Open Access to Science Communication Research: Your Options



In a recent blog post on Communication Breakdown, Matt Shipman started a discussion about science communication journals and obstacles to making them open access (OA) for the benefit of science communication practitioners.

Critiquing, suggesting, sharing ideas and data—this communication is the heart of science, the most powerful tool ever invented for correcting errors, building on colleagues’ work and fashioning new knowledge. – Waldrop, Science 2.0

There are a variety of issues at play in current obstacles to open access of science communication research. They include a lack of funding for author pay models of OA in the social sciences, a lack of awareness of existing open access publishing options, and hesitation on the part of tenure-track communication researchers to ‘risk’ publishing OA early in their careers. But another important issue may be a lack of awareness of your “green OA” options even when you publish a paper with a traditional journal.

What is Green OA?

Many researchers might assume that when they have transferred copyright to a traditional journal such as Science Communication, they are not allowed to post copies of their accepted manuscripts online without express permission from the publisher. However, most traditional or “toll-access” journals today give permission for authors to make peer-review manuscripts ‘green open access’. Green open access, or green OA, can be achieved by posting preprint or postprint versions of peer-reviewed articles on personal websites, blogs, forums or digital repositories. Repository-based OA is typically more permanent than posting to personal websites. Also, search engines such as Google Scholar can often ‘crawl’ OA repositories to return links to PDF’s for user searches of toll-access journal articles, for example. According to Peter Suber: “[M]any publishers who don’t give blanket permission for green OA will agree to case-by-case requests. (For example before Elsevier started giving blanket permission in 2004, its policy was to agree to essentially all case-by-case requests)” (Open Access, p. 126).

This a good example of why researchers should negotiate their copyright transfers with publishers. Many more researchers could be requesting special OA permissions and depositing postprint and/or preprint versions of their accepted manuscripts in online repositories, on personal websites and on their blogs. Counter to common belief, these actions would not violate copyright or agreements with most scientific journal publishers. In fact, universities could (and many are doing so) mandate green open access of published, peer-reviewed research articles without infringing on academic freedom.

One of the early victories of the OA movement was to get a majority of toll-access publishers and journals to give blanket permission for author-initiated green OA. But this victory remains one of the best-kept secrets of scholarly publishing, and widespread ignorance of it is the single most harmful consequence of green OA’s invisibility. – Open Access

Many traditional scientific journals have increased open access to published articles by enabling authors to post personal versions of published articles, in either preprint or postprint stages, to public university repositories or authors' own websites.

What is a public preprint server?

A preprint has been defined as “a document that allows ideas to spread and be discussed, it is not yet formally validated by the peer-review system.” Public preprint servers “allow authors to make manuscripts publicly available before, or in parallel to, submitting them to journals for traditional peer review.” Open access sharing of preprints, as well as postprints (the accepted version of a manuscript submitted to a journal) when possible, allows for faster dissemination of research results, dissemination to a wider audience, and even possibly improved peer review from a wider research community. Open access sharing of preprints in science communication can also benefit practitioners and bloggers who might not otherwise have access to the pay-walled, published journal articles.

Preprint servers include:

  • arXiv ( for math and physics papers
  • figshare ( for creative commons sharing of figures, datasets, presentations and papers
  • PeerJ ( commercial open access publisher with a preprint service
  • GitHub ( for collaborative development of manuscripts
  • ResarchGate (
  • ( an Open Access repository for scholarly manuscripts from the Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences openly available to the widest possible academic audience.

*please suggest other preprint servers in the comments section of this blog post

Science communication journals and green OA options

In order to highlight particular ‘green open access’ or self-archiving options for authors submitting manuscripts to traditional journals, I explore below the preprint and green open access policies of several premier mass communication and science communication journals.


I created this table of relevant journals in science communication. Please let me know if you'd like to add to it.

The journal Science Communication is a SAGE publication that “examines the nature of expertise, the diffusion of knowledge, and the communication of science and technology among professionals and to the public.” Public Understanding of Science is also a SAGE journal “covering all aspects of the inter-relationships between science (including technology and medicine) and the public.” Other SAGE journals that publish science communication research include Journalism: Theory, Practice & Criticism, Communication Research, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, and Environment & Behavior, among others.

SAGE supports the ‘green open access’ route by maintaining an open access self-archiving policy for published papers. Authors of manuscripts submitted to SAGE journals, including Science Communication, can “make their articles Open Access by archiving their article at no charge via the Green route. Authors who have published in a subscription journal can do this by depositing the version of the article accepted for publication (version 2) in their own institution’s repository.” While authors may not post the accepted version (version 2) in an online repository other than a personal website or their institution’s repository until 12 months after first publication in the journal, they may do whatever the wish with the version of the article submitted to the journal (version 1). In other words, the preprint version – as it appeared in the original submission to the journal – may be published in any online, open access repository, anytime!

SAGE has previously confirmed that it does not consider publication of datasets with a DOI and associated protocol information on an open access server such as as prior publication. It is not clear, however, whether SAGE journals in general consider posting manuscripts to open access repositories or websites before submission to the journal as ‘prior publication’. I have contacted SAGE to inquire about their ‘preprint before submission’ policies. I will add their response here when I hear back.

Update 7/10/2014: Ok, very interesting news. I just received confirmation by phone from SAGE representative Camille Gamboa that the SAGE rights policy statement "You may do whatever you wish with the version of the article you submitted to the journal (version 1)" applies to preprint sharing to open access repositories such as,, personal websites, etc. even PRIOR to submission to a SAGE journal. In other words, sharing a manuscript in a non-peer-reviewed open access repository is not considered a 'prior publication' by SAGE policy and shouldn't prevent authors from submitting the manuscript to a SAGE journal. However, SAGE likes to allow journal editors to exercise control over their own journals in most cases. Thus, if a particular SAGE journal editor is disinclined to consider a manuscript for publication that has been previously shared in an open access repository, that is his/her prerogative??

The policy against accepting manuscripts previously published in print or online is known as the Ingelfinger rule. This policy was originally intended to “discourage dissemination of research reports in the medical newspapers and popular media before they are published in the Journal.” It appears that some SAGE journals including Science Communication still practice some form of this rule by refusing or generally being hesitant to accept for publication manuscripts that have been made publicly available elsewhere, including on and other such data and manuscript repositories. This was confirmed in an e-mail correspondence with Science Communication editor Susanna Priest, who says of the journal’s limited preprint policy prior to submission: “[t]he reality is a complex mix of Sage's policies as stated on their website, the separate requirement that your submission be original unpublished work, my own policies and judgment as editor, copyright law, and scholarly traditions, including well-established ethical principles.” Priest is referring to the fact that despite SAGE’s liberal policy regarding preprints after acceptance for publication, she would be disinclined to consider a manuscript previously made available to the public on the web. However, she would need to make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

Priest also said this in an e-mail correspondence with me on her interpretation of the preprint and postprint archiving issue: “Giving non-researchers access to the research literature is not the solution. What non-researchers usually need and want is clear, accessible, brief, articulate summaries and interpretations of the findings of research that contextualizes it appropriately. This will be accomplished when good journalists and bloggers with an interest in this research [people like you, in other words] read the research itself and write about it.”

But how do people like me who don’t have access to these journals for academic research (I am also a PhD student) access these papers in the first place to communicate them, then?

Other SAGE journals have confirmed that they will consider various forms of manuscripts previously made available to the public on open access servers, including submissions to F1000Posters (, with no problem.

The Journal of Communication is a Wiley Online Library journal. Wiley complies with various funder open access mandates, including the Wellcome Trust, the NIH public access policy, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and Research Councils UK. Authors choosing Wiley’s OnlineOpen option retain copyright and can choose to publish under a creative commons license per their funder’s requirements. The OnlineOpen fee is fixed at US $3000 for most Wiley journals. According to Wiley’s self-archiving policy, for most journal articles published in the traditional way, authors may self-archive the submitted version of their paper (preprint) on a personal website, a non-profit subject-based preprint server or a repository such as ArXiv, PubMedCentral or Social Science Research Network. Also, authors “are not required to remove preprints posted prior to acceptance of the submitted version.”

The embargo periods before self-archiving of the peer-reviewed version of the paper (version 2), however, are substantial: 12 months for scientific, technical or medical journals, 24 months for social sciences and humanities journals. The final “version of record” (with copyediting, formatting, etc. – version 3) is not allowed to be posted to open access repositories.

Unfortunately, Wiley-Blackwell has no general policy on preprints prior to publication. While the publisher does not consider results presented at meetings and results databases to be ‘prior publication,’ it is unclear whether this publisher considers full manuscripts posted to open access servers such as figshare, PeerJ PrePrints, and ArXiv as prior publication. Authors may need to contact individual journals to clarify what constitutes prior publication according to the Ingelfinger rule. In my opinion, this makes this scholarly publisher less friendly to green open access options.

Environmental Communication is a Taylor & Francis Online journal. This journal is compliant with the Research Councils UK open access policy, whereby there is no embargo period for archiving a postprint (version 2) manuscript to a personal or departmental website and a 12 month embargo period for archiving a postprint via a social scientific network or repository. Authors of manuscripts submitted to Taylor & Francis journals also retain the right to “share on a non-commercial basis with colleagues in print or digital format your ‘Author's Original Manuscript’ (i.e., the unpublished version of the article created by you prior to peer review; formerly a ‘preprint’).” Taylor & Francis maintains the following ‘preprint’ permissions: “A ‘preprint’ is now defined as the Author’s Original Manuscript. Always providing that the editorial policy of the journal concerned allows this, you may post your Author’s Original Manuscript (the version of your article created prior to peer review) on your own website, institution’s intranet, or preprint server, for example” However, it is unclear whether Taylor & Francis journals generally maintain the Ingelfinger rule.

Update 7/9/2014: I just received the following from Taylor & Francis via the journal editor of Mass Communication & Society: "we do not allow pre-print publication in repositories or personal website. We do consider an article published on a personal website and/or repository as prior publication. If an author would like to submit an article for publication that has already been published online on any type of website, the article would need to be enhanced/changed/expanded upon before being considered for publication." So in this case, Taylor & Francis DOES still practice the Ingelfinger rule.

Update 7/22/2014: According to a statement sent to me via e-mail by Taylor & Francis publisher Patrick Fallon, Taylor & Francis has a policy that is positive towards online preprints prior to submission for journal publication. From the perspective of the publisher, authors may submit articles to a Taylor & Francis journal even if the article has been uploaded into a repository or non-peer-reviewed open access server such as figshare or Sharing via these mediums is not considered as a submission to another peer-reviewed publication. However, should the article be accepted for publication, Taylor & Francis advises authors to add a statement to their preprint to the effect that the article is now under review or has been accepted to the given journal. It appears that the publisher's policy and individual journal policies on this may differ.

The Journal of Health Communication is also a Taylor & Francis journal. Taylor & Francis recommends that authors assign copyright to the journal, although authors should inquire about other options that maximize open access archiving options. In general, however, authors of Taylor & Francis journals retain the right to share the preprint of their paper with colleagues and post their accepted manuscript to a departmental or personal website at any point after publication as long as a link is provided back to the published article. Authors may also share postprints (version 2) on their personal website, an institution’s network or a non-commercial subject repository 12 months after publication for science, engineering, behavioral science and medicine journals, 18 months after publication for arts, social science and humanities journals.

Relevant Elsevier journals, including Public Relations Review, Journal of Environmental Psychology and Studies in Communication Sciences, appear to be the most lenient in terms of green open access options and considering preprints for publication. Elsevier journals will generally not consider preprints on open access servers as prior publication – meaning that authors can share their papers or datasets online without fear of being able to submit them to Elsevier journals later. Elsevier defines a preprint as “an author’s own write-up of research results and analysis that has not been peer-reviewed, nor had any other value added to it by a publisher (such as formatting, copy editing, technical enhancement etc...).”

Elsevier journals will also not require authors to remove electronic preprints of an article from public servers should the article be accepted for publication. Preprints may be used for personal, institutional or scholarly use in the form of sharing on personal websites or preprint servers. Elsevier journals also allow authors to retain the use of the accepted author manuscript (version 2) “for personal use, internal institutional use and for permitted scholarly posting provided that these are not for purposes of commercial use or systematic distribution.” Authors are generally required to link back to the version of record as published in the journal.


I think that more science communication researchers could be self-archiving their papers that have been accepted to traditional “toll-access” journals. Also, researchers might choose to publish in journals that are more friendly to open access preprint sharing both before and after publication. And finally, all authors of journal articles should talk to the journal about possible waivers of green OA route restrictions, especially if there is a compelling reason that the research or data would be of interest to practitioners. Many journals will allow increased open access upon request.

At the end of the day, science and mass communication researchers have a responsibility to make their papers publicly available beyond the pay-walled ‘version of record’. Doing so according to publisher policies is not a violation of copyright.

Sharing a preprint of a manuscript on an OA server prior to submission for publication is never a violation of copyright as long as the researcher owns the copyright to the material (which university researchers almost always do, according to academic freedom). If more mass communication journal publishers abandoned Ingelfinger’s rule and accepted preprints, much more of the scicomm literature would be accessible to journalists, science bloggers and science communicators online.

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