Facing societal challenges with open access

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Rebecca Kirk, Publisher of Portfolio Development at PLOS, shares how fostering interdisciplinary collaboration can help tackle societal issues

The theme this year is climate justice and sustainability – how does that tie in with your goals as an open access scholarly publisher?

This years’ theme of climate justice and sustainability is very much in step with PLOS’ overall focus and direction. The causes and effects of climate change cannot be investigated or managed without global collaboration across disciplines, alongside the consideration of a range of different perspectives and knowledge systems. To support this, for the past several years I’ve been lucky to be working with the research community on the development of new robust, high-quality publication options in fields where open science can have a major transformative impact. Earlier this year, we were delighted to publish three brand new journals with exciting new insights on the health of the world’s people and the planet we share—PLOS Sustainability and Transformation, PLOS Water and PLOS Climate

With open science as our foundation, all of our journals share a mission to surface local expertise from all regions and foster interdisciplinary collaboration. We share research transparently, without delays or restrictions to ensure everyone has access to trusted scientific evidence for decisions that impact the sustainability of our shared future.

Why is open access important, and why does Open Access Week matter?

PLOS is a non-profit publisher founded with the express purpose of advancing open access—a mission that has remained at the heart of all we do, even 20 years later. We’re also a co-founder of Open Access Week, so as you can imagine, both the cause and the event are very special to us.

We are all facing global societal challenges where broad and equitable access to actionable research for decision-makers is essential. This includes researchers conducting the studies and policy-makers, but also broader society, as we make decisions in our everyday lives. In this context, access to research articles is just one aspect of a larger system of open science. When applied to other research outputs and documentation—such as data, methods, code or protocols—open access supports trust and reproducibility, facilitates cross-referencing and meta-analysis, further increases efficiency and provides readers with context and detail to support informed decisions. 

The principles of transparency, reproducibility and reuse that underlie open access are being applied in new ways. Authors can communicate their goals and aims more rapidly for a particular investigative pathway and receive peer-review feedback earlier in the research process through publishing protocols or pre-registered research articles. Authors can record their contributions through unique ORCID identifiers and categorise each authors’ specific role using the CRediT taxonomy. At PLOS, we encourage – and in many cases help to facilitate – early sharing of articles through preprints. Once accepted in our journals, our authors also have the option to publish their peer-review history (including editorial decision letters, reviews and author responses) alongside their final article. Though the tools and tactics employed in open science are diverse, each of these elements serves to reduce bias, increase reproducibility, demonstrate rigour and reliability, and accelerate progress.

Though open access and open science have already begun to reshape how we communicate research, there is still much progress to be made. Open Access Week offers us the opportunity to mark progress, celebrate our successes and start important conversations about the future. And of course, to continue to raise awareness about open solutions in the research communities we work with.

How will you be marking this year’s Open Access Week?

This Open Access Week at PLOS, we’re excited to share editorial insights from PLOS Climate Editor-in-Chief, Emma Archer, and to highlight some of the excellent open research being done in this field. Some of the pieces I’ve personally gained the most from reading include our recent collection, Recent Advances in Understanding Plastic Pollution, and a brand new collection, Ocean Solutions for a Sustainable, Healthy and Inclusive Future, published just this week.

What is the future of open-access publishing?

In my opinion, the future of open science has to be one of greater equity and increased accessible and diverse participation. That’s why at PLOS we are working to provide open science options that serve researchers’ goals and priorities, and to remove barriers and expand access to open science to all researchers. For example, we are developing new funding models that put open-access publishing within reach of more communities. With system integrations, we make it easy for researchers to post a preprint or deposit data in a repository directly from our submission system. And with our accessible data feature, we support readers to more easily identify and access data stored in repositories. Each open science practice exists for the purpose of improving research integrity, reproducibility, equity and trust. I expect that will continue to remain essentially true, even as new and better tools and systems emerge.

Rebecca Kirk, Publisher of Portfolio Development, PLOS