An Open Science future – Europe leads the way

EU2020 | Hindawi Blog

Hindawi submitted a proposal this May in response to the European Commission’s tender to launch a new publishing platform. The Commission’s aim is to build on their progressive Open Science agenda to provide an optional Open Access publishing platform for the articles of all researchers with Horizon 2020 grants. The platform will also provide incentives for researchers to adopt Open Science practices, such as publishing preprints, sharing data, and open peer review. The potential for this initiative to lead a systemic transformation in research practice and scholarly communication in Europe and more widely should not be underestimated. Here we outline our bid to the Commission and our rationale for doing so.

The issues facing scholarly communications today go well beyond the need for another Open Access publication venue. It is more than 15 years since the term Open Access first came into use to describe a system for scholarly communication in which the results of research are made freely available at the point of publication and openly licensed for reuse. Open Access has grown both in scale and in its acceptance, although it has fallen far short of displacing traditional subscription-based models under which most scholarly outputs are still published1-3.

The transition to Open Science is no longer simply a matter of ensuring Open Access to traditional scholarly outputs. It is in direct response to the need for all research to be more innovative, accountable, collaborative, and to advance faster. Moreover, as Jean-Claude Burgelman noted on behalf of the Commission at a recent conference in Washington, Open Science provides the most effective way to achieve a greater return on the public funding of research – about €140-150 billion per year in their case4. But the vision they articulate for Open Science is much greater than simply improving the efficiency of scholarly communication – it is a wholesale transformation in the way research is conducted and communicated, one that can take full advantage of the internet to provide a seamless network of ideas and collaborations among researchers and with wider society.

The challenge

We believe there have been two main barriers to the shift towards this vision: 1) the difficulty in transitioning funds from subscription-based publishing to support Open Access and 2) an entrenched incentive structure within academia and research funders that favors well-established journals and overlooks the diverse range of outputs being created in the modern research environment. Authors feel compelled to select journals based on the journal’s ‘prestige’ rather than its quality of service, support of Open Science principles, or value for money, while the same journals compete for prestige in ways that do nothing to improve the communication of scholarly research. An important objective for any new means of scholarly communication must be to address these challenges in order to accelerate the transition towards Open Science.

The past 15 years have also seen an increasing acknowledgement of problems within the traditional scholarly communications system that were not fully understood at the start of the Open Access movement. These problems include delays and inefficiencies caused by traditional models of peer review; the growing burden that peer review places on the shoulders of editors and reviewers; the high cost and poor performance of online systems that support scholarly communication; insufficient diversity, competition, transparency, and cost-effectiveness within the publishing market; the inability for outputs including data, software, and methods to be easily reused by others; a lack of interoperability and machine-readability for many research outputs; as well as poor reporting standards and the lack of reproducibility (notably in the biomedical sciences, but potentially applicable across all scholarship) that is of increasing concern to funders, institutions, and the public. Given the systemic nature of these problems, discussions often remain abstract. The extent of change required seems insurmountable and the result is too often stagnation in the status quo rather than a clear plan of action.

Some Open Science advocates argue that publishers no longer have a useful role in the process of scholarly communication, in part because researchers could simply carry out any tasks that cannot be automated by themselves. We believe the aim should not be to design a system that has the smallest possible role for publishers and other service providers, but rather to design a system where these organisations are incentivised to provide as much value as possible, under terms that offer the best possible outcomes for the research community and for society, while preventing publishers – whether scholarly, not-for-profit, or commercial – from controlling either the content they publish or the essential components of the publishing infrastructure. If publishers are to have a place in this new system, it will be as service providers to the scholarly community, not as gatekeepers.

The opportunities

Our proposal to the Commission sets out how we can implement such a vision by capitalizing on three of the greatest opportunities for meaningful systemic change across all of scholarly communication.

  • Technological: to create a truly open and reusable technical infrastructure for scholarly communication.
  • Economic: to fundamentally shift the business relationships between scholarly publishers and the research community from a model based on ownership, control, and journal brands to one based on value-added services, collaborative partnerships, and community engagement.
  • Cultural: to decouple the communication of scholarly work from its evaluation, in particular removing journal competition and evaluation as a proxy of the quality of individual outputs and researchers, which has been a key barrier to realising these technological and economic opportunities.

Our proposal to the Commission involves the development of an end-to-end publishing platform that is fully Open Source, with an editorial model that incentivises Open Science practices including preprints, data sharing, and objective open peer review. Data about the impact of published outputs would also be fully open and available for independent scrutiny, and the policies and governance of the platform would be managed by the research community. In particular, researchers who are currently disenfranchised by the current academic reward system, including early career researchers and researchers whose primary research outputs include data and software code, would have a key role in developing the policies of the platform.

Open Source is a fundamental part of the transition towards truly open technical infrastructure, but Open Source code alone will not solve issues of reusability or interoperability. The true value of open infrastructure can only be achieved if the text, code, data, and open standards emerge from a collaborative process in which many different stakeholders work together to create, share, and improve a set of reusable components. These components must not be owned or controlled by any single organization, rather they must emerge from the shared efforts of a wide range of participants. The governance of the platform (discussed below) should also reflect this community-driven approach.

The best examples of this community-driven approach to developing open infrastructure for scholarly publishing – and those at the heart of our proposal – are the PubSweet initiative, led by the Collaborative Knowledge Foundation (otherwise known as Coko), and the Libero platform (previously known as Continuum), led by eLife. Both have brought together a growing number of users with diverse needs and capabilities who are working together to build the foundations upon which an incredible range of new platforms can be developed. As these platforms are adopted by a community of stakeholders, they are fundamentally more interoperable and reusable than systems developed by any single organisation. Platforms developed in isolation will be unable to transform the scholarly communications system, even if their underlying source code is made available on an Open Source basis, since they will not be able to serve the diverse needs of the research community.

Open infrastructure is also an essential component of the second opportunity, redefining the business relationships between scholarly publishers, service providers, institutions, and funders. The aim must be to move away from a model based on ownership to one based on services. While we wholeheartedly believe that both for-profit and non-profit organizations have an important role in the development of an Open Science future, the business models that are used to support these organizations need to be designed in a way that prevents the research community from being “locked in” to a service that no longer serves their needs5. Proprietary, closed technology creates lock in. By using open infrastructure and open standards, the Commission’s publishing platform can demonstrate how service-based models empower a range of publishers and other service providers to create sustainable businesses that use their unique skills without needing to control the platforms and services they help to create.

The third opportunity – cultural – is perhaps the hardest to realise. As long as journal rank and journal impact factor remain the currency used to judge academic quality, no amount of technological change or economic support for open outputs and open infrastructure will make research and researchers more open:

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And as the recent League of European Research Universities (LERU) roadmap for Open Science points out6, cultural change requires more than a series of actions: “Change can only take place where there is trust, collaboration and commitment to a shared vision for the future.”

The policies incentivising Open Science on the platform must therefore be pragmatic, while ambitious, treading a sufficiently careful path so as not to alienate large groups of researchers who may not yet be familiar or comfortable with this new culture. At the same time, the platform must also provide a home for early adopters who act as champions of Open Science and lead by example. This perspective for change management is aligned with the “as open as possible, as closed as necessary” stance of the Commission and reflects the existing policies of the Commission around data sharing7.

That the Commission wants to include all the six major subject areas they fund8, from basic science to arts and humanities, poses additional challenges to the policies and workflows of the platform. As noted in the LERU Roadmap, ‘Open Scholarship’ is probably a better term than ‘Open Science’, at least in the English-speaking world. Articles discussing art history would potentially be submitted alongside a clinical trial, an ecological field study, an analysis of neutrinos, a model of different transport routes, or a critique of political theory. Each discipline has specific cultures of practice, editorial requirements, and ethical and technical standards that would need to be met if researchers across all disciplines are to trust the platform in their capacity as authors, editors, reviewers, and readers. In recognizing this diversity, policies must be sensitive to cultural and disciplinary differences if they are to succeed in enacting a cultural shift among researchers towards Open Science. We believe that an attitude of engagement, encouragement, incentives, and rewards that are discipline specific will have a greater chance of success in promoting cultural change rather than mandates and penalties for non-compliance. This also enables the platform to be a place of experimentation and pilots for different types of Open-Science policy, practice, and incentives that can be trialled and the data and results made openly available. Because so much of the data about the process of research and scholarly communication is still behind closed doors, we don’t have a real grasp of what works and what doesn’t – even with regard to the peer review process itself. And we need to have the courage to fail as well as to succeed. The Commission’s publishing platform provides an opportunity to apply the scientific method to the process of scientific communication.

Although it poses significant challenges, the broad disciplinary scope of the platform also has the potential to create a unique opportunity to bring together a diverse group of stakeholders to address the roadblocks to Open Science. To address this and secure not just the adoption of researchers but also their trust and enthusiasm, the open technology and Open Science policies of the platform need to be embedded within the community. The governance would therefore be led by three stakeholder-driven advisory groups who would oversee each of the key areas of the platform’s development.

Community governance

A Scientific Advisory Board would be formed, in cooperation with the Commission, to bring together a diverse group of researchers from the six major areas of science included within the scope of the platform. Open Science and the dissemination of research affects all stakeholders and yet most scientific advisory boards have limited diversity and often include only senior representatives from their field. The current system of scholarly communication frequently marginalises early career researchers, those involved in multidisciplinary research, and those who create and curate data and software. It is these individuals, whose contributions to science and society are insufficiently acknowledged in the current system, who will benefit from the genuinely progressive culture of Open Science. Hindawi would therefore work closely with the Commission to recruit a Scientific Advisory Board with strong representation from these groups.

The specific policies of the platform would ultimately be decided in discussion with the Scientific Advisory Board, as it will be through their expertise that these disciplinary and cultural differences can best be understood. In cases where there is clearly defined best practice in relation to editorial policies and research integrity, however, such as the codes of conduct published by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities (ALLEA), the Scientific Advisory Board would be tasked with ensuring that platform’s editorial policies fully adhere to the established norms.

The governance of the platform’s technologies would be overseen by a Platform Advisory Group, which would include representatives from Coko and eLife along with several key stakeholders from other scholarly infrastructure providers such as Europe PubMedCentral, OpenAIRE, Crossref, DataCite, the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), and the FREYA Project. Finally, we also anticipate forming a Strategic Governance Board to oversee the long-term development, sustainability, and strategic objectives of this new publishing enterprise. This third group would be led by the European Commission with support from experts they select, along with representatives from the Scientific Advisory Board and the Platform Advisory Group.

Integrity, quality and discoverability

The open peer review process that Hindawi envisions would be handled by an expert group of academic Editorial Board Members covering the six subject areas within the scope of the platform, recruited by Hindawi in consultation with the Scientific Advisory Board. We believe having academic editors actively facilitate peer review would help secure trust and adoption by researchers and thus foster a more rapid change in practice. The Editorial Board would also act as ambassadors for the editorial service and ensure a consistent level of high-quality oversight, alongside the ethical and technical checks that Hindawi would provide, that can scale and meet the diverse requirements of different disciplines. Importantly, these Handling Editors would be asked to assess the manuscript on its technical and ethical rigor, rather than on a more subjective evaluation of its interest and importance. In the existing scholarly system, ‘quality’ is narrowly defined by journal rank and not by the quality and integrity of the much wider outputs and contributions of researchers. A European publishing platform offers an opportunity to showcase the integrity and necessary complexity of a range of qualities in scholarship, regardless of discipline. As Jeff Rouder, a neuroscientist, succinctly suggested in a tweet, one such quality of Open Science “is endeavoring to preserve the rights of others to reach independent conclusions about your data and work”9. ‘Objective’ peer review is fundamental to this because it separates the rigor of the individual work from the evaluation of journals and the perverse incentives and competition that engenders. Such peer review rewards researchers, for example, for publishing negative, null or inconclusive results.

The services that Hindawi would provide would include the publication of preprints as well as peer-reviewed articles, as stipulated by the Commission. All manuscripts would immediately be published as preprints. Importantly, the production process for preprints as well as peer-reviewed articles would enhance the quality and presentation of the manuscript’s content and its discoverability through publication in a machine-readable XML format, an online HTML format, and a downloadable PDF format, allowing them to be read, shared, mined, and openly discussed on the platform by researchers, citizen scientists, and other interested users.

Our services would also be designed to eliminate any unnecessary burdens placed on authors, editors and reviewers, while incentivising Open Science practice, such as good reporting and data sharing as well as open peer review. The combined system would offer a unified, user-friendly, virtually frictionless experience across all parts of the system.

From an author’s perspective, the platform would offer a single process for submitting their work, regardless of whether they opt to publish a preprint, to have their article peer reviewed, or a combination of the two. Once a manuscript has been accepted for formal publication, the peer-review history and editor comments would be published alongside the article in accordance with the platform’s open peer-review policy, except for rare cases in which the Scientific Advisory Board may have permitted discipline-specific opt-outs from this policy.

All the content published on the platform would be fully searchable, machine readable and indexed in all relevant search engines and indexing databases. Published content would be made freely available to institutional repositories, digital archiving services and other Open Access platforms using a freely-available public API (Application Programming Interface). By leveraging the Open Source tools and metadata services that already exist, the platform would also provide article-level metrics, online discussion and commenting around individual articles, and open researcher profiles for authors, reviewers, and editors. Analytics and reporting tools would also be provided to enable funders and institutions to monitor the outputs of their researchers across the platform.

Realising the vision

We are now at a point where frustrations with outdated business models, outdated infrastructure, and the ever-growing burden of the publishing process are at a breaking point – it is clearly a system unfit for a digital age of scholarship. Changing a system as complex as scholarly communications requires a bold, progressive vision and a clear understanding of how to put that vision into practice given the tension between the required objectives and the current constraints on researchers and the scholarly ecosystem. The implicit vision set out by the European Commission in their tender goes far beyond the launch of yet another megajournal or another funder platform. It provides a unique opportunity to bring about the systemic transformation required to realise the technological, economic, and cultural opportunities now at hand.  Hindawi has been committed to advancing the cause of Open Access for more than a decade and has the motivation, energy, skills, and professional capacity to do this. In all cases, whoever is awarded the bid to develop this platform has the potential to achieve something amazing if they seize these opportunities.

By combining the endorsement and support of the Commission with a new generation of Open Source and Open Science publishing platforms and services, and the skills and expertise of a radically progressive publisher, we have a chance to secure the free dissemination and discovery of ideas – what Jean-Claude Guédon has termed the ‘Internet of the Mind’1. This initiative may be our greatest opportunity yet to put Open Science at the heart of research and scholarly communication.

The bids received by the Commission are still being evaluated and who is awarded the contract will be decided later this year.


  1. Jean-Paul Guédon (2018). “Budapest Open Access Initiative | Open Access: Toward the Internet of the Mind.” Accessed July 4, 2018. http://www.budapestopenaccessinitiative.org/open-access-toward-the-internet-of-the-mind.
  2. Björk, Bo-Christer (2017). “Scholarly Journal Publishing in Transition- from Restricted to Open Access.” Electronic Markets 27, no. 2: 101–9. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12525-017-0249-2. (pdf available)
  3. Fyfe, Aileen, Kelly Coate, Stephen Curry, Stuart Lawson, Noah Moxham, and Camilla Mørk Røstvik (2017). “Untangling Academic Publishing: A History of the Relationship between Commercial Interests, Academic Prestige and the Circulation of Research.” Zenodo. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.546100.
  4. JC Burgelman (2018), Open Science policies in the EU, Woodrow Wilson Center. Advancing Open Science in the EU and the US Pt1. Accessed July 6, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcXjXUYn5Wg&feature=youtu.be&list=PLzM1iiQhVrdERT9n2c11lFSWoiLj3eahL&t=1099.
  5. Paul Peters.(2018)  “A Radically Open Approach to Developing Infrastructure for Open Science.” Accessed July 6, 2018. https://about.hindawi.com/opinion/a-radically-open-approach-to-developing-infrastructure-for-open-science/.
  6. “Open Science and Its Role in Universities: A Roadmap for Cultural Change.” LERU (2018). Accessed July 6, 2018. https://www.leru.org/publications/open-science-and-its-role-in-universities-a-roadmap-for-cultural-change
  7. EUDAT Collaborative Data (2016). “‘As Open as Possible, as Closed as Necessary’: The European Commission Releases New Guidelines on Data Management,” September 6, 2016. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/open-possible-closed-necessary-european-commission-eudat.
  8. Revised Field of Science and Technology (FOS) Classification in the Frascati Manual,” February 26, 2007. http://www.oecd.org/sti/inno/38235147.pdf.
  9. Rouder, Jeff (2017). “What Is Open Science?  It Is Endeavoring to Preserve the Rights of Others to Reach Independent Conclusions about Your Data and Work.” Tweet. @JeffRouder (blog), December 5, 2017. https://twitter.com/JeffRouder/status/938147822431502337.

The text in this blog post is by Catriona MacCallum. It is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). The illustration is by Hindawi and is also CC-BY.