The third in our series of interviews with our Premier Supporters, I am delighted to share with you this interview with Neil Hammond and May Copsey from the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). The RSC is supporting DOAJ for the third year in a row but this is the first time that they have decided to support us with the top level of support.

I chatted with Neil, Publisher for OA Journals, and May, Executive Editor Chemical Science, to find out a little more about what open access means to RSC, what it is like for a society publisher operating in open access publishing and what the driving decision was behind supporting DOAJ with such an impactful contribution.

Hello Neil and May. Thanks for agreeing to this interview. Can you tell me a little about yourselves and what you do at the RSC?

Neil Hammond (NH): As Publisher for Open Access Journals I have the responsibility for developing and building our portfolio of open access journals. Before my current role, I was an Executive Editor at the RSC, leading a handful of journals at the interface of chemistry and materials. I’ve worked in academic publishing for 17 years now, across a number of publishers, and came into the industry, in what seems like another age, after conducting postdoctoral research at Argonne National Lab in the USA.

May Copsey (MC): I’m the Executive Editor for Chemical Science which is a diamond open access journal covering the breadth of chemistry. I joined the RSC back in 2006 after post-doctoral studies in inorganic chemistry in Canada. After working in research, I knew that I wanted to continue working in chemistry and also to stay close to the community, so the RSC was a natural home for me. I have been the Editor for a number of different journals during my time here and now it’s an honour for me to lead the development of our flagship journal.

So Chemical Science is RSC’s flagship journal and it is diamond open access? That sends such a strong message to not only researchers of chemistry but the whole research community, and particularly to other society publishers

MC: Yes. We believe that the growth of open access, and adoption of open science research practices more broadly, will lead to improvements in the quality and integrity of research in the future. It will also help to speed up the exchange of knowledge and increase opportunities for innovation.

RSC is certainly setting an example. So why is it important for RSC to support DOAJ? This is the third year in a row and this year, RSC has committed a truly substantial amount. Was there a specific reason that RSC decided to make such an impactful contribution?

NH: The RSC is not only a non-profit publisher but also a learned society and very much a mission-driven organisation. Specifically, that means a commitment to the dissemination of knowledge in the chemical sciences and to connect scientists to each other and to society as a whole. I think it is unarguable that open access to published research is a principle that strongly aligns with those ambitions, and we recognise that DOAJ serves a key role in the development of a broader open access infrastructure.  

MC: And for researchers to embrace open access, we recognise the need to have access to credible information on which journals are open access and that adhere to publishing best practices. This is an important service provided by DOAJ.

And RSC has five open access journals indexed in DOAJ. Does DOAJ-indexing bring any benefits to RSC, or the journals themselves, or indeed the authors that publish in them?

NH: We recognise that open access is for many researchers a desirable principle, or indeed an expectation of their funders or institutions. Nevertheless, they can also find the diversity of policies, practices, requirements and terminology in this bewildering, and ultimately an unwelcome distraction. DOAJ performs a critical function in presenting and comparing key information across a huge number of open access journals to researchers. This is invaluable as a resource for comparing journals and checking eligibility to funding requirements. 

MC: The research community need trusted sources for that information and DOAJ allows authors and funders to make that decision, and then identify the right journals for them. The RSC makes a significant investment in publishing Chemical Science as diamond open access, and so as the Editor of that journal, I am keen for researchers to know about that, and also to be able to benefit from that investment. Many researchers are mandated to publish in journals indexed in DOAJ so the inclusion of Chemical Science allows our authors to fulfil their funder mandates through publishing with us, as well as making their research widely accessible.

So would you say that DOAJ has had a positive impact on open access scholarly publishing?

MC: DOAJ has helped to raise the profile of open access within the research community, and also it supports authors to distinguish between reputable and predatory open access journals. As the DOAJ also requires journals that are indexed to implement publishing best practices through setting basic standards for inclusion, it has acted as an incentive for journals to be more transparent about their processes, which will ultimately benefit authors and the research community in the long term.

Let’s take a look at the RSC. What does it do in the open access space? Do you have any exciting projects or new initiatives you would like to tell us about?

NH: We pride ourselves at the RSC on leading the transition to open access within the chemical sciences. Our pioneering Gold4Gold pilot was a forerunner to the now-familiar ‘read & publish’ deals. We flipped our flagship Chemical Science to a ‘diamond’ OA model, and we continue to operate that journal with the highest level of service at no cost to the author or readers. We also flipped RSC Advances, at that time the largest journal in the field, with an APC amongst the lowest around. We plan to continue that transformation, with ambitious plans towards a much greater share published under an open access model.

To further develop our open access option available to authors, we are also delighted to announce the launch of four new open access titles, which will be publishing their first issues in 2022. These journals are spread across a range of subjects in the chemical science, Digital Discovery, Sensors & Diagnostics, Environmental Science: Advances and Energy Advances

Beyond OA we are also investing in the broader development of open science, experimenting with transparent peer review models, and continuing to support financially ‘free to use’ resources for the research community such as the chemical structure database ChemSpider and the ChemRxiv preprint server. A big priority for us is to provide maximum clarity and simplicity to authors, removing as much complication and administrative burden as possible, and that requires ongoing investment and innovation.

What are your personal views on the future of open access publishing and/or academic publishing in general?

NH: Significant challenges exist to a genuinely open global scientific community. There is huge asymmetry across the world in terms of access to the tools and resources required to conduct scientific research. It is no surprise that this is also reflected in the patterns of funding for APC-based OA publishing, which is still the dominant business model around. I’m nevertheless encouraged by a lot of the trends I see amongst the communities we serve and I remain hopeful that an increase in OA publishing, through a gradual transformation of the whole publishing ecosystem, can flatten some of those inequalities.

MC: Adoption of open access within chemistry has been slower than the majority of other STEM areas. However it is encouraging to see how attitudes to this are now changing, and particularly we see this more pronounced in early-career researchers, who are beginning to see the benefit of open access on the visibility and accessibility of their research. How we can make sure everyone has access to publishing in OA journals remains the key question and one which we will continue working with researchers and funders on.

There has been much discussion lately on how open access will become the default for scholarly publishing, it’s just a matter of when. Initiatives like Plan S, OA2020, and more are making pushes in that direction. Do these initiatives affect your organisation?

NH: Initiatives such as Plan S certainly affect the RSC, and we are aligned with the overall goals behind those initiatives to drive a more rapid transition towards open access. That said, we are a global publisher serving a global community of researchers, and many of these individual initiatives at a regional level affect a relatively modest share of our published output. Our challenge is therefore to simultaneously accommodate quite diverse needs and requirements from researchers, institutions and funding bodies around the world.

MC: Our journals are certainly affected by these initiatives, as they have a direct impact on where authors choose to submit their next paper. We recognise however that at the current time not every researcher is going to have access to funds to fulfil those mandates, and we are still in a transition period before we reach the situation of open access as a default.  For this reason, we decided to make Chemical Science diamond OA, not only to increase the visibility of the work published in the journal but also to provide a journal for the community that is OA and with no barriers to publication.

How is your organization changing or adapting for a future where open access may become the default? What is it like being a UK society publisher right now?

NH: We welcome a future where OA has become the default, and we have certainly been refocusing our resources internally in that direction. 

As to what it is like being a society publisher at this moment, I’d say it’s a pretty exciting period, and there are definitely opportunities to reconnect to our core purpose through open access. I’m also reminded of the old apocryphal curse “may you live in interesting times”…     

MC: Even though we are a society publisher based in the UK, we are also a global learned society that publishes research from all over the world, with Editors and publishing staff in several different countries. The move to working remotely over the past 18 months has had interestingly brought us closer together to our colleagues who are based in different regions around the world. As I’m sure the way we work together in the future will look very different, I’m looking forward to how we can be even more connected to our colleagues based all over the globe.

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