"Research journals belong in the hands of research institutions"
Making scientific data and literature freely available and usable requires not only the necessary infrastructure, but also researchers like Vera Meyer, who publish their work in Open Access formats.
Prof. Dr. Vera Meyer is a biotechnologist and Professor of Applied and Molecular Microbiology at Technische Universität Berlin. Since 2016, she has been the Open Access representative at her university and is committed to ensuring that scientific publications are freely accessible.
Prof. Meyer, why do we need free and Open Access to research literature?
There are many good reasons for this. One of them is that our science is funded by society through taxes. That is why we should also make the knowledge freely available to society. This does not mean preventing patents or disclosing industrial data. If the decision is made to publish the data in the scientific community, I advocate that anyone and everyone outside this community can also read this publication. This data should be freely accessible worldwide, whether on the train, at home, on the intranet or in the café. Another reason is the new generation of junior researchers: Students today are practically born with the Internet and get all important information from there. What cannot be found is almost non-existent for them. Open Access is therefore crucial for teaching and enables current research results to be integrated and easily understood by students.
You have been the Open Access representative at Technische Universität Berlin since 2016. What milestones has the movement already achieved in recent years?
In 2014, 7% of all publications were from Technische Universität Berlin Open Access. In 2020, the figure was 64.6% across Berlin. New data shows how far we have already progressed: at Technische Universität Berlin, the figure at that time was over 72%. Open Access is established – that is a huge milestone. This process took several years and initially it took some advertising to convince researchers to publish publicly and openly.
How did you do the seemingly successful work of persuasion?
In every discipline, there are established publication channels – i.e. certain journals or publishers. There are the very well-known top journals such as Nature or Science. Getting published there is practically an award. We should reconsider that. Because not the journal is the decisive quality criterion, but the article itself. Is it frequently cited by other researchers? Does it influence future research in its field? In the beginning, it was all about making colleagues understand that there are also other publication channels and that it is worth trying them out. In 2016, I became the Open Access representative at Technische Universität Berlin. We visited all the faculties at the time, talked to students, international scholarship holders, and all kinds of institutions to explain why Open Access was important. At the same time, there was also a political development: the EU, the German Research Foundation, the Berlin Senate, and many other institutions set up funding programs in which Open Access publications were the prerequisite for funding. Of course, that helped a lot. On the other hand, however, we are now seeing a continuous price increase of Open Access publications at commercial publishers, which is worrying.
What are the concerns about Open Access?
Many researchers have the unfounded fear that their scientific success could suffer as a result. But from my point of view and in my experience, that is not true. In some fields of research, there are still no Open Access journals and many researchers do not have the confidence to start their own. But even then, one can make their own publication available as Open Access: on the so-called repositories of the universities, which make the works usable as a second publication without access restrictions for a maximum of twelve months after the initial publication. The "DepositOnce" repository of Technische Universität Berlin, for example, already contains 5,000 such secondary publications.
How is Open Access changing research?
There is data showing that Open Access papers are cited and considered more often in the further research process. Because they are more easily accessible. This means that one's own epistemological process reaches the scientific community and society more quickly. It is critical to understand that you are part of a community. If something is easy to find, I can research much more easily myself and gain knowledge faster. Of course, it would be ideal and desirable to have 100% Open Access one day.
What steps are still necessary for this?
Scientific publishing is based on the work of many researchers: if someone does research, writes, provides expert opinions or edits, the person usually does not get paid for all this. It is the publishers who earn the big money with scientific publications. With the so-called hybrid journals, you can convert your own paper to Open Access for a lot of money – we are talking about several thousand euros – to convert your own paper to Open Access. This is market-economy thinking that, in my view, should be urgently questioned. We should think more about how we can better support free repositories and journals. Berlin Universities Publishing (BerlinUP), initiated with the help of the Berlin University Alliance, is a step in the right direction. The first university presses were founded in England a few hundred years ago and started with the aim of imparting scientific knowledge to society and researchers at other universities. That is where we need to go again. Research journals belong in the hands of research institutions, not in the hands of stock corporations.
The BerlinUP publisher you mentioned was initiated in 2019 as a publication platform for the four BUA partner institutions and will now be officially incorporated as a publisher in the fall of 2023.The first book from this publisher was written by you. Why did you choose this publication method?
Yes, that is the book "Engage with Fungi" that I published in 2022. Part of my research has a lot to do with citizen science. Fungal biotechnology is an exciting field of research and has the potential to fundamentally change markets and production processes. Maybe in the future we will live in houses made of fungi or wear sustainably produced clothing made of fungal materials. In my opinion, we can only be a driving force for innovation if we bring together society, science, and art. None of us can understand and change the world on our own. We can only achieve that together. That is why the book is aimed at many stakeholders from a wide variety of disciplines and backgrounds. The new publisher is ideal for this target group and also for networking researchers from the four BUA institutions. At the same time, it is a signal: there are the new university presses. Let us use them as central publication channels. Incidentally, the first edition of the book is already out of print, and the second has been reprinted. This shows that this publication channel can be remarkably successful.