Jessica Polka: Open science, preprints & open peer review

Universities and libraries around the world are battling publishers of science journals to keep the costs of access to peer-reviewed journals reasonable. Meanwhile scientists are coming up with their own solutions. Where is the global open science movement right now, and where is it going in the future?

Jessica Polka is the executive director of the biologist-driven preprint advocacy organisation ASAPbio, based in California.  She answered our questions in anticipation of her public talk on the Helsinki University Viikki campus. 

Q. What are the biggest problems with the current scientific publishing model?

Jessica Polka: "On a global level, a lack of access to paywalled literature may be the biggest problem. But even among those who can get to the literature, the system is not working as efficiently as our current technology allows."

"In our present model, at least three different functions--dissemination, peer review, and curation--are bundled together in the process of publishing a paper in a journal. As a result, people tend to hold onto their data until it forms a "complete" story since it will be evaluated only once, at the time of publication, via an evaluation system that relies on a very small number of people."

"Preprints enable authors to share their work with the scientific community whenever they are ready to do so." 

Q. How would you define a preprint?

"A preprint is a version of a manuscript prior to completion of journal peer review, shared publicly online, usually on a preprint server such as arXiv or bioRxiv."

Q. What are the biggest challenges in moving from the current paid scientific journal model to open access?

"Open access to scientific research outputs is essential; knowledge is a public good. But relying on a model in which authors must pay to publish also introduces inequities. Ideally, the infrastructure of publishing would be supported more directly by funders, libraries, and other community groups. Some consortia are showing the way: SCOAP3Open Library of Humanities, and the membership model of arXiv."

Q. What are the advantages and disadvantages of publishing research papers as preprints?

"There are lots of benefits: more visibility (like presenting your work at a meeting everyone can attend!), the potential to identify collaborators and get feedback, and the ability to cite the preprint as evidence of progress on your grant application to many funding agencies. People often say they are afraid of journals not accepting their preprint (most in basic biomedicine are now supportive) or of getting scooped, but by posting your preprint publicly, you are creating a time-stamped record of what you presented, when." 

Q. How does open peer review work?

"Open peer review can mean many different things. We advocate for the publication of peer review reports, which provides readers with more information about the peer review process."

Q. What concrete steps should universities do to encourage open science?

"Universities can change their hiring and promotion policies to recognize non-journal outputs."

Q. How do you see transparency in scientific publishing developing in the near future?

"My hope is that in addition to more sharing of early research results, researchers become comfortable publicly discussing and providing feedback on those outputs."

Q. What is ASAPbio’s role in the open science movement? 

"We convene meetings, produce educational resources, advocate for policy changes, and try to catalyze grassroots change. Read more about us at asapbio.org and follow us on Twitter!"

University of Helsinki supports open access in science

The University of Helsinki has set itself a goal of increasing the number of open access publications by 40 percent from 2016 to 2020. As a rule, scientific publications produced at the University of Helsinki should  be openly available to anyone online. All publications are entered into the university’s open access publication archive HELDA through the Tuhat research database. 

Read more:

University of Helsinki open science news  

Dis­pute over EUR 27 mil­lion annual sub­scrip­tion costs for sci­entific journ­als