Friday, August 05, 2005

An open access model with potential to facilitate global economic stability and equity

The present system of scholarly communications is largely based on purchases by, or on behalf of, the reader.

There are many possible methods of producing and funding an open access scholarly communications system, some of which retain the element of purchase by (or on behalf of) readers.

This article addresses a model involving funding and publishing production that is closely tied to where the research is produced. It is assumed that open access is happening globally, a trend which the author sees as inevitable, and already unfolding, for reasons to be addressed another day. This is - deliberately - a very broad, and very theoretical overview, to illustrate the potential overall effects.

One example of such a model would be a variant of the disaggregated journal model, with articles placed in a university's institutional repository and peer-review arranged separately, but locally.

Another example would be a locally produced, more traditional style open access journal.

One of the advantages of such a model, is that there is some relationship between requirement to pay and ability to pay. That is, if a university, region or country can afford to do research, it seems reasonable to assume that some of the available funding could be used for publication.

On the other hand, if a university, region, or country, is experiencing financial devastation for whatever reason - currency fluctuations, environmental catastrophe, war, or terrorist action - then there is no obligation to pay for publishing, but access remains the same. That is, if all else is lost, the collective knowledge of mankind is still readily available, making a quick rebound possible. In other words, open access via this model can act as an economic stabilizing factor, at all levels from the individual institution to the global level.

Another advantage is that there will likely be a correlation between cost and ability to pay. That is, those in wealthier countries will likely pay more, reflecting higher wages / higher cost of living and doing business. Those in developing countries will pay less, reflecting lower costs in their area. There are economic benefits for the developing country; electronic academic publishing generates good jobs (technology development and support, editing, etc.). In other words, open access via this model increases equity. There is a direct relationship between cost and ability to pay.

End of original post. Added comments:

In the real world...
For a real-world picture of how open access can work for a library devasted by flood, see U. of Guyana Library Flood Relief / Open Access Analysis Aug. 7, 2005

Open access as a factor towards stability and equity is simple from a policy perspective, and easy from an adminstrative perspective
Open access as a factor that works towards global economic stability and equity has one tremendous advantage: from a policy and administrative perspective, it is simple and easy.

All that is needed from a policy perspective is a simple mandate. All that universities, regions, funding agencies, and governments need to do is to tell those they fund and/or employ, to make their works openly accessible. Links to examples of policies can be found on Stevan Harnad's Open Access Archivangelism blog.

This policy is likely to need a very great deal less monitoring than other policy initiatives, because open access is in the researcher's best interests too. It is the best way for the researcher to achieve maximum impact, which enhances their status and career prospects. Details and links to the research illustrating the citation impact advantage of open access can be found at

To illustrate why this is easy from a policy perspective, and simple to adminster, think about how much is already available on the internet, and how people have been using it as a primary search tool for some time. We librarians know just how hard it is to explain to people that not everything is actually freely available there yet, including some important resources they probably should be aware of. It is my belief that any researcher in the future who does not make their work openly accessible is likely to be ignored - not deliberately at all, but simply because there is so much information openly available on any topic, that few will take the extra effort to read works distributed through restricted-access channels.

In my personal world, this is happening already. Some of my friends have done topnotch research and written articles on matters I consider extremely important. I'd love to be able to point to these works - but if they are published in journals meant for print distribution, available to few, I am very reluctant to mention them, out of concern for readers who would feel frustrated and left out if I did so.

The main reason this is administratively simple is because the tendency towards stability and equity is completely automatic. Once works are openly accessible, researchers and others in a devasted region have instant access, as soon as their internet connectivity is up and running. There are no special measures we need to take. Indeed, open access helps out in situations we are not even aware of.

All that policy makers need to do is to set the direction, the mandate for open access. The rest looks after itself.
added August 7, 2005.