Publishing open access: good or bad idea? Door and sky by maury.mccown

Publishing open access: good or bad idea?

On Wednesday 6 February 2013 the KNAW and the Young Academy organized a debate with the theme: ‘Publish Open access or perish’. The central question in this debate concerned the future of open access publishing. Is it a great new development or not?

Publishing open access is a relatively new development. With open access publishing, research articles are only printed digitally, and the great thing about it is that these can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection. When an article is published open access, the regular procedure of peer review is followed, but after acceptance for publication it is freely accessible at no cost to the readers. This is a great advantage for people who are interested in science but who do not work at universities, such as science reporters. It is also a welcome improvement for developing countries, whose universities do not have the budget to access articles otherwise. This seems the ideal transparency of science, paid for by the public and accessible to the public. The disadvantage is that there are costs involved for the researchers, who have to pay a fixed price for each published article.

How different this is from the way traditional publishers have worked so far. The publishers who offer subscriptions to journals and databases (like Elsevier, Springer and Wiley, and Web of Science), ask for a fixed fee to access the journal. Note that this is not a fixed price per article, but a fixed annual subscription rate, which is usually paid by library funds from universities. This means that these articles are only accessible to people who work at universities (or other institutes who are willing to pay the subscription rate), and the publishers’ copyrights do not allow for open distribution. The costs for these subscriptions are relatively high, but the researcher doesn’t notice this directly because the costs are paid by the institute.

You can imagine that the role of traditional publishers becomes outdated when all articles are published digitally and with open access. Do we still need the traditional publishers or is their role finished? This conclusion is not so straightforward. Even though the open access publishers make less money than the traditional publishers, there is still a business model involved. The payment-by-article principle can result in a publisher wanting to publish any article, even when the quality is low. Also, the traditional publishers usually invest in language editing, which is usually not the case for open access publishers. Therefore, open access publishers need rigorous editors and reviewers to ensure that the quality of publications does not suffer from the payment-by-article business model.

What does this mean for researchers at universities? Currently, the university libraries still pay toll access to traditional scientific journals, money which is taken off the general budget, whereas researchers pay individually for open access publications. I cannot imagine anyone will be against open access of scientific articles, but we need to think long and hard about quality control and management of the costs. We need a solution for the double costs, because eventually these publication costs are reducing the already tight research budgets.


Saeid Heydari

I have a new model of psychology and a new strong method for treating disordered behavior.

Jos Damen

Most open access journals do NOT charge researchers. Open Acces implies broader availability of research publications & less expenditure. Examples: DOAJ (8.600 open access journals, 970,000 journal articles) http://www.doaj.org Interesting interview: Cameron Neylon (PLoS), De Volkskrant, 8 Febr. 2013.
By the way, downloads from Repository Leiden University 2012: 1,416,107.

René van Hezewijk

Hello Eveline, and Mark by the way.
Universities do not pay twice. They pay for a) scientists' wages, b) laboratories and otehr equipment, c) reviewers, d) editorial boards, e) subscriptions to journals f) libraries (buildings, staff), g) research expenditures (if not funded). That makes seven. And now for something completely different: pay for submitting a manuscript, in exchange for open access. That's still seven. Or is it?


Two important principles are relevant:

1. Public funding implies public ownership of the research results, anything else would be unethical.

2. Research itself benefit from spreading of results, because of the feedback, continuation and inspiration it generates. Research known only to a small closed circle soon becomes sterile.

Mark de Rooij

Well, I have my doubts especially since we (researchers) seem to pay twice at the moment. But the more relevant question is

"wasn't it open anyway?".

As far as I know researchers are allowed to give reprints of their paper to people that are interested. On the websites of publishers titles and abstracts were already available. Anyone can see these. Then after reading the title and abstract and deciding that you might be interested in reading the complete paper, is it a lot of trouble to google the main author and send a request by e-mail? I think any researcher is willing to share their paper with someone who shows interest and will send a copy of the paper immediately. How open do you want it to be?

Jos Damen

The importance of Open Access

There are various reasons why Open Access is important in science:
(1) an open debate is required in science and this is made possible by open access. See the KNAW report by Kees Schuyt about more transparency in science: http://www.knaw.nl/Content/Internet_KNAW/publicaties/pdf/20121004.pdf
(2) researchers and students in less-developed countries will be able to keep up-to-date more easily if they can access recent publications without (financial) restrictions
(3) a large university repository with important scientific publications helps to improve the outreach and valorization of scientific publications.

Leiden University has signed the Berlin Declaration on Open Access. http://oa.mpg.de/lang/en-uk/berlin-prozess/signatoren/
Researchers should try to publish as ‘openly’ as possible. They should thus refuse a "Transfer of Copyright Form" from their publishers and instead ask for a "Licence to Publish Form" (which in most cases will entitle them to publish their peer-reviewed version in the university repository).

Many of the major universities understand the importance of Open Access. For example, Princeton: http://www.princeton.edu/dof/policies/publ/fac/open-access-policy/
Harvard: http://www.michaeleisen.org/blog/?p=1052

For more information on Open Access: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_access

Leiden University Repository: http://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl
19,105 publications are accessible in Open Access as of February 2013.

Best regards,

Jos Damen

Thed van Leeuwen

Hi Eveline,
An interesting and important topic, so your blog is welcome to stimulate this discussion. I have to think about a reply on the contents, but need to make a remark on the fact that you mention publishing houses like Elsevier, Springer and Wiley in one sentence with Web of Science.
This is somewhat more complicated, as Web of Science is itself not a publisher of scientific publications, but only a window on scientific publishing. The attribute is in the collection of publications of various publishers, and the linking of these publications through the references these publications carry. It is easy that you can move from Web of Science to the journals available in our library, or elsewhere, but that is actually a bonus while using Web of Science, the copyrights remain at the original publishers where the publications appeared in their journals.
Furthermore, Web of Science covers Open Acces journals, but perhaps not all of them, for the exact reason you mention as well, namely quality control. Web of Science claims to cover the most important journals, thereby focusing on a number of criteria, one of which is actually peer review. And as you mention, this might be problematic for some Open Access journals.
Thanks for the contribution, very stimulating !

Thed van Leeuwen