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Scientific communication

Clear, precise guidelines

FAPESP's open-access policy states that scientific articles must be freely available within 12 months of publication

FAPESP recently announced that it has refined its open-access policy, seeking to make the dissemination of research results faster and more transparent. New regulations issued on October 27 determined that scientific papers resulting from research projects funded by the foundation must be made freely available online within 12 months of the publication date, with no restrictions or charges. The previous version of the document, in force since 2019, made open access mandatory, but was more flexible about embargo deadlines imposed by scientific journals for publicly sharing the content, making it difficult to monitor compliance with the rule.

The new rules require that when choosing a scientific journal in which to publish their manuscripts, researchers make sure that it will allow open access to the paper via an institutional repository within 12 months. “With the change, we hope to promote a greater awareness among the state of São Paulo’s scientific community of the importance of making publicly funded scientific work openly available to society,” says FAPESP’s scientific director, Luiz Eugênio Mello. “We are also implementing means to monitor whether the rules are being followed and deadlines met,” adds José Roberto de França Arruda, a professor at the School of Mechanical Engineering (FEM) of the University of Campinas (UNICAMP) and a member of FAPESP’s adjunct panel for exact sciences and engineering. The main tool to be used will be Google Scholar, which has a profile of every researcher, including a list of the articles they have published and the number of citations they have received.

In March, the online academic platform added a new utility to the profiles: a colored bar, where green indicates the number of papers by the author that are freely available online and red indicates the number to which access is restricted in violation of the open-access policies of the agencies that funded the research. The Google Scholar database contains the publication rules of more than 200 research-funding agencies from around the world, including FAPESP. “We will work together with the foundation to add this new open-access policy to the information on its Google Scholar page,” said Anurag Acharya, cofounder of Google Scholar. “This will allow Brazilian authors and their peers from other countries to review and highlight articles published with FAPESP funding on their Google Scholar profiles.”

The foundation has been encouraging open-access publication of research results since the 1990s. Twenty-four years ago, it partnered with the World Health Organization’s Latin American and Caribbean Center on Health Sciences Information to create the virtual library SciELO (Scientific Electronic Library Online), a collection of nearly 300 academic journals from Brazil whose articles are all freely available on the internet. In 2008, FAPESP approved an open-access policy that resulted in the creation of public scientific paper repositories by institutions such as the São Paulo State University Deans Council (CRUESP), the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar), and the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP).

The Google Scholar database contains the publication rules of more than 200 research-funding agencies from around the world

In 2019, the rules were updated, establishing that a copy of any paper funded by the foundation must be published in a public repository after any embargo set by the journal is over. The requirement did not cover articles published in the SciELO collection, other open-access journals, or as open-access articles in hybrid journals, since these are already freely accessible. At the same time, the foundation began recommending researchers consult a UK-based database called Sherpa Romeo, which compiles the policies of thousands of scientific journals, to find open-access publication options. The same guidelines still apply, but there is now a maximum period of 12 months before articles must be made freely available.

According to the Scopus database, 52% of the scientific articles published by Brazilian authors in 2021 are already available through open access, while the remaining 48% are still currently restricted to fee-paying subscribers. According to Arruda, the maximum embargo of 12 months is compatible with the policies of most commercial journals. “There are humanities and technology journals, however, as well as some linked to scientific associations, that impose an embargo of up to 24 or 36 months. But I don’t think there will be many cases where this is a problem,” he says. In these situations, FAPESP recommends getting in touch with the journal editor, explaining that the funding agency has a limit of 12 months, and asking for the content to be released after this period. “If editors are unwilling to reduce the embargo period, a possible workaround is to upload an earlier version of the article to an online repository—such as the version that was submitted for publication but does not yet contain reviewer contributions, or a preliminary version that was shared as a preprint,” he explains.

Flavia Bastos, library coordinator at São Paulo State University (UNESP) and executive coordinator of the institution’s online repository, says that FAPESP’s new policy will facilitate the task of collecting and archiving the scientific work of the university’s 3,087 professors, a task currently performed by the authors themselves with the aid of automated tools. “Since 2013, we have been encouraging our authors to upload their own scientific papers to the repository and inform us of the embargo period. We only make the articles public when the embargo is lifted. Setting a maximum amount of time before the article has to be made available will give researchers an extra push and reinforce our strategy for creating a culture of open access at the university,” says Bastos.

“The existence of a deadline makes people prioritize the issue. They act with greater urgency,” says Pedro Sergio Fadini, a chemist and dean of research at the Federal University of São Carlos. According to Fadini, the idea that scientific articles produced with public funding should be available to the public already has widespread support at the institution. The drive to publish via open access is part of a UFSCar policy that also includes other initiatives, such as the creation of a public repository for data and articles and incentives for professors to formulate data management plans for their studies and make them accessible to other researchers.

FAPESP’s open-access policy has led to the creation of scientific article repositories at São Paulo universities

Abel Packer, head of the SciELO library, also sees progress in FAPESP’s new policy. “It establishes a precise directive that is easy to enforce and capable of inducing behavioral changes in scientists. The foundation is progressively aligning itself with agencies recognized for their dedication to open-access policies and mandates, such as Sherpa Juliet and Google Scholar. Ninety-two percent of the institutions on the latter are from Europe, the US, and Canada. From Latin America, only Argentina is present, with 43% of its articles available through open access, according to the Scopus database,” he says.

Packer points out, however, that the ambitions of FAPESP’s new policy are “understandably more conservative” than those of countries at the forefront of the open-access movement. He is referring to 17 nations, mostly from Europe, that have signed up to Plan S, an initiative that took effect in January (see Pesquisa FAPESP issue nº 299). The funding agencies implementing the plan require that articles resulting from research they fund be made freely available immediately upon publication, with no embargoes, and with licenses granting freedom to reuse their content.

The transformations promoted by Plan S are changing the way publishers are paid for their work. Instead of charging university libraries for subscriptions, several have reached major financial agreements with research institutions and funding organizations to allow their researchers to freely share their articles. The new model also allows extra fees to be charged to publish an article in a subscription journal and make it freely available online, which increases costs for researchers. In November 2020, a group of 32 journals from the Nature collection began offering a new open-access publishing option at a cost of €9,500 per article—equivalent to R$60,000. This is the highest fee charged by any scientific journal. “It is understandable that FAPESP has not gone that far at this point in time, because it would lead to a considerable increase in research project costs,” says Packer.

In August, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) launched an ambitious open-access policy for publications funded by the agency, requiring immediate open access to scientific articles, even extending to books resulting from studies it funds from 2024 onwards. UKRI has set aside nearly £50 million of its £8 billion annual budget to subsidize implementation of the new policy. Arruda from FAPESP says the foundation plans to adjust the complementary benefits of the research it funds to reinforce the payment of publication costs. The main limitation to creating a similar strategy to Plan S in Brazil, he points out, is in uniting the many funding agencies in the country around a common open-access agenda. He explains that this approach would need to involve the Brazilian Federal Agency for Support and Evaluation of Graduate Education (CAPES), which pays for Brazilian public university subscriptions to more than 49,000 scientific journals (see Pesquisa FAPESP issue nº 304). “A good starting point for making the transition without increasing publication costs would be to use the money currently invested in subscriptions to make comprehensive open-access agreements with publishers, as several countries have already done,” says Arruda. “With a united approach, Brazilian agencies would have greater negotiating power.”