Earlier this week, a group from the Materials Science department at Oxford University brought together prominent figures in the current open science debate to discuss The Scientific Evolution: Open Science and the Future of Publishing, organised by Victoria Watson, who was driving the idea forward, and Simon Benjamin, founder of an experiment piloting rapid dissemination and discussion of research in quantum science, Quantalk. Chaired by Simon, the panel of experts comprised Cameron Neylon, Tim Gowers, Sir Robert Winston, Victor Henning (Mendeley), Alicia Wise (Elsevier), Alison Mitchell (NPG) and Robert Kiley (Wellcome Trust).
The discussion between the key individuals representing the two sides of the RWA furore (Alicia Wise and Tim Gowers) was thankfully a calm, rational debate about how far Elsevier and other large publishers have/can/should move towards open access. Alison Mitchell commented that NPG have already launched many OA-only journals, and many of their titles also have OA options. The debate moved onto journal subscription costs, with the surprising comment from the Bodleian Library representative that even they are having to cut back on subscriptions (the issue being made worse in the UK by the VAT applicable to e-journals but not to print journals). Alicia suggested there are other ways to access journal content if you can’t afford a subscription, such as Patient Inform, DeepDyve, and Sir Robert asked what is wrong with having to pay if you want access to something – you have to for everything else.
Robert Kiley restated the Wellcome Trust’s support of open access, highlighting that it enables them to maximise their return on investment, stating that “making your research open should be as normal as wearing a seatbelt”. He also clarified that, from their point of view, all publications must be CC-BY.
The question of how much it should cost to produce a journal in an online world was raised, starting from the non-peer review model of ArXiv with costs of under $7 per submission, and leading to a conclusion by Cameron that anything up to $1000 to include peer review, typesetting, chasing etc would seem reasonable. This led to a lengthy discussion on whether we really need typesetting. Alison mentioned that NPG had surveyed their authors on this, and the majority were very keen that typesetting was retained, a view supported by a show of hands in the hall.
Cameron commented that current methods of disseminating scientific research (i.e. the journal model) would be perfectly acceptable, were we all still stuck with 18th Century technology. He also made the interesting point that when people first got printing presses, they still printed books to make them look like handwritten manuscripts, and it took around 100 years to fully move on from that layout. Similarly, we are currently doing online publishing as if we were still using print, and we urgently need to change our mindset.
Sir Robert Winston’s concerns were less about open access, and more about understandability: it is no good everyone having access to information if they can’t understand it. He then went further, more controversially saying that public access to all this scientific information can actually be problematic, as they may only see part of the story, and become misled by such an unbalanced view.
Tim Gowers described his Polymath project where highly complex mathematical problems were solved in a matter of weeks by splitting them up into smaller components, and then opening them up to discussion by anyone via a blog. He explained the utility of a blog for such situations in being a happy medium between journal articles (which build upon each other too slowly) and conversations (which can often be too rapid to solve such complex problems). Cameron highlighted that the publishing industry is very open to being disintermediated by players coming from a completely different angle, and this was supported by Victor Henning’s comment that Mendeley have been asked by authors for collaborative writing and review services, and that they could become a kind of publisher in the future.
Most interestingly for us here at F1000 Research was the question posed by Simon Benjamin: could we have non-journal peer review? Tim Gowers has previously posted on the idea of an online system of submitting and commenting on papers as an alternative to our current system of journals, editors and anonymous referees. He spoke about ideas to create an extended ArXiv-like system with “free-floating editorial boards”. Many of his ideas align well with our core aims for F1000 Research: immediate publication; open, post-publication peer review; open revisioning of work including ongoing updates; raw data deposition and publication. We were obviously pleased to see the majority in the room said they would be happy to publish in an open peer review journal, with only one hand up against.
UPDATE: a recording of the event is now available online at Oxford’s iTunes U.