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Free open access publishing opens doors for Virginia Tech research

May 31, 2016

Virginia Tech researchers helped develop a new tool for field biologists to use when observing and recording animals in the wild. Their research appears in the open access journal PeerJ, which is available to anyone in the world.

When Professor Ignacio Moore, of biological sciences, and his research team heard about PeerJ through social media, they connected with the open access publishing philosophy. Even better, their research about a low-cost, automated playback recording system for use in behavioral ecology was accepted for publication in the journal.

PeerJ is an award-winning, leading peer-reviewed open access scholarly journal for biological and medical sciences — a perfect fit for Moore’s research.

“This paper is essentially a methodological publication, and with minimal tinkering it could be used in many applications, even in fields that are very different from ours, so a wide and unrestricted readership from a diverse research background seemed to be the perfect potential audience,” Moore said of his team’s decision to seek publication in the journal.

PeerJ is a great option for other Virginia Tech researchers, too, especially considering all university faculty, staff, and students can now publish at no cost if their submission passes peer review. Free open access publishing is also available to Virginia Tech researchers in PeerJ’s counterparts, PeerJ Computer Science and PeerJ Preprints.

The University Libraries will cover the article fee or an author’s Basic Publication Plan when his or her paper is accepted for publication in PeerJ, making it completely free for the researcher. As an added bonus, the free publishing continues even if an author leaves Virginia Tech — it’s a lifetime membership.

The partnership with PeerJ is one of the many ways University Libraries supports open access, the movement toward making online information freely accessible to everyone. Among other initiatives, University Libraries also offers discounted publication rates in other journals and celebrates open access annually with a week of events.

“We support open access because it is the most-efficient, equitable way to share and promote scholarship,” said Philip Young, a scholarly communication librarian in the University Libraries.

Young explained that most people do not have access to research, particularly in developing countries. Even most taxpayers here don’t have access, despite the fact that a lot of research is publicly funded. And though students at Virginia Tech are taught to use and cite peer-reviewed research, they lose access to all but a few databases after graduation.

Keeping research open and accessible helps combat those problems, and aligns with both University Libraries and Virginia Tech missions to engage citizens of the world and advance land-grant values of discovery, learning, and outreach.

“By supporting open access for Virginia Tech researchers, we are providing superior dissemination as well as facilitating reuse in teaching and research, including new methods, such as text and data mining,” Young said.

Because it is an open access journal, anyone, anywhere can access the research the journal has to offer, completely for free. PeerJ is indexed in PubMed, Web of Science, and Google Scholar, ensuring published research is discoverable where people are looking.

Launched in December 2012, the journal has quickly gained traction in academic circles, having even won, among other recognitions, a top 10 innovation award from The Chronicle of Higher Education in April 2013 — just four months after its launch. Since then, PeerJ has only grown, raking in almost 4 million views for its 1,841 published peer-reviewed articles and 2,323 preprints.

The journal uses a system of more than 1,000 editors and advisors (plus an editorial board of more than 300 for PeerJ Computer Science) to keep the peer review process quick — at around 26 days to first decision.

Edward Fox, a professor of computer science in the College of Engineering, was invited to be one of the editors on the board of PeerJ Computer Science. When research in his area of expertise is awaiting review, he receives a notification. He says the process is quick, and PeerJ is transparent about who is editing the work.

Studies show there are very few observable differences between research publications that have appeared in an open access journals versus comparable works that appear in subscription journals. And several studies indicate a citation advantage for open access articles.

“This suggests that there's actually not a whole lot of difference between things that appear in a journal that has charges and considerable expense associated versus things that appear in an open literature repository,” Fox said. “One would expect that PeerJ, with even more editorial involvement than if something was just in a repository, would release quite comparable works to what appear in very expensive journals.”

Virginia Tech researchers only have to sign in with their email address when submitting their work to a PeerJ publication, and if accepted, the cost will be covered automatically.  Authors may choose between a one-time fee or a lifetime membership. This process is simple, and one Moore recommends.

“It seems like a good way to get work published and available to the scientific and general public,” he said. To date, Moore's article has more than 1,200 views and 376 downloads since it was published in April 2015.

For more information or help with open access publishing, please contact Gail McMillan or Philip Young.

Written by Erica Corder.