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Swing and a miss by the AAAS for open access

The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest scientific organisation, recently announced their latest journal, the fully open access ‘Science Advances‘. While superficially this seems like a good move for them, digging into the details reveals many inherent flaws with the journal, that at worst portray the AAAS as a money-grabbing organisation and enemies to the real progress of science, and at best naive about the current state of scholarly publishing and the direction that the open access movement is pushing it in.

To that end, an open letter has been sent to senior members of the AAAS, including the Editor-in-Chief, and newly appointed Publisher of Science and strongly open access public figurehead (cough) Kent Anderson (of Scholarly Kitchen fame).  It was edited and generally made considerably more punchy and better-worded by an army of crowd-sourced editors – it really was collaborative writing at it’s finest, and amazing to watch in real time! The letter quickly received media attention in The Scientist, as well as a couple of other outlets that I’ve lost the links to. The two major points the letter makes are the charges associated with licensing and additional page lengths, both of which are not evidence-based judgements. All the details are in the letter, including recommendations for progress.

At the time of drafting this post, the letter has just passed 100 signatories. By the time of release of this post, the letter will have been submitted, but you can still add your signature to show support if you wish. The letter will also be published by The Winnower, as well as many other smaller outlets (all named in the Google doc). If you wish to share details of the letter on your blog or website, please do! The more people that can help make a splash about this, or raise awareness of the issues of how some publishers are handling open access, the better.

To me, this shows the great power of online communities. I’m confident we will get a response, and hopefully of the progressive sort, and even if we don’t hopefully we’ll have created awareness that academics can take the open access debate straight to publishers and try and make a difference. It’s also worth noting that while we have several well-known senior academics as signatories, the majority are early career researchers, which is great!

The next step will be to draft letters to publishers that are apparently similarly flawed in some of their journal policies, as well as a letter to the Science Advances editorial board about the issues raised in the primary letter (leave a comment here or get in touch if you’d like to be involved – probably a smaller affair).

Many thanks to all who have signed, shared, or helped write the letter. I look forward to the response from the AAAS, and will post it on here if allowed. I pre-empt two things though – one, they mention their ‘added value’, and the impact of the ‘Science’ or ‘AAAS’ brand to justify their extortionate costs.

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Jon began university life as a geologist, followed by a treacherous leap into the life sciences. He spent several years at Imperial College London, investigating the extinction and biodiversity patterns of Mesozoic tetrapods – anything with four legs or flippers – to discover whether or not there is evidence for a ‘hidden’ mass extinction 145 million years ago. Alongside this, Jon researched the origins and evolution of ‘dwarf’ crocodiles called atoposaurids. Prior to this, there was a brief interlude were Jon was immersed in the world of science policy and communication, which greatly shaped his views on the broader role that science can play, and in particular, the current ‘open’ debate. Jon tragically passed away in 2020.