Open access helps when disciplines overlap

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The American Institute of Physics (AIP) has recently launched its first open-access journal, Biomicrofluidics. We asked Mark Cassar, AIP’s manager for journal development, about open access, new technologies and why a physics publisher is interested in biology

What has been AIP’s experience of open access?

Our mission is to diffuse physics knowledge but we also have to be able to stay in business and continue to serve the physics community. Open access is one of the biggest issues now. We have to try out different means of publishing and see what works for our different communities.

We are approaching open access in two ways. The first is the hybrid model. Our ‘Author Select’ option is now offered on all subscription titles. This has not really had a high uptake so far and if we were only looking at the uptake it could be deemed a failure. However, having this author-choice option does not disrupt the traditional model, but it gives those with a funding requirement to make their work open access an opportunity to do so. People who don’t want it don’t have to take it. It has been a good way to gauge the reaction to open access.

The other model is Biomicrofluidics, our new fully open-access, online-only journal. This is the first in a series; our plan is to launch more fully open-access titles. Although this journal is just starting, the response so far has been good. The biomicrofluidics community is smaller than the general physics communities but there is interest and we will probably know more about how it is going in six months or so. Open access is good for interdisciplinary titles such as this one. Being open access enables anyone to look at the full text. If this was a subscription title it might not be high on the list of priorities for subject-specific librarians because only a few researchers from their disciplines might be involved in this area.

How are biological sciences related to physics?

We need to be flexible to serve physicists in their changing roles and there seems to be a resurgence of interest in biology from the physics community. AIP is very strong in applied physics and biology falls into the category of applied physics. We have people who have trained in physics but if you looked at their labs it would be hard to tell as they look more like those of microbiologists. There are also people who still seem very much like typical physicists but they are applying physical methods to biology-related problems such as studying cell membranes.

As a publisher we have to keep an eye on the trends and what the community wants. We find this out by looking at what is being published and how it compares with what has been published in the past. We can also go and talk to researchers about how they see their areas evolving.

What is AIP’s view of author self-archiving?

Our copyright policy allows authors to post the final PDFs of their articles on their own websites or the post-print versions on their employer’s website or institutional repository. Our main requirement with archiving is just that authors can’t charge for people to access their copies of the articles. We also have a policy to help authors to comply with funding-body requirements such as those from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).

What other trends have you seen?

We have implemented RSS feeds throughout our journals and the take-up has been quite rapid throughout the industry. Another trend is in the method of discovery. Many people now start their searches with Google, so search and discovery modes are changing.

We are also going to have a blog with our new Biomicrofluidics journal. Many in the biomicrofluidics community are young researchers. It is hard for many graduate students to get into the literature because it is very dense. Blogs are a way in, because they are less dense and more fluid. How it will build up remains to be seen, as research blogs will not necessarily be the same as social communities such as Flickr. Once it has built up, however, people can start to reference blog entries. This could become a quicker method of communicating scholarly research.

However, it will not replace peer-reviewed literature. There is a strong commitment from researchers that formal peer review is an essential part of the research process. I don’t think that the peer-review model will change anytime soon and I don’t know what it would change to if it did. The one thing for certain is that people appreciate peer-review and that researchers want it. The only way that it could change to is to perform the same thing but better. The transition to online has already helped with this by making communication easier.

Interview by Siân Harris