A Brewing Battle

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The development of technological marvels such as the World Wide Web has presented us with countless wonders, including everything from breaking news to Words With Friends.  The Web has created a number of challenges as well, though, including an expectation of liberal access to information.  These challenges are finally trickling into the world of research, and are most noticeable in relation to the advent of Open Access Publishing (“OA”).

A brief overview

OA is, at its most basic, a concept behind sharing literature in the public sphere.  OA literature, by contrast, is “digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions” thanks to either expiration of copyright, or copyright-holder consent (Suber).  OA is geared toward lawful activity with the intention of making information available to anyone with access to the Internet.

Two types of OA are generally outlined within the publishing world: OA journals (“gold OA”) and OA repositories (“green OA”).  The latter refers to self-archiving in digital repositories that are often made available thanks to funding from larger institutions, such as universities (Harnad).  OA repositories are prevalent (examples of such repositories include arXiv and DASH), although articles that are made available through “conventional” publishing require publishers’ permission and may be embargoed for a period of time before being made openly available (Albany Tribune).  OA journals tend to be more controversial than OA repositories in that generally authors pay a fee for submissions, but accepted articles are made freely available to anyone with Internet access.

 Note: there is an excellent and lengthy explanation of each of these types of OA in Dr. Peter Suber’s “Open Access Overview.”  For more comprehensive understanding, you may access the document here.

Emergence in the research community

After a detailed analysis of Scopus, it was determined that by the year 2011, eleven percent of the world’s articles were being published in OA journals (Van Noorden).  This is unsurprising, as OA projects such as NIH’s repository PubMed have been tremendously successful (Kamdar).

In the near future, however, it is safe to say that there may be increased interest in OA initiatives in the United States following the introduction of the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research (FASTR) Act of 2013.  Introduced in both the United States House of Representatives and United States Senate, FASTR would require that

“each federal agency with extramural research expenditures of over $100 million to develop a federal research public access policy, following common procedures for the collection and depositing of research papers, that is consistent with, and that advances, the purposes of the agency.”

Each proposed bill has been referred to another entity, but the coming months will undoubtedly see the emergence of a Great Debate over the feasibility of such a bill.

For information about FASTR, see S.350 and H.R.708.

Weighing the options

As with any new idea, OA potentially has both positive and negative consequences.  OA has the potential to promote accelerated discovery of ideas, public enrichment, and improved public education the world over (PLOS).  Furthermore, more individuals encountering work outside of one country opens doors for widespread collaboration and collective innovation (Harold).  Finally, there is the potential that OA is less expensive than conventional publishing.  While OA is not free – it requires funding for management and infrastructure (Taylor) – it has the potential to eliminate public institutions’ payment for access to the articles resulting from studies that they funded (Stilgoe)

In a similar vein, however, OA presents a number of challenges.  David Price Pointed out that following an investigation by the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, it was concluded that the first nations to adopt OA for publicly-funded research will take a substantial hit financially.  Furthermore, increased use of OA journals opens up the possibilities that researchers may be exploited, particularly by the author-pays model.  In some cases, publishers are intentionally misleading, naming nonexistent people as their editors and editorial board members and claiming ownership of articles that they have plagiarized from other publications (Haug).

What next?

Regardless of whether or not the FASTR Act becomes a law, the OA conversation is just beginning, and it is not likely that it will end any time soon.  Researchers should always put their critical thinking skills to work in deciding where and how to publish, whether taking the “conventional” or OA route.

Commentary and hard facts about OA are being made available daily – if you are interested in learning more, feel free to explore any of the links below, or any of the links scattered throughout the post.

Where to find out more about OA

Accessibility, sustainability, excellence : how to expand access to research publications

Open Access: Why Does It Cause Such A Stink?

Project SHERPA

The Pros and Cons of Open Access

Universities Propose to SHARE Federal Funding Based Articles

Who Really, Really Wants Open Access?

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