Friday, 13 November 2009

OA priority

Revisiting OA Priorities

The only purpose of open access to research literature is to provide the widest possible distribution of the latest research findings to the global community and to enable the development of new knowledge for the benefit of mankind. And the prime need for this international sharing of research knowledge is the increasing urgency to solve the planet’s problems – climate change, new infectious diseases (swine flu, avian flu, malaria . . .), other diseases, hunger, poverty, drought, flooding . . . the list is endless.

Now, we are able to take advantage of the Internet and its world wide reach and make essential research available through this means. But online distribution is not enough since the regions facing the gravest problems cannot afford commercial access to all the information they need. So free-of-cost access is also needed, coupled with the freedom to copy and share the content.

Now that we have the infrastructure (in much of the world), we have watched as two means of providing access have emerged: 1) to deposit copies of refereed published articles in open access institutional repositories (or linked centralised repositories) or 2) to publish in open access journals. As these new paradigms for academic knowledge-sharing get underway, advocates of the twin tracks are developing many new supporting applications, establishing standards, setting up networks, providing statistical packages and much else to improve their services.

This is all wonderful, but the promotion of the two parallel mechanisms is confusing newcomers and creating divisions in the OA community. While acknowledging that both routes (known now as the green and gold tracks respectively) are commendable, it seems very clear that the fastest route to sharing essential research has to be through the establishment of institutional repositories (IRs). Why? Because they are low cost (free software), quick to set up (minimal sysop time, much free online and offline help available), can be established without the need to set up new bodies (editorial boards, publishing partners, refereeing procedures/participating referees) and finance them, provide global access wherever the articles were published and, most importantly, the author communities can continue to follow existing procedures – publishing for free in their favourite journals. For more information on all aspects of OA – academic, technical and policy – visit the Open Access Scholarly Information Sourcebook (OASIS).

As we know, all that authors must do to encompass OA and benefit from global distribution of their publications, is ‘the few key strokes’ needed to deposit copies of their accepted articles in their own IRs, thus complying with the steadily increasing number of institutional/funder mandates. But OA-deniers say that progress is very slow and authors are not complying with deposit requirements. So I have checked the numbers of articles deposited in the IRs in two developing countries, India and South Africa, and in the UK.

Totalling the number of deposits in the ROAR database on November 11th 2009, the following were recorded:

India 47,809 deposits
South Africa 22,222 deposits
UK 718,530 deposits

In these three countries alone, therefore, approaching 800,000 deposits have been made. And as there are now >1500 IRs registered in the ROAR database today, you can work out that already significant steps have been taken to free the world’s research literature. And while it is true that not every deposit will be a full text research article (there will be theses, reports, presentations too), all this information is important and now free to all, to be built on and used as the academic communities require. But more needs to be done.

So what are today’s OA priorities?

The globally connected community of research workers, communications specialists and their financial backers needs to stop a moment and think about the priorities for OA’s future.

Is the priority to protect the quality of research publications?
Or to advance the careers of researchers?
Or to promote the stature of research institutes?
Or to help funding organisations assess the value of their investments?
Or to ensure the continuity of journals?

While all these are very important and greatly helped by open access - and ways to achieve them are rightly being discussed - they are not what open access is primarily for. [Nor is it a priority to protect the profits of the commercial publishing industry, which has benefited from free material for their journals, free refereeing and free professional effort on editorial boards]. To repeat – open access is solely to advance research and allow new knowledge to be shared, developed and used for the future benefit of mankind.

For economically poor countries, the development of the fastest, lowest cost route to open access is a ‘no brainer’. It’s a major priority. The developing world urgently needs the establishment and filling of IRs right now. Without a strong research base, the poorer countries will forever depend on donations and will be unable to contribute their essential and unique knowledge to the world’s information pool.


Since starting to write this post a comprehensive article appeared in the Times Higher Education supplement, together with a Leader on the same topic.
Coincidentally, many of the points raised in this blog have been clearly and well aired in the THES piece, so you may find it interesting to link to the article and the appended comments. Of associated importance are the open access journals published in the developing countries, for example SciELO, Bioline International, MedKnow Publications and many others, filling the S to N knowledge gap and bringing researchers in these regions into the international research community.

This posting represents the view of the author, Barbara Kirsop, and is not posted on behalf of the EPT.


Jean Kempf said...

Two brief points. First the wording of your first paragraph might suggest that the only (important) science is immediately applicable science. High enegy physics (#1 in OA) has very little to do with "solving the world's plights". The same can be said of most social sciences and all humanities. They ARE part of science and research though, and are also concerned about OA.
Second (more complex point). Although all is nice and clear about the still-not-realized Green OA, and the need for mandates, and the need to deposit with whom most of us agree, the real INTELLECTUAL and POLITICAL issue today is with gold OA. We need to develop completely new concepts and machineries to prepare for what will be the scientific publication of tomorrow. And this conceptual and pratical work is huge. To make a sort of rough comparison, Green OA is like .pdf : you don't change anything to the way you write and publish, just to the way you disseminate. Gold OA is a whole different ball game, and the future of academic publishing. And more than simple ideas and quick tricks will do the job. It's a whole revolution in writing, production, assessment, financing, etc. So it requires all the brains we have and all the experiments we can conduct. Jean Kempf (Lyon) Project OAPEN (

Stevan Harnad said...


It is so wonderful to hear that OA's most disinterested advocate -- whose loyalty is dedicated exclusively to righting the planet's wrongs, especially in the disadvantaged portions that suffer from them most -- should have such a clear-headed perspective on OA's own priorities and contingencies.

To Barbara's list of 5 important but secondary priorities [(1) publication quality, (2) career advancement, (3) institutional stature, (4) funding investment, (5) journal continuity)] -- secondary priorities that are themselves best served and facilitated by reaching first for the global green OA that is already fully within our grasp today and that will prepare the way for all the rest tomorrow, rather than over-reaching instead beyond what is reachable today, while letting the universal OA continue to slip from our grasp -- one can add two more:

  --  (6) Publishing Reform (including the institutional journal subscription cancellations that global green OA will eventually make possible, relieving institutions' journal budget crises while forcing publishers to cut post-OA inessentials and their costs, downsizing journal publication to just the costs of peer review, with all access-provision and archiving offloaded onto the distributed institutional Green OA repositories, paving the way for publisher conversion to Gold OA publishing, paid for out of institutions' windfall institutional serials cancellation savings)

  --  (7) Copyright Reform (including, instead of copyright transfer to publishers, author addenda and author CC licensing to allow libre OA re-use rights over and above the free online access vouchsafed by gratis Green OA -- all made possible once universal Green OA has ushered in Gold OA publishing)

But neither (6) nor (7) will happen within living memory unless we first reach for the universal Green OA self-archiving that is already fully within the grasp of the institutions and funders of the world's researchers, the ones who both produce and consume all the OA target content in question: The only thing institutions and funders need do is to mandate Green OA self-archiving. Neither Green OA nor Gold OA can be reached directly (before the Heat Death of the universe) without mandates. And the crux of Green OA's priority is that only universal Green OA -- not publishing reform, nor copyright reform -- can be mandated.

Anonymous said...

Regardless of what shades of OA we eventually settle on, there are a great many ejournals out there right now. I've set up the JURN search-engine to index and retrieve the full-text of over 3,400 ejournals in the arts and humanities. All are OA or offer significant free content that's visible online. Just Google for the word "Jurn" and it's search result No.1.

Anonymous said...

Under Open Access philosophy, Redalyc aims to contribute to the editorial scientific activity produced in and about Ibero-America making available for public consultation the content of 550 scientific journals of different knowledge areas: