Furthering the public’s access to academic research means treating an open-access journal article like a consumer product, carefully considering the user experience and rebuilding digital systems to scale up, Jay Flynn, the executive vice president at the academic publishing house Wiley, told EdScoop.
But that rethinking poses a challenge for small academic associations and publishers that lack the resources to rebuild their digital processes for open research, a movement that’s picked up momentum during the pandemic.
Wiley recently acquired the open-access research publisher Knowledge Unlatched, adding an influential but “shoestring budget” operation to a growing suite of open research products. Flynn claims that about half of the world’s peer-reviewed research now goes through Wiley’s systems.
“One of the single biggest things I hear from our partners is we have to join together to work on things like research integrity,” he said. “We have to work together to detect and root out fraud or people who are trying to game the system. We want to double down on our quality efforts. We want to build software and use AI tools to make sure that we’re separating, detecting things like statistical manipulation or image manipulation, things like that.”
In an interview, Flynn shared his thoughts on the current status of the open research movement and Wiley’s plans to move open access forward.
Answers have been edited for clarity and length.
Q: Why did acquiring Knowledge Unlatched make sense for Wiley?
A: We’ve been in open access for about 10 years, the open-access movement is a bit older than that. But along the way, we’ve unlocked and un-paywalled more and more of our content. Even before the pandemic, access to the content quickly and efficiently without barriers was a major priority for us. With the advent of the pandemic, of course, getting access to quality, peer reviewed, science becomes more and more important. We look at Knowledge Unlatched as a continuation of that effort.
Q: Can you talk about the status of open access and what’s in the short-term future?
A: The transition to open access is challenging for some parts of the publishing industry, especially small, what we call “learned societies,” if you think about societies and associations in academia, or smaller publishers. The technical requirements to comply with the open access policy changes — the scale you need, the innovation you need to treat your research like an experience in the consumer market, the quality of your technology, the quality of your user experience and your interface, the complexity of transaction systems and all the back-office stuff — all that needs to be completely rebuilt.
That’s sort of what Knowledge Unlatched does for us. It allows us to accelerate that innovation and it allows us to bring that open access future not just to Wiley but to its partners and to its customers. We publish on our platforms, about 50% of the peer reviewed research in the world — a little more than that actually flows through our technology systems — and so we want to bring the open access transition to as much of the peer-reviewed literature as possible.
Q: What have you learned about making the transition to open access a smoother one at Wiley?
A: The one thing I would point out is that open access is a global phenomenon and the global landscape is still evolving. So the German version of open access transition looks different than the one that’s happening in the U.K., which looks different to what the University of California wants, or what the Department of Energy wants to see. There’s a lot of nuance in that and managing that complexity is a big piece. A second thing I’d point out is that the global south participates unequally in the open research endeavor, from a funding point of view. And so the the funding in the global south for open access transition isn’t necessarily as robust as it is in the northern hemisphere and so we have to work really hard to manage things like pricing, discounting access to journal outlets, and things like that. Contrast that with a subscription model, where essentially, you sell the same product to everybody the same way globally. So the pain point is around this next generation of payment, next generation of access, next generation of equity and access to services.
Q: What are some aspects of open access research people don’t consider?
A: I think there is a thought that open access publishing isn’t quality publishing and we have so much evidence to the contrary. Some of our most exciting new innovative journals, the journals out of China that were publishing, the journals in material science, physics, chemistry, biology, microbiology, vaccine technology, they’re open access, are highly read, they’re highly cited. They’re excellent journals. The way I like to think about it, the way I like to talk to, to researchers about it is: we evolve over time. The model has served us really well. Peer review is a 200-, 300-year-old model. But where we evolve and where we change is in the sort of quality measures and what we measure to signify quality and to signify prestige. And I think that’s one of the big things that I see changing. The best journals in the world 10 years from now are all going to be open access.