Tuesday, 10 June 2008

A harmful headline in Nature, May 22nd 2008

A letter from Dr Gadagkar, IISc in India, published in Nature (453, 427-562, 22 May 2008) under the headline ‘Open access more harm than good in developing countries’, referred to the policy from a minority of Open Access Journals to require payment from authors, while making material free of charge to all readers. Rightly, the letter said this was damaging for authors from poorer countries. However, the author was not aware that by far the majority of OA journals (67% of journals in the Directory of OA Journals, and 83% of society published journals) make NO charge to authors. Unfortunately, the Nature headline, quoting out of context, sent the totally erroneous message that ALL OA was damaging to researchers in the developing countries.

A number of people wrote to Nature to put the record straight, but it is unfortunate that none of these letters have been accepted for publication. In order to clarify the misleading message portrayed by the headline and the misunderstanding in the content of the letter, the letter sent by three of the EPT Trustees is shown below. The letter firstly corrects the impression that all OA journals make a charge to authors, and secondly highlights the vast and growing volume of research articles now readily available to all through the interoperable OA institutional repositories. We hope this will help correct the unfortunate impression given by the headline in Nature.


As Trustees of the Electronic Publishing Trust for Development working with research scientists and publishers in developing countries* for over a decade, we write to correct misunderstandings conveyed in the correspondence from Raghavendra Gadagkar (Nature, 453, 450, May 22nd, 2008).

First, the choice for researchers in the economically poor regions is not between ‘pay to publish’ versus ‘pay to read’ since by far the majority of “Gold” Open Access (OA) journals make no charge to authors whatsoever. Most are therefore free to both authors and readers. Second, the alternative “Green” route to OA for universities is to create low-cost institutional repositories (IRs) -- in which their researchers can self-archive their publications to make them freely available to all users with Internet access -- and this has already been adopted by about 1300 institutions worldwide. A growing number (44) of universities and funding organisations (including Harvard, Southampton, Liège, CERN, NIH, Wellcome Trust, 6 of the 7 UK research councils, and India’s National Institute of Technology) have already gone on to officially mandate Green OA self-archiving for all their research publications.

Usage of these resources by developing countries is now well recorded. As examples, usage of journals published in developing countries (and making no charge to authors or readers) was recorded by Bioline International as having reached 3.5 million full text downloads in 2007. Usage of research publications archived in IRs shows India, China, Brazil and South Africa among the top15 most active user-countries, and smaller developing countries to a lesser degree. Full text downloads from just one of the 1300 registered repositories showed UK:10,174; India:5,733; China:5,070; South Africa:1155. Detailed usage of 4 such IRs by 6 countries is shown in the EPT Blog.

It is clear from these small but representative examples of usage that OA has huge benefits for the progress of research in the developing world, and advances steadily.


Subbiah Arunachalam, Flat No. 1, Raagas Apts, 66 Venkatakrishna Road, Chennai 600 028, India. Tel: +91 44 2461 3224, Mobile: 97909 2941

Leslie Chan, University of Toronto, Department of Social Sciences, 1265 Military Trail, Scarborough, Ontario, M1C1A4, Canada, Tel: +1 416 287 7505

Barbara Kirsop, Electronic Publishing Trust for Development, Wilmots, Elmton, Worksop, S80 4LS, UK Tel: +44 1909 724184, Mobile 07773677650


Electronic Publishing Trust for Development, http://www.epublishingtrust.org

University of Otago, New Zealand, http://eprints.otago.ac.nz/es/

Bioline International, http://www.bioline.org.br)

EPT Blog, http://epublishingtrust.blogspot.com/2008/03/bring-on-irs.html

* Please note that we use the term “developing countries” for convenience while recognising its limitations.

See also other corrections: http://openaccess.eprints.org/index.php?/archives/407-Re-Open-access-does-more-harm-than-good-in-developing-world.html

Posted by Barbara Kirsop

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