Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Berlin 5: Open Access from practice to impact
Padua September 19-21, 2007

Report by Barbara Kirsop, EPT

The fifth follow-up meeting from the Berlin Declaration’s arrival was held in the tranquil and historic town of Padua. Speakers were probably standing on the same spot as that of Galileo Galilei, centuries ago, and the ancient building reflected this distinguished past. The conference reported OA activities – both regards policy and technical implementation – that had taken place since Berlin 4.

I was there to participate in a session devoted to the impact of OA on developing country science. Organised and chaired by EPT Trustee Subbiah Arunachalam, Chennai, India, the speakers included D K Sahu (MedKnow Publications, Mumbai, India), Stefka Kalavanova (FAO, Rome) and myself. The session was held in parallel with one on ‘Open Issues on Open Access’. Unfortunately, this attracted the bulk of the ~300 participants, and we spoke only to ~ 23 people. This was particularly disappointing as the presentations contained highly significant statistical evidence of the impact of OA on access to research knowledge in the 80% of the world where the main problems exist. Presentations showed that usage of OA articles by developing country researchers is remarkably high and at the same time, the emergence of the ‘invisible’ research findings from these regions into the international scene is quite dazzling, with usage, submissions, impact and even subscriptions growing significantly. I urge people to view the ppt presentations that will shortly be available from, and take particular note of the usage figures that are included (for example, 2.5 million requests in 2006 for full text articles from ~60 OA journals published in developing countries and distributed by Bioline International, and similar statiustics from MedKnow, India and SciELO, Latin America). Although there is a long way to go, OA is already making a measurable difference.

What were the take-home messages for scientific research in the developing world? Well, the establishment of institutional repositories and OA journals continues to grow and is now a fixture in the academic world, but there was growing interest in the parallel sharing of research data (OpenData) and the inevitable benefits that will arise from this in all scientific disciplines – particularly for the resolution of the global problems of infectious diseases, climate stability, HIV AIDS etc.

Which presentations stood out? Of course, we heard encouraging OA reports from the European Science Foundation, universities, foundations, institutes, OA organisations and the EU Commission, all of which continue to support and encourage OA developments in different ways, and you can read the abstracts and ppt's from the web site (soon). But I shall remember the following in particular:

- Ilaria Capula, a veterinary virologist disturbed us all with her description of the consequences of avian influenza, she described the development by her laboratory of valuable sequence data to aid its containment, and shocked us by the fact that she had to struggle to make this information OA by deposit in Genbank, being required initially to deposit the data in a WHO database with ID/Pwd control .She was applauded for her integrity and persistence.

- Peter Murray-Rust stimulated the audience with online (no ppt for Peter!) demonstrations of the inadequacy of past publishing technologies to advance chemistry through static mechanisms and demonstrated the way research benefits immeasurably through web-based Open Data developments.

- The Conference ended with an up-beat presentation by Alma Swan encouraging everyone to adopt a ‘can-do’ approach to OA (as all Italians do when parking cars, she showed), to forge ahead with scientific integrity, and to remember the words of Gandhi that with radical new concepts, ‘first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win’.

In the corridors: I was particularly concerned to learn that as the quality of the developing country journals improve through the work of local publishing initiatives - as visibility, impact, submissions and even subscriptions grow - a few large commercial publishers are approaching publishers of the most successful local journals with attractive offers to take them over and ‘help’ their development further. Publishers, authors and editors from hard-pressed countries may find it difficult to remember that by retaining their journals in-country they strengthen their own research base. Understandably, they may be tempted to break faith with those that have put years of effort into helping their journals reach a standard considered worthy of take over, but this practice should be publicised and local publishers encouraged to retain their journals in-country.

It reminds me of the situation with the UN publishing donor programmes, in which, as the economy of a country becomes stronger, it moves out of the eligible range for access to donated publications. Sometimes, in developing countries, the harder you work and the greater progress you make, the more you may be exploited. OA is clearly the only long-term solution to unequal access to essential research findings.

Submitted by Barbara Kirsop

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