Open Access - Discussion

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Addition to the regular entry on Open Access


The benefits of open access to science

From an article by Alma Swan in the American Scientist at

We recommend you read this article in full.

"How does science measure the worth of a published piece of work? The standard metric today is the citation: Highly cited articles (and journals) have measurable impact. As open-access publishing experiments are moving forward, they are beginning to rack up numbers. By definition an open-access article has greater visibility, and it's becoming evident that scientists do take the opportunity to read and use what they would otherwise not have seen. The bar chart on the next page shows that across a range of scholarly disciplines, opening access to articles increases their citation rate. Behind the numbers are the new collaborations that result when scientists who don't know of one another's work discover synergies that can be exploited. Science needs open access to facilitate that process.

Open access can advance science in another way, by accelerating the speed at which science moves. In most fields, open access is still a rarity rather than the norm, but in some fields of physics (high-energy, condensed matter and astrophysics) it has been commonplace for more than a decade. The arXiv, an open-access archive now maintained at Cornell University, contains copies of almost every article published in these disciplines, deposited by the authors for all to use. Tim Brody of Southampton University has measured the time between when articles are deposited in arXiv and when citations to those articles begin to appear. Over the years, this interval has been shrinking as the arXiv has come into near-universal use as a repository and as physicists have taken advantage of the fact that early posting of preprints allows them immediate access to others' results. In other words, a system built on open access is shortening the research cycle in these disciplines, accelerating progress and increasing efficiency in physics.

Open access can also advance science by enabling semantic computer technologies to work more effectively on the research record. Such advanced software technologies already exist, awaiting a larger corpus because they need the full text of scientific articles to work on, not just the abstract. Semantic technologies can do two things. First, they hold out the promise of being able to integrate different types of research output—articles, databases and other digital material—to form a single, integrated information resource and to create new, meaningful and useful information from it. An early example of this sort of knowledge creation is the Neurocommons, a project of the ScienceCommons organization. Second, Web 2.0 technologies, the set of tools that aid collaborative effort (including social tagging and filtering and weblogs), can help scientists in their work by offering personalization mechanisms that enable them to tailor and enhance what information they access and share, saving time and effort.

Open access also enables a different kind of software tool to aid the management of science. Such tools search full-text articles and index the references they contain—the citations to other articles. They can thus calculate the impact of an individual article (the number of times it is cited) and do the same for its author, and for her research group, department or institution if required. They can track the evolution of ideas, topics and fields and facilitate trends analysis, enabling better prediction of which research areas are waxing and waning. The value of such tools to research managers, policymakers and funders will be enormous, enabling better funding and planning decisions to be made in the interest of scientific progress. To work, though, they need access to the full-text of research articles—an open literature.

Finally, the new ways in which science is being done are themselves requiring the culture and norms of open access. Interdisciplinary science, a rapidly growing phenomenon, needs open access because traditional methods do not provide effective ways by which scientists can reach out to those in unconnected fields. An open literature facilitates the finding and coming together of disparate scientific efforts that in a closed-access world are circumscribed by conventional definitions of topic, field or discipline and isolated from one another in discrete families of journals. The rise of e-science, where global collaborations generate data in vast quantities, demands the means for open and immediate sharing of information. And informal channels such as wikis and blogs that are used for disseminating scientific information that cannot be communicated by journals—including time-critical information—must be accompanied by access to the peer-reviewed literature if scientific information is to be accurately conveyed and interpreted.

So yes, open access can advance science and will do so more and more effectively as more scientists make their work freely available. Moreover, science will not benefit in a vacuum: New work by economist John Houghton and colleagues at the University of Victoria in Melbourne shows that enhanced access to research findings is likely to result in an enhanced return on investment in research and development, something that can benefit every economy in the world. Research is expensive enough that the world can scarcely afford an antiquated, inefficient and high-cost system of information dissemination." (

Open Access: Why We Should Have It

"I propose four main reasons as to why Open Access is beneficial for the way scholarly research is carried out and how its findings are used, and is thus incontrovertibly beneficial for human society as a result. I mention the latter because the stakeholders are, after all, not just the immediate players in the game: we all have stakes in there, too – researchers, research institutions, nations and global society as a whole. We all have an interest in the efficient and effective progress of scholarly endeavour. The reasons I offer, then, for why Open Access is the way to go are these:

1. Open Access means there is greater visibility and accessibility, and thus impact from scholarly endeavour

2. Open access means there is more rapid and more efficient progress of scholarly research

3. Open Access means there can be better assessment, better monitoring and better management of science

4. Open Access means that novel information can be created using new computational technologies." ([1])

The Capitalist Case for Open Access

From the Wall Street Journal, a call for Information Liberation:

" Other than in the realm of life-saving medicine, why should any of this matter to nonacademics? Well, for one thing, barriers to the spread of information are bad for capitalism. The dissemination of knowledge is almost as crucial as the production of it for the creation of wealth, and knowledge (like people) can’t reproduce in isolation. It’s easy to scoff at the rise of Madonna studies and other risible academic excrescences, but a flood of truly important research pours from campuses every day. The infrastructure that produces this work is surely one of America’s greatest competitive advantages.

In fact, open access might help to moderate some of the worst forms of academic hokum, if only by holding them up to the light of day — and perhaps by making taxpayers, parents and college donors more careful about where they send their money. Entering the realm of delirium for a moment, one can even imagine public exposure encouraging professors in the humanities and social sciences to write in plain English.

Keeping knowledge bottled up is also bad for the world’s poor; indeed, opening up the research produced on America’s campuses via the Internet is probably among the most cost-effective ways of helping underdeveloped countries rise from poverty. Closer to home, open access to scholarly work via the Internet would help counteract the plague of plagiarism that the Internet itself has abetted. Anyone suspecting a scholar of such chicanery could search for a phrase or two in Google and see if somebody else’s work turns up with the same unusual text string." (

The Economics of OA Publishing

"Shifting the Costs from Access to Dissemination

Even though most journals receive articles and labor (in the form of peer review and other activities) free of charge from scholars, there are still significant costs associated with scholarly publishing. The switch from a paper to electronic model lowers these costs, but doesn't do away with them altogether. The considerable expenses of orchestrating the publication process, and ensuring that articles remain accessible through technology maintenance and upgrades, still need to be funded.

The open access model shifts this funding from the point of access (e.g. subscription fees) to the point of dissemination [3]. Various methods have been proposed for achieving this shift, but the most common is charging a publication fee for each article, ranging from $500 to $1500 [4] or more.

So is OA an "Author Pays" Model?

It is not, of course, expected that scholars would pay these fees out of their own pockets. Instead, the idea is for the cost of publication to be built into grant proposals, so that the institution funding the research bears the expense. The founders of Public Library of Science--the most successful and visible OA publisher to date--argue,

- The institutions that sponsor research intend for the results to be made available to the scientific community and the public. If these research sponsors also paid the essential costs of publication--amounting, by most estimates, to less than 1% of the total spent on sponsored research--we would retain a robust and competitive publishing industry and gain the benefit of universal open access. [5]

Many funding agencies explictly allow direct use of their grants to cover open access article-processing charges, usually $1,000-$3,000. See this list of such funding agencies, maintained by BioMed Central." (


[4] Guterman, Lila. "The Promise and Peril of Open Access." Chronicle of Higher Education, January 30, 2004 (Volume 50, Issue 21, Page A10).

[5] Brown, Patrick O., Michael B. Eisen, and Harold E. Varmus. "Why PLoS Became a Publisher." October 13, 2003. (Also published in PLoS Biology, Volume 1, Issue 1, October 2003.)

Stevan Harnad on the differences between open access to code, text, and data

Stevan Harnad at

"It would be a *great* conceptual and strategic mistake for the movement dedicated to open access to peer-reviewed research (BOAI) to conflate its sense of "free" vs. open" with the sense of "free vs. open" as it is used in the free/open-source software movements. The two senses are not at all the same, and importing the software-movements' distinction just adds to the still widespread confusion and misunderstanding that there is in the research community about toll-free access.

I will try to state it in the simplest and most direct terms possible: Software is code that you use to *do* things. It may not be enough to let you use the code for free to do things, because one of the things you may want to do is to modify the code so it will do *other* things. Hence you may need not only free use of the code, but the code itself has to be open, so you can see and modify it.

There is simply *no counterpart* to this in peer-reviewed research article use. None. Researchers, in using one another's articles, are using and re-using the *content* (what the articles are reporting), and not the *code* (i.e., the actually words in the text). Yes, they read the text. Yes (within limits) they may quote it. Yes, it is helpful to be able to navigate the code by character-string and boolean searching. But what researchers are fundamentally *not* doing in writing their own articles (which build on the articles they have read) is anything faintly analogous to modifying the code for the original article!

I hope that that is now transparent, having been pointed out and written in longhand like this. So if it is obvious that what researchers do with the articles they read is not to modify the text in order to generate a new text, as programmers may modify a program to generate a new program, then where on earth did this open/free source/access conflation come from?

And there is a second conflation inherent in it, namely, a conflation between research publishing (i.e., peer-reviewed journal articles) and public data-archiving (scientific and scholarly databases consisting of the raw and processed data on which the research reports are based).

Digital data archiving (e.g., the various genome databases, astrophysical databases, etc.) is relatively new, and it is a powerful *supplement* to peer-reviewed article publishing. In general, the data are not *in* the published article, they are *associated with* it. In paper days, there was not the page-quota or the money to publish all the data. And even in digital days, there is no standardized practice yet of making the raw data as public as the research findings themselves; but there is definite movement in that direction, because of its obvious power and utility.

The point, however, is this: As of today, articles and data are not the same thing. The 2,000,000 new articles appearing every year in the planet's 20,000 peer-reviewed journals (the full-text literature that -- as we cannot keep reminding ourselves often enough, apparently -- the open/free access movement is dedicated to freeing from access-tolls) consists of articles only, *not* the research data on which the articles are based.

Hence, today, the access problem concerns toll-access to the full-texts of 2,000,000 articles published yearly, not access to the data on which they are based (most of which are not yet archived online, let alone published; and, when they *are* archived online, they are often already publicly accessible toll-free!).

No doubt research practices will evolve toward making all data accessible to would-be users, along with the articles reporting the research findings. This is quite natural, and in line with researchers' desire to maximize the use and hence the impact of their research. What may happen is that journals will eventually include some or all the underlying data as part of the peer-reviewed publication itself (there may even be "peer-reviewed data"), but in an online digital supplement only, rather than in the paper edition.

(What is *dead-certain*, though, is that, as this happens, authors will not be idiotic enough to sign over copyright for their research data to their publishers, the same way they have been signing over copyright for the texts of their research reports! So let's not even waste time on that implausible hypothetical contingency. The research community may be slow off the mark in reaching for the free-access that is already within its grasp in the online era, but they have not altogether taken leave of their senses!)

But that bridge (digital data supplements), if it ever comes, can be crossed if/when we get to it. Right now, when we are talking about the peer-reviewed literature to which we are trying to free access we are talking about *articles* and not about *data*. Hence, exactly as in the conflation of text with software in the invalid and misleading open/free source analogy, the conflation of open/free full-text access to the refereed literature with hypothetical questions about data-access and data re-use and re-analysis capability is likewise invalid and misleading. Article-access and data-access are different, and it is only the first that is at issue today. " (

Stevan Harnad: Open Access does not threaten Peer Review

"(1) Peer-Reviewed Journal-Article Authors Give Journals Their Articles for Free:

No Royalties. The authors of peer-reviewed journal articles, unlike all other authors, donate their articles to journal publishers for free, allowing the publisher to sell their articles for a (subscription) fee that goes exclusively to the publisher: Not a penny of royalty revenue, salaries or fees is sought or received by these authors (or their funders, or their employers) out of the total income that their publishers earn from selling their articles. This is not "work for hire." The only thing these authors ask in exchange for granting to their publishers the right to sell their articles is peer review, to ensure and certify their article's quality.

The authors' research and writings are funded by government research grants and/or by salaries from their employers (mostly universities).

(2) Peers Review for Free.

The peers who review the papers that these authors submit to journals likewise donate their expertise and time for free. Not a penny of compensation for their services is sought or received by the peer reviewers (or their employers) from the journal publisher. The only thing the peers ask in return for donating their services to the journal is a fair management of the peer review process, in order to ensure and certify quality.

The peers' reviewing work and time are funded by salaries from their employers (mostly universities).

(3) Publisher Revenues from Institutional Subscriptions Are Currently Paying the Full Cost of Managing the Peer Review, Several Times Over.

The cost of managing the peer review process is recovered by the journal publisher out of a small portion of the income earned from selling subscriptions to the paper and online edition of the journal (mostly to authors' institutions).

That is the status quo today: The costs of managing peer review are covered, many times over, by selling -- mostly to the authors' institutions -- paper and online access to the articles donated for free by the authors, with the peer review donated for free by the peers.

These authors, however (who are also the peers, as well as the users, and whose progress and careers depend on the uptake of their research by other author/researchers) have never been satisfied with leaving their research accessible only to those users whose institutions could afford subscription access to the journal in which it was published.

(4) If Institutional Subscriptions Are Ever Cancelled, Peer Review Management Costs Will Be Paid Out of the Institutional Subscription Cancellation Savings.

If and when institutional subscriptions were ever cancelled unsustainably as a consequence of Green OA, the cost of peer review could easily be paid for directly by institutions, on behalf of their employees, per paper submitted, out of just a fraction of the very same funds they have saved from their institutional subscription cancellations. All access and archiving would then be provided by the network of institutional OA repositories instead of the publisher, who would only provide the peer review. This is called "OA publishing" or "Gold OA." (,-Payment-and-Publishing.html)

A Plea for Caution

By John Enderby at

(John Enderby is immediate past president of the Institute of Physics and a paid adviser to its publishing arm.)

"Much is made by advocates of open-access publishing of the notion that our human rights include, in some sense, "the right to know". However, in his recent book The Access Principle (2005 MIT Press), John Willinsky from the University of British Columbia makes the crucial distinction between "open" access and "free" access. Most moral philosophers would argue that there is a hierarchy of rights with perhaps clean water, food, clothing and shelter at the top. But none of these is free.

In many societies this apparent contradiction is resolved by forcing those who can pay for food and shelter to do so, while providing welfare payments to those who cannot pay. Once it is recognized that access to reliable information and the right to know likewise have a cost, the question arises as to who should pay for the necessary validation and dissemination.

It is at this point that the disagreements arise. In its purest form, open-access publishing would offer all material in its final, edited, formatted and paginated form freely available, with the publication costs being entirely borne by the authors of papers or the people who funded their work. The traditional "subscription" model, again its purest form, makes material accessible only to those who pay for it, with authors paying nothing towards publication. Between these two extremes is a continuum of business models.

I have great difficulty with open access in its purest form. Economic models in which the producer pays – but the consumer does not – are, to say the least, unusual. At the moment, if researchers do not like a particular journal, they can choose to publish elsewhere. But if all journals were open access, consumers would not be able to exercise any influence over the market. Instead, presumably, the funding agencies would have the upper hand, having to decide how much of their resources would go to publication costs.

And here we meet another difficulty. There is no universal figure for the cost of publishing research papers because it depends strongly on the proportion of papers that are rejected. Publishing research papers is unusual in the business sense because a lot of time, energy and money goes into dealing with papers that do not meet the quality threshold of the journal in question and so do not appear as a "product". Most commentators now agree that the costs in the quality end of the market are about £1500–£2000 per published paper.

Some advocates of open access have talked about charging researchers a certain amount when they submit a paper and then making them pay an additional fee if their paper is published. However, this approach is bureaucratic and open to abuse. Imagine sending a paper and cash to a publisher and then having the paper rejected. Could you then ask your funding agency for more money so you can submit the paper again and, if so, for how long could this continue?

I am also worried about the implication for developing countries. If author charges became the norm, there may be pressure from aid agencies for scientists from these nations to publish their work in less prestigious, low-impact journals that charge less because their acceptance rates are high. At present, all authors can have their research reviewed free of charge in any journal of their choice. Open-access publishing could therefore lead to journals being dominated entirely by scientists from the richest nations.

And finally those countries with an active scientific workforce would be out of pocket in two ways. Researchers in the UK, for example, produce about 75,000 papers a year, which means they would have to pay about £100m in author fees if all journals were open access. This sum is far higher than the £90m they currently pay in library subscriptions.

Second, a lot of high-quality research in Europe is published in US-based journals. In other words, if all journals were open access, hard cash from research budgets would end up in the coffers of American publishers, although this would be partly offset by a saving on subscriptions. The loss of income from journal subscriptions overseas could also threaten learned societies like the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society.

I do, however, have some reservations about the subscription model in its purest from. As a trustee of the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications, which seeks to make papers available to developing nations, I am aware of the problems of making people pay for information. Thankfully, the open-access debate has forced publishers to tackle some of the disadvantages of the subscription model.

Many publishers now give readers free access to all articles either for a limited period following publication or once a certain time has elapsed. Others are experimenting with hybrid models in which authors can choose to pay a publication charge in exchange for open access. Most publishers also now allow authors to post the accepted versions of their papers online.

My view is that market forces will lead to variety of models. However, for us all to move to open-access publishing, which is a so far unproved business model, is not in the best interests of science until experimentation has revealed some of its unintended consequences. I am therefore uneasy about governments or anyone else imposing new rules on authors as these could lead to unforeseen distortions in the market. It must be for each scientific community to decide for itself how best to organize the publication of its research." (

True Open Access means Derivative Usage must be allowed

Catriona J. MacCallum:

"with this welcome trend comes a more insidious one to obscure the true meaning of open access by confusing it with free access. As the original Bethesda definition makes clear, open access allows for unrestricted derivative use; free access does not. So the beauty of open-access publishing is not just that you can download and read an article for personal use. You can also redistribute it, make derivative copies of it. This is because the open-access license most commonly used—the Creative Commons Attribution license (—permits derivative reuse, as long as the author is correctly cited and attributed for the work. It is the most liberal of the available Creative Commons licenses (there are six), which are now applied widely to books, music, videos, etc., as well as scholarly works. It is important to note that of the six different Creative Commons licenses, only those that permit unrestricted derivative use (which may be limited to noncommercial use) truly equate with open access. (

Does the Article Processing Charge endanger the integrity of OA?

Richard Poynder has an interesting interview with the CEO of Open Access publisher Sciyo, Aleksandar Lazinica, where the latter states that “author pay formats” should be abandoned.

Here is interesting background to the controversy:

“In their efforts to derail the onward march of Open Access (OA) opponents have conjured up a number of bogeymen about Open Access publishing. First, they maintain, asking authors to pay to publish could turn scholarly publishing into a vanity press. Second, they say, OA publishing will in any case inevitably lead to lax or even non-existent peer review. Third, they argue, OA publishing is not financially sustainable.

At the heart of the criticism deployed against OA publishing is the claim that levying an article processing charge (APC) on authors will inevitably corrupt the age-old process of scholarly publishing, and the independent peer review system on which it is based.

Certainly one obvious consequence of “author-pays” publishing is that the nature of the relationship between publisher and author changes radically from the traditional arrangement. While most researchers will doubtless obtain the necessary funds to pay to publish from their institution or funder, they nevertheless become paying customers of publishers not, as heretofore, supplicants seeking a free publishing slot.

For publishers it means migrating from a business environment in which their marketing efforts are focused primarily on selling journal subscriptions to intermediary libraries, to one where they have to sell a publishing service directly to authors.

Amongst other things, this means that many OA publishers have had to start utilising the mass marketing techniques characteristic of business-to-consumer (B2C) markets, rather than the business-to-business (B2B) methods traditionally associated with scholarly publishing.

For some this cultural shift proved difficult, with angry researchers reporting that they were being bombarded with spam messages that — they complained — were unwelcome, badly targetted and probably illegal.

Many researchers receiving these messages immediately conclude they are being invited to participate in some form of vanity publishing, particularly when the invitations arrive from unknown publishers. This serves to breathe life into the vanity press bogeyman.

These suspicions lead naturally to the further conclusion that, even if the invitations are not from a vanity publisher, since there must be huge pressure to accept papers (in order to generate revenue), the publishers concerned will inevitably set more lax peer review standards than traditional subscription publishers.” (

A critique of the elitist aspects of Open Access

Peter Murray-Rust:

"Open Access is not universal – it looks inward to Universities (and Research Institutions). In OA week the categories for membership are:


There is no space for “citizen” in OA. Indeed, some in the OA movement emphasize this. Stevan Harnad has said that the purpose of OA is for “researchers to publish to researchers” and that ordinary people won’t understand scholarly papers. I take a strong and public stance against this – the success of Galaxy Zoo has shown how citizens can become as expert as many practitioners. In my new area of phylogenetic trees I would feel confident that anyone with a University education (and many without) would have little difficulty understanding much of the literature and many could become involved in the calculations. For me, Open Access has little point unless it reaches out to the citizenry and I see very little evidence of this (please correct me).

There is, in fact, very little role for the individual. Most of the infrastructure has been built by university libraries without involving anyone outside (regrettably, since university repositories are poor compared to other tools in the Open movements). There is little sense of community. The main events are organised round library practice and funders – which doesn’t map onto other Opens. Researchers have little involvement in the process – the mainstream vision is that their university will mandate them to do certain things and they will comply or be sacked. This might be effective (although no signs yet), but it is not an “Open” attitude.

Decisions are made in the following ways:

  • An oligarchy, represented in the BOAI processes and Enabling Open Scholarship (EOS). EOS is a closed society that releases briefing papers and has a members ship of 50 EUR per year and have to be formally approved by the committee (I have represented to several members of EOS that I don’t find this inclusive and I can’t see any value in my joining – it’s primarily for university administrators and librarians). * Library organizations (e.g. SPARC) * Organizations of OA publishers (e.g. OASPA)

Now there are many successful and valuable organizations that operate on these principles, but they don’t use the word “Open”.

So is discussion “Open”? Unfortunately not very. There is no mailing list with both large volume of contributions and effective freedom to present a range of views. Probably the highest volume list for citizens (as opposed to librarians) is GOAL and here differences of opinion are unwelcome. Again that’s a hard statement, but the reality is that if you post anything that does not support Green Open Access then Stevan Harnad and the Harnadites will publicly shout you down. I have been denigrated on more than one occasion by members of the OA oligarchy (Look at the archive if you need proof). It’s probably fair to say that this attitude has effective killed Open discussion in OA. Jan Velterop and I are probably the only people prepared to challenge opinions: most others walk away.

Because of this lack of discussion it isn’t clear to me what the goals and philosophy of OA are. I suspect that different practitioners have many different views, including:

  • A means to reach out to citizenry beyond academia, especially for publicly funded research. This should be the top reason IMO but there is little effective practice.
  • A means to reduce journal prices. This is (one of) Harnad’s arguments. We concentrate on making everything Green and when we have achieved this the publishers will have to reduce their prices. This seems most unlikely to me – any publisher losing revenue will fight this.
  • A way of reusing scholarly output. This is ONLY possible if the output is labelled as CC-BY. There’s about 5-10 percent of this. Again this is high on my list and the only reason Ross Mounce and I can do research into phylogenetic trees.
  • A way of changing scholarship. I see no evidence at all for this in the OA community. In fact OA is holding back innovation in new methods of scholarship as it emphasizes the conventional role of the “final manuscript” and the “publisher”. Green OA relies (in practice) in having publishers and so legitimizes them

And finally is the product “Open”? The BOAI declaration is, in Cameron Neylon’s words, “clear, direct, and precise:” To remind you:

“By ‘open access’ to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.”

This is in the tradition of Stallman’s software freedoms, The Open Knowledge Definition and all the other examples I have quoted. Free to use, re-use and redistribute for any lawful purpose. For manuscripts it is cleanly achieved by adding a visible CC-BY licence. But unfortunately many people, including the mainstream OA community and many publishers use “(fully) Open Access” to mean just about anything. Very few of us challenge this. So the result is that much current “OA” is so badly defined that it adds little value. There have been attempts to formalize this, but they have all ended in messy (and to me unacceptable) compromise. In all other Open communities “libre” has a clear meaning – freedom as in speech. In OA it means almost nothing. Unfortunately anyone trying to get tighter approaches is shouted down. So, and this is probably the greatest tragedy, Open Access does not by default produce Open products." (