Open Access Publishing : The Great Debate

A great debate is raging on open access publishing currently, amongst the scientists, publishing companies, the governmental (funding) agencies and learned Societies. The general consensus and the trend is unmistakably clear towards greater online as well as published Journal access to be open and free of cost to the users and general public (which in many countries through governmental funding supports research activity to a great extent). Hitherto the publishing companies have been making considerable profits with minimum effort on their side. A scientific article is written by the scientist, peer-reviewed mostly without any pecuniary benefit by another scientist and also in many cases edited and made almost print-ready by honorary Scientist-Editors/Editorial Board Members, particularly in learned Societies.

Two terms currently used in the debate need a little explaining :

Green Open Access : Funding organisations stipulate that the peer-reviewed papers published In a Journal be made openly accessible on-line after a lapse of couple of months, during which period the publisher makes his margin of profit.

Gold Open Access : The publisher is paid in advance so that the published article is immediately available online free of cost to everyone. The snag of course is that the scientists or the Funding Agency or the Institution has to shell down a heavy amount at the outset of the publication process, which can be as high or higher than £6500 for gold open access articles in a Journal like “Nature” (over 5 lakhs of rupees in Indian currency !). This amount has to be built into the funding grant to the researcher, which will make it very difficult for the scientists from third world countries to publish in the top international journals (monopolized by the western publishing companies).

Another radical group of scientists propose that all scientific articles should be made accessible on line to the entire scientific community (of course free of any charges) and subjected to ‘open peer-review’ and the final product may find a place anywhere, but gets its credits from the date of accessibility online initially.

Learned scientific societies are also in a dilemma of sorts, as their prime source of income for sustenance of all their activities has been hitherto from their publications.

Publishing companies, whose margins of profit have been fairly high, have to necessarily renegotiate their situation, as most governments in Western Europe and the USA are under increasing political compulsion to make the results of scientific research freely accessible in larger public interest.

Universities, Learned Societies, Publishers and Governmental agencies are all fiercely engaged in this debate and countries, like China and India too have a great stake in the matter and the responsibility to safeguard the interests of scientists from the third world, so that the principle of free access to knowledge is universally available and the cost of publishing a paper does not touch such astronomical figures out of reach of many ordinary mortals.

MSR/25 July 2012

Source : 1. “Britain aims for broad open access”, Nature, Vol.486, 21 June 2012, pp. 302-303.

2. “Scientific publishing : Brought to Book”, The Economist, July 21-27 th 2012, pp. 64-65.