Subscription publishers have stepped up to respond to this global emergency by removing paywalls and allowing content to be reused. But this has also shone a spotlight on the shortcomings of the traditional scholarly publishing system, which is not fit for purpose in the 21st century.
A business model in which 75% of the research literature is only accessible to paying subscribers is unacceptable, especially as much of that research has been funded by the public purse.
There are other huge challenges ahead of us – like climate change, mental health and other infectious diseases. Ensuring that everyone can access research for free gives us the best chance of addressing them. We need to build on the great progress that has been made in response to COVID-19 and move towards a fully open access world.
At Wellcome, we require any research outputs that arise from our funding to be made open access. We believe that this is the most effective way of making sure any findings can be read and built upon.
Our open access policy has been in place for more than 15 years and, in January 2021, will be updated to align with Plan S. This initiative requires all research articles to be published open access, with no embargo, and licensed in ways which facilitate full re-use.
Peer review will continue to play a key role in assessing research findings, but in the future we anticipate that these reviews will be applied directly on the preprint, as is the case with submissions to Wellcome Open Research. In this scenario, scholarly journals would continue to exist, but with a focus on curating the literature rather than publishing original research articles.
Building a better research culture and improving publication practices are within our grasp. Seizing this opportunity and ensuring that all research is published open access must become one of the positive outcomes from the COVID-19 pandemic.