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Open Access Publishing at Wizards of OS

The irrepressible Tomas Krag is blogging here at Wizards of OS – notes on the panel I just spoke on are here. The Berliner Congress Center, while beautiful, is a disconcerting place to speak. The main hall holds about 800… there were maybe 100 for the panel I was speaking at, which meant that I was speaking to a small group of friends in the front, and then to a vast sea of empty chairs.

My friend Katrin from Aspiration (a very cool NGO building bridges between geeks and international non-profit organizations) has requested that I blog Jean Claude Guedon’s talk about Open Access Journals – a pleasure, given Jean Claude’s passion about the field. (I realize it’s non-obvious why I’m posting about Open Access Journals in my normal space to talk about Africa issues. However, there’s a real connection. The world of scientific publishing is very difficult to access for African libraries, who can’t afford to subscribe to expensive journals. Open Access Journals strive to make journals zero-cost to readers and libraries, increasing the flow of scientific knowledge, which is pretty critical for African libraries.)


The present system of scientific publishing doesn’t make sense to practicing scientists. Scientists want to be read as widely as possible, but ideas are held up behind toll gates, published in high-cost journals. Lessens the efficiency of distributed human intelligence, by locking up knowledge behind artificial barriers. Fundamental changes needed to the scientific communications system.

Open Access movement came about through goading by the librarians, who discovered they could no longer pay for journal subscriptions. Series of initiatives, beginning in 1991, to push the boundaries of electronic publishing – initially less about open access, more about the power of online publishing. Open Society Institute brought together a number of Open Access folks in Budapest in 2001 – came up with the self-archiving approach, the open access journal approach

Two strategies:

Self-archiving – if you publish in a closed journal, you retain the right to publish your article in an open archive, perhaps your university’s archive.

Open access – journals that charge no subscription fee, but push costs onto the publishing author.

Directory of Open Access Journals – 1200 titles, a few hundred “serious” journals. Disciplinary, personal and institutional repositories. While these repositories are growing, they’re not growing exponentially… So what’s impeding these movements?

Latin America, Brazil are trying to open as many journals as they can. 120 journals through SCIELO (Scientific Electronic Library Online) in Brazil, starting to get contributions from South America.

How do journals recover their costs? Ask authors to pay, in which case their article will be open; if not, they get published in a traditional manner. Idea – open access articles will be more widely read, advantage for scholars trying to get their ideas heard. Creation of new journals: Biomed Central, creating open biomedical journals, Public Library of Science, very rigorous, prestigious journals, designed to compete with Science, Nature and Cell.

Self-archiving – a common metadata format that allows good searching of open archived papers. Google et al are starting to get interested in indexing this information.

Overlay journals – disciplinary repositories collect articles on a specific subject, and then might produce overlay journals that feature best work in a field that’s not yet published in a closed journal.

OAJ’s need to avoid the stigma of being “vanity publishing”, need to demonstrate that they are at least as rigorous as conventional journals.

As open alternatives challenge market leaders like Elsiver, expect fierce competition and possible cooptation. But open access is alive and well, just hasn’t yet reached the state where authors spontaneously decide to publish open access.