Since the first open access (OA) journal, Journal of Medical Internet Research, started to solicit contributions in 1998,1 more presses and journals have been joining in the exploration of this publication mode. Up until today, OA refers not only to open publications for readers, but also to free platforms for people of any background to share their ideas, talk and comment on scientific researches. Accordingly, the advantages of OA to scientists are considerably obvious, including, to name a few: (1) OA can bring more exposure of the scientific work; (2) together with (1), OA can increase scientists’ impact. This will definitely enhance the possibilities to collaborate with other researchers, apply for funding and receive invitations to academic meetings; (3) the scientists can receive feedback from various audiences, thus gaining valuable opportunities to optimize and adjust their researches; (4) OA can remove the barriers between laboratories and industries, thus promoting the conversion of the published results to actual applications, thus allowing the scientists to translate their findings into real-life innovations.
As a young researcher, I truly experienced the advantages and convenience OA has brought about. With the popularity of portable smart devices and explosive increase of publications, the reading habits of scientists and their ways to draw inspiration have greatly changed. Personally, I prefer to browse the academic articles and news on my mobile and tablet, share thoughts and talk with collaborators through social software. OA allows me to do so in a real-time way, with no need of login from specific portals or of various restrictions.
I’m not denying that many revolutionary ideas and findings are obtained from individual scientists. However, most current researches, especially the cutting-edge ones, such as human genome project, food safety and climate change, require consecutive and extensive multi/interdisciplinary collaborations from different subjects and countries. For instance, the authors list in an epoch-making paper of finding the Higgs boson published in 2012 occupied half (16 pages) of the total paper pages (32 pages).2 This requires the participants to share their ideas and findings without any reservation. Only in this way can these kinds of huge projects thrive and really contribute to the development of science and technology. In this regard, OA indeed provides an ideal platform for the scientists to communicate in a free manner.
Although showing the promising potential to revolutionize the scientific publication mode, It should be noted that several prevailing concerns need to be carefully addressed about OA: (1) Poor quality of peer-reviews, especially for the predatory periodicals that are under the guise of OA and only want to earn money. This severely affects the common trust in OA; (2) The required payment for OA is generally quite high, especially for young scientists who just start their research careers and usually cannot allocate enough funding; (3) The authors don’t have copyrights for OA publications, et al. In order to promote OA for better service to mankind, all aspects of society, from authorities to social organisations and to individuals, should really address these issues. For example, foundations can encourage, or even mandatorily require, their benefiters to publish the results in OA journals, or share their research progresses on OA platforms (such as Scientific Data). Correspondingly, the financial support should also focus on payment for OA publications. Delightfully, more governmental and private foundations have increasingly started to take steps, with the representative of the European Commission, who demands all their sponsored research results to be published in OA journals starting from 2020.3 Furthermore, the OA journal editors should guarantee high-level scientists as reviewers and increase the transparency of peer reviews. In this respect, Nature Communications gets off to a good start, choosing leading scientists to review the manuscripts and opening the peer-review comments to the public.
Certainly, we should not be too hard on OA, since a 20-year history is quite short compared to traditional subscription journals. A drop of water is nothing, while the ocean has shocking power. Sharing has gone deep and remarkably changed human lives, giving rise to new initiatives, such as shared bikes and crowd funding. OA supplies a free and equal platform for scientists, businessmen and the general public to share their ideas, findings, demands and interests. With the issues gradually raised and the spread of the internet, there is no doubt that in the future, OA will become the dominant publication mode and will light up the era of open scientific research in which everyone can participate.
2. CMS Collaboration. Observation of a new boson at a mass of 125 GeV with the CMS experiment at the LHC. Phys. Lett. B. 716, 30-61 (2012).