Thursday, 29 September 2011

Barriers in front of open access publishing

Free access to the scientific results and articles over the Internet or other virtual platforms seems to be a bright future for both environment and research community. It will prevent consumption of a huge amount of paper and ink, and will reduce the administration and maintenance costs of universities and libraries across the world that in return will help in sustainability of the world which suffers from excessive greenhouse-gas emissions and climate changes. At the same time, it helps in exponential acceleration of the research which will bring ineffable comfort and opulence for human beings.

Despite several models put in action toward open access for scientific articles, this area is always considered as a taboo, and has been avoided by the majority of scientific community. We think this is because of ignoring some barriers in front of the journal publishing industry in the design of these models. We will discuss these barriers below, and will propose a new open-access model to overcome them.

The first barrier is the business model of a journal publisher. Although a publisher can limit the access to the electronic version of articles to only its subscribers, these articles can easily escape from this limited environment and spread around the world. In other words, the subscription-based business model of publishers in this industry is a barrier in front of open access, and any new model should propose a replacing business model for journal publishers. Otherwise, the paper-based publishing will be the strong point of publishers in securing subscription revenue.

The current open access models can be categorized in two groups: i) author-pays-after-acceptance models and ii) grant-based models. The first group has not gotten attention from the scientific community as it can be read as pay-to-be-published. The second group models are constrained by definition, and therefore can cover a few journals (such as the Public Library of Science), and also can be suspicioned of being unfair as a result of their limited resources. None of these models can handle the first barrier without side effects.

The second barrier is shared with many other electronic version services or objects. For example, the legal value of a printed letter or even a handwritten letter is considered higher than that of an email traditionally. In the Internet, where everybody can publish a post or web page in a matter of seconds and can put any claim or story there, the question about the quality degradation of the scientific articles in the case of switching to only-electronic and online version is a very serious and challenging question. Therefore, the new open-access model should provide a mechanism to control the publication process and increase the scientific value of the scientific research.

We propose a new open access (NOA) model, which can address these barriers and other challenges toward free and open circulation of strong scientific results across the world.

Why open access in journal publishing, and why a new open access (NOA) model

Journal publishing industry is the core of research, and brings acknowledgment and recognition for the researchers while provides a controlled but dynamic source of scientific and technological advances for all researchers around the world. Many big names, such as Elsevier, Springer, and IEEE among the others, define the main journal publishing industry.

Although in the recent years this industry archived several improvements, such as online first publishing, it seems that this industry requires a big modification in order to address a few problems. We think that our proposed new open access publishing, which will be defined in other posts can address these problems.

The first problem with the current publishing business model is its huge impact on the environment. Every year, a large amount of paper, ink and other materials are used to print high-quality issues of numerous journals around the world. At the same time, a huge amount of space, money and human resources are dedicated to manage and preserve archives of the already printed issues in the universities and libraries. On top of that, many researchers make photocopies of the interesting articles for personal use. These copies, which are usually produced in very inefficient ways, have a short lifetime, and have a big footprint on the environment and economy. All this suggest switching to online version of publishing in order to dematerialize the journal publishing industry.

The second problem, which seems more serious, is the performance of the research activities. One success parameter for any activity is achieving the critical mass. If the mass a system, for example, the research system around the world, goes higher than the critical mass of that system, its performance and production will increases exponentially. In the case of research, the critical mass is the number of researchers and labs around the world. Even in developing countries, a noticeable number of people is working as the researcher. Therefore, we can say that the world has passed its critical mass for research. However, the research production is still limited. One explanation for this contradiction is the possibility that the research system is missing some parts. In any system, interaction between individuals is the main motivation for activity. In current status of the world, it seems that the links between the researchers are not strong enough. One of the main types of links in research is journal articles. The current business model of the publishers required controlled and limited access to the articles which directly reduces the propagation of information and therefore, the bandwidth and speed of links in the research system. Again, switching to online publication with free access to all seems to be a trivial solution.

However, free access to the published journals has not been placed in action despite several open-access business models that are practiced today. We think this is because of some barriers that should be addressed by any open-access model. We will discuss the barriers in the next post, and will propose a new open-access model which can eliminate these barriers, and opens the doors for free access and fully online publishing, which not only help the environment by being green, but also accelerate and boost the research production and activity exponentially.