EPFL Startup Explores New Directions In Open Access

Press Release | Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne | November 9, 2012

The EPFL startup Frontiers announced today that it is launching 13 new open-access journals in fields including Physics, Bioengineering, and Public Health. These new titles will more than double Frontiers' current repertoire of twelve online journals whose peer-reviewed, scientific articles are immediately accessible, free of charge, to anyone. EPFL researcher Kamila Markram launched the company in 2007 with the support of a small group of scientists. Markram will be giving a keynote speech this Sunday, the 11th of November, at London's SpotOn conference (formally Science Online London) about open science and scientific publication in the digital age.

"Since working scientists run all of Frontiers journals, the launch is also a call for researchers to take the lead in defining the direction of research in their fields by joining one of the new editorial boards," explains Markram.

In 2008, a small group of leading neuroscientists from around the world launched Frontiers in Neuroscience. Since then, key members of the active scientific community have continued to manage editorial content for all of its twelve current journals, which include Frontiers in Genetics, Frontiers in Psychology and Frontiers in Microbiology. In January of 2012, Frontiers launched Frontiers Network—a web-based platform for scientists to create profiles, network and disseminate their publications.

"With over 25,000 scientists currently on its editorial boards, Frontiers has built a strong network of working scientists who believe in putting scientific publishing back into the hands of researchers," says Kamila Markram.

Frontiers can expand the 'Frontiers in' series, in part, because its technology-driven publishing model makes it possible treat a high quantity of manuscripts. By taking advantage of the possibilities of the Internet for scientific communication and publication, their platform allows for publishing and sharing open-access content online, participating in real-time peer-review of manuscripts and tracking publication impact using detailed web analytic tools. Most importantly, the platform automates much of the distribution of editorial tasks, allowing Frontiers to easily scale up production without raising prices.

Open access

At Frontiers, peer-reviewed articles appear online, free for all to access under a Creative Commons CC-BY license, with authors retaining copyright. And the authors of articles that receive a lot of attention, i.e. are heavily downloaded and cited, are invited back to write another paper that contextualizes their work—what Frontiers calls "climbing up the tier system."

But Frontiers' expansion into 13 new fields is indicative of a general shift towards open-access publication across the academic world. A recent announcement by the European Commission, following a similar statement made by the UK government earlier this year, claims that increased open access to research will be a boost for Europe's innovation. And an article published by researchers from the Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki, Finland, claims that, "Since the year 2000, the average annual growth rate has been 18% for the number of (open access) journals and 30% for the number of (open access) articles."

A challenge to the publishing status quo

"To solve another fundamental problem in the publishing industry above and beyond the open access question, Frontiers has developed a transparent peer review process," says Markram.

Once a manuscript enters the review process at Frontiers, a private forum is opened where the author and reviewers can exchange messages in real-time—encouraging an efficient and constructive critique of the paper. And if the manuscript is accepted, Frontiers publishes the reviewers' identities to acknowledge the reviewers' contribution and to increase the accountability and transparency of the review process.

"The launch of the new journals means that Frontiers' transparent, open-access publishing model will ultimately bring new research directions and collaboration to these fields," says Markram. Frontiers also plans to add new journals in the Humanities, the Arts and other academic disciplines that could benefit from their open-access platform that currently has over 4 million page views per month.