When open science papers are published behind paywalls

On Twitter we frequently see frustrated posts by open science researchers complaining about another paywalled article by open science people on the topic of open science and open access. Most recently, Felix Schönbrodt, psychologist, metascientist, open scientist, and founder of LMU Open Science Center, published an article in Nature: Training students for an open science future. The article is behind a paywall.

One of the comments in the latter Twitter post implies that this criticism against Felix is the reason why he’s currently taking a break from Twitter. I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but I would really like to hear people’s thoughts on this: Is it ever morally OK for papers on open science to be published behind a paywall? Is it morally OK for open science enthusiastic researchers to publish papers on other topics behind paywalls?

I don’t worry too much about paywalls. We all have plenty of ways to make our words accessible in other ways. It might not be a great look politically, but we all have to navigate that ourselves, I think.

As some people may know, I’m a bit of a skeptic of open access publishing. A few years ago the argument was “How terrible, our scholarship isn’t available to people in developing countries who don’t have money for Elsevier subscription fees”. But in practice it’s often a lot easier for someone with limited financial resources to work round that (finding preprints, asking via ResearchGate, downloading from Sci-Hub, writing to the corresponding author) than it is for them to find $1,000 to publish their own research. Indeed, someone more political than me might question the whole premise of “These poor people need to be able to read my [Western] research” anyway.

Ideally all scientific publishing would be free, but again, there would be unintended consequences. How, in practice, do you deny people access to X or Y free publishing outlet in the name of “quality”, when you no longer care about impact factor, or losing subscription revenue (because your journal publishes crap)? I suspect that it’s easier to identify the things that are wrong with the current publishing model than it is to notice the ways in which the existence of the model has created the things that we take for granted, such as that if you want to publish about “quantum energy homeopathic reiki healing modalities” you typically have to do that on a blog, rather than being able to have it appear next to a piece of genuine scholarship (and benefit from that aura).

Publishing a paywalled article about open science does seem a bit hypocritical right!?

To play the devil’s advocate, publishing this in a Nature journal might have been intended to make it more likely to get media attention (although it doesn’t look like it got any) and to be taken more seriously by other psychologists who don’t yet have an open publishing mindset.

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To me, it is NOT OK! The researcher is conflicting him/herself isn’t it?

I’m thinking there’s a difference between publishing a paywalled paper on open science and a paywalled paper on a different topic (e.g. replicability). To me it would feel very weird to do the former, but I wouldn’t have much problem in doing the latter. But I would be quite disappointed if I couldn’t find a preprint or other green access option of the paper by someone who promotes open and replicable science - regardless of topic.