scientific publications and open access

So far, researchers have been publishing their results in one of the 24,000 existing peer-reviewed scientific journals. To read a scientific article, you have to subscribe to the corresponding journal or to pay to get a copy of the article. This means that in spite of new possibilities of knowledge dissemination by internet, access to new knowledge is still limited to a small, exclusive community.

What is Open Access?

Open Access literature is free of charge and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. Open Access literature is usualy in digital electronic format (HTML, PDF, etc) and online on the Web. Any publication or original work like a book, a conference proceeding or a publications can be set under Open Access. Scientific publications can be peer-reviewed as well.

Open Access is possible by two ways:

  • The Green Road - The authors first publish their article in a traditional journal, and then upload their article either on the personal homepages or on institutional repository, etc. (which is allowed by approximately 90% of the peer-reviewed scientific journals).
  • The Golden Road - Articles are directely published in «Peer Reviewed Open Access Journals» (about 10% of the journals offer this option, often by asking an additional publication charges).

What is the Advantage of Open Access?

  • Higher visibility: different studies show robust evidence that Open Access articles are more immediately recognized and cited than non-Open Access articles. The ratio of citations between OA and non OA publications has been found to be between 2 and 3.
  • Democratization of research - Everybody has free access to knowledge, irrespective of his origin, his employment or his salary. This means that each individual who wants to read a specific scientific article can do so.

Are there disadvantages?

Yes, not everything is as simple as it looks like:

  • Converting reader-paid journals into author-paid Open Access format means that everybody has free access to scientific articles, but publishing articles becomes expensive.
  • Self-archivage increases the fragmentation of the publications landscape which makes it more and more difficult to find an article.
  • Users can not easily recognize if an Open Access-article has been peer-reviewed or not.

Recent developments

More and more journals introduce an Open Access option for authors. In some scientific fields (physics, mathematics, computer science, astronomy), 90% of all articles are already available on Open Access servers (e.g. arXiv.org). Several international initiatives have pushed the Open Access movement:

Developments in Switzerland

March 2006: The most important Swiss high school and research institutions (CRUS, KFH, SKPH, CASS, SNF) have signed the Berlin Declaration. They support an open and free access to research results.
Some Swiss universities support actively Open Access: e.g. the EPFL in Lausanne and the University of Zurich are running an institutional repository and archive server where some articles, theses etc. can be downloaded for free.

General Outlook

These developments correspond to a paradigm shift and an overall movement to Open Access to knowledge in general, e.g. for free softwares. (GNU, Mozilla, Apache foundations) Open Access will further influence our accepted customs in knowledge production and dissemination. It will momentarily increase the complexity of the publications landscape which is probably an inevitable stage towards the Open Access and open source Age. The traditional peer review process of scientific articles will probably disappear and be replaced by more democratic and efficient quality assurance processes. Science-advisor.net is one model of access to publications with public peer-review.