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Wellcome Trust launches new open access platform

Scientists will be encouraged to publish findings ahead of peer review, with papers going online just a week after submission. The research charity hopes other funders will follow its lead

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The world’s second-biggest non-government funder of medical research, the Wellcome Trust, is launching an open access publishing website Wellcome Open Research, via which its grantholders will be able to rapidly publish all outputs from their research.

That will include everything from standard research articles and data sets, to case reports, protocols, and null and negative results.

There is no editorial function, but every submission will have to pass a series of objective checks.

The platform will also include a transparent peer review process, which rather than before publication, will take place afterwards.

Any article must be accompanied with all supporting data, allowing other researchers to analyse and replicate published studies.

Publishing a paper will only take a week. “This is much quicker than the traditional publishing model, where the average time between submission and acceptance is around 100 days,” said Robert Kiley, Wellcome’s head of digital services.

Once an article is published, it will be indexed in major bibliographic outlets and deposited in PubMed Central and the Europe PubMed Central repository.

By disseminating results almost immediately, Wellcome Open Research will ensure critical advances in urgent areas of research are not held up by lengthy journal processes, the trust says.

The transparent peer review process is intended to encourage constructive feedback from experts focussed on helping the authors improve their work, rather than on making an editorial decision to accept or reject an article.

Kiley said, “This model shifts towards wholly open research publishing, and will bring benefits to researchers and institutions, as well as to society more broadly.”

One of the long-term aims is to start a shift in research and researcher assessment away from journal-based impact measures as a proxy for the value of a particular piece of research, and towards direct assessment of the output itself, whether it be an article, or in another form such as a dataset or software tool.

Wellcome has supported so-called hybrid open access, in which it pays article processing charges for grantees publishing in traditional subscription-based journals, and in return requires publishers to make articles freely available immediately after publication.

In 2014 – 2015 the trust spent almost £5 million on such article processing charges. In an analysis published in March, Kiley said hybrid open access is significantly more expensive than fully open access. “As a whole the level of service provided by hybrid publishers is poor and is not delivering what we are paying for,” Kiley said.

A full 30 per cent of articles, for which Wellcome had paid £765,000 in processing fees, were not available when the Trust checked in January. “Spending this level of money and not having access to the article in the designated repository is clearly unacceptable,” said Kiley.

File drawer problem

In addition to trying to overcome the fixation on publishing in high impact factor journals, Kiley believes the new website will allow researchers to overcome the 'file drawer problem' and publish negative or non-confirmatory results.

A recent study of 221 social science experiments found that two-thirds of null results didn’t see the light of day. By contrast, researchers wrote up 96 per cent of the studies with statistically strong results.

“Publishing negative and null results is good for both science and society. It means researchers don't waste time on hypotheses that have already been proved wrong, and clinicians can make treatment decisions with more evidence,” said Kiley.

Wellcome Trust hopes that over time all open access ventures will merge into one website.

“We hope that other funders will follow our lead. We also hope that, over time, funder-specific platforms will merge into a single international platform that's open to all researchers,” Kiley added.

Open access movement

The announcement will be seen as a vital step on the path to making all scientific papers in the EU freely available by 2020, a goal agreed by research ministers back in May.

The Wellcome Trust is an influential mover in the open science movement and was the first research funder to introduce a mandatory open access policy in 2005.

Since then, a total of 157 research funders from around the world, have introduced open access policies.

Universities have also recognised the value of making research outputs freely available, as seen by the fact that 514 of them now have open access policies.

Currently, less than a quarter of all scientific papers are accessible on an open access basis, with the results of most publicly-funded research only available by subscribing to scientific journals.

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