2021 in Open Access at the British Pharmacological Society

Published: 23 Nov 2021

For many years, the British Pharmacological Society has supported Open Access (OA) publishing in its journals. Our members and our authors have a range of needs, and a range of obligations, around sharing their research. We aim to accommodate these as best as we can. OA is one part of this. Accordingly, the British Journal of Pharmacology (BJP) and the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology (BJCP) are primarily subscription journals, but they allow authors to publish OA within them if desired. Further, in 2013, the Society launched Pharmacology Research & Perspectives (PR&P), a fully OA journal - in collaboration with the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics and Wiley - to complement these existing 2 journals. Across all 3 journals, our intention is to provide an outlet for all research across basic and clinical pharmacology, and, as much as possible, to support authors in publishing in the journal of their choice, depending on their financial circumstances. 
In 2021, the Society saw growth in the number of OA articles published across its journals. PR&P is on track to publish well over 200 articles in 2021, over double what it published just two years ago. Additionally, the BJP and the BJCP, both hybrid journals, have increased the proportion of articles published OA. When PR&P was launched in 2013, fewer than 5% of articles in the BJP and the BJCP were OA; in 2021, this proportion has increased to over 35%. In fact, as of the end of September 2021, the Society now publishes more articles OA than it does behind a paywall.
The main cause for this increase, particularly in the BJP and the BJCP, has been the increase in major national-level institutional customers signing ‘transformative agreements’ with our publisher, Wiley. In these agreements, the payment for publishing articles OA is bundled together with subscription payments, with the aiming of gradually replacing subscription fees with OA fees. Over recent years, our publisher has signed these agreements with customers across Europe and the US. Notably, this includes an agreement with JISC, covering most UK institutions. The benefit of all this is that a growing number of authors can publish OA in the BJP and the BJCP with no direct cost to themselves, as the fee is covered by the preexisting agreement. Inevitably, this has led to much of the increase in OA articles. We expect more agreements to come. 
These transformative agreements have, in part, arisen to facilitate increased demand from funders for articles arising from their funding to be published OA. I wrote about the main example of this, Plan S, in an earlier blog post. Most recently, and relevant for many of our members, is the upcoming policy coming from UKRI, which may affect a significant proportion of our authors. We now know more about what this policy will look like. 
Between February and May 2020, UKRI conducted a public consultation on their future Open Access policy, as part of the UKRI Open Access Review. UKRI’s intention is to create a 'a single UKRI OA policy for research articles and long-form research publications that acknowledge funding from UKRI and its constituent councils'. For the consultation, UKRI supplied a proposed policy and invited responses to it and to some questions. The Society sent a response to the consultation in May 2020. 
In the consultation, UKRI proposed the following basic points:
  • That 'research articles must be accessible immediately upon publication without an embargo, free of charge and under licence to maximise opportunity for reuse'
  • That authors could achieve this either by publishing in a journal that makes the final version of record OA, or by publishing in a journal that allows the author’s accepted manuscript to be self-archived in a repository and made OA immediately
  • That, in both cases, the OA version should be published with a CC BY licence
  • And that this would apply for all articles accepted after 1 January 2022.
The final policy, announced in August 2021, kept these same basic points, except from delaying the start date by 3 months, to begin on 1 April 2022. 
In the Society’s response to the consultation, we reiterated our support for a fair and sustainable transition to OA. In our approach to our publishing, we have prioritised the widest possible participation in, and dissemination of, our journals, allowing authors to choose the publishing option most suitable to them. We highlighted the progress of our hybrid journals, the BJP and the BJCP, towards OA via the transformative deals signed by our publisher, Wiley, and we encouraged UKRI to support this approach, despite the suggestion at consultation that UKRI may follow other funders and not allow their funds to be used to pay for OA within hybrid journals. So, we are pleased to see that UKRI’s stated policy includes support for using UKRI funds to pay for OA within hybrid journals, provided those journals are part of a transformative agreement (as the BJP and the BJCP are). Although details around this funding are yet to be clarified, under the announced OA policy UKRI-funded authors will be able to make the final version of record of their articles OA in the Society’s journals and comply with their funder obligations. This is a positive endorsement of the Society’s approach to OA transition and will promote the impact and reach of UKRI-funded research in pharmacology. Details of implementation are now key, as they will dictate how the consequences of this policy are experienced by authors and research groups. 
As well as emphasising the need for author choice, in our consultation response the Society also argued that the UKRI OA policy should only be as complex and as restrictive as necessary to achieve its stated aims. Considering the various demands upon, and circumstances of, researchers across the world, we appealed for a policy that minimised constraints and administrative burden. As part of this, we recommended that the policy allows authors to choose from a range of CC BY licence variants, including CC BY-NC. Whereas many consultation respondents, according to UKRI’s summary, made the case for the CC BY-NC licence on the grounds of protecting a publisher’s commercial interests, the Society pointed out that many authors were uncomfortable with permitting the commercial reuse of their published work; and that, when authors have the choice of CC BY licence in the Society’s journals, they most frequently selected CC BY-NC. However, in the announced UKRI policy, CC BY is still the mandated licence for research outputs. Together with our publisher, we will endeavour to ensure our authors understand the licence options available to them and the implications of using them for their research. 
The Society’s journals are owned and controlled by our members, in service of our aim to further the discipline of basic and clinical pharmacology and therapeutics. In our consultation response, we emphasised their importance and the need for UKRI to support learned society journals. We will continue to advocate for them, and for a publishing model that serves the needs of our community. 


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Charles Whalley

Charles is Head of Journals Publishing at the British Pharmacological Society. He is responsible for the Society's three academic journals: the British Journal of Pharmacology, the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, and Pharmacology Research & Perspectives.