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There’s more to Open Access than APCs, right?

I am the Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer, ScienceOpen (@tigracc). This OA Week, it gives me great pleasure to publish the first in a series of posts about the strategy behind the evolution of the platform and our drive to reveal the context of OA articles which we believe is a powerful and disruptive mechanism in the next wave of the OA movement.

Content > context by Ryan Van Etten, Flickr, CC BY

Our start

When ScienceOpen started our Open Access initiative in 2013, we focused on publishing and networking. We understood that research communication is all about Open Access content and networking was the mechanism that supported authors in preparing their article and helping the publication of their research. And such articles had to be openly available, so they could be discovered and serve as proof of their engagement.

We of course also knew that other organizations offered a great deal but all these features were available as bits and pieces on other publisher’s sites (Post-Publication-peer-review, “speedy publication after a thorough but fast editorial acceptance, among others), but not in one place and not combined. We felt there was far too much focus on vanity and luxury at the core of the publishing process, instead of support for researchers who need to understand what others before them have done and deliver their contribution, that could and would be incorporated into the ever growing corpus of knowledge. Researchers are builders and breakthroughs are the result of collaboration over time. Ingenious ideas need a base to evolve from and – less eloquently said then Newton and some others before – there’s no genius who doesn’t stand on the shoulders of others before them.

Along the way, we recognized some thresholds and obstacles slowing down the migration to Open Access and they were greater then we initially anticipated. We were always aware of the Impact Factor trap, fostering the illusion that it provides a glorious, if sometimes miraculous, entry into the higher echelons of science, but we also knew that it was based on a hollow foundation.

Over time, we learned to see this entire conundrum from the viewpoint of the individual researcher. She does not have the luxury of statistics, it’s all about her research, her fight for her career and as long as institutions use these as a major tool for gratification, it is the researchers de facto trap of our time. There’s not much difficulty asking established scientists to publish Open Access and similarly offering services to young scientists, especially by providing a home for posters and the like, is easy. But the mass of scientists, too young to be settled and too old to take a risk, is a different animal.

We do see them (slowly) turning to Open Access but, somewhat alarmingly, we see them doing that with traditional publishers like Springer Nature, PLOS, Wiley and others, than with new and “revolutionary” ones [1]. Why? Because those settled publishers provide Brands and for the time being IFs, that the researchers can present. They are taking a step in the right direction, just a more expensive and challenging one than it needs to be. There’s no blame here and there are a few ways we can press forward:  we can ask tenure commissions, research funders and institutions to stop considering brand-related impact factors and start seriously focusing on the articles themselves, and we will continue to do so together with the core of the Open Access movement. While this trend is further eroding the base of the Impact Factor illusion it’s not really razing it to the ground.

So, is that it? We just wait another 10 to 15 years till the Impact Factor starts to wither and hope that we win out on the long run?

Instead of doing just that, we need to go forward by continuous development of (a) new publishing paradigm(s) and we need to start to show the (currently hidden) additional benefits of Open Access. Benefits which are transcending the “article” and start to expose a glimpse of the new eco-system, which can flourish with this opening.

Next Phase

We see three pillars for ScienceOpen to focus on, all of them geared to help create an eco-system,which inherently weakens the Impact Factor and therefore helps to direct energy and momentum to Open Access:

  1. Context
  2. Curation
  3. Quality


Here’s what we set out to acheive:

  • Put the article at the center (independent of publisher, journal and other silos)
  • Expose all available article based information (activities, reviews, comments, …)
  • Provide as much context as we can (references and citations)
  • Reveal key relationships (Authors, Affiliations, …)

This strand is the newest addition to the ScienceOpen platform. Just recently we started to expose contextual information on the more than 10 million articles and records aggregated on ScienceOpen. We did this by consecutively creating stubs for all referenced articles from the base Open Access corpus. Adding more and more publicly available but distributed information about these articles and extracting additional facts, we can already expose the connections of almost 6 million authors mainly in Life Sciences. We do provide information about similar articles, most cited references, most referenced authors and all detected citations. This, like other available metadata, can be used to navigate, research and learn about the context of a given article. Given that our article base is publisher and journal independent, all this context becomes meaningful and turns the whole article base itself into a research object, at the fingertips of the researcher. All this information is revolving around the core content instead of arbitrary segments like the publisher. We allow you to focus on the research itself, to explore related information, people and institutions. Go on and find out who else is researching about the field in question, which connections are more meaningful than others, what collaborations exist etc.


Months ago we started to support and propagate the usage of Collections. We see Collections as a way to create theme-based and up to date clusters of information that matter most for any specific field of research. These being journal and publisher independent and as such another nail in the coffin for the Impact Factor. I don’t believe that any Journal can be a better collection on any theme, than one that is based from a researchers selection from the universe of content. Our Collections can and will expose different aspects of a topic– foundation articles, most discussed ones, etc. – and can therefore become a natural magnet for publishing negative results where they make most sense.


Since the launch of ScienceOpen, we have worked on providing a platform that lends itself to the concept of Public Post Publication Peer Review (P4R), an approach that helps to attack one of THE corner stones of the Closed Access Publishing Paradigm: the use of enormous energy from the research community for an almost always secretive peer review process with the main purpose of utilizing selection to improve the Impact Factor of a journal. Besides the price of suppression of less glamorous results (including negative results) and/or slowing down the publishing process to an unacceptable degree and all the costs for society this generates, traditional peer review hampers public discourse and is bad for science. Instead P4R speeds up publication, fosters public discourse and allows the reviewer to benefit from their (now public) work.

We strongly believe, that the set of these activities is invigorating the the strength of the Open Access paradigm. ScienceOpen is committed to work on all three of these strands to expose more of the inherent strength of Open Access. Over the course of the next weeks and months we will discuss these activities in more detail and add more functionality along these lines.

[1] See also “Return of the Big Brands: How Legacy Publishers Will Coopt Open Access”, a Post by Joseph Esposito on The Scholarly Kitchen, Oct 14, 2015 –