Recent national and international media reports on questionable practices in scholarly publishing (“predatory publishing”) have conveyed the impression that this constitutes a serious problem for Austria as a research location. However, that is far from the truth. All available data show that only a tiny fraction of scientists and researchers in Austria, a figure that is considerably below 1 per cent, have been affected by such practices. Moreover, the scientific community, on both the national and international levels, tackled the phenomenon early on and has developed binding standards (Chen, Y / Björk BC et al (2015): Predatory’ open access: a longitudinal study of article volumes and market characteristics, BMC Medicine13:230; Science Europe (2015): Principles on Open Access to Research Publications; Kraker, P et al (2016): The Vienna Principles: A Vision for Scholarly Communication in the 21st Century).
Scholars and their papers are subject to many quality assurance reviews in accordance with stringent international standards throughout their career. These quality assurance processes have been continually developed and improved in Austria over the last few years. Therefore, there can be no doubt that the vast majority of researchers comply with rigorous professional and ethical benchmarks.
On the Initiative der Universitätenkonferenz sowie des FWF, over 20 Austrian research institutions now support the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). Relative to its population size, Austria is one of the platform’s most important sponsors. The DOAJ applies a transparent quality review process to scholarly journals. In accordance with this, publication costs in Austria are assumed only for those scholarly journals and publications that are listed in the DOAJ. As a result, any funding of questionable publication bodies can be ruled out as of 2015 at the latest.
For example, the FWF provided € 17.6 million in funding for a total of 6,766 quality-assured publications between 2013 and 2017. Out of these, ten publications receiving a total of € 13,700 up until and including 2015 could be identified as having worked with publishers who were later revealed to be problematic. This is equal to 0.08 per cent, a vanishingly small share. Moreover this does not necessarily mean that these publications were of inferior scholarly quality.
Alongside nearly 200 academic research institutions from twelve countries, the IST Austria, the TU Wien and the FWF detail their publication expenditures for journal articles on the OpenAPC platform, thereby supporting a transparent and comparative accounting of fees paid to scholarly journals.
On the international level, Science Europe, the umbrella organisation for European funding organisations, recommends similarly rigorous criteria. Together with the European Commission, the initiative “Plan S” was recently launched, aiming at making all scholarly publications adhering to the highest quality criteria freely accessible by 2020 and calling for high levels of transparency from scholarly publishers.
Many Austrian research institutions actively support highly respected international publishing bodies that ensure open access. These include platforms, such as arXiv, Open Library of Humanities, SciPost, Europe PubMedCentral and OAPEN Library.
Working in close co-operation with each other, Austrian scholarly institutions are second only to the Netherlands in having concluded the most agreements with internationally renowned scholarly journals via the Austrian Academic Library Consortium (KEMÖ), making it easier for researchers to make their high-quality publications openly accessible.
The Austrian Agency for Research Integrity (OeAWI) was established ten years ago. In close co-operation with its members the OeAWI has evolved into a structure that is today seen as a European role model for nationally co-ordinated quality assurance processes.
Developing quality assurance further
Stringent quality criteria, transparency and openness help ensure trust in research and its findings. Many Austrian research institutions, together with their national and international partners, are making a decisive contribution to that end. The process of quality assurance will be steadfastly continued over the next several years. The FWF and the Austrian Science Board accord priority to further developing the following measures:
- Researchers should only publish in scholarly journals that are registered with the pertinent international databases. Primarily, these are the “Directory of Open Access Journals” (DOAJ), “Scopus” and “Web of Science”. Regarding other publication formats, basic information concerning their quality assurance processes should be detailed on the provider’s website in a transparent manner. Platforms such as “Think.Check.Submit” for publications and “Think.Check.Attend” for conferences can be of assistance for verification purposes.
- All scientific and research institutions should openly disclose their expenditures for publication fees, as well as agreements with publishers and other disseminators of scholarly papers.
- All scientific and research institutions should actively support international, high-quality open access publication formats and services.
- All scientific and research institutions should sign the “San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment” (DORA). The declaration aims at ensuring that scholarly output is evaluated primarily according to quality and not quantity, and that these principles are applied to the evaluation process. This conveys a clear signal in opposition to the growing pressure to publish and supports researchers in adopting a strictly quality-focused approach to their work.
- Currently a task force of the Austrian Convention of Higher Education Institutions is drawing up recommendations for research integrity and research ethics. These are aimed on the one hand at further strengthening the Austria Agency for Research Integrity, and on the other at setting up relevant commissions with transparent processes and, if necessary, sanctioning authority at research institutions.
Implementing these measures in close co-operation with national and international partners will considerably reduce the already low number of questionable providers even further.
Austria Science Board
The Austrian Science Board is the main advisory body to the Federal Minister of science and higher education, parliament and the universities, in all university-related matters.
Austrian Science Fund FWF
The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) is Austria’s central funding organisation for basic research. Applying international quality benchmarks, the FWF provides funding for outstanding research projects and excellent researchers who work to generate, broaden and deepen scientific knowledge.