In this blog, Robert Kiley and Michael Markie, discuss the ambition behind creating Wellcome Open Research, an innovative funder led publishing platform, and assess the success of the platform over its first two years. Going on to imagine a future, in which all research is published using the principles behind Wellcome Open Research, they suggest the potential benefits such a publishing system would have for research and research assessment.

It is an exciting time for scholarly publishing. Technology and innovations that bypass barriers to sharing research and provide rapid access to research that were once just ideas, are now commonplace. This trend is exemplified by the rapid growth and uptake of ‘preprint’ servers (eg. bioRxiv) and funder-based publishing platforms, such as Wellcome Open Research, which are disrupting established legacy systems of research publishing.

However, much of the publishing industry has been slow to adapt to the opportunities provided by the internet and has remained locked into research evaluation systems that place more value on where someone has published, than the intrinsic value of what they have published. But, this is changing and is being driven by a demand from the research community for more rational, holistic systems of research evaluation.

This drive, to accelerate the impact of research through more collaborative and open research practices, is now a key priority for many research funding agencies. One that is highlighted by the growing number of research funding agencies, who have signed up to the principles of the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) and the more strident demands being made by research funders for researchers to provide open and rapid access to their findings (most recently the announcement of Plan S).

Wellcome Open Research

In 2016, Wellcome decided to experiment with a publishing model that was focused not just on open access, but all aspects of open research. The result was Wellcome Open Research. A platform that was developed with F1000 to provide OA as standard, but also to go much further enabling researchers to publish and share a wide range of research outputs; study protocols, data notes, as well as traditional research articles.

The platform has a mandatory open data policy – all articles include a data/software availability statement – which enables the community to use, reuse and build on published research. In cases where the data cannot be openly shared for legal or ethical reasons, the data availability statement must explain the process by which a researcher could gain access.

The other important tenet of Wellcome Open Research is that the peer review process is completely open and takes place after the article is published.  Under this model, the role of the invited reviewers is not to accept or reject an article for publication – that ship has long sailed – but to help authors improve their work. This transparent process has resulted in constructive reviews and civil dialogue between authors and reviewers, who communicate directly with each other, without an editor arbitrating decisions, or acting as gatekeeper.

In the two years Wellcome Open Research has been operating, we have published articles from 2185 unique authors, based in 727 institutions, from 73 countries. Of the 166 articles published in 2018, 73 (44%) were non-traditional research articles, which researchers hitherto have had difficulties publishing elsewhere. Importantly, articles on the platform are also well read and cited and 32% of all articles have at least one citation, whilst the most cited article (a software tool article) has received 13 citations (according to Europe PMC) and 22 citations (according to Dimensions).

One of the most encouraging things about Wellcome Open Research is that this model of publishing has been embraced by Wellcome-funded researchers and is now the 4th most used venue for Wellcome-funded researchers to publish their findings. The number of publications on the platform increased by 38% over the last 12-months, and submissions continue to grow. The response from an author survey also highlighted speed of publication and the ability to share a variety of research outputs, were the main reasons authors used the platform.  Regarding publication time, the median time from submission to when an article has passed peer review and is submitted for indexing in PubMed and Scopus is just 77 days.

Publication costs at Wellcome Open Research are also significantly lower than other publishing venues. As of December 2018, Wellcome had been invoiced for 297 papers at a total cost of £204,315; an average APC of £688 (£825 including VAT). In contrast, the average APC Wellcome paid in the 2016-17 year was £2269. Expressed simply, publication in Wellcome Open Research is 64% cheaper than the average APC.

As with any publication model, there are elements which could be improved, and we are constantly evolving. One such example is, we are changing the questions peers are asked when reviewing clinical protocols, mindful that such submissions have already been approved by institutional review boards and the clinical trial may have already commenced.

The shape of things to come?

A number of other research funders have also developed their own publishing platforms; including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Health Research Board in Ireland and the African Academy of Sciences. Imagine however, if all original research was published using the open principles we have been developing and testing with F1000 and could be connected and made available through a single open portal?

In such a future, content would be publisher-agnostic, but the content of the research would have to be published in a way compatible with open principles and those required by funders and institutions. At a stroke, we would make all research findings available faster and, based on the experience of Wellcome, at lower costs than the current system.

Moreover, the requirement to include data/software availability statements, would support efforts to ensure research was reproducible.  Reproducibility could be enhanced further by the fact that the platform would encourage all elements of the research process – protocols, data notes, software etc. – to be published.

A consequence of the fact that the platform would publish everything – after basic publishing hygiene checks have been performed, such as plagiarism detection, availability of software etc – would be that the problems of research waste and publication bias would also be solved.

This system would also herald a new (and better) way of undertaking researcher assessment, as it would no longer be possible to use journal name as a proxy for quality (as all articles are published under the same set of principles, rendering the platform name meaningless).

A potential downside would be the difficulty of sorting the wheat from the chaff, or information overload, a service which typically journals have sought to provide.  However, under this model other agencies, notably learned societies, could assume a new role to address this issue. No longer competing to publish original research, learned societies could use the expertise of their members to identify the best research in their respective fields published on the platform.

Such a curation service, in which experts not only select the best research, but explain why they have deemed it to be impactful, could also become a revenue stream.  This is especially important, as learned societies are struggling to see how they can continue to support the research ecosystem under a Plan S model.  If this model became prevalent, then articles could start to attract different curation badges of excellence.  Indeed, a single article could have multiple badges, all based on the quality and impact of that research and not on the venue of publication.

Conclusion

The publishing model, developed by F1000 and implemented by various funders,  shows that there is a different way of publishing: One which is faster, more open and more transparent than the current journal-based system.

If the principles used by this platform were universally adopted, we believe that there would be significant benefits to science and society.  At Wellcome, one our principles is to “act boldly”.  The Wellcome Open Research platform is evidence where we have lived this mantra and we encourage others to follow our lead and help bring about both a scholarly communications and research evaluation systems, fit for the 21st century.

 

Note: This article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the LSE Impact Blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please review our comments policy if you have any concerns on posting a comment below.

Featured Image Credit: Leyre Lebarga via Unsplash, (Licensed under CC0 license)

About the Authors

Robert Kiley is Head of Open Research at the Wellcome Trust and leading the work on aligning Wellcome’s OA policy with Plan S. See: https://wellcome.ac.uk/news/open-access-and-plan-s-how-wellcome-tackling-four-key-concerns

Michael Markie Publishing Director at F1000

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