How should chemists respond to open access publishing?

A   As scientists, publication is our currency! Any system that leads to the highest quality chemistry being available as widely as possible has my strong support. The current system where we pay (often quite a lot) for access to a journal is restrictive and open access to any paper sounds great. Of course, the worries are who pays for publication and how do we ensure standards are maintained. The second one is easy to answer - we do. I see no real change to standards as long as peer review remains in place. I don’t charge to review papers now and I’ll continue to offer my services free of charge to any good journal, whether it is open access or not. The first point is trickier. In a perfect world open access should mean open access at both ends - but someone has to pay. The best solution probably includes a publication fee, but hopefully that just means a redistribution of our library budgets. The big win would be that everyone could read our work no matter where they are. As chemists we should embrace the concept of open access, it is surely the best option for the transfer of scientific knowledge. 

Russell Morris, University of St Andrews, UK

A   As practicing chemists we are historically indebted to the commercial publishing houses which have effectively distributed scientific information and knowledge for more than two centuries. This time is coming to an end as open access electronic publishing moves ahead. We should find ways of involving the commercial publishers in this process and in fairly remunerating them. Their service in supplying at low cost the editors, the structured review process, and the production skills to which we are accustomed is an invaluable resource which should not be lost - but socialised into an equitable capitalistic system with electronic access for all. The devil is in the details! 

John T. Yates, Jr., University of Pittsburgh, US

A  I do worry about life under an open-access author pays system. There is a significant real cost in the processing and preparation of an article for publication. The requirement to meet this cost may lead authors to question whether they can afford to publish a particular piece of work (whether the funds come from the author directly or from the author’s university, there will likely not be a limitless budget for publishing). Perhaps cheaper open-access venues for publication will emerge under this model that have lower standards e.g. fewer referees, less rigorous editing etc. I don’t think this is in the best long-term interests of the chemistry community and consequently I don’t want to be forced down an open-access route simply because it is currently politically popular. 

Philip Gale, University of Southampton, UK

A   In a word, if it is properly done, chemists should welcome open access open arms. Properly done: peer-reviewed, and with the highest standards of back-up. Archives maintained on a single server or even two, are simply not an adequate safeguard. As a relatively new idea, open access chemistry needs a heavyweight ’Godfather’ to endorse it. Many universities (sadly) lack the financial robustness to guarantee such a venture.

Commercial publishers of printed chemical journals (with or without on-line download facility) are profit-driven. Though such journals do serve our community, they represent money taken out of the chemistry ’pot’. New titles are launched (some with tiny circulation numbers) as scientific fashion dictates, existing titles axed without a second thought. Word-processing, email, computer-typesetting, digital printing have hugely cut publishing costs. Yet little sign that commercial publishers have seen fit to pass on such savings to journal subscribers. Subscription costs increase at a rate far outstripping inflation. Commercial publishers stand accused of not keeping faith with their customers.

Open access usually implies ’the author pays’. Yes, but against this extra cost, we can balance huge savings in discontinued library subscriptions. And last but not least, is it not morally wrong that research funded (in most cases) by the public purse, not to mention unpaid refereeing be donated to a profit-making business which charges mightily to read or access it?

Open access IS the future, whether that be next year or in ten years time. Nervous (or prudent) librarians should be able to purchase cumulated ’hard copy’ on CD-ROM or DVD. Why are we waiting?

Anselm Kuhn, MRSC