Rethinking Academia: The scientific publishing system and the strive for open accessibility (Event Report)

Please note that this is not an official summary.

Context and Background

Rethinking Academia is an international group of young scientists founded in 2019 and based in Austria. Their goal is to organise public events that stimulate discussions and initiatives aimed at modernising the academic scientific system in the light of the novel opportunities that today’s society offers. This was their first public event.



Event Summary

  • “Short” Talks (16.00-18.00)

After an introduction by the Dean of the Physics Department, Maximilian Fochler from the University of Vienna’s Science and Technology Studies (STS) Department provided an historical introduction on the evolution of science communication. For him, the scientific system and the scientific communication system co-evolved. However, a corporate dimension was always present. For him, open access is important but paywalls are not the only form of exclusion. Digitalisation opens new possibility for publishing but is also at the root of the concentration processes we currently see in scientific publishing. Open access might not automatically break the monopoly[1] (his words) of scientific publishers and even if it does, this does not automatically equate the de-commercialisation of publishing. The key asses of publishing companies is control of the meta information structures. It is therefore also necessary to address the role of these infrastructures in career assessment and institutional competition.

As the second speaker, Toma Susi (University of Vienna, Faculty of Physics) provided an introduction to plan S. He provided an overview of different forms of open access – open access is more than just publishing in an open access journal and paying for this.

In reality, so called “hybrid” open access, that is publishing an article open access in a journal that is also available on a subscription basis has emerged as a popular form, although this is problematic as regards the costs (double dipping). However, it has to be considered that the current subscription system is not free either (costing up to 5000€ per article) although this is invisible to most researchers since the costs are borne out of library budgets.  As a response to the slow increase in open access, Plan S is an initiative for Open Access publishing that was launched in September 2018 by an international consortium of research funders. It requires that starting from 2020 all scientific publications that result from research funded by public grants must be Open Access. It has resulted in a rigorous discussion about its merits.

Brigitte Kromp from the Austrian Central Library for Physics and Chemistry provided an overview of the transformative publication agreements with a variety of publishers. By virtue of these agreements (negotiations on which started in 2014) 54% of publications from the University of Vienna are already plan S compliant. A particular case of good practice comes from agreement with Springer (figure 2 and 3 below). Currently 26% of all articles published by University of Vienna affiliated authors fall under the remit of plan S member FWF and a further 22% stem from EU funding. 51% of articles are not affiliated with funders which have subscribed to plan S.

Figure 1: University of Vienna Plan S readiness

Figure 2: Case study: transformative agreement with Springer

Entitled “Beyond Open Access” Jean-Sébastien Caux (University of Amsterdam) introduced SciPost, a by-and-for scientists initiative aiming to provide a Genuine Open Access replacement infrastructure for the scientific publishing industry. Its journals are characterized by being open access for both readers (no subscription or reading fees) as well as authors (no author fees/APCs), giving generous licenses (CC-BY) with copyright to the authors. All editorial work is performed by active professional scientists, without competing financial or corporate interests. As for plan S the speaker personally supports it. SciPost is over compliant. He is concerned about the negative reaction to Plan S on twitter. While there are genuine concerns a lot of information posted n twitter is misleading. He finished with a plea to scientists: with their support fully OA will inevitably happen – without it, it won’t.

Marcus Huber (IQOQI-Vienna) presented on ‘Quantum’ as an example concerning the challenges, costs and solutions for community led publishing. Quantum has a strict division between its organisational structure as an NGO and its journal activities.

As the final speaker, Daniel Hook (Digital Science) presented on Deconstructing Research: A potential future for scholarly communications. He provided information on Dimensions, which is designed to go beyond the paper and the pdf and provide an alternative to the impact factor. He also referred to the publication “The Ascent of Open Access.”[2]

  • Panel Discussion (from 18.30)

After a short break, the panel discussion responded to several questions from the audience including:

  • Does open access mean less quality – the centrality of peer review was mentioned as important in any open access model
  • The issue of back filing – plan S may make new articles open but we might still have to pay for old ones. Something to be addressed
  • Impact factor – while not everyone was in favour of “impact factor bashing” most in the panel agreed that this should at least be complemented by other factors. The relevance of alternative metrics was controversially discussed. It was mentioned that DORA should not only be signed but also be implemented
  • The reproducibility crisis was mentioned

N.B. I left at 19.00 – remained of the public discussion not covered (but interventions indicate the usual questions).

[1] In my view this is more accurately characterised as an oligopoly.

[2] Available at