What ever happened to Open Access at Cognition?

A review of what happened, why we support Open Access, and a proposal for shifting all journals to Open Access with a single, free, tweak to editorial policy.

Contributed by David Barner, Roger Levy, and Jesse Snedeker


We review our recent effort to encourage the adoption of Open Access at Cognition, how the Editorial Board responded, and end with a proposal for shifting all journals to Open Access with a single, free, tweak to editorial policy. Readers interested only in the proposal should visit our short blog piece on Instant Open Archiving, and this FAQ.


In the fall 2015, the Elsevier linguistics journal Lingua flipped: The entire editorial board, led by then Editor in Chief Johan Rooryck, resigned, and reconstituted as the editorial board of a new journal, Glossa, which operates on a strictly gold Open Access publishing model with a low Article Processing Charge (APC) of £300 (reduced to £0 by funding from the Open Library of Humanities). This transition was an event of great significance, covered in popular press outlets. Lingua was (and Glossa now is) one of the better and larger linguistics journals, and, to our knowledge, this was the most prominent instance of journal-flipping since 2001, when the editorial board of Kluwer’s Machine Learning resigned en masse to form the Open Access Journal of Machine Learning Research.

Critically, the formation of Glossa created a potential path to Open Access for interested editorial boards of other journals in neighboring disciplines. To build on this hope, two of us (Barner & Snedeker) created an online petition in January 2016 asking the Editorial Board of Cognition to consider a move to Open Access and pointing to Glossa’s example. The petition garnered over 1500 signatures in a matter of weeks, including the names of many leaders in our field. Our goal was to provide the Editorial Board with a tool – bargaining leverage – to bring to the table in their negotiations with Elsevier.

In response to this, the Editorial Board at Cognition began a process of discussion and negotiation, which culminated in an editorial, released this fall, in the pages of Cognition. In this editorial, the Board announced the introduction of a fund to grant discounts for OA publication to “authors with limited means of support”.

In this letter, we would like to review the reasons that motivated us – and thousands of members of the Cognition community – to write and sign our letter, and why the reduction of OA fees doesn’t address these concerns. At the same time, we would like to recognize the difficult position that journals like Cognition find themselves in, and how tricky the problem of OA currently is. In light of these considerations, we end with a concrete proposal called “Instant Open Archiving”, which we suggest Editorial teams can adopt now without cost to them, their contributors, or their readers.

Part 1: Why Open Access?

Because this issue has been described before in many other places, our goal here is to focus on two main reasons to consider OA and how we think they’re related. The first concern is financial, the second ethical.

There is an enormous financial cost to society of supporting for-profit publishers like Elsevier which is paid by our governments, our institutions and sometimes individual scientists. As reported by Nature publishing group and others, publishers like Elsevier make massive profits. The easiest way to make massive profits is to buy low, spend little, and sell high. This is the model of publishers like Elsevier which can be summarized as follows:

  1. The public pays to create knowledge: The public pays taxes that fund faculty salaries, build university campuses, and support granting institutions like the NSF and the NIH, all of which collectively support the creation of knowledge and journal articles. Researchers use these tax dollars to conduct studies, craft their results into manuscripts, and then sign over their product to publishers like Elsevier for no fee. For example, in a scenario where $500,000 of public funding results in 5 journal articles, then each paper would cost the public $100,000 (far more if we include other costs such as salary & infrastructure).
  2. The public pays for researchers to access their own work: Once the review process – fueled by publicly-funded volunteer reviewers – is complete, the paper is published by the journal and locked behind a paywall. At this point, taxpayers are asked to pay again, this time to allow researchers to access their (collective) work, in the form of library journal subscriptions.
  3. The public pays for their own individual copies of the work: Critically, when the public pays for library subscriptions, articles become accessible only to individuals at the subscribing institutions. This means that the articles are not accessible to other universities, public libraries, or the public at large. For individual citizens to access the science that they paid to create and provide to universities, they must pay again for each individual article (e.g., $39.50 on Cognition’s website).

This places an unfair burden on our universities but even more critically it violates our responsibility to the general public. This is a serious ethical and practical problem with three parts, as follows:

  1. The public pays for scientific knowledge; they should be able to access it. Taxpayers generally expect their investments to result in transparent benefits to the society at large. We believe that it is unreasonable to expect the public to fund paywalled conversations between researchers. If the public funds research, they should have the right to access it, too.
  2. It is in the public interest for all human knowledge to be widely accessible. We live in a time of fake news, in which the status of truth and facts in public discourse is itself in jeopardy. It may be true that dumping more facts into this fire won’t solve the problem. But currently it’s impossible for many journalists, politicians, business leaders, high school teachers, and other citizens to access first-hand evidence themselves. It’s possible that some citizens are simply unable to make sense of science in its raw form. But this would be to overlook the many thousands of PhDs who leave academia every year for the private sector (more than 25,000/year). And it would presuppose that we can’t strive to improve. If you’ve ever read a paper outside your area of expertise – e.g., to learn about climate change, the MMR vaccine, or the efficacy of antidepressant drugs – you’ve done something that most citizens will never be able to do. Unless this situation is absolutely necessary, we see no reason to support it.
  3. We have a responsibility to be good stewards of public dollars. Currently the public directly subsidizes the corporate profits of academic publishers because researchers like ourselves accept for-profit publishing. These are funds that might otherwise support research or help reduce ever-increasing tuition fees. Not only are our current practices wasteful, they are also risky: Any perception that universities are misallocating public dollars – especially to fuel corporate profits – places our entire funding model in jeopardy. If we expect the public to continue to fund higher education in the future, we must act as good stewards of their money.

Critically, proponents of OA are not only worried about the needs of individual researchers and whether they can afford to make their articles accessible in accordance with their own idiosyncratic ethical foibles. Instead, we are chiefly concerned with the needs of scientists in less wealthy countries, and the needs of non-scientists here and abroad: Businesses, politicians, NGOs, public institutions, and taxpaying citizens who are interested in science and human knowledge more generally. For this reason, leaving the problem of OA to individual researchers – e.g., to selectively publish individual papers as OA – does not address the core problem that OA seeks to address.

Part 2: Cognition’s Proposed Solution

In response to our petition requesting a move to Open Access, the Editorial Board of Cognition published an editorial in which they proposed discounts to authors who wish to publish individual papers as OA. Currently, Cognition allows authors to pay an Article Processing Charge (APC) of $2150 that allows an individual article to be published as Open Access, making it available to anyone who visits the Cognition website. The proposed discount would help authors with limited means to pay this fee, though it is not stated who might qualify, nor how much of a discount they might expect.

We appreciate the difficult position that we placed our colleagues in, and applaud any movement closer to full Open Access. Nevertheless, we believe that the proposed solution is not only inadequate, but may actually worsen the core problem of for-profit publishing. While paying APCs to Elsevier might make individual articles publicly available, this is neither necessary, since there exist FREE ways to accomplish this same goal (see below), nor ethical, because it spends even more taxpayer dollars without significantly affecting the global problem of access. Critically, under this system taxpayers not only fund the research and the library subscriptions, but they also pay the additional Open Access APCs, resulting in a new, redundant, revenue stream for Elsevier – i.e., double-dipping.

Part 3. A Proposal: “Instant Open Archiving”

While we believe that Cognition’s solution to the problem of OA doesn’t address the core problem, we also recognize that flipping a journal is not an easy task. We understand that many in our community worry about the risks that this move might pose (e.g., to the quality of the editorial process, access to back issues, long-term availability of funding, and the benefits of journal subscriptions for scientific societies). Most of these problems are tractable, but they would require considerable effort to resolve. Although Editors at some journals are compensated for their duties, their remuneration is modest relative to the efforts they contribute to our community. Adding to this the task of flipping a journal may be too much to ask of colleagues who aren’t certain of the cost-benefit analysis involved in such a move.

We urge everyone in our community to start seriously considering long-term paths to full Open Access for journals like Cognition.  This will be a long and evolving conversation because there is no single solution or well worn paths. In our opinion, many initiatives – and many small and gradual changes – will ultimately shift the bulk of publishing away from for-profit journals, accelerating as new generations of scholars take the helm, making new forms of publication respectable. If you’re interested in monitoring these changes, we recommend getting a Twitter account and following organizations like the Society for the Improvement of Science (SIPS), the Open Science Framework, and PsyArXiv, each of which is currently working on major initiatives to create a sustainable Open Access publishing model.

But at this moment, in response to the petition and the reply from the Editorial Team, we wish to make a simple concrete proposal that can be adopted now, both by the editorial team at Cognition, and by all other psychology journals, without the cooperation of the corporate publishers.

Specifically, we propose a simple, free, short-term solution that will instantly make all new science openly accessible, and that Editorial teams – including the team at Cognition – can implement now without violating the terms of existing author publication agreements. Here, we call this “Instant Open Archiving”.

We propose that for all new submissions, Action Editors require that authors include with their submission a link to an archived preprint of their work on a public archive like PsyArXiv or the Open Science Framework, and that authors update their preprints with changes that arise due to the review process.

More concretely, in a typical review process, our proposal would involve the following:

  1. For all new submissions, Action Editors require that authors include with their submission a link to the archived preprint on a public archive like PsyArXiv.
  1. Authors upload their files to a public archive. For example, to archive at PsyArXiv, they send an email with their paper attached, as described here.

Note that under this policy – and consistent with the guidelines of publishers like Elsevier – authors are free to update their preprints as they make revisions, and also can post links to their PsyArXiv papers on their personal websites, rather than having papers redundantly archived in their own server space.

This simple move, permitted by all publishers, will make all new articles available to the general public – not just the work of self-selecting OA advocates – while respecting existing publication agreements, and incurring no new financial costs to authors, journals, libraries, or taxpayers. A shorter version of this proposal can be found here, and an FAQ for Editorial teams can be found here. Also, details are presented in the Appendix, below.

While we acknowledge that openly-accessible pre-prints and post-prints will not satisfy the most fervent proponents of Open Access, we believe that Instant Open Archiving addresses a core problem without placing unreasonable burdens on our colleagues who serve as Editors. We welcome your feedback, and encourage you to share this post, and to voice your support for Instant Open Archiving to the Editors of your own community’s journals, including the Editorial team at Cognition.

Appendix: Details on Instant Open Archiving

Currently, all journals allow pre-prints to be published on personal websites or on public repositories like PsyArXiv.  Also, many publication agreements – i.e., the documents we sign that hand over the rights to our articles – allow authors to post so-called “post-prints” to our personal websites after papers are accepted for publication.

For a review of these terms, see this helpful article in Scientific American, where the following descriptions are provided:

Pre-print – A pre-print is the original version of the manuscript as it is submitted to a journal. While the authors may have sought help from their colleagues in selecting data analysis techniques, improving manuscript clarity, and correcting grammar, the preprint has not been through a process of peer review. It typically looks like a term paper – a double-spaced .doc file with minimal formatting.”

Post-print – A post-print is a document that has been through the peer review process and incorporated reviewers’ comments. It is the final version of the paper before it is sent off to the journal for publication. It may be missing a final copyedit (if the journal still does that) and won’t be formatted to look like the journal. It still looks like the double-spaced .doc file. Sometimes, the term “pre-print” is used interchangeably with “post-print,” but when it comes to permissions issues, it is important to clarify which version of a manuscript is being discussed.”

For example, according to the Elsevier webpage the follow rules govern the sharing of so-called Pre-prints and Post-prints:


  • Authors can share their preprint anywhere at any time.
  • Authors can update their preprints on arXiv or RePEc with their accepted manuscript.

Post-prints (Accepted Manuscript)

Authors can share their accepted manuscript:


  • via their non-commercial personal homepage or blog
  • by updating a preprint in arXiv or RePEc with the accepted manuscript
  • via their research institute or institutional repository for internal institutional uses or as part of an invitation-only research collaboration work-group
  • directly by providing copies to their students or to research collaborators for their personal use
  • for private scholarly sharing as part of an invitation-only work group on commercial sites with which Elsevier has an agreement

After the embargo period

  • via non-commercial hosting platforms such as their institutional repository
  • via commercial sites with which Elsevier has an agreement


In sum, this means that Elsevier authors can:

  1. Upload submitted papers to an archive like the OSF or PsyArXiv at any time.
  2. Update this preprint at any time to reflect changes due to the review process.
  3. Upload post-prints (the text of accepted articles) after the 1 year embargo period to a public archive, or immediately upon acceptance on their personal website.

Rules for other publishers are generally similar, or more permissive.

6 thoughts on “What ever happened to Open Access at Cognition?

    • Good question. First, there’s are no specific requirements currently on pre-print format. However, we might ask the OSF or PsyArXiv to generate templates and headers to beautify them. This is, it turns out, one thing that many people worry about!


  1. Pingback: An open access fail | Alex Holcombe's blog

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