A new RSNA policy for open access (OA) publishing will provide options for authors whose research requires adherence to OA rules, yet still enable its journals’ business model to remain sustainable. Originally applicable only to publicly funded research in the United Kingdom, wider adoption of OA publishing has already begun and is a potential threat to subscription-based journals like Radiology, RSNA’s Publications Council cautioned.
Open access publishing—free, unrestricted access to publications and data via the Internet— has expanded considerably over the past decade. The OA model typically offers contributing authors two pathways. In the “gold” model, authors or funders pay article processing charges (APCs) that make articles available to the public immediately upon publication. The “green” model allows for public access after a short embargo period.
A model developed by RSNA’s Publications Council and approved by the RSNA Board of Directors in June 2013 is essentially a hybrid version that will offer authors whose research funders mandate open access a choice of gold or green access. The policy applies to the RSNA journals Radiology, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and RadioGraphics, a peer-reviewed journal devoted to continuing medical education in radiology. Articles in Radiology and RadioGraphics have been freely accessible after one year since 2004.
Under RSNA’s new OA policy, authors who opt to make their articles immediately available to the public will pay a $3,000 fee to help recoup the journal’s peer review, editorial, production, and distribution costs.
“We don’t want anyone with an OA mandate to be dissuaded from choosing Radiology,” said William T. Thorwarth Jr., M.D., RSNA Board Liaison for RSNA Publications and Communications and Chair of the RSNA Publications Council. “Those authors submitting under gold open access must submit the article processing charge at the time of article acceptance that will cover some, but not by any means all, of the cost of processing the article through our system.”
The new policy reflects the changing realities faced by publishers of subscription-based journals in the OA era. The number of OA articles published in the biomedical field grew from 7,400 in 2000 to 120,900 in 2011, according to a 2012 study in the online journal BMC Medicine, co-authored by Bo-Christer Björk, a professor at the Swedish School of Economics and Business Administration in Helsinki.
Current National Institutes of Health (NIH) mandates require that peer-reviewed journal manuscripts arising from research supported by NIH funds be made accessible to the public through PubMed Central, the agency’s free online repository, no later than 12 months after publication. While OA advocates applaud these developments, some editors are concerned that the changes could end up compromising editorial quality.
“Clearly, there has been a push on the part of the government toward open access,” said Jeffrey S. Klein, M.D., RadioGraphics editor and member of the RSNA Publications Council. “What gets lost in that is the value that publishers add to material.”
“There is a lot of costly effort that goes into the high-quality journals we publish, not just in editing and production but in the peer-review process,” said Dr. Thorwarth, a radiologist with Catawba Radiological Associates in Hickory, N.C. “To take work like that and make it available for free is a challenging business model.”
Funding for the RSNA’s two journals is primarily derived from an allocation from Society membership dues and licenses and subscriptions purchased by institutions as well as individuals who are not members.
“Surveys of RSNA members have shown that the two journals—along with the annual meeting—are the most-valued benefits of membership,” Dr. Thorwarth said. “If the content of these journals is available for free immediately through mandates, then there is not as much incentive for membership.”
As challenging as OA has been to traditional publishers, it also presents authors with a confusing set of choices and responsibilities. Journals have widely different charges for gold access, and authors must familiarize themselves with copyright and licensing issues once handled by the journals. The system of licenses known as Creative Commons (CC) is divided into types with varying restrictions, including the unrestricted license known as “CC-BY.” Some OA mandates require that authors’ work be published under a CC-BY license that allows it to be modified and used for any purpose—including commercial purposes—without the author’s or publisher’s permission.
“Under CC-BY, another author or open access journal could take your work, tweak it and put it out there in some other publication, as long as they cite you, the original author, as the source,” Dr. Thorwarth said. “Or a vendor could interpret your work in a different way and use it to promote their product.”
CC licenses also allow for disaggregation of content, meaning that tables and images from research would be available for reproduction without permission.
“These very broad CC license provisions that allow use of disaggregated content are something that I, as an author, would have a problem with,” said Herbert Y. Kressel, M.D., editor of Radiology. “They could be disaggregated in a way that distorts the content.”
“Someone could pluck a diagram and image out of a paper and use it for any purpose at all,” Dr. Thorwarth added. “We want to protect our authors from that kind of derivative use.”
Another potential sticking point is that authors who choose the OA route must pay some or all of the APCs. Although funding for APCs has not been written into research grants, that policy is changing, according to Dr. Kressel. The United Kingdom’s Research Councils (RCUK), a group of publicly funded agencies responsible for coordinating and funding certain areas of research, including science, recently adopted a policy that allots money to higher education institutions for APCs. Nevertheless, there is no guarantee that that money ends up going to the authors.
“If the costs shift to the authors and the funding agency pays, it’s not a problem,” Dr. Kressel said. “But if the funding agencies don’t pay, or the universities to which the RCUK has given the money don’t use it for APCs, then it becomes very burdensome for authors and could depress publishing activity.”
According to the online Directory of Open Access Journals (www.doaj.org), founded in 2003, there are currently 9,903 open access journals covering all fields—science as well as other areas of scholarship. While open access mandates from government and private research funders are growing, so are problems attendant on open access.
“Money that could be spent on research is being diverted to pay APCs,” said Roberta Arnold, assistant executive director of publications and communications for RSNA. “Taxpayer money is being spent on government repositories of articles, such as PubMed Central, that duplicate what publishers and professional societies such as RSNA have already done. The author-pays model encourages journal publishers to accept more papers in order to raise revenue, thereby possibly decreasing the quality of work published in journals.
“Finally, the CC-BY license jeopardizes the accuracy and integrity of journal articles by allowing anyone to change and redistribute an article for any purpose,” Arnold said. “That’s why the journal editors and the Publications Council will closely monitor the impact of the hybrid OA model on the RSNA journals even as we strive to help authors comply with their funders’ mandates.”
“Our journals will be applying a hybrid model for some time,” predicted Dr. Klein. “The question is, will there be true publishers like RSNA in the future?”
“I personally don’t think that journals are on their last breath,” Dr. Kressel said. “My sense is that all journals are adapting to open access by creating pathways for people who want to publish, in the way that they want to publish.”
Radiology Editor Herbert Y. Kressel, M.D., will comment on the new RSNA policy on open access publishing in a January Radiology editorial.
The 10-year-old Directory of Open Access Journals explains open access and keeps track of the number of journals and articles offered in this model (www.doaj.org.)
“Scholarly Open Access” offers critical analysis of scholarly open access publishing (scholarlyoa.com), including a list of more than 300 predatory journals that exist primarily to raise revenue from article processing charges.
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