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Open access could close North-South technological gap

SciDev.Net recently reported on an action plan drawn up by the coalition of 132 developing countries known as 'G77 and China' that "stresses the need for developing countries to build scientific capacity and close the technological gap between them and industrialised nations."(see G77 developing countries pledge to promote science).

The article then says, "achieving this will depend in part on increased scientific cooperation between developing countries, including setting up networks of researchers and institutions, and a G77 consortium on science and technology."

If information is key to science development, the bedrock of increased scientific cooperation is sharing information. What better way to share such information than to establish institutional open access archives?

Open access is taking roots in many developed countries, but it is still in its infancy in the developing world.

All major higher educational and research institutions in the South should set up such archives and place the full text of all the research papers written by their own scientists and students. Papers made available through open access archives can be read and cited by more people than those that are available only through subscriptions to journals.

Not only would open access increase the visibility of scientists from the South, but it would also enable them to access relevant information at a low cost.

The technologies that have made possible such low-cost sharing are themselves freely available — namely, the Internet and the World Wide Web. What we need to do now is to continue the tradition of the 'public commons approach' and use these technologies to share knowledge without barriers.

The African Academy of Sciences, The Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS), the InterAcademy Panel and the InterAcademy Council should all support the open access movement.

Scientists from the South, as well as those from industrialised countries, should retain the copyright of the papers they write and not surrender it to the journal publisher.

Because of copyright, close to 40 per cent of papers written by Dutch scientists cannot be included as full text entries in the Dutch open access archive SURF.