April 29, 2017

Science Enters Open Access Arena with Science Advances

One of the biggest names in scholarly publishing announced it was entering the open access ecosystem on February 14, as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) announced that it would launch Science Advances, an online only, open access journal covering the same broad range of research topics addressed by the AAAS flagship journal, Science.

The entry of Science into the open access landscape was dictated by several factors, not the least of which was advocacy from librarians and the researchers they work with. “Librarians are not a group we wanted to ignore, because they serve an awful large number of our readers,” Science Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt told Library Journal. “We hear from our readers about the pressures on their libraries and on the library budgets. As we looked to publish more of the excellent research that we receive…we see that libraries are not able to bear more site license fees, so that doesn’t seem a viable route.”

McNutt also said the success of open access publishers like Public Library of Science (PLOS) gave AAAS, which publishes Science and its sister journals Science Translational Medicine and Science Signaling, the confidence to forge ahead with an open access publication of its own. “We’ve been watching carefully what has worked and what hasn’t worked,” said McNutt. “At this point, we’ve seen enough that we feel we can enter the open access landscape and be successful.”

That entrance is a welcome one to open access advocates like Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). “We’re very happy that they’re joining the open access party,” Joseph told LJ. “It’s been a long time coming, and we’re happy to see the largest science society in the United States step up to the plate.”

Joseph also suspects that there’s one other factor prodding traditional publishers like AAAS and the Royal Society of London, which announced on February 18 that it will be debuting its own open access journal in the fall of 2014, into the open access landscape—new mandates requiring that an increasing percentage of government-funded research be published in open journals that are accessible to all readers. “Mandates have had a big effect on the marketplace,” said Joseph, who attributes such policies to a recent acceleration in the pace at which traditional publishers are offering open access alternatives. “It will become a competitive disadvantage not to have an open access option for your journal.”

While Science Advances, which will premier in 2015, has been largely welcomed, other industry watchers point out that many of the finer points surrounding the new, online-only journal still have to be worked out. “This is certainly a step in the right direction for Science, but the devil is in the details,” said UC Berkeley biologist and Nobel Prize-winner Randy Schekman, who made waves last year by announcing that he would no longer publish in what he called “luxury journals,” including Science. “I’d like to know who will be appointed to the editorial team and how they will review papers and expedite their publication.”

According to McNutt, while the peer review process for the new journal will remain largely the same and draw from the same pool of reviewers as Science’s peer review does, publishing with Science Advances will involve less of the editorial assistance that authors are accustomed to getting from Science. That toning down of hands-on editorial work, though, will allow the new journal to bring readers papers that, while well done and interesting, may not make it into the pages of Science.

Expanding the number of articles the AAAS publishes every year was also a major driver behind the decision to launch the nimbler, less overhead-intensive Science Advances, which McNutt said aims to publish several thousand articles every year by its fifth year in business. By comparison, Science publishes less than one thousand a year, or about six percent of the submissions it receives. “We’ve got three times that many articles that we review and improve and then send to get published in journals elsewhere, simply because we don’t have the room to publish them,” said McNutt, calling the process “the most inefficient business model you can imagine.”


Once the journal starts taking submissions, authors aiming to see their work in Science will be able to choose whether or not to submit to Science Advances as well. The submission process will be blind, and if a paper is passed on by editors at Science, it will then move on to consideration for Science Advances. The new journal will charge authors a processing fee that, while it hasn’t been set yet, will be near the industry norm, according to McNutt.

Also undecided is which Creative Commons license the new journal will operate under. While the journal will be free to read, all licenses are not created equal, noted Joseph, who described the choice of license as “hugely important.” She would like to see Science Advances operate under a CC BY license, which allows users to do pretty much anything they please with the material, up to and including repurposing it as a means of making money, as long as they attribute it to the author and publisher of the original article.

Though McNutt said she hopes to have a decision on the license issue made within the next few months, she points out that choosing a license is a challenge for Science Advances, due to the broad range or research that Science Advances will aim to cover. In the end, the choice might be more complicated than a one-size-fits-all approach. “We need to think about whether we can find one license that is going to be acceptable to all authors,” McNutt told LJ. “Or do we need to look at the option of offering a menu of licenses, so that each community of authors can choose the one they like?”

Ian Chant About Ian Chant

Ian Chant is a former editor at LJ and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Scientific American and Popular Mechanics and on NPR.

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  1. It is great. Scientific community appreciates AAAS for bringing their content into OPEN access