When you want to understand something more fully, run an experiment.
In mid-January Dr. Alyson Fournier (a researcher at The Neuro), Alex Amar (librarian at The Neuro), and I ran an experiment to better understand how to make published articles openly accessible by depositing post-prints. Open access to publications is an important pillar of The Neuro’s Open Science mission, so when we learned that McGill eScholarship enables open access to previously published articles through archived post-prints we figured it was worth investigating.
The first step of any good experiment is to gather relevant background information.
There is a lot of discussion among researchers about preprints (e.g., Coronavirus researchers openly sharing their preprints), but less about post-prints. A preprint is the copy of an article that a researcher submits to a journal to be reviewed; a post-print is the copy after it has been reviewed, edited, and accepted; and the final publisher-formatted version is the publisher’s version.
Many funders have Open Access policies, including the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the largest funder of academic biomedical science in Canada. In the case of the CIHR, a post-print, or copy of the publisher’s version, must be openly accessible within 12 months of publication.
There are a couple ways to make articles openly accessible, and depositing post-prints is only one. The easiest is to publish open access, or, alternatively, in a journal that automatically makes articles openly available after an embargo period. If the journal you want to publish in is not open access and does not make articles openly accessible before the deadline set by a funder, depositing a post-print in a disciplinary or institutional repository is the way to go.
The McGill eScholarship Experiment
Alex and Andrea Quaiattini, McGill's librarian for neurology and neuroscience, suggested McGill's institutional repository, eScholarship, so we decided to see it in action.
Dr. Fournier retrieved the accepted but unformatted copy of an article published in Progress in Neurobiology – co-authored by her and Alex, with her former student Dr. Camille Juzwik as first author - and emailed it as an attachment to McGill eScholarship with a request to add it to the repository.
Five days later Dr. Fournier received a response thanking her for the deposit and saying that it had been added to the repository.
It was a bit of a shock, however, to learn that the journal’s embargo period for post-prints was 18 months. This meant that the post-print would not be openly accessible until January 26, 2021.
The result of our experiment was mixed, at best.
On the positive side, sending a post-print for archiving in the McGill repository is incredibly easy. Researchers could add a single step to their workflow to make sure that their publications (eventually) become openly accessible.
As soon as you receive a pre-formatted copy of an accepted manuscript, email it to escholarship.library [at] mcgill.ca with a request that it be added to the repository.
The eScholarship team will look into the relevant embargo period, confirm that the post-print has been deposited, and let you know when it will be made available.
From the perspective of open access, however, it was a bit disappointing. A year and a half can be a lifetime in a rapidly advancing field and is much longer than many funder policies allow.
Based on our experience, here are some steps you can take to make sure your research is openly accessible as soon as possible.
- Check the policies of the journal you’re submitting to. The easiest way is search the SHERPA/RoMEO database and follow their links. Had we clicked through some of them, we could have found the list of embargo periods for Elsevier journals as well as Elsevier’s cross-journal sharing policies. If the journal’s policy doesn’t match the requirements of your funder you may be able to request that the journal make an exception.
- Find the right repository for you. Some common disciplinary repositories in neuroscience are bioRxiv and PsyArXiv. When deciding, make sure to look into their policies and frequently asked questions. A big difference between bioRxiv and PsyArXiv, for example, is that bioRxiv doesn’t let authors update preprints after an article has been accepted (so, no post-prints) while PsyArXiv does. BioRxiv does, however, allow comments on preprints - which some researchers find useful for refining their paper.
- Find your approach. If you want to submit a preprint and get comments, then using bioRxiv and then submitting post-prints to the McGill repository may be best (unless, of course, your article is already published open access). If comments are less important, or you are willing to receive them by email, using a service like PsyArXiv and updating a preprint with a post-print suits you better.
If you are still unsure about what to do, contact the McGill library for assistance. They have online information and librarians that can help explain the various options. If you are a researcher at The Neuro, feel free to dylan.roskams-edris [at] mcgill.ca (contact me) and I will be happy to point you in the right direction.
About the author
Dylan Roskams-Edris joined The Neuro in November 2019 as the Open Science Alliance Officer for the Tanenbaum Open Science Institute. In his role, Dylan works to encourage the uptake of Open Science at neuroscience institutes across Canada. He has a background in neuroscience, health ethics, and intellectual property.