Paving the way for open access in high energy physics

A publisher’s perspective on how the physics community is testing out open access — with results of a new survey

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Eleonora Presani, PhDTo round off 2014, we published a retrospective of open access at Elsevier. Now we want to shed light on how open access is being established in specific communities through the eyes of our publishers. To gain insight into open access in high energy physics, I interviewed Dr. Eleonora Presani (@HEPPublisher), Publisher for Elsevier’s high energy physics journals.

Eleonora is responsible for 14 academic journals in Nuclear and High Energy Physics, including Physics Letters B, Nuclear Physics A, Nuclear Physics B, Nuclear Instruments and Methods and Physics of the Dark Universe. Her role is to organize and improve the editorial processes, appoint editors and attend international conferences. Before Eleonora joined Elsevier in 2012, she was a particle physicist at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research).

Why did you become a publisher?

I think being a scientific publisher today is a particularly exciting job because the technology used to drive scientific publishing is developing rapidly. Scientific publications have moved away from print to online, and expectations of the community and the way they want to interact and share information has changed dramatically in the last decade. As such, innovation is really at the core of scientific publishing and relates to every aspect of it: the way articles are written and how they are presented, shared and reused. On top of that. I feel that being involved with the high energy physics community makes my job particularly interesting as it’s a creative community and always among the first to test new concepts and ideas – open access being one of those.

How has the high energy physics community embraced open access?

They were one of the first to really take a look at how open access might work for an entire community which culminated with the launch of the SCOAP3 project based on a coordinated agreement between publishers and libraries, of which Elsevier was keen to support from the start. We also learned a lot from the project and the collaboration with CERN, which meant two of my journals, Nuclear Physics B and Physics Letters B, changed to open access. One year after, we see an increase in the number of published articles in both journals as well as the respective quality of those articles.

Sounds like a success. Could the same model be used in other communities?

Personally, I find that the success of SCOAP3 is really due to the collaboration between all the stakeholders – researchers, publishers and librarians testing and learning about how to implement open access – and a lot has to do with the coordination of CERN, a major reference point in the community. Would this work for other communities? I have my doubts. Gold open access really depends on funding and community support, and the fact is today, many researchers in other parts of the wider physics community don't have access to specific publication funds. High energy physics is a very small community, with a central reference point, which helps a great deal. In other communities, it is not like this. In fact, often they are left with the choice of using their funds for an article publishing charge (APC) or covering the cost of attending a conference.

Do you have an example of where gold open access doesn’t work?

Yes, I started my career at Elsevier launching a new open access journal called Physics of the Dark Universe. It aims to address one of the major questions of science: What is the universe is made of? We know that regular matter accounts for only about 4 percent of the total mass of the universe, so it’s a mystery as to what makes up the rest. Researchers in astrophysics, cosmology and particle physics are all trying to address this question but from different points of view, so the journal’s aim is to provide a common platform to exchange and share this information across disciplines. 

It was launched as an open access journal, and many within the community supported the idea, but many found that they had no budget to pay the publication fee. In fact, it wasn’t an issue of the price point – it was there were no funds at all! So after more than two years of publications and many discussions, together with the editorial team, we felt that it is important to give authors the opportunity to choose whether their article is going to be published as open access or under a subscription model. So we have taken the decision to make the journal hybrid rather than open access. Our hope is that the journal was just too early and that in the future, when funding of open access is more available for this community, we can make the journal fully open access once again. 

How are you making it easier for authors to embrace open access?

Overall, we are doing a lot to make sure the open access choices to authors in the physics community are clear. For our part, we have transitioned all our subscription titles to the hybrid model to offer open access options. We have launched new open access journals, such as SoftwareX and Reviews in Physics. We also recognize the importance of green open access, and for many in the community being able to post their preprint on arXiv is important – and we support that in all of our physics journals.

But other ways we support open access involve working directly with institutions. A great example is how we are working with CERN. We have now established a streamline workflow for their authors, where the APC costs have been prepaid so researchers don’t have to worry about the administrative details and we can publish their articles open access.

What are your thoughts of the future of open access for the community of high energy physics? 

The life of the publisher is never boring, and what has been exciting is the way we have tried lots of different ways to integrate open access into the community. Some have had initial success, like SCOAP3; others like the Physics of the Dark Universe were perhaps too early. But the key is really how well we can work with partners such as CERN, to find ways to make it easier for their authors to embrace and publish open access.

Open Access Survey

Elsevier conducted this survey online in January of 2015. There were 81 respondents from the field of high energy physics.


Elsevier Connect Contributor

Rachel MartinRachel Martin (@rachelcmartin) is the Universal Access Communications Manager at Elsevier, based in Amsterdam. She is responsible for helping to communicate Elsevier's progress in areas such as open access, philanthropic access programs and access technologies.

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