Open Societies Need Open Access

The Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) may not have quite the same historic import as the Theses of Martin Luther or the US Declaration of Independence, but it has the potential to shake up the world of academic publishing in a profound way. The BOAI was proposed at a meeting sponsored by the Open Society Institute in Budapest in December 2001, attended by supporters of open access to researcher-generated literature, and was released in final form on Feb. 14 (www.soros.org/openaccess). The O

By | February 18, 2002

The Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) may not have quite the same historic import as the Theses of Martin Luther or the US Declaration of Independence, but it has the potential to shake up the world of academic publishing in a profound way. The BOAI was proposed at a meeting sponsored by the Open Society Institute in Budapest in December 2001, attended by supporters of open access to researcher-generated literature, and was released in final form on Feb. 14 (www.soros.org/openaccess). The Open Society Institute, funded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros, is dedicated to building open societies worldwide.

The BOAI states a set of principles and actions designed to free the research literature from the conventional model of publishing research. Scientific research is published by scientists without thought of compensation. Much of the research is supported by public funds. Journals are edited and papers are peer-reviewed by scientists, again mostly without compensation. Finally papers are published in research journals that are made available by subscription. By their nature, subscription prices cause limited access to the literature. Even the best-funded institutions cannot afford every journal, and smaller institutions, less-well-off countries, and most individuals have no access to a significant portion of the literature. It is this restricted access that the BOAI seeks to overcome.

Unlike last year's Public Library of Science declaration, the BOAI does not advocate a boycott of noncomplying publications. However, it does promote a number of steps that authors and journal editors can take to promote open access. These steps take direct aim at the traditional society and commercial journal publishers whose revenue is generated by subscriptions. The BOAI advocates two complementary strategies:

  • Self-archiving, where researchers deposit their articles, or preprints, in open electronic archives. This is already common practice in some disciplines, notably in the physical sciences.
  • Founding new research journals that charge no subscription or access fees. These journals may be supported by alternative financial sources, such as author fees, advertising, or foundation and government funding.
  • Is the BOAI any more than the wishful thinking of a small group of idealists or can open access be achieved and even co-exist with the traditional publishing model? The Public Library of Science boycott threat, which was due to take effect in September 2001 and was signed by nearly 30,000 scientists, appears to have had little impact on traditional journals. However, there are some indications that these ideas are catching on.

  • The physics community's ArXiv open access preprint server (www.arxiv.org) continues to expand with more than 200,000 papers now available. Elsevier has founded an open access server for chemistry preprints.
  • A recent initiative of the World Health Organization makes the content of more than 1,000 commercial journals published by major print publishers free in electronic form to researchers in about 70 developing countries. (www.healthinternetwork.org)
  • Commercial publishers, such as BioMed Central, (www.biomedcentral.com) are publishing journals with open access, supported by article processing fees.

The impact of the Internet and its associated technologies is only beginning to be felt. But with the support of influential organizations like the WHO and the Soros Foundation, open access is destined to make a major impact on how scientists disseminate the results of their research.

Alexander M. Grimwade (agrimwade@the-scientist.com)is publisher of The Scientist.
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