Should funders driving for universal open access in research be obliged to ensure freedom of publication for all?BMJ 2019; 365 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l2250 (Published 21 May 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;365:l2250
- Jonathan P Sturgeon, paediatrics trainee
Large funders are moving to enforce open access to their research.1 The Wellcome Trust’s open access policy will change on 1 January 2020 to fund only article processing charges (APCs) in fully open access journals, deliberately not funding open access charges in hybrid journals.2 The aim of this change is to support a transition to a fully open access world. This policy is driven by the aim of transitioning journals to become open access rather than simply making their own research available to a greater audience. Journals may choose to chase the funder’s APC money, becoming fully open access, but this will be at the cost of barring their journal to authors who do not have funding to pay the increasing numbers of APCs that will be required.
A significant APC will shift the decision whether to publish a potential article from the journal editor and peer reviewers to the purse holders of the APC funds, who could deny it getting that far. This is more benign in the case of Wellcome, which does not deduct APCs from individual grants, but it may in the short term reduce the range of journals available to authors. However, in the case of commercially funded research or in institutions with more limited money, decisions by APC fundholders could stifle academic results.
Given that the Wellcome’s open access policy aims to shift the landscape of scientific publishing, journals becoming fully open access to meet these new requirements could charge a tiered social pricing structure in which research from funders requiring fully open access journals (rather than just for their own research) are charged a premium. This premium could be used to fund the APCs in that journal of researchers who have little or no recourse to other APC funding. This would reduce potential publication bias based on funding, as well as creating an environment of open access for all.
Competing interests: JS has accepted a Wellcome Trust fellowship.