Gaining access to the latest research through Open Access publishing has become a hot topic among scholars and publishers. Open Access publishing makes research materials available to the public, free of charge — a critical component for the advancement of research in every discipline.

Open Access isn’t always accessible, though. The movement to Open Access publishing has influenced some journals to offer complete Open Access — but with significant publication costs. Others use a hybrid model, which gives immediate Open Access to authors who pay higher fees. Oftentimes, researchers review manuscripts free of charge and then pay page fees when publishing, and libraries pay subscription fees for researchers to gain access to published material. It is a business model built on the backs of researchers.

UNC is a leading institution in providing Open Access publishing through the Carolina Digital Repository (CDR), hosted by University Libraries. The CDR collects scholarly works, datasets, research materials, records, and audiovisual materials produced by the Carolina community and shares them with the public.

In September 2018, an international consortium of research funders called cOALition S introduced Plan S, which requires that materials from researchers receiving funding from any member of the consortium be made immediately Open Access. All publishers charging subscriptions — including hybrid journals — would be affected. Furthermore, publication costs would be capped so that publishers could not pass on increased fees to researchers.

Even though this sounds like a good plan, science writer Jeffrey Brainard recently wrote an opinion piece in Science outlining some of its unintended consequences. While Open Access publishing is widely supported and should be a part of our future, Brainard raises important questions. Will the fee cap be too low to cover the average cost per paper? What will happen to nonprofit scientific societies that publish their own journals at low subscription costs? Such organizations depend on this income to provide community services such as advocacy, early career mentoring, and teaching materials.

As the research world moves toward Open Access publishing, Brainard argues that business models will vary depending on the journal. Peer reviewing and peer-edited journals are an important part of the research landscape, particularly with a focus on rigor and reproducibility. I encourage all UNC researchers to pay attention to this critical issue, to work with the CDR to make research materials Open Access when possible, and to express your thoughts to societies, federal agencies, and to the consortium organizing Plan S.

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