bruna, “Assessing the Effect of Article Processing Charges on the Geographic Diversity of Authors Using Elsevier’s “Mirror Journal” System,” MetaArXiv, 2 September 2020, doi: 10.31222/osf.io/s7cx4.
  2. A. J. Olejniczak, and M. J. Wilson, “Who’s writing open access (OA) articles? Characteristics of OA authors at Ph.D.-granting institutions in the United States.”, Quantitative Science Studies, vol. 1, no. 4, 2020, pp. 1429–1450, doi: 10.1162/qss_a_00091.

This blog post is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). Illustration adapted from Adobe Stock by David Jury.

Article of the Year Award: Outstanding research contributions of 2020, as selected by our Chief Editors. Read the winning articles.