New Open Access Models and The Allocation of Author Roles: Can We Embed Equity Within an Unfair System?

Dr Alice Gibson considers how developments in open access publishing, including transformative agreements, have added to the complexity in equitable practices surrounding credit for authorship.

Image Credit: Unsplash

Author matters

Following the launch of Plan S in 2018, there has been increasing awareness and discussion of the meaning and status of the role of a corresponding author. This is because many of the agreements between publishers and institutions that enable the transition to open access, Transformative Agreements (TAs), are fixed around the article’s corresponding author’s institution. For the majority of journals and publishers involved in these agreements, the TA model gives authors (in many cases, unlimited) opportunity to publish their work immediately gold open access online on a journal’s website. As a result, researchers in countries using the TA model including the UK, have more opportunity and means to ensure their work is read, shared and built upon without restrictions. There are also increasing numbers of multidisciplinary projects and hyperauthored articles, particularly in fields including clinical research, genomics, and high-energy physics, meaning articles legitimately authored by many, sometimes up to several thousand names listed as authors or consortium and group naming conventions. This can make assessment of individual researchers’ contributions increasingly complex. On top of this, frictions concerning conventions have sown discord among research projects’ participants, as case studies demonstrate. Such changes have allowed for greater confusion across the board, which I argue could be attended to with greater transparency.

In 1985, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) established five principles against which claims for authorship could be measured. According to these revised principles, each author should have participated sufficiently in the work to take responsibility for its content.  A recent editorial proposed that these widely accepted guidelines represent an opportunity to help address the power imbalances that may occur in international collaborations, particularly in the case of ‘parachute studies’, where researchers from Global North countries collaborate with researchers and communities in Global South countries but adequate recognition is withheld from local researchers in authorship.

Shifting sands

Usually, the eligibility of authors for gold open access funds through TAs are limited to corresponding authors. Responding to the shift in the meaning of the corresponding author arising from these developments, new language has been introduced, however, like Wiley’s ‘Responsible Corresponding Author’ status, which denotes the author responsible for handling correspondence during the publication process. COPE and others recommend encouraging a culture of ethical authorship, including discussing authorship at the outset of planning research, which is becoming increasingly important with the adoption of TAs. While authorship is rife with injustice, and heavily gendered, it remains the primary form of symbolic capital across disciplines.

Access to the ability to publish is not equally dispersed between all who perform research globally, which both contributes to and is a consequence of systemic injustices. Recently the Wellcome Trust published their findings of the extent to which their institution, which funds a substantial proportion of UK research, is blighted by institutional racism. This follows similar reports of racism from Liverpool Schools of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). It is plausible that author status and order are systematically impacted by this.

An interesting outcome of TAs providing means to publish gold open access that has been observed is that distinctions between disciplines have temporarily collapsed, as those in subjects most likely to have least recourse to funding have had new opportunities to publish gold open access in journals in their area they have not had before. In Philosophy, this has resulted in more work being made available on journals’ pages, as initiatives like Springer Compact have gained traction. The second highest line in green below, for instance, reflects those articles that were made gold open access in hybrid journals like Synthese, Philosophical Studies, and Ethical Theory and Moral Practice since 2015, when the initiative began:

Figure 1: Publications in each year for the selected open access options

There has also been an increase in opportunities to make work open access in Wiley journals, which has expanded the landscape significantly for philosophers since the introduction of the Wiley UK Read and Publish agreement in 2020, which enabled the publication of 22 gold open access papers in Wiley hybrid Philosophy journals in 2021:

Figure 2: Publications in each year for the selected open access options

Although in some ways this has made the landscape easier for unfunded early career researchers (ECRs), authors still require an institutional affiliation at the time of submission to make use of these agreements. With limited academic positions available, particularly in certain fields and at the postdoctoral stage, these should not be taken for granted.

Whilst there is no easy solution for many of the issues I am raising, the Matthew Effect,  according to which those with advantage are more able to accrue more advantage, is important to consider, particularly for precarious researchers. I undertake research in Philosophy, which alongside other Humanities/SHAPE subjects is being gutted by ideological cuts, prompting high profile academics, such as Professor Les Back, who taught Sociology at Goldsmiths, to leave in protest. In these fields, it is the norm for authors to publish as a single authors, making access to OA funding dependent on employment particularly problematic, especially given structural privilege and marginalisation in these careers.

Emphasising transparency

To the extent that we can embed equity in the present system, there are initiatives we can utilise to try to make the landscape more fair. The Matthew Effect makes it important to call for greater transparency in academia, from much earlier in the publication process than at present. It may also prove to be beneficial to ensure that accountability extends to those who are making high stakes funding decisions. Making data on article submissions more readily available, for instance, can give us insights into the diversity of authors, and help us analyse trends in the ordering of authors. The Leiden Ranking, for example, calculates the gender diversity of published research outputs using a documented procedure that uses an API to determine authors’ genders based on their names. More information about acceptance and rejection rates would also be beneficial, and potentially if intersected with data on roles and characteristics of editorial boards and publisher efforts to correct underrepresentation.

The adoption of the ‘Contributor Roles Taxonomy’, known as CRediT is increasing within scholarly infrastructure. This categorization  system, made up of 14 roles, including conceptualisation, funding acquisition, writing and editing, arose out of the recognition for a need to represent the range of contributions that researchers make to published outputs, and has since been adopted by funders, institutions and publishers. The transparent taxonomy is linked with the persistent identifier ORCID, which is of particular benefit to ECRs moving between institutions, where funding affiliation can also be recorded. When considered in light of the need to identify those who qualify for access to open access via initiatives like TAs, a transparent authorship taxonomy would publicly identify which author obtained the associated funding.

Moreover, embedding adoption of the taxonomy can encourage suitable recognition of the contribution of authors whose work might be dismissed or marginalised. Allowing junior researchers to highlight their specific contributions to published work, for whom opportunities to be a ‘key’ author on a paper can be elusive can help elucidate otherwise hidden labour, whilst the taxonomy also helps researchers move beyond ‘authorship’ as the dominant measure of esteem. While I worked at LSHTM Library, CRediT in article authorship was used as a way of recognising the expertise of colleagues who provided literature searching support for systematic reviews, where it acknowledged the valuable collaboration between ‘academic’ and ‘professional support’, throwing the distinction between these boundaries into question.[1]

Alternative models of open access, particularly community driven open access, known as ‘diamond’ (or ‘gratis’/‘libre’), where articles are accessible immediately on journals websites at no cost, could be another key to equity. Publishers are increasingly supporting authors who wish to make work immediately open access via self-archiving, regardless of their access to funds or their institutional affiliation. Many of these are smaller and specialised publishers, including the British Institute of Non-destructive Testing, Sissa Medialab, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Press, and White Horse Press, who have had their policy in place for several years. Such practices help make immediate open access more equitable. They untie the knot binding together the payment of article processing charges and immediate open access, which is perhaps in the UK most commonly associated with paid for (‘gold’) open access.

Latin America has long since been leading the way in supporting the diamond open access model. For instance, initiatives like AmeliCa and Redalyc, who recently secured a $3.6 million dollar grant, have sought to level the playing field for scholarly communication, particularly in the sciences. The community-focused approach of this route makes it my preferred route of publication as an ECR, and has informed my decisions to submit work to Radical Philosophy and the Journal of Italian Philosophy. Given the UK’s present position, however, initiatives such as the Subscribe to Open model may prove to be a more feasible starting point from which to establish positive case studies for smaller entities, who are committed to doing the right thing. In the future, I hope to see more infrastructural investment in indexing journals published within university departments, particularly in the Humanities, and financial commitments to ensuring their longevity. Money being spent in the system to cover the costs of open access would, in my opinion, far better serve the academic community if it were redirected to these kinds of purposes, and invested in funding that supports ECR training and employment.

Finally, given the need to attend to historical and ongoing injustices, the less researchers are burdened with administrative questions concerning open access, the more energy can go into the questions that can improve equity. In the current absence of equal access to funding and institutional support, however, I believe that, where they wouldn’t be penalised for doing so, the more authors can retain their rights to share their accepted manuscripts, the greater the opportunities to ensure that work may be read from the time it is published. By reserving the right to share one’s own work freely, we can help promote the vision contained in the work itself. In doing so, we send a clear message that we wish for our work to be assessed primarily on the quality of its content, not on our access to resources, including funding or power, which remain unequally distributed.

Further reading material

Allen, Liz, et al. “Publishing: Credit where credit is due.” Nature 508.7496 (2014): 312-313.

Chawla, Dalmeet Singh. “Hyperauthorship: global projects spark surge in thousand-author papers.” Nature (2019).

Huth, Edward J. “Guidelines on Authorship of Medical Papers.” Annals of Internal Medicine 104.2 (1986): 269-274.

IWCSA Report (2012). Report on the International Workshop on Contributorship and Scholarly Attribution, May 16, 2012. Harvard University and the Wellcome Trust.

Eglen, Stephen J. “How will the Rights Retention Strategy affect scholarly publishing?.” Impact of Social Sciences Blog (2021).

Ni, Chaoqun, et al. “The Gendered Nature of Authorship.” Science Advances 7.36 (2021): eabe4639.

Pacher, Andreas, Tamara Heck, and Kerstin Schoch. “Open Editors: A Dataset of Scholarly Journals’ Editorial Board Positions.” (2021).

Teperek, Marta, Maria Cruz, and Danny Kingsley. “Time to re-think the divide between academic and support staff.” Nature (2022).

Vincent Larivière, David Pontille, Cassidy R. Sugimoto; Investigating the division of scientific labor using the Contributor Roles Taxonomy (CRediT). Quantitative Science Studies 2021; 2 (1): 111–128. doi:

[1] A recent report from Research Libraries UK, examined this notion, which led to the launch of an AHRC/RLUK Professional Practice Fellowship.

Dr Alice Gibson is a current member of the LIS-Bibliometrics Committee, where she holds the role of Open Research Officer. She currently works at Jisc, as a Licensing Manager, focusing on ensuring authors can submit article to their selected journals, safe in the knowledge that they meet the UKRI’s new open access policy. Alongside this, she is working on her first book, a monograph that examines how, by engaging with the philosophical critique and ethics of the 19th century Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi through a contemporary lens, we can seize the opportunity to strive for a more united, affirmative, and creative future in response to the challenges posed by the environmental crisis.

Unless it states other wise, the content of the Bibliomagician is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: