With OA moving apace, local journals promoting research into local needs must be protected
The momentum for Open Access is unstoppable. Now the global science community must manage change to ensure poorer regions are not left behind.
These are heady days for supporters of Open Access (OA), who argue that the results of publicly funded research should be made freely available to all, not just to those who can afford subscriptions to the scientific journals in which they are published.
Earlier this year, the World Bank announced that it would adopt an Open Access policy for all its research outputs and "knowledge products", which will be entered into a central repository that will be feely accessible on the Internet.
Last month, the British government said that in future, it will require all the research that it funds in British universities to be made openly accessible, with authors paying publishers a fee (funded out of research grants) to make this possible — a position already adopted by the influential Wellcome Trust.
The move was rapidly followed by an announcement from the European Commission (EC) that the same rule will apply to all EC-funded research.
The UK's Department of International Development (DFID) recently made its own announcement that all its research will be made freely available. And publishers such as BioMed Central are already pioneering Open Access journals in developing regions, such as Africa.
Tempering the pace of change
The momentum is unstoppable. And, at least as readers, scientists in developing countries, where journal subscriptions are often unaffordable, are already some of the biggest beneficiaries.
Free access to the latest research results from across the world is helping them become more effective members of the global research community — and helping global research to find local applications.
But however attractive the concept of Open Access, we should be careful about expecting too much too soon — in terms of both outcome and impact. Enthusiasm must be tempered with awareness of what can realistically be achieved, and of the pace of change required to ensure that a rush to Open Access does not have unwanted side effects.
It is important, for example, that a single-minded focus on securing commitment to the 'author pays' model of Open Access — often referred to as 'Gold OA' — should not undermine efforts to create what many in the Open Access community consider to be an essential intermediary step, namely the setting up of open repositories (the 'Green OA' route).
These are freely accessible collections of research articles set up to house all publications from researchers in a particular institution (including final versions of manuscripts subsequently published in paid-for scientific journals).
Almost 1,000 thriving open repositories have already been set up across the developing world (for details, see ROAR Eprints). Many provide an important link between research being carried out within an institution, and local communities, who may be able to use this research for practical purposes.
Safeguarding local needs
For scientists in developing countries to benefit, it is also important to ensure that the author fees required by Open Access journals do not become an impediment. Finding an additional £1,500 (US$2373) on top of a research grant — the figure widely quoted as the standard author fee — may not be much for a well-funded researcher in the developed world. But it is significant in developing countries, where research funding is already scarce.
Short-term steps, such as publishers waiving this fee, can mitigate the difference. In the long run, the solution must lie in making the costs of publication an essential component of any research grant (comparable to buying supplies and scientific equipment). But we are still a long way from that.
Furthermore, while richer journals may be in a position to waive such fees, this may not be possible for research journals in the developing world that often lead a hand-to-mouth existence, relying on subscriptions (and thus restricted access) to cover basic editorial and production costs.
In such situations, as Susan Murray from African Journals On-Line told a meeting held in June by the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP), there is a danger that developing country researchers might desert local journals unable to afford to go Open Access while waiving author fees.
This, Murray argued, would undermine the key role that such journals can play in promoting locally funded research based around needs and priorities determined in developing countries, rather than by the scientific community in the developed world.
Helping to reinforce local research capacity has been a priority of SciDev.Net ever since we set up in 2001, when we made a commitment that all the material on our website would be freely accessible.
This inevitably created problems in devising a long-term business plan. Where, our critics asked, would a sustainable income come from to cover the significant costs of running such an organisation?
We have been fortunate to have sponsors, particularly aid agencies, with the foresight to realise that in the developing world, not only scientific research, but also access to that research, can only be sustained through public subsidy, at least for the time being.
Even Nature and Science, both paid-for journals, agreed to make research papers relevant to the developing world freely available to SciDev.Net readers.
For us, the type of free access to scientific information represented by the Open Access movement is a key component of building development from the bottom up (an approach recently characterised by Rajiv Shah, administrator of the US Agency for International Development, as "open source development").
As I prepare to vacate the editor's chair after 11 years in the post, it is a pleasure to observe that our work has been part of a movement in the right direction — the tide has turned, with the need for open access to science increasingly accepted by research institutions and their funding agencies.
Yet there are still too many obstacles to the free flow of scientific information — from rapacious publishers to restrictive intellectual property laws and unsympathetic research institutions.
These restrictions not only affect scientists but also science journalists. For journalists, open access to science needs to be complemented by open access to scientists.
The battle for the acceptance of science journalists and communicators as key players in the development field, and for free access to scientific information, is far from over.
Chaddah ( India )
29 August 2012
Dr Neil Pakenham-Walsh ( United Kingdom )
29 August 2012
David Dickson makes important points. It is also important to add that Open Access for development needs to embrace more vigorously the challenge of access to reference and educational materials - the emphasis needs to move beyond OA for original research articles. Especially in the health field where point-of-care reference and educational materials are far more important than research articles for direct use by frontline healthcare providers to save lives and reduce suffering.
Neil Pakenham-Walsh, Coordinator, Healthcare Information For All by 2015, hifa2015.org
Leslie Chan ( Bioline International, University of Toronto | Canada )
29 August 2012
In his usual thoughtful and balanced manner, David Dickson rightly points out that while the open access (OA) movement has made significant gains worldwide over the last decade, much remains to be done to ensure that universal OA will bring benefit to all, particularly scientists and journalists working in the developing world. In particular, David reminds us that in the current frenzy in developed countries to rush to the author-pay (the gold route) model of OA, it is important not to forget that the large numbers of already existing open institutional and subject-based repositories are key to serving a much broader constituency and to building local research capacity.
A key message in David's commentary that needs to be underscored is the important role that SciDev.Net has played in bringing awareness of the role of OA in development and in providing space for critical debates on this complex issue. More important, the funding model of SciDev.net is an important reminder of the significance of donor support and subsidies for OA initiatives.
The return on investment of such support far out-weighs the benefit of subscription revenue, and this is equally important for donors to understand when it comes to journals in the developing world. In developing countries, most research journals are published by dedicated scientists who volunteer their time and their own resources to ensure that local research is shared and built upon. Most of these journals are supported by universities, scholarly societies, and donor agencies and they are not likely to be viable if they have to rely on the traditional subscription model or the author-pay model. Funders need to understand that the cost of dissemination is an integral part of research and must consider OA journals and repositories as key investments in capacity building.
Congratulations to David Dickson for playing a key role in the global open access movement and all the best with his future endeavour.
Chidi ( federal university of technology, Owerri, imo state, nigeria | Nigeria )
3 September 2012
"Ekwesu wu amaghihe;
Amaghihe wu oria;
Oria wu onwu!":
"Devil is Ignorance;
Ignorance is Disease;
Diseases are Death!" goes an African saying. Open Acess is war against Ignorance and Death. It sounds good that to know the the battle is recruiting more fighters all the time. I salute David Dickson, as he leaves the Editors chair for his great leadership role in this battle this past 11 years. May the light of Knowledge continue to shine ever brighter all over the Earth.
Chidi G Osuagwu
Bart ( Netherlands )
3 September 2012
A few days ago my article in Index on Censorhip titled 'Costing lives' was published. It can be read online here: http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2012/08/the-case-for-open-access/
Dr.A.Jagadeesh ( Nayudamma Centre for Development Alternatives | India )
5 September 2012
Julia Royall ( United States of America )
5 October 2012
Thanks to David Dickson for his leadership and commitment to open access.
In addition to the “global science community managing change to ensure that the poorer regions are not left behind,” it is critical to add that the “poorer regions” are also involved in the process of managing and leading change themselves.
One important effort in this arena is the African Medical Journal Editors Partnership Project (www.ajpp-online.org.) Since 2003, this small group of six African journal editors, along with their partner journal editors in the US and UK, have been engaged in strengthening their journals for acceptance into MEDLINE. Of the original four African journals -- in Uganda (African Health Sciences), Malawi (Malawi Medical Journal), Mali (Mali Medical Journal), and Ghana (Ghana Medical Journal) -- all are now indexed in MEDLINE, resulting in African health and medical research being available to the world. The journals also can be found in NLM’s PubMed Central (PMC), a free full-text archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature as well as other databases.
In addition to managing and upgrading their own journals, these African editors have held workshops for authors and reviewers with participants attending in various regions across the continent.
The basic tenet of the project is that valuable research is being carried out in endemic areas but is often not available to a wider global audience. These editors – by ensuring that their journals are in MEDLINE with full texts in PubMed Central – are doing their part to turn that tide.
Global Health Information Consultant (retired Chief, Office of International Programs, U.S. National Library of Medicine)
Saket Sohan ( Cognizant | India )
1 February 2013
When I read editorials or columns and even journals on scidev.net , I realize what I would have missed if there wasn't an initiative for open access to the research and findings from all around the globe. Even if not being from a scientific background its important for any individual to know what's going in and around him at scientific front regardless of the profession or counrty he/she belongs from.
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