Guest post: Some of the open science challenges faced by authors in Japan

John Zepernick & Caryn Jones

Scientific and medical publishing is becoming more open around the world, including in Japan, where open access and open science are gaining traction. Open science is officially promoted by the Cabinet Office of the Government of Japan and the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), a major funding agency. JST’s open access and data management policies state that, in principle and when appropriate, “Open Access … be applied to all [JST-funded] research publications” and “the research data underlying the research publications … be made openly available.” J-Stage is a well-known platform managed by JST and hosts many open access journals publishing science, medicine and technology information from Japan in English and Japanese. The Japan Open Science Summit (JOSS) has been held yearly since 2018, with JOSS 2020 coming up in June.

The Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development is working to accelerate medical innovation by breaking down barriers between sectors such as industry and academia and by promoting translation of basic research into clinical practice. Historically, basic research has been regarded as one of Japan’s strengths and translational research as a relative weakness. Open science will benefit not just industry, such as pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers, but also basic researchers and researchers conducting investigator-initiated trials.

Yet, the benefits of open science and open access publishing are accompanied by a number of challenges for authors writing in English as a second language. At ThinkSCIENCE in Tokyo, we help authors from academia, industry and government mainly in the Asia-Pacific region to tackle these challenges so they can enjoy the benefits of open science. We find that many authors of non-industry-sponsored publications, such as investigator-initiated trials and other clinical studies, need support navigating the increasingly complex world of open access, research ethics and best publication practices – this is in addition to the translation, editing, medical writing and other language support services that our team offers. This support is needed by both authors who are new to writing up study protocols and primary or secondary reports for publication in English and experienced authors who are used to closed publication models.

To give one example, we are often asked by authors whether a particular open access journal that is unfamiliar to them is predatory, and sometimes they ask us what to do after they’ve unintentionally submitted to one. One challenge they face with this issue is language. A journal website with numerous grammatical errors – one of the many red flags for a potentially predatory or questionable journal – is easy to overlook when you’re working in a second (or even third) language. Another challenge is awareness of best publication practices, which is necessary in order to know when a journal doesn’t follow them. Many authors we work with mention that they don’t always know about all of the latest best practices; they don’t often read in-depth English-language sources of such information, including journal guidelines, journal websites or publishing agreements because of language and time issues. More unified English explanations of best practices and open science policies across journals and publishers would certainly be appreciated by authors, if translations of important sections of these documents are not available.

Sharing study protocols and publishing peer-reviewed protocol papers is another area that offers numerous benefits but can pose difficulties. For example, the Annals of Internal Medicine requires protocols to be published alongside manuscripts, which is good for transparency but, without proper publication planning, can be a requirement that inconveniently surprises authors who have a protocol registered only in Japanese. Also, PLOS ONE recently announced a new article format called Registered Reports. Such peer-reviewed protocol papers can help strengthen a protocol, speed up acceptance of the primary report and guide authors to report only prespecified outcomes. However, to take advantage of this format, authors writing in Japanese or languages other than English need to plan early on for the extra time, expense and effort needed to translate their protocol on top of everything else.

Cost is another issue that has attracted attention as cost shifts from readers to authors. The Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) reported in January 2020 that researchers at Kyoto University spent 200 million yen to publish in open access journals in 2019 (136 000 yen per article on average). Greater transparency also comes with greater costs for activities such as managing data and translation or editing to produce high-quality medical communications.

To support authors in Japan and the wider Asia-Pacific region in dealing with these challenges, we now provide education on publication planning, best practices and open access publishing. We also participate in ISMPP events and are members of COPE, and we are pleased to endorse the Open Pharma Position Statement on Open Access. We have also done pro bono official translations of position statements on predatory publishing and publication ethics from English to Japanese to help raise awareness of these important issues in Japan.

We know from experience that it is valuable to authors to have explanations of key policies, initiatives and recommendations in Japanese, to save them time and effort in understanding best practices and in following them. We will continue providing advice and support to authors as part of our ongoing efforts in author education and awareness raising, and because the promotion of open science will benefit researchers, clinicians, patients and readers alike.