A study released in August indicates that open access (OA) — making articles based on government-funded research readily available to the public for free — is gaining increasing traction. "Proportion of Open Access Peer-Reviewed Papers at the European and World Levels — 2004–2011," produced for the European Commission by Science-Metrix of Montreal, looked at 320,000 randomly drawn articles from the Elsevier Scopus database, covering 22 fields. The report states: "…the tipping point for OA (more than 50% of papers available for free) has been reached in several countries, including Brazil, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the U.S., as well as in biomedical research, biology, and mathematics and statistics." Moreover, it found the number of "gold" OA papers (i.e., ones available free from online journals without a waiting period) had increased from under 4% of all papers in 2004 to nearly 12% in 2011. The study also reported that about 23% of the papers in engineering from 2008 to 2011were some form of OA and about 29% of those in chemistry.
Some critics question the study's methodology and the high percentages reported. However, there's no question the amount of OA material will continue to rise substantially — driven largely by government initiatives to make the results of publicly funded research more accessible.
The U.S. Government is ramping up action. (Initiatives for OA already are underway in the U.K. and European Union; see: "Barriers To Seeing Research Results Erode.") In February, the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) directed all federal agencies with more than $100 million in R&D expenditures to develop plans to make articles published about government-funded research freely available to the public. The directive suggested such papers should become available within one year of publication, but left the embargo period up to each agency. At this point, OSTP hasn't revealed how many agencies met the August deadline for draft plans, or how long it will take to finalize them.
The Association of American Publishers (AAP), Washington, a group whose members include companies and societies that publish research journals, is hoping to guide the plans of agencies to implement OA. AAP at the end of August unveiled a conceptual framework for its CHORUS (Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States) initiative — Elsevier and John Wiley & Sons, as well as the American Institute of Physics and the American Physical Society actively contributed to its development. AAP says CHORUS would identify peer-reviewed journal articles resulting from federal funding, enable free-of-charge access to the full text version of all such articles, and work with search engines such as Google Scholar. AAP also claims CHORUS would minimize compliance costs for agencies by using existing publishing practices and systems. Launch of a pilot program was set for September.
The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), Washington, whose members include libraries at more than 220 universities, primarily in North America, feels CHORUS isn't the answer because it would impose an embargo period before articles are available, and their usability would vary depending upon the particular website on which they resided, claims Heather Joseph, SPARC's executive director. The group wants free immediate availability of articles that can be fully used. This means not only could people read the articles but also computers could perform text and data mining on them, she explains. SPARC supports a bill called Fair Access to Science and Technology Research (FASTR) introduced in Congress earlier this year as a better but not perfect alternative, she notes. That bill would require articles to be made available within six months of publication in a way that's easily accessible to the public and also would permit reuse and mining of the digital articles.
Fortunately, it's no longer a question of whether broader OA is coming but rather when and how.
MARK ROSENZWEIG is Chemical Processing's Editor in Chief and fan of open access. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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