Transformative Deal with Leading Scientific Publisher Will Make UC Research Freely Accessible to All

In a decision with important implications for UC San Francisco and the wider biomedical research community, the University of California announced that it has struck a transformative “open access” deal with Springer Nature, the world’s second largest publisher of academic journals.

The four-year deal – the largest open-access agreement in North America and the first for Springer Nature in the U.S. – will make all UC research published in more than 2,700 Springer Nature journals freely accessible to everyone worldwide. In addition, the agreement provides members of the UC community access to over 1,000 previously inaccessible journals. The prestigious Nature family of journals will not be open access from the outset, but the deal includes plans to incorporate Nature journals by year three.

For scientists at UCSF and beyond, the agreement has the potential to accelerate the pace of discovery because it removes barriers that have historically impeded access to peer-reviewed research. Studies containing key findings that could catalyze scientific breakthroughs – and which were previously accessible only to individuals or institutions with paid subscriptions – will now be available to everyone, free of charge.

“UCSF has been an open access leader for over 15 years. This game-changing, transformative agreement with Springer Nature is a direct result of the close partnership between UC librarians, faculty, researchers, students and others to change the way we share scholarly information,” said Chris Shaffer, UCSF Librarian and assistant vice chancellor for academic information management.

The deal comes as scientists, physicians and public health experts at UCSF and around the world are scrambling to contain the spread of COVID-19 and devise new treatments for the illness. Advocates of open-access publishing have pointed to the pandemic as a case study demonstrating the peril posed by burying peer-reviewed science behind paywalls.

Scientific information, they argue, remains a critical weapon in the fight against COVID-19. And though many publishers have committed to making COVID-related research freely accessible, open-access advocates have argued that even these commitments are insufficient, as they leave vast troves of information inaccessible when time is of the essence and members of the biomedical research community are often surprised to find that they lack access to critical information they need.

“Commercial publishers reap huge profits while holding science, much of it taxpayer-funded, hostage behind paywalls. UC’s transformative open access agreement with Springer Nature will begin to liberate science, advancing knowledge and benefiting society,” said Keith Yamamoto, PhD, professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology and vice chancellor for science policy and strategy at UCSF.

The deal reflects increasing support for free and unrestricted access to research, and comes as UC continues its negotiations with Elsevier, the world’s largest scientific publisher. Previous negotiations between UC and Elsevier broke down after Elsevier proposed terms that would result in higher publishing costs for UC researchers, reduce access to Elsevier journals, place limits on the amount of support the university could provide its authors to pay open access fees, and prevent UC authors from making their research freely accessible in certain high-profile Elsevier journals.

“Publication costs of scientific papers are becoming prohibitive for the research community, negatively impacting research dissemination. This new agreement is a game-changer,” said Lea Grinberg, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology and chair of the UCSF Academic Senate Committee on Research.

The deal with Springer Nature will make UC research open access by default. Though authors are often required to pay fees to cover the costs associated with publishing open access research, the deal will allow UC libraries will defray a portion of the publishing fees on behalf of UC authors. Researchers who lack funds to cover the remaining costs can request that the library pay the entire amount. Authors can also choose to opt out of open access publishing.

The new deal will play an important part in advancing UC’s commitment to open access, which has been in place since the systemwide faculty Academic Senate endorsed an open access policy for the UC system in 2013.