As the Chief Publishing Officer at one of the largest fully open access publishers, my goal is to facilitate the dissemination of science for the benefit of society. It sounds simple, but it really is not. There is a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes, a lot of it dependent on the time and effort of volunteers – researchers serving as peer reviewers, Editors and Chief Editors. Without their support, it would not be possible to do what we do.
To reciprocate the invaluable contribution they provide, I strive for openness. Openness in the way I connect with researchers and in the way I foster greater visibility for the research we publish.
Scholarly communication under a subscription model often results in creating unequal access to scientific research – with broader public access shut off completely. I see scientific publishing as a collaborative effort to make a transformative impact on society. And that collaboration – whether it is between researchers and publishers or among publishers – is amplified through openness. The research community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated in a profound manner the validity of this view.
Over the last couple of months, the world has increasingly been looking to science to solve the problems we currently face. Across the globe, academic publishers are grappling with expectations from academics in virology and epidemiology, as well as governments and the wider scientific community, to have research published rapidly while aiming to ensure it is still rigorously peer reviewed and published following normal workflows.
How did we respond to the COVID-19 crisis?
As academic publishers we have had to think quickly about how we can address the requirements of this situation and create a coordinated response, putting aside normal, long-held publishing competition. I strongly felt the response needed to be collaborative to provide the widest possible societal benefit.
With our content being already openly available, we in the open access sector of the academic publishing industry have started driving forward a collective response to the pandemic; creating new alliances and working on cross-publisher initiatives that would previously have been unheard of. All of this while grappling with moving entire workforces to homeworking, adapting so that production workflows continue, and supporting the increasing numbers of academics in STM who have had more time to write up and submit their research.
Wellcome Trust was one of the first funders to create guidelines for COVID-19 work, which many publishers, including Hindawi, have signed up to, and implemented. These include free access to all published work and notifying the WHO of relevant papers at the point of submission. We insist that all COVID-19 submissions are simultaneously uploaded onto BioRxiv or MedRxiv to ensure access for the WHO, and others, immediately.
Some open access publishers have gone further, ourselves included, and have waived article processing fees for any accepted work on COVID-19. In addition, some of us have taken an even bigger step into more active collaboration aimed at ensuring submitted work goes quickly to the right journal, regardless of publisher, and that peer review is accelerated as much as possible.
A group of fully open access publishers and organizations across the industry came together to create a cross-publisher website to host and link all content relevant to the current pandemic – developing a dedicated peer reviewer pool so we ensure we are not over burdening specific academics; and transferring peer-reviewed work between titles and publishers to speed up decision making and ultimately the publication of relevant papers. This means that relevant, peer-reviewed work is published more quickly no matter the journal or publisher it is originally submitted to; during a global pandemic this is more important than who will ultimately publish the work.
These initiatives are being driven by exceptional times but they touch on key issues academics and publishers have long questioned – particularly around openly available research, portable peer review, using more dedicated peer reviewer pools and better cross-publisher collaboration.
Looking ahead to the future: Principles of collaboration in scientific publishing
Within only one week of announcing the #C19RapidReview initiative, more than 1,100 academics from over 85 countries had responded to our call and signed up to serve as rapid peer reviewers. And every one of these reviewers committed to rapid turnaround times and their reviews and identity being shared among publishers and journals, if submissions get rerouted for any reason.
This overwhelmingly positive response from the academic community asserts that large-scale collaboration in the scholarly publishing world is possible if not paramount.
As Stuart Taylor, publishing director of the Royal Society, Britain’s top scientific academy, observes in the Economist, “moves towards more open science, preprints and faster dissemination of results were under way before the covid-19 pandemic. But these events will heighten those changes and probably make them permanent. Scholarly communication seems to be at an inflection point. Like many other things until recently taken for granted, it may never return to the way it was before sars-cov-2 came along”.
The changes this pandemic has created within the STM industry will hopefully turn out to be long-lasting, and push the ideas of Open Science and the boundaries of collaboration to the forefront of all publishers' minds.
If my recent experience of working alongside my peers from other publishers has taught me anything, it's that far-reaching collaboration among competitors is not only possible but can also be deeply transformative when it is built upon the principles of openness, transparency, and community.
Openness is a necessity more than ever before. Without the mechanisms of Open Science already in place and without Open Access being the main driver behind all this, none of the initiatives mentioned here would have ever been attainable. The impact and reach of such a multi-stakeholder endeavor would have been limited to say the least.
Transparency adds value by enabling speed of publication while maintaining high quality standards. Being able to swiftly transfer peer-reviewed work between titles and reach the ones that are most suitable, required a high-level of transparency among academics and publishers, and ensured that research is reviewed and published through the most relevant and appropriate routes.
Community reiterates that we are all working towards a common goal – the effective dissemination of research, whether it’s related to COVID-19 or not. There are many other areas of research that deserve our undivided attention. We are in the STM publishing industry because we care about the advancement of science and the impact this can have on the wider world. It could just be that a global pandemic has shifted the lines in the publishing industry in more seismic ways than we can currently imagine; pushing the ideals of Open Science into the mainstream and perhaps embedding this kind of cross-publisher collaboration into all of our workflows once we return to ‘business as normal’. No matter what the future holds for scholarly publishing, any new solutions or models of collaboration provided will have to be community-driven and community-built to be sustainable.
We need all three elements of Openness, Transparency and Community to be acting as equal components. These extraordinary times have proven that the power of collaboration in scientific publishing is amplified through openness, transparency, and community. Let’s make this the norm so that we are better equipped to make an impact, together, for future generations.
Chief Publishing Officer, Hindawi