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Emanuel Kulczycki: traditional publishing patterns waste the results of academic work

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I am recommending to the governors the very same thing I do myself and that I suggest to my colleagues. It is absolutely necessary to publish all the outputs of publicly funded research in the open access model – says Emanuel Kulczycki, philosopher, communication specialist and member of the Council of Young Scientists, the advisory body of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of Poland.

I am very glad to present an interview with Dr Emanuel Kulczycki, who is a well known Polish blogger, writing mostly on scholarly communication, an active academic and a member of advisory body of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of Poland. We were talking mostly about the situation for academics in Poland and how the role of open access can change that. Although I think the interview might be of interest to researchers in other non-English speaking countries and to all people who would like to foster academic discussion.

WK: You are a member of the Council of Young Scientists in Poland. What is it and what is your role within the organization?

EK: Academic researchers in Poland are funded almost exclusively by the state. That is why the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, which is not present in the governmental administration of many countries, exists in Poland. The Ministry governs funding for science and it creates advisory councils. One of these advisory bodies is the Council of Young Scientists. This is a group of people nominated by the academic community of young scientists in Poland. The final selection of candidates is carried out by the Ministry. We evaluate legal regulations (in Poland, the regulations for PhD and habilitation granting are also controlled by the central government) and lobby for changes that could help support budding researchers. For instance, we successfully lobbied for not counting parental leave as part of the period within which one can apply for national grants for beginning researchers.

The council has 18 members – 14 are representatives of natural and mathematical sciences, 3 are social scientists, and I am the only one with a background in the humanities. Thus, my main role is to propose regulations and funding in the field of humanities. I am also a consultant for open access, since the Ministry is working on some kind of open access policy.

What are the biggest problems faced by young researchers in Poland in comparison to other European countries?

The main problem, as elsewhere, is funding. In Poland, the competitive way of granting funds has only recently become popular. Young scientists in Poland are just learning how to write good research proposals for competitions (although in natural and mathematical sciences the situation is better than in humanities and social sciences).

Another problem that is more specific to Poland is the habilitation, which is an additional academic degree typical to Central and Eastern Europe countries. Young researchers, who have received their PhDs, have a different status in Poland than those, for example, in the UK. They need to achieve habilitation quickly to become independent and those do not are discharged from work. The criteria for granting habilitation influence the work of young PhD students. They have to work and publish, not only to foster science, but also to fulfill the criteria of habilitation.

The third problem, also a more specific one, is the problem of mentality. Polish scientists, even those who achieve great outputs, do not believe that they are good enough to publish in the top journals of the world. They don’t fight for the best places for their publications.

The parameterization of scientific work is an important trend globally. What does it look like in Poland?

In Poland, the evaluation of academic achievements is based on two methods. The first one is peer review. This method is equally good for both the STM and the HSS. In the case of humanities, we have a problem with second method, which is bibliometric analysis. This type of analysis is supposed to take into account the h-index and individual score of citations, both calculated on the basis of the Web of Science database. It should also consider a sum of the Impact Factor of the journals that researchers have published in. And, of course, even the best Polish humanists, who write in Polish, have no score in Web of Science. They have also rarely published in journals with the Impact Factor, since most local journals do not have one. Thus, in practice, the evaluation in the humanities is based mostly on the preferences of reviewers. Some of them criticize the evaluated person for not having a citation score in Web of Science, while others do not treat this as a disadvantage.

We still have a big problem with evaluating academic efforts in humanities and we have been trying to introduce new criteria for judging publications. Starting from the next year, the position of a journal in the SJR ranking in the SCIMago database will most likely be one of them.

What publication pattern is promoted by the rules for funding and promotion in Poland?

The system of funding and promotion encourages researchers in Poland to publish in journals with high Impact Factor. If this is impossible, they publish in other journals that are indexed in the Web of Science database, or for example in the Arts and Humanities Citation Index. At this time, the inclusion of a journal in the ERIH Plus list is also an official criterion for evaluating an academic record, however it probably will not be in the future.

The problem is bigger with monographs. Today, we have no formal criteria for evaluating the quality of publishers, but of course, reviewers do that on their own.

Is open access supported by the funding system or rules of academic promotion?

Open access is not supported directly by the requirements for funding and academic promotion in Poland. Although, since the h-index and citation score are also evaluated during the habilitation process and when applying for national grants, open access is beneficial for researchers in Poland. There is plenty of research revealing positive correlation between openness and citations (look here and here – WK), hence one can say that open access is supported indirectly by the funding and research evaluation system in Poland, but not every researcher in Poland understands that open access is beneficial for his or her career.

Regardless of age and experience, researchers tend to publish in high profile journals. Although when they have to choose between journals of similar quality openness might be an additional benefit. As I mentioned before, in Poland journals with high Impact Factor are most preferred. Thus, a researcher whose paper is accepted by a journal with high Impact Factor and no open access option (even with no option of self-archiving an open access copy) will probably publish the paper in this journal anyway. Although in some fields there are excellent journals, which allow self-archiving or are even fully open access.

I would like to stress that the Ministry is working on some regulations that are going to support open access directly. However, the academic community in Poland is resisting this kind of regulation, mostly due to a lack of knowledge about open access. People very often think that open access content is not peer-reviewed or low quality, which is generally wrong. Academics who are against open access usually associate it with the activity of predatory publishers, which they know from the spam emails they receive. On the other hand, I think that reputable publishers who are getting involved in open access journals are slowly convincing the skeptics that open access content may be good.

What are the publishing habits of academics in Poland?

The best Polish researchers publish in very good journals with high Impact Factor. Although still a lot of their colleagues (especially humanists, but not only) publish mostly in local, Polish journals. Very often they think that their research will not be of interest for researchers abroad, which is simply wrong in the majority of cases. Humanists and social scientists should also discuss internationally, and they do it already. For example, Polish philosophers should discuss with German and British ones, and so on.

Meanwhile, we have plenty of journals published in Polish with printed versions only and no open access options. Fortunately this is also slowly changing since the rules for national funding grants for journals support on-line access to journal content. This is widely seen as an incentive for openness.

Monographs are also still more popular in Poland than in Western Europe. However, the circulation of monographs is usually very low, with no on-line version, so they are usually inaccessible.

What is the role of open access in opening Polish humanities to international debate?

To play an equal role in the current academic debate researchers have to be open to dialogue. They should make their work available to an international audience, and this has not been done in Poland. The most striking evidence of this fact is the current funding opportunity that was advertised on the Oxford University home page. The grant is to be spent on research on the Jagiellonian dynasty, which is described there as one of the most powerful in Europe, but hardly known. And of course there is plenty of excellent work on the Jagiellonians written by Polish historians. But none of these works are known abroad and this of course is the fault of Polish humanists.

As a researcher I cannot really imagine publishing my work only in Polish and only in a printed version. It would be a waste of my work’s results. When I publish something I want it to be read by as broad an audience as possible. Thus, I want to publish it in English and in open access.

Do researchers in Poland have problems with access?

The economic barrier is the crucial problem. When a researcher needs to pay for access to ten articles (published in various journals that his or her institution are not subscribed to) and he or she has to pay $300-$400. When somebody wants to purchase access to 20 articles, he or she has to pay an amount that is approximately equal to the salary of Polish researcher, not to mention books that sometimes cost $500. This is a brutal truth for Polish academics.

To make good research one needs constant access to a wide range of literature. And no library in Central Europe can afford to pay for subscriptions to all the important journals. For my colleagues and me working within the field of philosophy and bibliometrics, a huge problem is lack of access to content published by Taylor and Francis. Just a few institutions in Poland have access to their journals.

That is why we need to educate young scientists to publish their works in open access. Open access is a win-win situation for researchers around the world. Thanks to it more people will read their work and they will have access to the works of more people.

What would you recommend to the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education concerning their open access policy?

I am recommending to the governors the very same thing I do myself and that I suggest to my colleagues. It is absolutely necessary to publish all the outputs of publicly founded research in the open access model. All researchers have to choose the best place to publish in their particular field and then take care about the openness. It can be done by choosing a journal that is free for both authors and readers, or it can be done by choosing an author-pays open access journal or by publishing an author-pays open access monograph. If the best place to publish the output is a traditional journal, we should try to find one, which allows at least to self-archive the preprint version of the article. It is still open access. And eventually there is an option to publish it as an open access eprint, after an embargo period.

Are the humanities in Poland and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe ready to cover the costs of so called ‘gold open access’? For example, De Gruyter Open is going to introduce article processing charges for journals in humanities at a level of 500 euro.

For Polish researchers working in the field of humanities, 500 euro for publishing an article in a journal that is indexed by Web of Science, or in future in the SciMago database, so the article fosters his or her career, is an acceptable price. To publish research in a proper place and in addition to benefit from the openness, polish academics can pay 500 euro. But I think that no one will pay this amount of money for a journal which is not indexed by these databases, which are crucial for the evaluation of a researcher’s work.

Will open access increase in Poland and other Central European countries and will the researchers from these countries gain a significant position within the international academic discussion?

I think that Polish humanities and Polish science are very good, although they are promoted in an inefficient way. It will help us a lot when Polish research output is published mostly in international languages and in open access. And, finally, yes I believe that the importance of open access will increase in Poland, and that it will help us to improve our position in the academic world.

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