By Bilal Anouti, MD
Towards the end of my first year of hematology/oncology fellowship, I received an email encouraging me to apply to the ASCO Journals Editorial Fellowship. Having been on the author side for my entire medical career, I have always been intrigued by what goes on behind the curtains in journals and the rigor it takes to build a highly cited and trusted publication.
Being chosen as one of the editorial fellows for the Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO), one of the most highly regarded publications in oncology, was certainly an honor and I came to learn much more than I expected. If nothing else, this experience allowed me to grow as an author given this new perspective I gained. It also allowed me to understand the responsibility endowed upon a reviewer to faithfully and genuinely provide feedback with the purpose of making a scientific publication more informative for its readers.
One of the more interesting aspects I came to learn about was open access publications and what it truly means to publish in such journals. The one obvious advantage is that simply free access to an article means more people can read it and its information can more easily be dispersed. However, there is more to this concept than meets the eye. You see, whenever you attempt to publish your work, a huge aspect to consider is copyright and who gets to keep it. A lot of journals expect you to hand over your material’s copyright to them once accepted and disseminated. In open access journals, authors often get to keep their copyright, meaning you can use your publication as you please even after it is released, such as republishing in various outlets without asking for permission. You also get to decide how your article is reused through Creative Commons Licenses. These help you as the author to get credit for your work while allowing others to copy, distribute, and make use of your publication in ways you have agreed to. These licenses can be quite generous in their access, or can be more restrictive, depending on the author’s intent.1
One cannot list all these positive outcomes both for the author and reader without mentioning some of the disadvantages that accompany this decision. The number of open access journals varies widely between different specialties, and finding an open access journal for your paper might not be a simple endeavor, especially when you hope to publish in a high-impact journal. Publishing in an open access journal also entails more work for the author as well as increased costs represented by author publishing fees. These are requested by open access publications to cover permanent, immediate, and worldwide access for an article along with editorial work, production, marketing, and customer service. These fees often need to be covered by the author, although they can be covered by an institution depending on their policies and funding. There are also different levels of open access to choose from, such as gold open access and green open access. Gold access means the final version of your article is available online for free indefinitely, all while keeping your copyright. Green access, also known as self-archiving, means you can post an earlier version of your article in a repository after an embargo period, thus allowing you to share a version of your article for free without having to pay author processing fees; however, this often means that you do not get to retain the final copyright to your article.2
Of course, this topic is far more complex than I have just summarized but it is important to remember the following: our ultimate goal through scientific research and dissemination is to advance our understanding of every field out there in hopes of us moving forward collectively as humankind towards a brighter and more inclusive future.3 By allowing free and permanent access to an idea, we are sharing knowledge with others regardless of their socioeconomic status, their country of origin, or other social determinants that often stand in the way. With the age of globalization and the widespread use of the internet, we should strive to remove limitations whenever possible so we can all share in the discoveries taking place on a daily basis all around the world.
Dr. Anouti is a hematology and oncology fellow at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Disclosure.
- Renkema M. Open access is more than free access. OpenScience Blog. Wageningen University and Research. 16 Nov 2016. Available at: https://weblog.wur.eu/openscience/open-access-reuse-rights/. Accessed 22 May 2023.
- What are the gold and green open access publishing options? Author Services, Taylor & Francis. Available at: https://authorservices.taylorandfrancis.com/choose-open/publishing-open-access/oa-green-gold/. Accessed 22 May 2023.
- Schiltz M. Why Plan S? cOAlition S. 4 Sep 2018. Available at: https://www.coalition-s.org/why-plan-s/. Accessed 22 May 2023.