“I confess, I published behind a paywall. I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t want to, but but but I’m almost out of funds and and …..<suspect’s voice fades>” Publication Police files, Nov.3 2024
Will peer pressure eventually lead to discrimination against those who publish behind a paywall? Is it now a moral imperative that we publish everything open access? If so, is that not simply morality by majority (a dangerous proposition at the best of times), or worse, morality by the most vocal?
I’m often asked “Where should I publish this?” and I must admit that “In an open access journal” is not my first response. This is simply because there is a higher standard than mere open access (as great as that is). Where to publish is first and foremost the answer to the question “Where will it get the attention it deserves?” Of course, this is where ego can raise its ugly head and, worse, I have colleagues who think this means the journal with the highest impact factor, but those distractions aside, it is still the most important question.
Most of our science is simply an incremental step building on what is going before. Most of the time it is of interest to a relatively small group of fellow researchers or those whose profession is impacted on by the research. Furthermore, it will probably be of interest only for a short period of time before someone else builds upon it. The “attention a paper deserves” is the attention that these people for whom it has most meaning give it. For this reason, it should be published in a manner which makes it easy for these people to read about it and access it. This will probably mean one of the professional society journals and/or one of the most read journals in the field. In the fields of Critical Care and Nephrology where I’ve published most recently this will probably mean a European or American journal which has high readership in those jurisdictions because this is where most of the research is being done. Of course, this does not mean my manuscript will necessarily be accepted by those journals, but if I deem it has something important to say, then that is where I should send it first.
Comparatively few of those journals are open access only, but all offer an open access option. This tends to come with a publishing fee in the range of US$1500 to US$3000. My budget does not stretch to paying such a fee for every publication. I am forced to be pragmatic. If my manuscript is accepted into one of those more high profile journals I have to pick and choose. The more important I think the findings the more likely I will take the open access option. Also, if I think the message has immediate application for clinicians (i.e. not just the narrow group of researchers in my field) I am more likely to choose open access.
There is, of course, the option to publish in more general online journals (PlosOne, PeerJ, F1000 etc) and I have done so. However, my impression at this stage it that these do not rapidly reach the inbox of most of the very very busy researchers and clinicians in the fields I publish in. A few (like myself), may have set up automatic search strategies or use social media to follow journals in their field, and, of course, if people are conducting PubMed or the like searches they may come across those articles. However, their lack of specialisation and reliance on someone making more effort over and above reading the specialised professional journals they have always read, mitigates somewhat their usefulness to me to “getting the message out.” Of course, I could choose to be a “early adopter” or “pioneer” and publish in a low cost open access journal (if my fellow authors would let me) with the hope that this will change the publishing culture of paywalls and high publishing fees elsewhere. However, it would be at the cost of less exposure of my research to those who are most interested and active in the field. For some of what I publish I must balance my obligation to advance the field the most by maximising the chances of exposure amongst those for whom it is likely to be of immediate interest with the more philosophical desire for open access to all and sundry from now to eternity.