Debunking the myths of Open Access

Myth: Open Access journals are not peer-reviewed.
Reality: Most OA journals conduct peer-review, just like their subscription brethren. An inspection of the website of a journal helps you tell if the journal is doing quality work.

  • How many articles have they published, are those articles found in curated databases such as Scopus or Pubmed (NB: Google Scholar is not a curated database, it’s a scrape of the web).
  • Is the publisher listed at DOAJ?
  • How many readers do their articles have on Mendeley?
  • Are the articles consistent in appearance, readable, well-formatted, free from typographical errors, etc.

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Myth: Publishing in Open Access journals is the only way that peer-reviewed articles can be Open Access.

Reality: There are two routes through which OA can be delivered – gold OA is through journals and green OA via repositories. The belief that all OA articles are gold hasn’t been true since the beginning of the OA movement and, in fact, in almost all fields (bar medicine and biomedical sciences), OA publication in green.

roarOne reason for the misconception is that open access repositories are a relatively novel and less well-known resource. In this digital age however, there is ever increasing access to repositories – many of which listed on the Registry of Open Access Repositories (ROAR). These repositories are a great source for the (legal) sharing of published, peer-reviewed articles.

Myth: Publishing in Open Access journals is expensive.
Reality: Costs for publishing in OA journals are often on par with page charges or color figure fees in subscription journals. Many universities have institutional funds that can be used to pay these fees, many publishers will waive fees for those with substantiated financial hardship, and some society journals don’t charge anything at all. There are low cost options, too, such as PeerJ (Heliyon, which is an Elsevier journal comparable to PLOS ONE and has a comparable publication fee).

However, it’s well known that many peer-reviewed OA journals do not charge publishing fees – the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) has been tracking the number of fee-less OA journals for almost a decade, and recently reported that more than 60% of peer-reviewed Open Access journals are free to publish in.

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Myth: Open Access authors pay author-side fees themselves.
Reality: A study carried out by the Study of Open Access Publishing (SOAP) revealed that <15% of author-side fees are paid by the authors themselves; the vast majority of these fees are covered by funders and occasionally by universities.

study of open access publishingIn addition to this, authors who follow the green (rather than gold) OA publishing practice, never pay any fees to do so. Through gold OA publishing, roughly one third of peer-reviewed OA journals have author-side fees. This means that only one third of <15% of OA authors have to front up the cash for the publication of their article – despite half of peer-reviewed OA articles being published in fee-based journals!

Myth: Sending my best work to an Open Access journal will harm my career.

Reality: OA publication can be the best way to get your work out there. It’s often faster, disseminated more broadly, and could even be more highly cited.

Myth: Publishing Open Access means giving up the widely-recognized brand names that colleagues respect.

Reality: Many of the largest funders now require OA publication, and no publisher wants to exclude good work. You can still publish in Cell, Science, or Nature – just pick the open access option when your article is accepted.

Myth: Traditional publishing prevents authors from making that same work available through Open Access channels.
Reality: Many traditional publishers actual allow authors to follow through on green OA routes, and others will do so upon request – see the Sherpa RoMEO database to find out more about various publisher policies. This sort of green OA is lawful, despite the rights having been given to the publisher. Even when this is not the case, authors could retain the rights through author addenda or Rights-retention policies of employers or funding bodies (e.g. the Wellcome Trust, NIH, Harvard and many other universities).


Myth: I have my pre-prints on my website (or in a repository, like arXiv). I don’t need Open Access.
Reality: You are in fact already practicing OA – a form called “green OA” to distinguish it from paid “gold OA” – Congrats!

Myth: Academic freedom is restricted when authors are forced to publish Open Access.

Reality: While this may hold true for gold OA, it certainly doesn’t for green! Green routes are entirely congruous with traditional, non-oOA publication. For this reason, it is important to ensure clarity between gold and green OA, especially in the context of OA mandates that may be imposed upon researchers.

(See the this weeks Guardian articles on Open Access myths and last year’s on Open Access challenges for even more information)

Changes to the Elsevier manuscript sharing policy: how they affect Mendeley & you

On April 30th, Elsevier updated its policies regarding how Elsevier papers may be used to more closely align with the STM Association principles and to address usage on social networks, which have become popular since the last time the policy was updated (yeah, it was that old!) For Mendeley and other sites on which research is shared, the main thing is that there are fewer restrictions on what sorts of use are permitted, but we also get some technical help with a new article tagging proposal.

What it means for a Mendeley user

The day-to-day experience of a researcher using Mendeley won’t change. We plan to use the new machine-readable information in the PDFs to improve our catalog search, recommendation features, and article-level information available via the Mendeley API. We would also like to encourage researchers to add the new author manuscripts to their researcher profiles.

While we continue to dream of and work towards a world where all research is available to anyone without restriction, this is a welcome step forward. At Mendeley, we worked closely with Elsevier to ensure these changes help the whole scholarly communications ecosystem – researchers, publishers, librarians, and developers of new technology – and found Elsevier a willing and forthcoming partner in our work to meet the changing needs of of researchers. For any new startups that have bold new ideas about how to make research better, get in touch with Alicia or Alexandra – they don’t bite!

What we like about the policy

  • We like that the policy is much simpler to understand. The old policy was complicated and had all sorts of exceptions. Simpler policies allow us to provide a better user experience.
  • We like that the policy is not too prescriptive re: sharing platforms. The online world changes rapidly and it’s good that Elsevier is signaling willingness to work with existing sites and whatever YikYak-for-research might be yet to come.
  • We like that author manuscripts have a CC license applied. This helps remove the uncertainty about reuse permissions.
  • We like that the policy isn’t just words – a proposed new standard for article tagging, to be developed in collaboration with sharing platforms and other publishers, will make it easier for us to build advanced search and discovery features, as well as to provide better article usage stats to Scopus,, Plum Analytics, etc. Importantly for stats, the machine-readable tags will now include information such as article license & document version.

The above changes aren’t just good for us, they’re good for everyone – Mendeley user or not. We understand that researchers need a range of tools and services to support their work, so we worked hard to ensure these changes help the whole scholarly communications ecosystem – researchers, publishers, librarians, and developers of new technology. Of course, we’re on the progressive end of things at Mendeley, so there are some parts of the policy we don’t feel goes far enough.

What we don’t like about the policy

  • The author manuscript embargo. We believe that libraries and researchers will still value the permanently archived, DOI-linked, more readable and fully-citable version of record, regardless of the prevalence of author manuscripts. We’re not alone in our dislike of this, either. Harnad and Kevin Smith single this out as the main issue. Here’s the thing – it’s entirely reasonable for Elsevier to worry that IR copies might end up substituting for publisher copies. If librarians and researchers do actually value the permanently archived, DOI-linked, and variously enhanced version of record, you need to make your voices heard on this so that we can get policies based on evidence and demand, not worry and risk projections.
  • The NC-ND bit of the Creative Commons license on author manuscripts. The NC license will create confusion about use of the work in academic settings and the ND license will cause uncertainty in applications such as text-mining. For what it’s worth, we have been told the license isn’t intended to restrict use in classrooms or text mining.
  • The distinction between commercial and non-commercial sites. We don’t like that for-profit enterprise is singled out as if we’re somehow more risky to partner with. Mendeley reached out to Academia, ScienceScape, MyScienceWork, Pubchase, Sparrho and others for guidance as we worked with Elsevier, and their feedback has helped shape the policy. We would therefore like to suggest that the disdain we sometimes encounter within academia for for-profit enterprise is misplaced.
  • Overall, we think the positives outweigh the negatives. Though there’s bound to be some cases where one particular part of the policy has an outsized and unforeseen effect – this is inevitable when trying to restrict use of digital content – they are not presenting this policy as cast-iron and immutable for the next decade, so please let them know if some part of the policy is really ill-suited to your particular application.

    There’s one other thing we’d like to mention. It’ll do no good if this overture from Elsevier is ignored or repudiated, so we’d also like to suggest that criticism of the policy be done with a fresh set of eyes. We’re not suggesting that the past be forgotten and we’re certainly no stranger to grand-standing and revolutionary rhetoric, but we also think good behavior should be rewarded if there is to be more of it. Embargo aside, this does lift the burden somewhat on those trying to innovate in the scholarly communications space, so that’s why it is, on balance, a positive step forward in our eyes.

    Free access to Science Direct for early career researchers

    Research is not always a linear path, especially in a market squeezed by shrinking grant availability, changing job paths, and fewer permanent career positions.

    Compounding the issue for early career researchers between positions is the lack of access to resources like current and archived research.

    Elsevier is seeking to alleviate the pressures for between-jobs researchers by continuing a program to help early career researchers who are between positions stay up-to-date on their respective fields. The Postdoc Free Access Program grants complimentary access to books and journals on ScienceDirect for up to six months.

    More details from Elsevier:

    Post-Doc Free Access Programme: Back by popular demand.

    Stay current in your field–even in an uncertain job market

    In November 2012 and again in June 2013 we launched a programme to support young scholars in between jobs or looking for their first postdoctoral position. Applicants who qualified were granted up to 6 months free access to all our journals and books on ScienceDirect and able to use this access to work on grant applications and research project.

    We were delighted with the response we got from the community; both from post-doctoral organisations who forwarded the application form link and from researchers who qualified for the free access.

    One of the recipients of the 2012 program, Daniele Vergara of the University of Salento in Italy, wrote: “As a postdoc fellow in biological sciences, this program [gave] me the chance to maintain a vital scientific network, to read papers and write grants. In the absence of help from government and local institutions, the Elsevier program was a great experience, an innovative way to support postdocs during their research career.”

    As the international economic situation continues to be challenging for scientists starting their career, we have decided to bring back this program. In order to give even more people the option to apply we have extended the application period to 7 months.

    How to get the Free Access Passport

    To qualify, candidates must complete a form verifying their credentials by September 30, 2014. Once approved, they will receive a personal code allowing access to ScienceDirect.

    Qualifying criteria are:

    • Postdoctoral researchers who have received their PhD within in the past five years.

    • Candidates must have completed the last research position (either PhD research or a postdoc or equivalent) on or after January 1, 2014, or have a position that will end before October 1, 2014.

    Applicants should submit a scanned image of a letter from their last academic mentor or advisor that states the position held and the date on which the position ended or will end. For more on the program and an application, visit

    If you take part in this program, or did last year, share your stories with us! We would love to hear from you.


    Wish PeerJ Charlie a Happy Birthday!

    Our friends at PeerJ published their first articles on the birthday of Charles Darwin (Feb 12th) and today PeerJ has their first anniversary, so let’s wish Charlie a happy birthday. Exactly one year ago, we helped announce their launch with an interview of the co-founders Jason Hoyt and Peter Binfield.

    Since that time, the demand for access to research has continued to grow, Mendeley and Frontiers have been acquired, the US and UK have mandated open access, and the volume of articles that are published in an openly accessible format has increased dramatically. PeerJ has contributed to this change by allowing authors to publish open access for $99 per author, just a fraction of the fees that similar open access publishers charge (in fact, cheaper than the page charges at many non-open access journals!), and also by opening PeerJ PrePrints and helping illuminate the hidden effort expended by editors and reviewers through their Academic Contribution metric.

    PeerJ is raising the bar for what an academic publication should be (a bar already set fairly high by Elsevier’s Article of the Future), and we wish our colleagues at PeerJ many more successful years!

    Do you know an example of open access research helping the public good? Nominate the team for a $30k ASAP award!

    The Public Library of Science, the Wellcome Trust, and Google recently announced the Accelerating Science Award Program. If you know someone who has applied or reused scientific research in an innovative way to advance science, medicine, or technology, you can nominate them for an ASAP award. The goal of ASAP is to reward people for publishing and re-using open access research and also to gather compelling use cases for open access.

    This program has major support from publishers, funders, and the tech community and they have put up some serious prize money – $30,000 for each of three winners. The nomination period opened May 1 and runs through June 15. Potential nominees may include individuals or teams of scientists, researchers, educators, entrepreneurs, policy makers, patient advocates, public health workers, students, or anyone else, as long as they have reused open access research in a innovative way. The winners will be announced during Open Access Week in October 2013 in Washington, DC at an event hosted by SPARC and the World Bank. Mendeley is assisting by publicizing the event and gathering nominations, and Creative Commons, along with several other library organizations, publishers, and research organizations are also sponsoring the event.

    More information is available at

    Is the time right for a preprint server for life science?

    On the other hand, physicists like to say physics is to math as sex is to masturbation.Academics in physics, economics, or math often think that life scientists (like myself) are weird because life science doesn’t have a preprint server. Life science is a fast-paced discipline, but there’s no place where the latest research can be found, discussed, and where the primacy of results can be established. There’s a lot of value in life science research (the reproducible subset, that is) but instead of staking your claim to a finding shortly after you get the data, many researchers feel like they have to write a polished paper, submit it to a prestigious journal, and wait nerve-wracking months to years for the process of review, rejection, resubmission to finally make their results available to a subset of others in their field.As submission-to-publication times grow, fears of someone else getting there first grow and there are often accusations of “anonymous” reviewers asking for more experiments, just to delay the publication of a paper from a competing lab. What can be done about this? Read More »

    Interview with eLife, a new tech-forward #openaccess journal

    I recently caught up with the very busy eLife team to ask them a few questions, along the same lines as the PeerJ interview I did earlier this year. While there are many new open access journals launching every year, we think this one is special because they’re breaking the traditional mold in some significant ways: bringing transparency to reviews, implementing full open access as opposed to just free-to-read access, and redesigning the publication processes to implement modern technology. They’re also intending to be highly selective, somewhat breaking the newly popular megajournal mold from which PLOS ONE was cast and which most major traditional publishers have hastened to copy.Read More »