Tag Archives: Wellcome Trust

Blood: in short supply?

Two years ago (almost to the day) we called out Blood for their misleading open access options that they offered to Research Council and Charity Open Access Fund (COAF) authors. Unfortunately, little has changed since then:

Neither of these routes is sufficient to comply with either Research Councils’ or COAF’s open access policies which require that the accepted text be made available in PMC within 6 months of publication, or that the published paper is available immediately under a CC BY licence.

At the time, we called on Blood to change their offerings or we would advise Research Councils and COAF funded authors to publish elsewhere. And that’s exactly what’s happened:

Figure 1. All articles published in Blood since 2007 which acknowledge MRC, Wellcome, CRUK or BHF funding. Data obtained from Web of Science.

Over the last two years we’ve seen a dramatic decline in the number of papers being published in Blood by Medical Research Council (MRC), Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK (CRUK) and British Heart Foundation (BHF) researchers. The number of papers published in Blood that acknowledge these funders in now at its lowest point in over a decade.

It’s important to remember that the 23 papers published in Blood in 2017 are all non-compliant with the open access policies of Research Councils and COAF, and if these papers acknowledge Wellcome Trust funding then those researchers may also be at risk of losing 10% of their total grant. If you are funded by Research Councils or one of the COAF members, please consider publishing elsewhere. SHERPA/FACT confirms our assessment:

Sign the open letter

We’re still collecting signatures for our open letter to the editor of Blood in the hope that they’ll reconsider their open access options. Please join us by adding your name.

Cambridge Open Access spend 2013-2018

Since 2013, the Open Access Team has been helping Cambridge researchers, funded by Research Councils UK (RCUK) and the consortium of biomedical funders which make up the Charity Open Access Fund (COAF), to meet their Open Access obligations. Both RCUK (now part of UKRI) and COAF have Open Access policies which have a preference for ‘gold’, i.e. the published work should be Open Access immediately at the time of publication. Implementing these policies has come at a significant cost. In this time, Cambridge has been awarded just over £10 million from RCUK and COAF to implement their Open Access policies, and the Open Access Team has diligently used this funding to maximum effect.

Figure 1. Comparison of combined RCUK/COAF grant spend and available funds, April 2013 – March 2018.

Initially, expenditure was slow which allowed the Open Access Team to maintain a healthy balance that could guarantee funding for almost any paper which met a few basic requirements. However, since January 2016 expenditure has gradually been catching up on the available funds which has made funding decisions more difficult (specifically Open Access deals tied to multi-year publisher subscriptions). In the first three months of 2018 average monthly expenditure on the RCUK block grant alone exceeded £160,000. We are quickly reaching the point where expenditure will outstrip the available grants.

One technical change which has particularly affected our management of the block grants was RCUK’s decision last year to move away from a direct cash award (which could be rolled over year to year) to a more tightly managed research grant. In the past, carrying over underspend has given us some flexibility in the management of the RCUK funds, whereas the more restrictive style of research grant will mean that any underspend will need to be returned at the end of the grant period, while any overspend cannot be deferred into the next grant period. As we are now dealing with a fixed budget, the Open Access Team will need to ensure that expenditure is kept within the limits of the grant. This is difficult when we have no control over where or when our researchers publish.

Funding from COAF (which is also managed as though it is a research grant) has generally matched our total annual spend quite closely, but the strict grant management rules have caused some problems, especially in the transition period between one grant and another. However, unlike RCUK, the Wellcome Trust will provide supplementary funding in addition to the main COAF award if it is exhausted, and the other COAF partners have similar procedures in place to manage Open Access payments beyond the end of the grant.

Where does it all go?

Most of our expenditure (91%) goes on article processing charges (APCs), as perhaps one might expect, but the block grants are also used to support the staff of the Open Access Team (3%), helpdesk and repository systems (2%), page and colour charges (2%), and publisher memberships (1%) (where this results in a reduced APC). The majority of APCs we’ve paid go towards hybrid journals, which represent approximately 80% of total APC spend.

So let’s take a look at which publishers have received the most funds. We’ve tried to match as much of our raw financial information we have to specific papers, although some of our data is either incomplete or we can’t easily link a payment back to a specific article, particularly if we look back to 2013-2015 when our processes were still developing. Nonetheless, the average APC paid over the last 5 years was £2,291 (inc. 20% VAT), but as can be seen from Table 1, average APCs have been rising year on year at a rate of 7% p.a., significantly higher than inflation. Price increases at this rate are not sustainable in the long term – by 2022 we could be paying on average £3000 per article.

Table 1. Average APC by publication year of article (where known).

Year of publication Average APC paid (£)
2013  £1,794
2014  £1,935
2015  £2,044
2017  £2,187
2018  £2,336

Elsevier has been by far the largest recipient of block grant funds, receiving 29.4% of all APC expenditure from the RCUK and COAF awards (over £2.5 million), though only accounting for 25.5% of articles. In the same time SpringerNature also received in excess of £1 million (which as we’ll see below has mostly been spent on two titles). With such a substantial set of data we can now begin to explore the relative value that each publisher offers. Take for example Taylor & Francis (£107,778 for 120 articles) compared to Wolters Kluwer (£119,551 for 35 articles). Both publishers operate mostly hybrid OA journals and yet the relative value is significantly different. What is so fundamentally different between publishers that such extreme examples as this should exist?

Table 2. Top 20 publishers by combined total RCUK/COAF APC spend 2013-2018.

Value of APCs paid Number of APCs paid Avg. APC paid
Publisher £ % N % £
Elsevier £2,559,736 29.4% 971 25.5% £2,636
SpringerNature £1,050,774 12.1% 402 10.6% £2,614
Wiley £808,847 9.3% 279 7.3% £2,899
American Chemical Society £411,027 4.7% 251 6.6% £1,638
Oxford University Press £379,647 4.4% 169 4.4% £2,246
PLOS £267,940 3.1% 168 4.4% £1,595
BioMed Central £245,006 2.8% 153 4.0% £1,601
Institute of Physics £189,434 2.2% 98 2.6% £1,933
Royal Society of Chemistry £156,018 1.8% 106 2.8% £1,472
BMJ Publishing £144,001 1.7% 68 1.8% £2,118
Company of Biologists £140,609 1.6% 50 1.3% £2,812
Wolters Kluwer £119,551 1.4% 35 0.9% £3,416
Taylor & Francis £107,778 1.2% 120 3.2% £898
Frontiers £103,011 1.2% 61 1.6% £1,689
Cambridge University Press £77,139 0.9% 38 1.0% £2,030
Royal Society £73,890 0.8% 52 1.4% £1,421
Society for Neuroscience £69,943 0.8% 26 0.7% £2,690
American Society for Microbiology £63,056 0.7% 36 0.9% £1,752
American Heart Association £53,696 0.6% 14 0.4% £3,835
Optical Society of America £39,463 0.5% 17 0.4% £2,321
All other articles £1,654,228 19.0% 690 18.1% £2,397
Grand Total £8,714,794 100.0% 3,804 100.0% £2,291

Next, journal level metrics. The most popular journal that we pay APCs for is Nature Communications, followed closely by Scientific Reports. Both of these are SpringerNature titles, and indeed these two titles make up the bulk of our total APC spend with SpringerNature. Yet these two journals represent significantly different approaches to Open Access. Nature Communications, along with Cell and Cell Reports, are some of the most expensive routes to making research publications Open Access, whereas Scientific Reports and PLOS One sit at the lower end of the spectrum. It is interesting that we haven’t seen a particularly popular Open Access journal fill the niche between Nature Communications and Scientific Reports.

Figure 2. APC number and total spend by journal. In the last five years, nearly £450,000 has been spent on articles published in Nature Communications.


Managing the future

While the OA block grants have kept pace with overall expenditure so far, continuing monthly expenditure of £160,000 would risk overspending on the RCUK grant for 2018/19. To counter this possible outcome the University has agreed a set of funding guidelines to manage the RCUK (from now on known as Research Councils) and COAF awards. For Research Councils’ funded papers the new guidelines place an emphasis on fully Open Access journals and hybrid journals where the publisher is taking a sustainable approach to managing the transition to Open Access. We’ve spent a lot of money over the last five years, yet it’s not clear that the influx of cash from RCUK and COAF has had any meaningful impact on the overall publishing landscape. Many publishers continue to reap huge windfalls via hybrid APCs, yet they are not serious about their commitment to Open Access.

In the future, we’ll be demanding better deals from publishers before we support payments to hybrid journals so that we can effect a faster transition to a fully Open Access world.

Published 22 October 2018
Written by Dr Arthur Smith
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In Conversation with the Wellcome Trust – sharing & managing research outputs

In July 2017, the Wellcome Trust updated their policy on the management and sharing of research outputs.  This policy helps deliver Wellcome’s mission – to improve health for everyone by enabling great ideas to thrive.  The University of Cambridge’s Research Data Management Facility invited Wellcome Trust to Cambridge to talk with their funded research community (and potential researchers) about what this updated policy means for them.  On 5th December in the Gurdon Institute Tea Room, the Deputy Head of Scholarly Communication Dr Lauren Cadwallader, welcomed Robert Kiley, Head of Open Research, and David Carr, Open Research Programme Manager, from the Wellcome’s Open Research Team. 

This blog summarises the presentations from David and Robert about the research outputs policy and how it has been working and the questions raised by the audience.

Maximising the value of research outputs: Wellcome’s approach

David Carr outlined key points about the new policy, which now, in addition to sharing openly publications and data, includes sharing software and materials as other valued outputs of research.

An outputs management plan is required to show how the outputs of the project will be managed and the value of the outputs maximised (whilst taking into consideration that not all outputs can be shared openly).  Updated guidance on outputs management plans has been published and can be found on Wellcome’s website.

Researchers are also to note that:

  • Outputs should be made available with as few restrictions as possible.
  • Data and software underlying publications must be made available at the time of publication at the latest.
  • Data relevant to a public health emergency should be shared as soon as it has been quality assured regardless of publication timelines.
  • Outputs should be placed in community repositories, have persistent identifiers and be discoverable.
  • A check at the final report stage, to ensure outputs have been shared according to the policy, has been introduced (recognising that parameters change during the research and management plans can change accordingly).
  • Of course, management and sharing of research outputs comes with a cost and Wellcome Trust commit to reviewing and supporting associated costs as part of the grant.

Wellcome have periodically reviewed take-up and implementation of their research outputs sharing and management policy and have observed some key responses:

  • Researchers are producing better quality plans; however, the formats and level of detail included in the plans do remain variable.
  • There is uncertainty amongst stakeholders (researchers, reviewers and institutions) in how to fulfil the policy.
  • Resources required to deliver plans are often not fully considered or requested.
  • Follow-up and reporting about compliance has been patchy.

In response to these findings, Wellcome will continue to update their guidance and work with their communities to advise, educate and define best practice.  They will encourage researchers to work more closely with their institutions, particularly over resource planning.  They will also develop a proportionate mechanism to monitor compliance.

Developing Open Research

Robert Kiley then described the three areas which the dedicated Open Research Team at Wellcome lead and coordinate: funder-led activities; community-led activities and policy leadership.

Funder-led activities include:

  • Wellcome Open Research, the publishing platform launched in partnership with F1000 around a year ago; here Wellcome-funded researchers can rapidly and transparently publish any results they think are worth sharing. Average submission to publication time for the first 100 papers published was 72 days – much faster than other publication venues.
  • Wellcome Trust is working with ASAP-Bio and other funders to support pre-prints and continues to support e-Life as an innovative Open Access journal.
  • Wellcome Trust will review their Open Access policy during 2018 and will consult their funded researchers and institutions as part of this process.
  • Wellcome provides the secretariat for the independent review panel for the com (CSDR) platform which provides access to anonymised clinical trial data from 13 pharmaceutical companies. From January 2018, they will extend the resource to allow listing of academic clinical trials supported by Wellcome, MRC, CRUK and Gates Foundation.  Note that CDSR is not a repository but provides a common discoverability and access portal.

Community-led activities

Wellcome are inviting the community to develop and test innovative ideas in Open Research.  Some exciting initiatives include:

  • The Open Science Prize: this initiative was run last year in partnership with US National Institutes of Health and Howard Hughes Medical Institute. It supported prototyping and development of tools and services to build on data and content.  New prizes and challenges currently being developed will build on this model.
  • Research Enrichment – Open Research: this was launched in November 2017. Awards of up to £50K are available for Wellcome grant-holders to develop Open Research ideas that increase the impact of their funded research.
  • Forthcoming: more awards and themed challenges aimed at Open Research – including a funding competition for pioneering experiments in open research, and a prize for innovative data re-use.
  • The Open Research Pilot Project: whereby four Wellcome-funded groups are being supported at the University of Cambridge to make their research open.

Policy Leadership

In this area, Wellcome Trust engage in policy discussions in key policy groups at the national, European and international level.  They also convene international Open Research funder’s webinars.  They are working towards reform on rewards and incentives for researchers, by:

  • Policy development and declarations
  • Reviewing grant assessment procedures: for example, providing guidance to staff, reviewers and panel members so that there is a more holistic approach on the value and impact of research outputs.
  • Engagement: for example, by being clear on how grant applicants are being evaluated and committing to celebrate grantees who are practicing Open Research. 

Questions & Answers

Policy questions

I am an administrator of two Wellcome Trust programmes; how is this information about the new policy being disseminated to students? Has it been done?

When the Wellcome Open Research platform was announced last year, there was a lot of communication, for example, in grants newsletters and working with the centres.

Further dissemination of information about the updated policy on outputs management could be realised through attending events, asking questions to our teams, or inviting us to present to specific groups.  In general, we are available and want to help.

Following this, the Office of Scholarly Communication added that they usually put information about things like funder policy changes in the Research Operations Office Bulletin.

Regarding your new updated policy, have you been in communication with the Government?

We work closely with HEFCE and RCUK. They are all very aware about what we aim to do.

One of the big challenges is to answer the question from researchers: “If we are not using a particular ‘big journal’ name, what are we using to help us show the quality of the research?”.

We have been working with other funders (including Research Councils) to look at issues around this.  Once we have other funders on board, we need to work with institutions on staff promotion and tenure criteria.  We are working with others to support a dedicated person charged with implementing the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) and identify best practice.

How do you see Open Outputs going forward?

There is a growing consensus over the importance of making research outputs available, and a strong commitment from funders to overcome the challenges. Our policy is geared to openness in ways that maximise the health benefits that flow from the research we fund.

Is there a licence that you encourage researchers to use?

No. We encourage researchers to utilise existing sources of expertise (e.g. The Software Sustainability Institute) and select the licence most appropriate for them.

Some researchers could just do data collection instead of publishing papers. Will we have future where people are just generating data and publishing it on its own and not doing the analysis?

It could happen. Encouraging adoption of CRediT Taxonomy roles in publication authorship is one thing that can help.

Outputs Management Plans

How will you approach checking outputs against the outputs management plan?

We will check the information submitted at the end of grants – what outputs were reported and how these were shared – and refer back to the plan submitted at application. We will not rule out sanctions in the future once things are in place. At the moment there are no sanctions as it is premature to do this.  We need to get the data first, monitor the situation and make any changes later in the process.

What are your thoughts on providing training for reviewers regarding the data management plans as well as for the people who will do the final checks? Are you going to provide any training and identify gaps on research for this?

We have provided guidance on what plans should contain; this is something we can look at going forwards.

One of the key elements to the outputs management plan is commenting on how outputs will be preserved. Does the Wellcome Trust define what it means by long term preservation anywhere?

Long term preservation is tricky. We have common best practice guidelines for data retention – 10 years for regular data and 20 years for clinical research. We encourage people to use community repositories where these exist.

What happens to the output if 10 years have passed since the last time of access?

This is a huge problem. There need to be criteria to determine what outputs are worth keeping which take into account whether the data can be regenerated. Software availability is also a consideration.

Research enrichment awards

You said that there will be prizes for data re-use, and dialogue on infrastructure is still in the early stages. What is the timeline? It would be good to push to get the timeline going worldwide.

Research enrichment awards are already live and Wellcome will assess them on an ongoing basis. Please apply if you have a Wellcome grant. Other funding opportunities will be launched in 2018. The Pioneer awards will be open to everyone in the spring and it is aimed for those who have worked out ways to make their work more FAIR.  The same applies to our themed challenges for innovative data re-use which will also launch in the spring – we will identify a data set and get people to look at it.  For illustration, a similar example is The NEJM SPRINT Data Analysis Challenge.

Publishing Open Access

What proportion of people are updating their articles on Wellcome Open Research?

Many people, around 15%, are editing their articles to Version 2 following review. We have one article at Version 3.

Has the Wellcome Trust any plans for overlay journals, and if so, in which repository will they be based?

Not at the moment. There will be a lot of content being published on platforms such as Open Research, the Gates platform and others. In the future, one could imagine a model where content is openly published on these platforms, and the role of journals is to identify particular articles with interesting content or high impact (rather than to manage peer review).  Learned societies have the expertise in their subjects; they potentially have a role here, for example in identifying lead publications in their field from a review of the research.

Can you give us any hints about the outcome of your review of the Wellcome Trust Open Access policy? Are you going to consider not paying for hybrid journals when you review your policy?

We are about to start this review of the policy. Hybrid journals are on the agenda. We will try to simplify the process for the researcher.  We are nervous about banning hybrid journals.  Data from the last analysis showed that 70% of papers from Wellcome Trust grants, for which Wellcome Trust paid an article processing charge, were in hybrid journals.  So if we banned hybrid journals it would not be popular.  Researchers would need to know which are hybrid journals.  Possibly with public health emergencies we could consider a different approach.  So there is a lot to consider and a balance to keep.  We will consult both researchers and institutions as part of the exercise.  There is also another problem in that there is a big gap in choice between hybrid and other journals.

If researchers can publish in hybrid journals, would Wellcome Trust consider making rules regarding offsetting?

That would be interesting. However, more rules could complicate things as researchers would then also need to check both the journal’s Open Access policy and find out if they have an approved offset deal in place.

Open Data & other research outputs

What is your opinion on medical data? For example, when we write an article, we can’t publish the genetics data as there is a risk that a person could be identified.

Wellcome Trust recognise that some data cannot be made available. Our approach is to support managed access. Once the data access committee has considered that the requirement is valid, then access can be provided. The author will need to be clear on how the researcher can get hold of the data.  Wellcome Trust has done work around best practice in this area.

Does Open Access mean free access? There is a cost for processing.

Yes, there is usually a cost. For some resources, those requesting data do have to pay a fee. For example, major cohort studies such as ALSPAC and UK Biobank have a fee which covers the cost of considering the request and preparing the data.

ALSPAC is developing a pilot with Wellcome Open Research to encourage those who access data and return derived datasets to the resource, to publish data papers describing data they are depositing.  Because the cost of access has already been met, such data will be available at no cost.

Does the software that is used in the analysis need to be included?

Yes, the policy is that if the data is published, the software should be made available too. It is a requirement, so that everybody can reproduce the study.

Is there a limit to volume of data that can be uploaded?

Wellcome Open Research uses third party data resources (e.g. Figshare). The normal dataset limit there is 5GB, but both Figshare and subject repositories can store much higher volumes of data where required.

What can be done about misuse of data?

In the survey that we did, researchers expressed fears of data misuse. How do we address such a fear? Demonstrating the value of data will play a great role in this.  It is also hard to know the extent to which these fears play out in reality – only a very small proportion of respondents indicated that they had actually experienced data being used inappropriately.  We need to gather more evidence of the relative benefits and risks, and it could be argued that publishing via preprints and getting a DOI are your proofs that you got there first.

Published 26 January 2018
Written by Dr Debbie Hansen
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