How funders and publishers can help researchers choose open research - F1000
How funders and publishers can help researchers choose open research

How funders and publishers can help researchers choose open research

8 mins


Making science open to everyone has huge benefits for researchers and society. But there are still barriers preventing academics from choosing this path. During the recent Charleston Conference, Rebecca Lawrence, Managing Director at F1000 and Ashley Farley, Program Officer of Knowledge & Research Services at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, ran a session to discuss some of the programs and services that can encourage and equip researchers to choose open research.

In 2020 the world was faced with an unprecedented situation. A new virus that no one knew much about began to spread like wildfire from country to country. In response, scientists, journals, health bodies and funders agreed to do things very differently. Rather than keeping their findings behind closed doors, many such organizations opened up their COVID-related content to share that research for free with the world. Arguably, those actions had a considerable impact on the ability of scientists to develop a lifesaving vaccine just months later.

Now, as the world slowly returns to normal, we need to make sure that we don’t forget the benefits of open research and that the changes in practice that many made during this challenging time don’t revert to the old ways and get consigned to history.

What is open research?

At its heart, open research is all about making sure that all elements of scientific discovery are freely available for everyone to view, share and utilize, and to encourage collaboration in the pursuit of new knowledge.

It’s not just about open access (where research articles are free to view online), but instead, open research aims to throw open the doors to the knowledge process itself.

The idea is that everyone, including the public, can view and access all parts of the research process, not just a final research paper. This includes access to data, detailed methods, and peer reviews.

What are the benefits?

At F1000 we have long been advocates for the open research movement. For us, the three words that come to mind most when discussing open research are transparency, integrity, and accessibility. That’s because when the research article and the underlying data is made open and accessible, it makes it easier to question, replicate, validate and confirm the integrity of the research, to support others in further building on those findings. In addition, when the reviews of the research and associated data by expert peers are also made available, it brings transparency, accountability, and trust to the validation process.

Sharing all types of knowledge openly (beyond simply traditional narrative research articles) also accelerates the pace of scientific discoveries and enables the findings from academic research to filter into the real world more quickly. This helps drive innovations in technology, boosts the economy, and leads to better evidence-based policymaking.

What about the benefits to researchers?

It’s not just society that benefits from open research. Sharing the results of academic endeavor can help researchers too.

Studies that aren’t hidden behind a paywall are usually read by more people. They have higher citation rates, downloads and generate more media attention1. For instance one 2019 study suggests that open data can generate up to 25% more citations2! Being able to show who has read or shared your articles is bound to help the advancement of your career3.

Sharing your underlying data also enables researchers to demonstrate priority on any new findings, and receive credit for all aspects of their outputs, not just the associated research articles. Similarly, open peer review supports researchers in receiving credit for this incredibly important contribution to the research ecosystem, and both activities encourage greater collaboration with other academics around the world.

The barriers

While the benefits of open research are clear, there is still a lot of cultural and behavioral change needed to widely embed open research practices within the research ecosystem.

In many research fields, there is hyper competition, often caused by too many applicants for limited funding. Consequently, the traditional research system is geared up to reward those who make what is seen as an ‘impactful’ discovery and publish their findings first. As such, new ideas and research are often protected with secrecy, and the system encourages the publication of the more ‘positive’ findings, creating (often unintended) cherry-picking of findings to achieve inclusion in ‘high-impact’ publication venues.

However, there are several things’ funders and publishers can do to encourage academics to choose open research approaches and venues. This includes developing policies to reward open research practices and providing researchers with venues that enable the sharing of a wide range of outputs and provide transparency and maximizing accessibility around the research and publication process.

The role of Gates Open Research

With this in mind, in 2017, F1000 teamed up with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to launch an open research publishing platform.

“The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funds lifesaving research related to global health, infectious diseases, drug discovery, agriculture and education.

When conducting research in these areas it is paramount that scientists can disseminate their findings without barrier or restriction, and this is especially crucial during public health emergencies – as we have seen with the global COVID pandemic.”

Ashley Farley

To help meet those needs, F1000 designed the Gates Open Research platform as a place where Gates-funded researchers could quickly and easily publish their research at no cost to themselves.

One of the key advantages of the Platform is that it gives researchers much greater control over the publishing process. Authors decide what research outputs they wish to publish and when.

These outputs don’t have to be limited to full research articles. In fact, authors are encouraged to share as much as possible, from detailed methods to data sets, interim results and more. Together with a requirement to share the underlying data and detailed methods associated with all findings, this enables other researchers to reanalyze, replicate and reuse the data, enhancing reproducibility and accountability.

Gates Open Research also enables academics to publish their research outputs in a much faster and more transparent way. Papers are published and freely available in as few as 14 days following submission.

After submission they then undergo open peer review. This means that not only are the peer review reports published alongside the research, but the reviewers’ identities are also made publicly available, further aiding accountability and transparency.

Since its launch four years ago, Gates Open Research has been embraced by the research community. As of October 2021, the Platform is home to 337 article publications, 234 of which are indexed (passed peer review). These articles have been viewed more than 230,000 times and have generated over 1,500 citations.

Open Plus Books

F1000 have also collaborated with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to pilot a new publishing concept, Open Plus Books. This enables books to not only be published in print and in open access ebook format, but also to become ‘living’ through support of versioning and chapter-by-chapter publishing.

“The vision behind F1000 has always been to develop approaches to scholarly publishing that better support the needs of today in communicating new findings, regardless of output format.

We started with article-based formats, but as we expand into different disciplines, we have long been keen to apply similar thinking and benefits to other formats that better suit other scholarly communities such as books and monographs.

Our close relationship with Taylor & Francis provided an opportunity to utilize our technology to rethink the benefits that books can provide to authors and users alike.”

Rebecca Lawrence

Open Plus Books enables authors to publish a book with open access within just a few days of submission. Each chapter can be published individually, so chapters can be published as soon as they are ready, and additional chapters can be added at any time. The format is dynamic, allowing books to evolve as authors continue to update, revise, and add additional chapters. This is especially useful for authored and edited books, conference proceedings, handbooks, and encyclopedias. They can also include underlying data that can often be visualized within the chapter itself. Open Plus Books is fully flexible, so authors decide when to make updates, and when to print the book.

Future challenges and opportunities

As well as providing researchers with great places to publish openly, there are other things funders and publishers can do to incentivize researchers.

Firstly, funders can insist that the output of publicly funded research is made freely available on completion.

Secondly, funders, universities and institutes need to work together to shift the way they evaluate research and researchers. The use of more responsible metrics and incentivization of open research practices will ensure appropriate credit for researchers that communicate the breadth of their research findings and that embrace and contribute to more open and transparent approaches, as provided through venues such as Gates Open Research.

As with anything, the key ingredient to success is collaboration. Funders and publishers need to work with other key stakeholders e.g., research institutions, scholarly societies, and academies so that policies are aligned, and researchers are not caught in the middle of conflicting requirements.