As cOAlition S consults on the future of community based scholarly publishing – it is time for social sciences and humanities to have their say

As cOAlition S consults on the future of community based scholarly publishing – it is time for social sciences and humanities to have their say

Reflecting on the open consultation into the future of community based scholarly publishing being run by cOAlition S, Niamh Tumelty outlines issues for the social sciences and humanities and invites readers to make their own contribution to the consultation.


We’ve seen time and again that while small groups of researchers are great at innovating and creating change within specific disciplines, it often takes funder intervention to create a broader change across disciplines.

cOAlition S, the group of funders behind Plan S, which in 2018 mandated requirements for immediate open access, are currently consulting on what should come next. Whatever follows is likely to have far-reaching consequences for the communication of scholarly research, so it is imperative that we engage and we have until 29 November to do so.

What’s their current thinking?

In this consultation, cOAlition S have drawn four key problem areas with scholarly publishing from previous research:

  • The dominant publishing models are highly inequitable.
  • The sharing of research outputs is needlessly delayed.
  • The full potential of peer review is not realised.
  • The coupling of editorial gatekeeping with academic career incentives is damaging science.

The consultation survey takes respondents through these four challenges, asking to what extent they agree or disagree with these statements and providing an opportunity to give additional comment on each. It goes on to ask for feedback on their vision of “a community-based scholarly communication system fit for open science in the 21st century” based on the following principles:

  1. Authors are responsible for the dissemination of their findings.
  2. All scholarly outputs are shared immediately and openly.
  3. Quality control processes are community-based and open, to ensure trustworthiness of research findings.
  4. All scholarly outputs are eligible for consideration in research assessment.
  5. Stakeholders commit to supporting the sustainability and diversity of the scholar-led publishing ecosystem.

Observations on the proposals

It’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into identifying the problems, developing this vision and the principles that should underpin the future of scholarly publishing. There is much to agree with – the problems with the current approach to scholarly communication are well documented.

It does feel as if there is reasonable consensus among researchers (especially in the sciences) that the current approaches are a problem and need to change. We need to design a new future that works for global, equitable and sustainable scholarly communication, and the vision and principles set out make an excellent starting point.

Dig deeper, and there are areas that need further thought. I’ve outlined a few that struck me particularly strongly, and I think it’s important to hear from others whether there are areas that they would want to comment on as well.

The focus on open peer review

I love the idea of starting with open preprints and using the overlay or other open peer review processes, so that there is full transparency about what was said in relation to a specific article.

I can see this working very well in some disciplines and can think of some journals that already operate in this way. It theoretically enables a revolution in how much work is involved in submitting to journals: post once to the preprint server, from there arrange the peer review. A lot depends on the implementation though (I’ve heard that the current process of submitting via bioRxiv is not as streamlined as it could or should be), but these are things that can be addressed with careful planning and design.

More importantly, there are two significant issues I see with this approach that I think need careful thought. There has been widespread discussion of the risk that open, signed, peer review would result in fewer minoritised and early career researchers feeling safe to honestly and meaningfully review the work of more senior researchers. For this reason, I would advocate a mechanism (with appropriate checks and balances) that gives researchers the option to provide an open peer review without having their name directly associated with it.

The preprint approach is not yet established in many disciplines, particularly in the humanities and social sciences.

The second issue is a cultural one. The preprint approach is not yet established in many disciplines, particularly in the humanities and social sciences. In a discussion on X (formerly Twitter), Dr Caroline Edwards observed that  when the Open Library of the Humanities considered introducing overlay journals, they found that researchers in the fields they supported did not want to use them. This doesn’t mean the approach could not be developed in future, but there’s a longer journey ahead in these fields and it would be critical to work with these disciplines to make sure that whatever solution is designed centres their needs, rather than yet again assuming that what works for scientific disciplines will work for humanities and social sciences.

The focus on research articles

It’s important to note that the consultation focus on research articles rather than long-form publications, though there are some statements that refer to ‘all scholarly outputs’. There is a risk that a consultation that is framed around articles could again lead to assumptions that the feedback is transferrable to long-form publishing as well. I believe that this is not the intention, and we need to manage this risk.

The focus on “science”

I know that when OA advocates say Open Science they include all pursuit of knowledge, including for example qualitative research and research in the humanities. I know about the etymology and how it translates into different languages. None of this matters if the researchers we want to engage with open research practices are unaware that open science has anything to do with them.

None of this matters if the researchers we want to engage with open research practices are unaware that open science has anything to do with them.

The fact is that in the English language, most people use the word ‘science’ to mean STEM disciplines and maybe parts of social sciences, not humanities. Insisting on framing consultations in language that alienates whole swathes of researchers yet again means that consultation responses are likely to be biased towards the ‘scientific’ disciplines, leading to the design of solutions that do not meet the needs of qualitative research. I’m taking every opportunity to highlight this problem and hope that others will too – it’s the only way we can create an open research landscape that is truly inclusive and sensitive to the needs of different disciplines.

Please respond to the consultation!

There will be as many reactions to this consultation as there are readers, and it is so important that the variety of perspectives are heard by cOAlition S before they decide what to do next. We have already seen the incredible impact their work on Plan S has had on changing the landscape of academic publishing. I have no doubt that their next steps will have a similar impact, and we need to make sure they have the information they need to make the best decisions they can.

 


The full text of the proposal and the link to the survey are available on the cOAlition S website.

The content generated on this blog is for information purposes only. This Article gives the views and opinions of the authors and does not reflect the views and opinions of the Impact of Social Science blog (the blog), nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Please review our comments policy if you have any concerns on posting a comment below.

Image Credit: LSE Impact Blog via Canva.