Open research covers a wide remit of publishing practices, policies, and technical solutions that are continuously evolving to meet the needs of the research community. In a post-truth world of disinformation and information overload, it is becoming ever more important that we ensure research can be disseminated effectively to reach the right audiences and ensure information is interpreted correctly. Innovations in open research can help to address this, making a wider range of information accessible and available, ensuring reproducibility, and facilitating reuse.
The future of open access
Let’s begin at the beginning: open access. Open access (OA) is now a well-established model in publishing. Historically, OA journals have relied on author payments in the form of Article Processing Charges (APCs), which mean articles can be made openly accessible at the point of publication. However, this in itself can create inequities for those unable to pay to publish.
As we see increasing interest in OA across a wider diversity of subject areas and in a more global environment, publishers are innovating to support OA in a more equitable way. Read and Publish agreements represent a major change in the way that institutions and funders support OA publication, removing the burden of payments from individual authors and encouraging OA in fields that are typically less well funded and where APCs may have been a barrier for many authors. Other emerging models similarly seek to remove the burden of APC payment from individual authors, and, in some cases, spread costs among author groups or institutions, such as the Subscribe to Open model which uses the existing library subscription process to convert journals from subscriptions to OA one year at a time.
While most OA publishers offer developing country waiver schemes (you can find information about OUP’s scheme here), we also need to consider better solutions to this problem without those authors from developing countries needing to ask for waivers. Initiatives such as Research4Life already address this issue for access to subscription content, and we should next be looking at how to do similar for OA publication.
Introducing open methods
As open access has become more established, there have been various initiatives focused on making other research outputs available and accessible alongside the finished paper, widening our perspectives and providing much needed context to original research papers.
Open methods is the open publication of research methodologies and represents an important piece of the research puzzle in terms of improving reproducibility, minimising redundancy in research, and increasing transparency. The publication of research protocols has expanded outside of medical research (where protocol publication is common, and, in many cases, required for many researchers) into other fields.
Andrzej Stasiak, Editor-in-Chief of Biology Methods and Protocols explains the importance of this in more detail:
“The description of methods in important scientific findings is frequently relegated to supplementary materials, where authors devote much less time and attention to the details. When other research groups want to reproduce the reported findings or re-use the method in their own research they frequently discover many missing elements needed for the accurate reproduction of the original research. …
Papers devoted to detailed description of methods and protocols used can provide sufficient details and guidance that others can reproduce the presented findings in their own labs, and build on important discoveries. Open access of such methods papers is especially important for helping researchers in countries with low scientific budget to master new methods.”
One initiative that aims to make reproducible methods openly available and minimise publication bias is Open Science’s Registered Reports initiative. A number of OUP journals are participating in this initiative, which has been particularly popular in neuroscience and psychology where reproducibility has historically been a concern. “The introduction of Registered Reports into Neuroscience of Consciousness is a major step in our commitment to the open science agenda,” explains Anil Seth, Editor-in-Chief, Neuroscience of Consciousness:
“Registered Reports have become established as a gold-standard method for conducting and publishing hypothesis-driven research, with many distinctive benefits including guarding against post-hoc ‘fishing’ for findings, and enabling publication of null results. Increasing the reliability and replicability of research findings through Registered Reports will play a significant role in advancing research in our home community of consciousness researchers.”
Providing context to published articles
Innovations in content types provide further context to published articles. Integrations with data repositories, meaning that datasets can be made available alongside the published articles, have been common for many years in some fields. More recently, authors have been encouraged to make their underlying code available too, allowing others to more easily reuse their data and reproduce results. OUP publishes a number of journals that are piloting a service from CodeOcean to seamlessly deposit their code as part of their submission, which can help to facilitate the sharing of this information.
However, contextualizing content is not limited to sharing supplementary data and code but also to capturing evolving commentary on the research. Published articles can provide a snapshot in time but can quickly become out of date. Open annotation is an innovative way to allow authors to add context, or updates for readers.
This has been recently trialled in Oxford Open Immunology. Using Hypothes.is software, the journals can facilitate “living review” articles, which can be annotated by the authors in real-time to provide useful context, updates, and links to new research of relevance. As Luke Davies, author, Oxford Open Immunology, explains:
“COVID-19 science moved rapidly—we quickly got a snapshot of the overall picture of immunopathology in COVID-19, but it was like a paint-by-numbers; we knew there were bits missing and new colours were coming in week by week, but it would be months before we got the whole picture. A LIVE review allows us to carefully add to the picture over time, while still delivering an up-to-date snapshot of the field that can aid ongoing research.”
Transparency in the review process
How we review research is also changing, with many journals moving towards more transparent peer review systems in a bid to open up the peer review process and increase trust in the system. Published peer review reports can also provide useful insights and context for readers. Oxford Open Immunology allows authors to decide at submission if they wish to opt into transparent peer review, while the newly launched Oxford Open Neuroscience will publish all decision letters alongside the published article. Reviewer reports may also be made available on other platforms, such as Publons, separate from the published article.
New innovations and developments are constantly being proposed and rolled out across the publishing landscape, including at OUP. By opening the broader research ecosystem, publishers can better support researchers and, in doing so, have a tangible impact on major global problems—such as climate change, health inequity, and, of course, dealing with pandemics.