Posting manuscripts online

The below, a letter to my department, is a brief primer for researchers on pre/postprint posting, with some comments on the evolving scholarly publication landscape.


Dear colleagues,

In last week’s School Research Committee meeting, the topic of publishing open access came up, and our Head of School asked me to send you an email about one solution in particular. 

In the brains of many academics, the phrase “open access” rapidly activates thoughts about the publication fees (or APC, Article Processing Charge) that large open-access journals such as PLoS ONE ($1595USD) and Nature Communications ($5200USD) charge. Major funders such as the ARC and NHMRC do allow spending of grant money on these fees, but even if your lab has the loot, you might be disinclined to splash out for journal APCs rather than, say, a bit more salary for lab personnel.

Fortunately, in most cases you need not pay a fee to make your research freely accessible. Typically you can post your manuscript to an open web repository such as PsyArxiv.org or BioRxiv.org, or to the University’s repository. This is always in compliance with copyright when done before submitting the manuscript to a journal. Most journals also allow posting the manuscript after submitting it to the journal, and even allow posting the manuscript that incorporates all the reviewers’ comments after acceptance by the journal. At the SHERPA/ROMEO site, you can look up the policy of nearly every journal. The policy typically includes a requirement to post a link to the official published version of the article.

Posting to a repository not only makes your particular articles freely available, it also hastens the growth of open-access infrastructure, reducing the world’s reliance on access to sometimes-expensive journals. Posting on one’s personal website is not as effective. As the NHMRC open access policy explains, your own site or sites like ResearchGate and Academia.edu “are not acceptable repositories.. as they may not provide the appropriate support for long-term storage, curation and/or fulfilment of publisher copyright requirements.” 

While few in our field posted to repositories a decade ago, repositories have seen  rapid, near-exponential growth over the last several years, and as a consequence some of us now frequently find relevant research way ahead of seeing it in a journals (this also results in faster accumulation of citations). 

As disillusionment with the expense and exclusivity of subscription journals grows, various institutions have refused to continue to increase the amounts they pay for subscription journals. Consortia of both German and Swedish universities have sought to include open access publishing for their researchers in new contracts with publishers like Elsevier, and have now canceled the contracts and thus lost access to Elsevier journals when the publisher would not agree to terms.

Posting manuscripts in repositories helps these researchers continue to access new research. I have more on these topics here

Finally, if you happen to be an editor of a subscription journal, or officer of a society associated with one, you might be interested in PsyOA, an organisation that has laid out what we call the Fair Open Access principles, and provides information and resources for those interested in moving a journal from a subscription basis to open access.

-Alex

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