Year : 2005 | Volume
| Issue : 1 | Page : 1-3
Open Access and the Philosophy of Scientific Publishing
Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, 659, 5th A Main Road, Hebbal, Bangalore 560024, India
Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, 659, 5th A Main Road, Hebbal, Bangalore 560024
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
|Date of Web Publication||11-Jul-2009|
|How to cite this article:|
Shanker K. Open Access and the Philosophy of Scientific Publishing. Conservat Soc 2005;3:1-3
THE SOCIAL CONTEXT of scientific research is a much debated subject. Publishing is considered to be a critical part of the scientific process, and it is seen as inherent to the progress of science that information must be disseminated. In other words, science or research that is not published may as well not have been done. In recent years, the whole business of large, publisher-centric scientific publishing has been called into question. Peer reviewed publications are the culmination of years of work by scientists and large financial investments by governments and universities. Authors often assign full copyrights of their material to large publishers, with no remuneration (and in fact often subsidise publication with page charges, etc.) for the prestige of publishing in high impact journals, and for the link that publishing has to their careers. However, this information is often not available to the very community that generates it. Language barriers, economic barriers and other socio-economic, cultural, and historical contexts ensure that there are vast differences in the quality and quantity of information available to scientists across the world.
In the last couple of decades, the internet has opened up a world of (potentially)freely available information. One that is also less expensive (and arguably more ecologically sustainable) than the printed copy. And while journals have increasingly made their printed matter (and other exclusively online material) available on the internet, it still has to be paid for. Enter open access publishing.
One of the more prominent open access publishing initiatives in recent times is the Public Library of Science. Supported by a vast network of prominent scientists across the world, this group is "committed to making high quality peer reviewed literature freely available to the world". Currently, PLoS has 5 journals, prominent among which are PLoS Biology and PLoS Medicine; the latter makes crucial medical literature widely available to the world. In ecology, Ecology and Society (formerly Conservation Ecology) is an open access completely online journal. This is a journal of "integrative science for resilience and sustainability". Online journals or editions offer various advantages including quick turnaround times for articles, lower expenses, better illustrations and download options, interactive response features, etc.
The term open access is itself somewhat fluid, but broadly there are two "roads to open access" including the open access journals and e-print repositories, both of which make articles available to users of the internet. Open access is different from free access, where articles are merely available to readers on the publishers' website. Open access offers are far more wide range of uses of the material including the archiving of the paper in a searchable online repository making it available to anyone in the world with an internet connection.  The extent to which the paradigm has now evolved is reflected in the existence of a "Creative Commons Attribution License (CCAL)" which governs the contents of open access publications such as PLoS Biology. Such licenses offer alternatives to the traditional "All Rights Reserved" copyright, and allow authors (and publishers) to authorise some uses of the material (e.g. non-commercial, educational) while restricting others (Gass et al. 2004).
To this, one must add the issues specific to conservation science, both biology and social science. Perhaps more than other fields, (where, for example, the lay person does not need to understand atomic physics to use a TV or computer) conservation science needs to reach civil society, local communities and policy and decision makers. This is also a field where the line between scientific and local traditional knowledge and their relative importance in conserving a landscape are somewhat more blurred. Finally, this is a highly interdisciplinary field involving physical and life scientists, social scientists and managers of various hues. It may be argued thus that conservation is even more invested with the responsibility of making information widely and openly accessible.
However, free access on the internet clearly does not solve all the problems of access. The internet does also pose problems of inequity. Computers, internet connections, broadband, etc. are all far more advanced in developed countries. Given the speed of connections in the developed world, file sizes also increase to a point where it continues to be hard for users in the rest of the world. However, these are problems that can be fixed. Moreover, the hard copy does not need to go right away.
Conservation and Society is committed to making information equally available across the world. Towards this, our hard copy subscription rates are significantly lower in the developing world than in North America, Europe and Australia. The journal is currently open access for users worldwide, and will remain open access for users in Latin America, Asia and Africa. We expect that the hard copy subscriptions and page charges will support the production of hard copies for subscribers throughout the world and subsidise the open access online edition. It is indeed seen as the social and scientific responsibility of scientific institutions and government support systems to ensure that information is freely (or at least equally) available across the world, and supporting open access publication is seen as a part of this process.
However, there is a more fundamental reason that scientists will want to support open access publishing. Lawrence (2001) indicated that freely available articles may have a greater research impact; his own online paper "Online or Invisible"  is more widely cited on the internet than the version published in Nature under a different name (Antelman 2004). Recent studies have shown that open access papers are much more likely to be read and therefore cited, which is the holy grail of any scientist. In a study of 2000 papers in Mathematics, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Political Science and Philosophy, four disciplines at various stages of adoption of open access (17% in philosophy to 67% in mathematics), Antelman (2004) found that citations increased from 45% in philosophy to 91% in mathematics, demonstrating that freely available articles do have a greater research impact. Another study, that looked at articles from seven thousand journals from the ISI Web of Science database, indicates a significant increased research impact for open-access articles in physics (c.f. Antelman 2004).
Antelman's study also found that most articles were found on the internet because the author had placed them there and not because they were published in an open access journal. This reflects that the fact that currently, authors are more motivated to make their research available than publishers. Unfortunately, this makes scientific rather than economic sense. However, as more and more authors want their work to be openly accessible, they may choose open access journals or force conventional publishers to change their strategy. Authors support open access journals because they "believe in the principle of free access for all readers", and also because they perceive that open access journals have faster publication times, greater readership and therefore greater citations or impact (c.f. Antelman 2004).
Regardless of the global ramifications of this, as a journal that is based in south Asia and committed to disseminating information both from and to the developing world, Conservation and Society will remain committed to open access and to providing information in a variety of formats to a diverse constituency of stakeholders.
| References|| |
|1.||Antelman, K. 2004. Do Open-Access Articles Have a Greater Research Impact? College and Research Libraries 65: 372-382. |
|2.||Gass, A., H. Doyle, and R. Kennison. 2004. Whose copy ? Whose rights ? PLoS Biology 2:877-878. |
|3.||Lawrence, S. 2001. Free Online Availability Substantially Increases a Paper's Impact. Nature 411: 521. |
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