Earlier this year, Royal Society Open Science launched a new section of the journal we opted to call ‘Science, Society and Policy’. The journal has the remit of covering all the sciences, and we launched this new section to fulfil an unmet need – not only among the scientific community but the public and policymakers – for a dedicated publishing venue that would publish work that sits at the interface of Science, Society and Policy.
What, you might ask, does this have to do with Open Access Week and its theme of building structural equity in open knowledge? Well, I think there are several aspects worth teasing out.
The latest in a range of open science features
Firstly, the section launched in the Royal Society’s most open journal: when it launched in 2014, the journal had the task of incorporating a range of open science features – open access, open data, open and objective peer review, and encouragement of pre-registration and replication studies. While there are fair systemic concerns regarding the future of open access and the development of a genuinely equitable ecosystem for readers, researchers and everyone in-between, the key value of open access is that – at the point of use – everyone has equal access to the content published (assuming a hypothetical reader has access to the internet, of course).
Improving the diversity of the board to build structural equity
Secondly, the journal has tried hard to ensure that the editorial board supporting the section has wide geographical representation (with three continents represented to some degree so far) and also near parity in gender representation. We recognize there is more to be done in both areas (and this is even more the case in other sections of the journal) but we hope it is clear that our commitments to improving the diversity of the board is reflected in the actions (and results) we have taken to achieve these goals.
Reducing the cost of access
As I noted earlier, the value of open access to many is that it reduces barriers for readers to access high-quality research. However, the flipside of this is the risk of baking-in inaccessibility through charging for publication – though it is worth noting that there will always be costs involved in publishing (and perpetually hosting) content. The key concern for building equity in the system is where do those costs lie, who pays them, and can journals better support those who are unable to pay? Since we introduced charges for publication in 2017 (after a 3-year fee-free period), we have been careful to ensure that we widen access through fee discounts and fee waivers as much as possible. Given that open access funding is not necessarily equally distributed, especially in the more society-facing sciences, we hope this will encourage those with interests that align with the journal’s scope to submit, knowing that waivers may be possible (and they are assessed on a case-by-case basis).
Encouraging structural equity through global scope
The scope of the section is – arguably – the biggest draw in encouraging structural equity: the section aims to cover topics that apply not only to particular states but encourages comparative studies and work that has regional or even global impacts. Subjects such as climate change or artificial intelligence at the macro level, to explorations of the response of the United Kingdom’s education system to COVID-19, for instance, can all be covered in the section. The International Advisory Board advising the section is a further demonstration of the breadth of subject matter that Science, Society and Policy can offer to readers – whether interested members of the public or policymakers at the heart of government, the section can offer something to everyone.
Find out more about submitting a Science, Society and Policy article to Royal Society Open Science.