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What has ruffled the Open Access feathers of Brazilian Science Editors?

Latin American Birds by Deni Williams, Flickr, CC BY
Latin American Birds by Deni Williams, Flickr, CC BY

We are delighted to welcome Germana Barata, a science communicator at State University of Campinas (Unicamp), editor of Ciência e Cultura magazine – a publication of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science – to our guest blog. We’ve covered a few other stories about Brazilian Scientists on our blog so we’re delighted to carry another one.

The Brazilian science editors’ community was surprised on Oct. 29 when the Coordination of Improvement of Personnel in Higher Education (CAPES) announced that it will launch two tenders to “internationalize” 100 Brazilian journals through an agreement with a Non Brazilian publisher. The proposal was announced during a meeting attended by few invited Brazilian editors and five huge global for profit publishers (Elsevier, Emerald, Springer, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley). Neither members of the Brazilian Association of Science Editors (ABEC) nor SciELO – the largest Open Access repository of science publications in the country and one of the largest in the world – were informed about the meeting.

Last week, the community of science editors met up at the VIII Workshop on Scientific Publishing in Campos do Jordão, São Paulo State, and decided to publish an open letter directed to CAPES. Although the Brazilian community of science editors view the CAPES proposal as a positive effort to internationalize, provide visibility and professionalize Brazilian journals, they want the process to be transparent and to be heard during it.

The open letter (published on Nov. 20), signed by Sigmar Rode de Melo, the president of ABEC, and Abel Packer, the coordinator of SciELO/Fapesp coordinator, requests that the tenders are suspended and reformulated.

Among the priority items listed in the letter is the matter of why international publishers were consulted before those in Brazil. The letter states that any tender must be done in a transparent and competitive context that considers – in a fair way – “the interest and priority of research and advances of science communication in Brazil, as it has been happening”. The letter concludes thus:

Based on these considerations, we propose that the resources announced by CAPES become available to pay article processing charge of papers by authors who are members of Brazilian institutions and that are published in high quality journals published in the country.  This way, the resources will be applied in a transparent way by researchers that will give priority to use the funding in the communication of their research in Brazilian journals with better performance. These resources from CAPES can be implemented  by contributions from other agencies and research institutions in Brazil in a move to establish a national fund to ensure rational, effective and sustainable funding for Open Access publication of quality journals from Brazil. ABEC Brazil and SciELO have an interest in contributing to this movement and the development of the national fund. Thus, Brazil will hold a groundbreaking and innovative breakthrough in science communication through Open Access.

Improved research communication

Importantly, ABEC and SciELO are not convinced that simply handing over their national publications to one of these international and traditional for-profit publisher’s will bring the twin desired results of increased visibility for Brazilian science on the world stage and the publication of more work. They believe that a better way forward would be to support Brazilian journals so that Brazil can strengthen, adopt and develop national capacities and infrastructure through greater understanding of the international policies and practices of publishing. They also wish to ensure that Brazilian editors keep autonomy over editing and publication process under an international publisher; and if these Brazilian journals will be able to be financially sustainable after meeting the new standards set by the international publisher, since the editing costs will increase. And of course, they wish to ensure that access to the articles contained in Brazilian publications remains as open as possible.

Investment estimated at $10mm

CAPES has not officially announced the investment amount. Yet, members of Brazilian publishers and science editors at the Workshop have estimated investments around US$ 10 million (25 million Brazilian Reais) directed to just one publisher. For comparative purposes, the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation – through the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) – made a public call last November 7 (CNPq n.25 / 2014) of R$6 million (US$2,4 million) to support the domestic editing and publication of science journals.

Scientific publishing in Brazil

Brazil publishes around 2,7% of the world’s scientific papers and around 97% of all Brazilian journals are Open Access. Last January, SciELO made all its journals available at Web of Science in a move to improve international visibility. Government funding agencies cover the editing costs for Brazilian journals. The sustainability of this model, however, has been questioned due to rising costs of Brazilian journals, particularly with new criteria established by SciELO, such as converting files to XML (Extensible Markup Language Generic), which becomes mandatory from January 2015. Other criteria are planned to start in 2016, such as the need to include a greater percentage of papers in English (the majority is still published in Portuguese) and foreign peer-review referees.

Around 10% of Brazilian journals offer Gold Open Access which makes content freely and immediately available. Publication fees are levied to generate revenue to the journal. The Revista de Saúde Pública (Journal of Public Health) of São Paulo University (USP), indexed in SciELO, charges from R$1,500 (US$600) for original paper, review and comments to R$1,000 (US$400) for brief communications, while the Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research, also in SciELO, charges R$2,200 (US$880).

Recent experience

According to Antonio Martins Figueiredo Neto, editor of the Brazilian Journal of Physics (BJP) – who left SciELO in 2011 went it transferred to Springer – the process of submission, review and professional production has completely changed since then. The result, he says, “has increased the journal’ visibility, and increased the number of paper submissions”. On the other hand, today BJP can be read either by payment of US$39,95 per paper or a subscription fee. Figueiredo Neto informed me that the cost of R$20,000 (US$8,000) per issue is funded by CNPq. “There is, however, an expectation that after the journal gets royalties from Springer, from the sale of subscriptions, that it will be self-sustainable in a few years”.

Climb down

Following pressure from the science editors, the Ministry of Education (that hosts CAPES) announced (Nov. 21) that there is no budget definition nor a tender model under development. And that the Brazilian editors will choose if they want an international publisher and that the publisher chosen will only host and provide visibility, full editorial responsibility will remain national.

What we can take from this experience is that CAPES’ move to internationalize the top 100 Brazilian journal has already guaranteed an increase in the visibility and impact of the community of national editors and publishers and issues pertaining to Brazilian Science Communication and Open Access.

Source: This post is based on the news originally published at ComCiência Magazine, news, 17th November 2014.