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French researchers support the movement towards open science

News from committee
24/01/2020

The Couperin consortium has published the results of its survey of French researchers’ publication and open access practices. It focused on an analysis of the relationship between researchers and scientific publishers as well as open access practices in journals and on platforms. There were 11,658 responses from ESR institutions to the online questionnaire which represents approximately 10% of the public research community. The richness of the survey is largely based on verbatim responses (over 11,500) which were fully analyzed.

The “Your publishing and Open Access practices” survey was disseminated to and passed on by scientific institutions and networks between February and April 2019. It consisted of 4 sections with a set of 42 closed questions and 8 zones for free comment. The results of the survey were analysed using two main criteria – age groups and research themes.

The summary document presents these results according to the following structure – researchers and publishing houses, open access publication in journals, use of scientific journals and visibility of articles, open and pre-printed archives, and accessibility of research data.

Here are some extracts from the survey summary document:

Researchers and publishing houses

  • Overall, the respondents expressed great dissatisfaction with scientific publishers, particularly regarding added value and the time it takes to be published. Although respondents criticized the current overall scientific publishing process and particularly its excessive financialization, this dissatisfaction was not found to cause a desire for radical change to the system.
  • 80% of respondents consider the excessive costs, exclusive copyright transfers and the paywall for readers caused by subscriptions to be major limitations inherent to the current system. The slowness of the peer review process remains a problem with more than 50% dissatisfied, albeit with certain disciplinary differences.
  • Over 50% of respondents (80% of mathematicians) support accepting scientific communities cutting access to journals as it is a firm position which would strengthen bargaining power. However, researchers consider this form of protest to be acceptable only if an alternative form of access is maintained. Concerted collective action at the European or even international level is considered essential.
  • The issue of evaluation and the need for works to be disseminated internationally both appear to be factors which block researchers’ potential independence from certain major journals in their fields.
  • Classical peer reviewing remains a recognised and appreciated means of guaranteeing the quality of published articles. However, the low recognition of this activity in terms of career development and remuneration is the system’s greatest weakness.

Publishing in open access in journal

  • Publishing in open access in journals develops according to different disciplinary practices. A marked preference to publish in native open access journals rather than hybrid journals can be observed in all disciplines.
  • The payment of fees or article processing charges (APCs) to publish in open access is by no means systematic. Almost 40% of respondents in life sciences-medicine or 24% in physics say they have often paid but this was the case for only 5% in the humanities and social sciences and less than 2% in law, economics, politics and management.
  • Researchers’ primary motivation for moving to open access is to provide immediate access to their peers and to the general public (80% of responses) followed by retaining distribution rights as well as having access to innovative journals (50%). Lack of budget or the principle of refusing to pay are the main factors in reluctance regarding granting open access as well as fear of an increase in the number of predatory journals.
  • Most respondents feel that open access should not be funded by authors or their laboratories.

The use of scientific journals and the visibility of articles

  • Half of the respondents, and a higher proportion of older respondents, make use of the scientific network to request documents from their authors or to ask fellow subscribers or libraries for copies. This practice is complemented by searching on both legal (open archives or social networks) and illegal platforms.
  • The criteria for choosing journals are indicative of disciplinary traditions. For 80% of the respondents, a journal’s reputation and suitability for an article’s content are important. The impact factor is important for more than 80% of respondents in life sciences-medicine and chemistry-materials. The possibility of publishing in open access was only considered important by 20-40% of respondents depending on the discipline.
  • Throughout the questionnaire, research evaluation methods can be seen to hinder the evolution of scientific publishing practices. Reassuringly, qualitative indicators based on reading the most significant works are generally approved by respondents in all disciplines.

Open archives and preprints

  • 70% of the respondents have already deposited the article reference or full text of their work in an open archive. There are significant disciplinary differences with 94% of those having deposited work in the fields of mathematics and computer science and 48% in medicine for example.
  • The obstacles to depositing work in open archives mentioned by the respondents also show a lack of knowledge of the law (publishers’ policies, versions, agreement of co-authors) and a lack of commitment to the subject on the part of many researchers who consider that depositing is not their job (lack of interest, delegation to co-authors or to the institution).
  • 32% of the respondents said they deposit preprints. This practice is more dependent on disciplinary factors than other scientific publishing practices.
  • About two-thirds of our respondents have never filed a preprint. This is most often due to a lack of information but respondents also cited fear of plagiarism or not being able to publish their results later in certain journals.

The accessibility of research data: “it depends…”

Some journals stipulate that data related to an article must be made available. The survey included a question as to what researchers think about this requirement. Many respondents considered this practice to be indispensable although restrictive. 20% of the respondents thought it an unnecessary practice or a barrier to publication in these journals. There are few disciplinary differences on this issue.

The survey was carried out within the framework of the National Plan for Open Science and supported by the Committee for Open Science. Its goal was better understanding of French researchers’ knowledge of the academic publishing and open access landscape and their perception of the implementation of open access in their daily lives. The full document can be accessed in the HAL archive. It is distributed under the Creative Commons CC-BY license.