Show me the data!

The Ecological Society of America wants ‘input’ on Open Access

January 23rd, 2013 | Posted by rmounce in Ecology | Open Access | Panton Fellowship updates

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) would like your input on how to expand access to their publications and what they should do if *gasp* the USA also mandates some form of public or open access …like the rest of the world seems to be doing at the moment.

The official call is here in this new free to access ESA publication (at the end):

Collins, S., Goldberg, D., Schimel, J., and McCarter, K. 2013. ESA and scientific Publishing—Past, present, and pathways to the futureBulletin of the Ecological Society of America 94:4-11.

You should probably read it all, so you understand their position and their misgivings before you email them with your ideas at:


Well done ESA. It’s nice to know they are aware of the inevitable changes that are happening in the world of academic publishing. They haven’t exactly been to receptive to the idea of Open Access before but now they seem to be acknowledging that it might be thrust upon them whether they like it or not and so need to prepare for it. I only wish all learned societies were doing this (I know we at the Systematics Association have plans, and that the Geological Society of London have a working group on this).


Here’s the email that I sent to them on Wednesday 23rd January (UK time). Proof, just in case they pretend they didn’t receive it *wink*

(N.B. I’ve recycled much of this from my House of Lords inquiry submission. Why not? Takes a lot of effort to write a detailed letter of support for Open Access! I’ll be damned sure to get some usage & re-usage out of it!)



Dear Ecological Society of America,

I read your special report ESA and Scientific Publishing—Past, Present, and Pathways to the Future with great interest. I wholeheartedly agree that the “world of scientific publishing is undergoing dramatic changes” at the moment – the internet clearly allows for extremely low-cost, efficient and open dissemination of research.

Currently there are huge inequalities in access to scholarly outputs (not just papers, but data & software too). My research library at the University of Bath can only afford to subscribe to so many subscription access journals – very far from all of them. But for myself and my colleagues to do high-quality, high-impact, definitive research we frequently need access to materials we don’t have either free/Open Access, or quick paid-subscription access to. In these cases myself and colleagues often spend hugely-wasteful lengths of time trying to get copies of these must read materials that are buried behind paywalls we can’t unlock.

The alternative options for access to paywall-restricted papers are poor and inefficient; inter-library loans can take days or weeks. Relatively few researchers currently post full-text self-archived copies of their own work in ‘green’ online repositories (although perhaps more might do so in the future). Electronic inter-library loans from the British Library can only be printed-once – if an error occurs during printing – tough luck, you’ll only ever have half a print version.

Sympathetic colleagues at different institutions with different journal access rights pass each other PDFs all the time – technically this is copyright infringement. Yet these small acts of academic copyright infringement are rampant online if you know where to look and are often the only way to sensibly and efficiently get research done. Buying additional legal access is simply not affordable nor desirable at the outrageous prices often offered – and sometimes only upon inspection of the fulltext does one find that the paper isn’t actually of use and can be discarded.

Many different peer-reviewed papers have shown that Open Access research has a higher citation rate than its paywall-protected ‘Closed Access’ counter-parts [e.g. 1-8]. Making ESA published research 100% Open Access would reasonably therefore confer some of this effect and increase the already impressive global impact of this research.

As you know the UK is far from alone in strongly pursuing Open Access means of research dissemination. The NIH Public Access mandate requires that all NIH-funded research publications are accessible to the public (world-wide) via the PubMed Central repository no later than 12 months after publication. In Australia, both NHMRC & ARC have Open Access policies in place. In fact if one looks closely enough one will see a litany of national research funders that already have open access mandates in place ArgentinaDenmarkAustriaBelgium, as well as innumerable policies at the university/institution level e.g. the Howard Hughes Medical Institute , Wellcome Trust, and even my own institution – the University of Bath (important to mention, because not all UK university research is funded by RCUK).

In particular I think we should note the way in which the SciELO Network has provided sustainable free access to over a thousand South American, Latin American, and (more recently) African research journals via the internet. It is ethically awkward that ‘they’ provide access to so much of ‘their’ research to us for free whilst we often charge them for access to ‘our’ research (many institutions do NOT receive charitably given access via HINARI ). This is an asymmetrical access imbalance that sorely needs to be corrected.


Learned Societies and Open Access

Learned societies heavily-reliant on subscription journal income and concerned with how public/open access policies may affect them should closely examine the workings of other societies that have successfully operated open access journals for many years. West and colleagues [9] provide robust data showing hundreds of society-operated gold Open Access journals with good citation impact at either no-cost to authors, or for a usually reasonable APC (article processing charge).

Good examples include the Journal of Economic Perspectives (of the American Economic Association) – not only do they charge nothing to authors (APC=$0) and provide free access to readers, but also Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Reports (JCR) ranks this as the 5th best journal in Economics out of 321 listed. It is influential and extremely well cited.

The journal Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica is a remarkable success story of society journals (it’s the official journal of the Veterinary Associations of the Nordic Countries). From 2000 to 2005 it was subscription-access only and was dwindling in impact and citations. In 2006 they changed to Open Access publishing with BioMed Central and now enjoy significantly increased impact and citations for the research published there.A plot of the Impact Factor of the journal Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica over time, showing a marked increase after switching to Open Access publishing. Source. Author: BioMed Central. Image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

The European Geological Society (EGU) publishes 14 different gold Open Access journals with the help of Copernicus Publishing. One of these in particular – Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics has been hugely successful and through high citation rate is now ranked the 2nd best journal of 71 in the category “Meterology & Atmospheric Sciences” in Thomson Reuters JCR. It happily publishes articles using the Creative Commons Attribution Licence (CC BY) and charges a fair, variable APC that is cheaper for those who submit manuscripts in LaTeX form – reflecting the ease of which it is to convert such manuscripts into publishable forms. Microsoft Word submissions require more processing and thus they charge more (reflecting real cost). It is commendable that they expose, and make avoidable some of the labor costs of typesetting this way.

Furthermore, I’d bet there are many different societies operating subscription access journals that already allow self-archiving of published works so that they’d be compliant with the ‘Green’ OA route which the RCUK policy also allows. This would seem to me to be a fairly pain-free way of complying with the policy should ESA wish to do so via this route.

Overall, I think it would be fairer for all societies to publish associated journals in an Open Access manner – whilst clearly delivering on their core mission(s) of educating the world (not just a few subscribers) about their subject. Relying on denying access to research via paywalls to provide surplus income with which to spend on outreach and other activities that further the society mission, seem to me like a very convoluted justification and an inefficient way of achieving outreach goals. Put simply, Open Access very clearly fulfils many of the core purposes of learned societies and provides an open platform with which to build outreach around.


Finally, I would like to respond to some specific points that you mentioned in ESA and Scientific Publishing—Past, Present, and Pathways to the Future. 

  • “Will publishers need to invest heavily in their online platforms to meet gold requirements?”

Categorically, no. The current system of maintaining a sophisticated paywall, with login access only for paid-subscribers must be far more expensive to maintain and police than a simple, un-paywalled system whereby anyone can download articles. You already publish Ecosphere in a free to access manner which clearly shows you have the technology already in place to do this, so why suggest it would take heavy investment? Furthermore for societies that lack establish open access publishing systems there are plenty of cost-free (software-wise) robust solutions like Open Journal Systems that is already used successfully by over 11,000 journals (both Open Access & subscription journals!).

  • “Most publishers, including ESA, currently operate under a Creative Commons CC-BY-NC license for open-access publications…”

This is simply not true. Relatively few publishers and journals use this licence e.g. Jornal de Pediatria (a Brazilian journal). In fact, the majority of Open Access journals listed in Thompson Reuters JCR use the Creative Commons Attribution Licence (CC BY). Don’t believe me? Look at the data yourselves here. It’s the licence that BMC, Springer Open, PLoS, Hindawi, MDPI, Versita, Frontiers, Copernicus, Ubiquity Press, Pensoft, American Physical Society, and some Nature Publishing Group, Wiley & Sage open access journals use. So by counting publisher, journal or article-volume it’s definitely the most common Creative Commons licence used to publish scientific research. It’s common for very good reasons, not least that the non-commercial NC-clause can obstruct textmining analyses, and prevents the content from being re-used in Wikipedia.

  • You use an argument that ‘the “shelf life” of ecology research tends to be much longer than for medically oriented sciences

Whilst I don’t wish to disagree with you on this, I think you need not compare yourself to such a niche area of STM publishing. Take for example Palaeontology. I collected data recently to show that the mean age of a cited paper in a typical palaeontology article was >18 years! Yet in palaeontology there are plenty of successful high-impact open access journals and many which allow the green route of open access after a relatively short embargo period. If short (6 or 12 month) embargo periods don’t affect the income of subscription access palaeontology journals, why would it cause harm to ESA journals to allow this? I feel you fear something that won’t actually happen.

  • I strongly doubt that if you allowed a ‘green’ friendly route to Open Access, with a 6 month embargo as allowed by the RCUK policy, that you’d lose much subscription revenue.

Statistics from the Romeo/SHERPA database that tracks green OA policies shows that 60% of journals allow immediate self-archiving of the full-text of research papers, with a further 27% permitting the submitted version (pre-print) to be archived immediately. Only 13% of journals do not allow immediate archiving. There remains little convincing evidence that short embargo periods seriously harm library subscription revenue.

So if I were ESA, I’d probably look into the green OA route as a relatively pain-free / hassle-free way of expanding public access to research.




Ross Mounce,

PhD Student at the University of Bath  & Open Knowledge Foundation Panton Fellow




1. Lawrence, S. 2001. Free online availability substantially increases a paper’s impact. Nature 411:521

2. Xia, J. and Nakanishi, K. 2012. Self-selection and the citation advantage of open access articles. Online Information Review 36:40-51.  [the OA citation advantage is more pronounced for 'smaller' journals]

3. Xia, J., Myers, R. L., and Wilhoite, S. K. 2011. Multiple open access availability and citation impact. Journal of Information Science 37:19-28. [More copies available in different places, more citations...]

4. Riera, M. and Aibar, E. 2012. Does open access publishing increase the impact of scientific articles? an empirical study in the field of intensive care medicine. Medicina intensiva / Sociedad Espanola de Medicina Intensiva y Unidades Coronarias.

5. Norris, M., Oppenheim, C., and Rowland, F. 2008. The citation advantage of open-access articles. J. Am. Soc. Inf. Sci. 59:1963-1972.

6. Eysenbach, G. 2006. Citation advantage of open access articles. PLoS Biol 4:e157+.

7. Hajjem, C., Harnad, S., and Gingras, Y. 2006. Ten-Year Cross-Disciplinary comparison of the growth of open access and how it increases research citation impact.

8. Gargouri, Y., Hajjem, C., Larivière, V., Gingras, Y., Carr, L., Brody, T., and Harnad, S. 2010. Self-Selected or mandated, open access increases citation impact for higher quality research. PLoS ONE 5:e13636+.

9. West, J., Bergstrom, T. and Bergstrom, C. T. 2013. Cost-effectiveness of open access publications


  • Wikispecies editor

    The only problem with O/A is that we will all be able to read stuff, but fewer authors will be able to afford to publish stuff …

    • Ross Mounce

      I disagree. Green OA is free and easy. Most Gold OA journals are fee-free to authors too (Solomon & Bjork, 2012). Then there’s the third new ‘epijournal’ / overlay journal approach that’s being pioneered in Maths (

      It’s never been easier to affordably publish Open Access.

    • Mike Taylor

      *sigh* I can’t believe how often this still keeps coming up.