Open Access to Underwater Technology

As of the first issue of Volume 32, published in March 2014, the Society for Underwater Technology’s academic journal, Underwater Technology, is being published as an “Open Access” journal.  Open Access means that the full journal content is being published online in a format that is free to download by any reader.  In addition, Open Access to Underwater Technology is being granted immediately on publication of every issue of the journal.

This may seem an odd choice to take from a business point of view but the decision to do this is being driven by a number of directives.  The principal driving factor has come from the Research Councils UK (RCUK) and the UK Government’s commitment to ensure that published research findings should be freely accessible.  This commitment is being implemented through the RCUK Policy on Open Access (http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/RCUK-prod/assets/documents/documents/RCUKOpenAccessPolicy.pdf) which expects all researchers receiving Research Council funding to publish in Open Access journals.  Although the policy is based at the level of “expectance” there are already signs that this Policy will be audited in the near future.  And it’s not just the UK, the European Commission is pushing for a growing amount of research funded through its Framework 7 and Horizon 2020 research programmes to be published in Open Access journals.

So what is Open Access (OA)?  There are, in fact, two forms of OA, sometimes termed Gold and Green OA.  Gold OA means that the publishing journal provides immediate and unrestricted online access to the final published version of the paper without any additional restrictions on how that paper can be re-used.  Because this type of publication essentially removes any need to subscribe to the journal, the costs can be retrieved by the researcher having to pay an “Article Processing Charge” (APC) to the journal.  Some APCs can be significant amounts, ranging from several hundreds, to several thousands of Pounds per article.

Green OA refers to journals that consent to depositing published papers into a repository where, finally, there will be no restriction on non-commercial re-use within a defined period.  The RCUK’s target for the period of restricted access is no more than six months, although there is a transition period of 12 months for some areas of research.  This permits journals that still rely on subscriptions to charge readers to access papers when they are first published, but there must be a commitment to make the papers Open Access within the limits expected by the RCUK.  In these types of journal an APC would not be expected.

There are a limited number of technicalities surrounding the Green route for OA but, in the vast majority of cases, if a journal offers neither a Green nor a Gold compliant route, it is not eligible to take RCUK funded work.  And there can be no doubt that preference is being shown for the Gold route.

So journal publishers are faced with a number of options.  Gold OA is obviously the preferred option for research funders and researchers but this means the publisher has to remodel the business to ensure costs of publishing are recovered through the APC.  In completely shifting the funding base for the journal, the publisher will have to balance the level of the APC with the attractiveness of the specific journal for publishing in.  The journal may be one that is central to a particular research area and so will remain attractive to publish in.  Alternatively the journal may have a high Impact Factor (IF); researchers gain credit for publishing in higher IF journals.  There is also the probability that at this stage of the shift in how academic publishing is being financed, just being a Gold OA journal may be enough of an attractant.

Gold OA does open up a series of questions related to the quality of peer review when income to the journal is based on acceptance of the paper.  There is now a huge number of Open Access journals available to publish in, at a fee.  The level of peer review in some of these journals is lacking and the inference is that some OA journals are operating simply to generate income through the APC. (Interested readers are directed to the article “Who’s Afraid of Peer Review?” by John Bohannon  – https://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6154/60.full.)

Remaining Green OA gives the publisher some control of income through subscription but this looks like a publication route that will increasingly come under threat through directives from funding bodies, in addition to the potential for opening competition between Green and Gold OA journals.  The potential saving grace for Green OA journals at present comes from the lack of APC on the researcher.  It will be interesting to see if Green OA journals maintain their Impact Factors in the short- to medium-term.

So what does this all mean for the journal Underwater Technology?   This is the academic journal that is published by the Society for Underwater Technology (SUT) as part of its operation as a Learned Society.  The journal has had a varied life and although, at present, it doesn’t have an official Impact Factor, it is now being published regularly with a growing publication and citation record (Sayer, 2013 – dx.doi.org/10.3723/ut.31.161).  The journal is provided to all SUT members and also attracts a limited subscription income.  Until recently, the journal was also available in electronic format but access for non-SUT members was only available through payment of a fee.  This meant that the journal was neither Gold nor Green OA compliant.  Through a series of discussions, variously based around whether to follow the Gold or Green route to OA, the Society decided on adopting Gold OA from the beginning of 2014.  In addition, while the journal does not have an official IF, there will be no APC for publishing in Underwater Technology.  This policy is aimed at promoting the journal as an attractive route for publishing while acknowledging that, at present, the current status of the journal does not make APC appropriate to researchers.

In addition to the new issues of Underwater Technology, the SUT has decided to make a back-catalogue of journals, from Volume 21 Issue 1 (Summer 1995) onwards, all Open Access.  The full SUT Open Access catalogue can be found at http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/sut/unwt.  There will be ongoing monitoring  of the effects Gold-route OA publishing has on the journal.  In the meantime, readers are encouraged to make full use of this new, free to access resource for all researchers in and users of underwater technology.