Tag Archives: open access

Credit: Rhodes University Library.

European funders worth $8.8-billion annually force scientists to publish in open access journals starting in 2020

Credit: Rhodes University Library.

Credit: Rhodes University Library.

As of 2020, 11 research funders in Europe will mandate the scientists that they fund to make their work freely available to the public from the moment of publication. Essentially, science funded by these agencies — which together spend €7.6 billion (US$8.8 billion) in research grants annually — will have to be strictly published in open-access journals. The move has been praised by open access advocates but criticized by publishers who stand to lose a significant portion of their income.

Speeding up the transition towards open science

The initiative, called Plan S, is being spearheaded by Robert-Jan Smits, the European Commission’s special envoy on open access, who says ‘S’ stands for “science, speed, solution, shock.” Smits is a respected and influential EU bureaucrat who is regarded as a key architect of the EU’s €80-billion (US$100-billion) seven-year Horizon 2020 research programme as well as its proposed successor, known as Framework Programme 9 (FP9), which will run from 2021 to 2027 and is likely to have a budget of more than €100 billion. Before taking on his new role, Smits had served as director-general of the European Commission’s research directorate for 8 years.

As part of the Plan S initiative, which has been signed by science funders in France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and eight other European nations, scientists are mandated to have their research accessible openly and freely from the moment of publication.

By 2020 scientific publications that result from research funded by public grants provided by participating national and European research councils and funding bodies, must be published in compliant Open Access Journals or on compliant Open Access Platforms,” the Plan S statement reads. 

This means the papers authored by scientists funded by Plan S organizations can be freely downloaded, distributed, translated, or reused in any way people see fit. Also under Plan S, the researchers themselves retain the entire copyright of the papers they author. As written, Plan S won’t allow publishing in hybrid journals — which charge subscriptions but which also can make papers open-access for a hefty fee — or in journals that make papers open access after a 6- or 12-month period from the moment of publication.

If they fail to comply, researchers risk sanctions, including the possible withholding of future funding.

“It’s similarly about breaking the power of very exclusive oligopolies,” Smits told Science Business. “A better system is possible, and the shift is unstoppable.”

“It has been a kind of Robin Hood story. We want to take money from publishers’ shareholders and give it back to the labs,” he added.

Robert-Jan Smits. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Robert-Jan Smits. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

In 2016, the European Union announced that starting from 2020, any research that owes its existence in some way to public funding must be freely accessible and reusable. Robert-Jan Smits says the transition was taking far too long, so he initiated Plan S as an immediate response to this challenge. The EU’s research commissioner, Carlos Moedas, extended his congratulations to the funding bodies who committed to open science “and strongly encourage[d] others to follow as soon as possible.”

“The subscription-based model of scientific publishing emerged at a certain point in the history of science, when research papers needed extensive typesetting, layout design, printing, and when hardcopies of journals needed to be distributed throughout the world. While moving from print to digital, the publishing process still needs services, but the distribution channels have been completely transformed. There is no valid reason to maintain any kind of subscription-based business model for scientific publishing in the digital world, where Open Access dissemination is maximising the impact, visibility, and efficiency of the whole research process. Publishers should provide services that help scientists to review, edit, disseminate, and interlink their work and they may charge fair value for these services in a transparent way,” wrote Marc Schitlz, the President of Science Europe, in an op-ed for PLOS.

[panel style=”panel-info” title=”Plan S research agencies” footer=””]

  • Austrian Science Fund
  • French National Research Agency
  • Science Foundation Ireland
  • National Research Fund (Luxembourg)
  • Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics
  • Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research
  • Research Council of Norway
  • National Science Centre (Poland)
  • Slovenian Research Agency
  • Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning
  • UK Research and Innovation

Many of Science Europe’s 18 other funders are likely to come on board in the weeks and months ahead.[/panel]

Only around 15% of journals publish work immediately as open access, according to a Nature analysis. As such, Plan S would bar researchers from publishing in 85% of journals, including high-profile ones such as NatureScienceCell, and The Lancet. 

[panel style=”panel-info” title=”Key principles of Plan S” footer=””]

– Authors retain copyright of their publication with no restrictions. All publications must be published under an open license, preferably the Creative Commons Attribution Licence CC BY. In all cases, the license applied should fulfil the requirements defined by the Berlin declaration;
– The Funders will ensure jointly the establishment of robust criteria and requirements for the services that compliant high quality Open Access journals and Open Access platforms must provide;
– In case such high quality Open Access journals or platforms do not yet exist, the Funders will in a coordinated way provide incentives to establish these and support them when appropriate; support will also be provided for Open Access infrastructures where necessary;
– Where applicable, Open Access publication fees are covered by Funders or universities, not by individual researchers; it is acknowledged that all scientists should be able to publish their work Open Access even if their institutions have limited means;
– When Open Access publication fees are applied, their funding is standardized and capped (across Europe);
– Funders will ask universities, research organizations, and libraries to align their policies and strategies, notably to ensure transparency;
– The above principles shall apply to all types of scholarly publications, but it is understood that the timeline to achieve Open Access for monographs and books may be longer than 1 January 2020;
– The importance of open archives and repositories for hosting research outputs is acknowledged because of their long-term archiving function and their potential for editorial innovation;
– The ‘hybrid’ model of publishing is not compliant with the above principles;
– The Funders will monitor compliance and will sanction non-compliance.


Obviously, science publishers were not happy with the announcement.

“Implementing such a plan, in our view, would disrupt scholarly communications, be a disservice to researchers, and impinge academic freedom,” said a spokesperson for AAAS, Science’s publisher. “It would also be unsustainable for the Science family of journals.”

The costs of editing or article-processing will be covered by funders, in order to ensure that works are free to access for anyone and Plan-S will maintain the same quality controls used for established journals.

“We will use robust criteria for where scientists can publish, based on the excellent work done by the Directory of Open Access Journals,” Smits said.

It’s unknown how publishers like Elsevier or Science will adapt. Since 2017, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has required that its grantees publish their research in open science journals. As a result, some prestigious journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences changed their policies to accommodate open access publishing for Gates grant holders. Perhaps these journals will extend these privileges to Plan S organizations as well, or else they’ll lose the opportunity to publish cutting-edge science coming out of some of the best universities and research centers in the world.

But in doing so, organizations elsewhere, like in the United States, would likely demand equal treatment — to stop charging for access to their papers, that is.

It seems like science publishers are quite in the predicament. And even though they might suffer, for the most part, Plan S is a much-needed initiative to speed up the transition of science to an open access model which can only bring good things in society.

European Space Agency makes all its pictures and videos free to share and use

The doors to the European Space Agency (ESA) have been wide opened: everything they’ve ever released is now open access.

An iconic image recently released by the ESA. Mars as seen by Rosetta’s OSIRIS camera (2007). Credit: ESA & MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA, 2007, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

We knew something was up because, for the past few weeks, ESA has been uploading more and more of its archive to the open access site. Now, the trove of images and videos has adopted the Creative Commons Attribution – ShareAlike 3.0 Intergovernmental Organisation. This means that you can use whatever you want, share it and adapt it as you wish for all purposes — even commercially — while crediting ESA as the author.

“This evolution in opening access to ESA’s images, information and knowledge is an important element of our goal to inform, innovate, interact and inspire in the Space 4.0 landscape,” said Jan Woerner, ESA Director General. “It logically follows the free and open data policies we have already established and accounts for the increasing interest of the general public, giving more insight to the taxpayers in the member states who fund the Agency,” he added.

But this isn’t just about images and videos, their recent releases under open access policies also include data which can be used by scientists, professionals, and even students. Among many other things, you can now freely access:

  • Images and data from Earth observation missions (Envisat, Earth Explorer, European Remote Sensing missions, Copernicus; example here).
  • ESA/Hubble images and videos
  • The entire ESA Planetary Science Archive Data (PSA). The PSA is the central European repository for all scientific and engineering data returned by ESA’s planetary missions. You can see pretty much everything ESA has ever done: ExoMars 2016, Giotto, Huygens, Mars Express, Rosetta, SMART-1, Venus Express, and many more.
  • Sounds from Space: ESA’s official SoundCloud channel hosts a multitude of sounds and so-called sonifications from Space, including the famous ‘singing comet’, a track that has been reused and remixed thousands of times by composers and music makers worldwide.
  • 3D Models of a comet.

It’s a great step the ESA has taken, one which follows NASA’s similar decision. Yes, everything that NASA has is also open access — and this truly is tremendous. Now more than ever, we need access to information and data, and now more than ever NASA and the ESA have more data on their hands than they can analyze. By making it available for everyone they are not only helping researchers, students, and the media, they are also helping advance science. The tendency to favor open-access data is something we applaud and which can lead to important discoveries. The trove of data is now open for everyone to access — congrats, ESA!

Potential Effects of Sci-Hub on Academic Publishing

The academic publishing industry is undergoing radical change.

The standard model that most academics are familiar with is depicted in Fig.1. Scientists write articles send them to a handful of respected publishers freely, who then arrange for other scientists to peer-review the work. If the work is good, then it is type set and published for subscribers only. Most major universities have libraries that then pay for the subscriptions from the publishers so scientists can read one another’s work. Science moves forward and this model worked reasonably well for more than 100 years.


Fig 1. Conventional academic publishing model. Credit: Joshua Pearce

The standard model had some problems, which have become more apparent with the creation of the Internet. First, it is intuitively obvious that the progress of science is best served if everyone has access to the academic literature. However, some libraries could not afford all the subscriptions. Lack of access to the literature was (and still is) a particular problem in the developing world, where research is chronically underfunded. The same problem existed at all but the most wealthy universities.

Scientists would solve this problem by routinely sending one another “preprint request postcards”. A typical productive research group would dedicate a Friday afternoon every month to making photocopies and sending out pre-prints to requesters. This was quaint and older professors might remember this with fondness, but it was clearly inefficient. This procedure was sped up by the Internet with modern “preprint request emails” and more recently by #icanhazpdf hashtag on Twitter , anonymous website Reddit/r/scholar, and a vibrant academic torrent community sharing paywalled papers on the peer-to-peer networks.

“The frustration with the standard model and these technological developments gave rise to an open access movement.”

Contraction of the academic publishing market into a handful of powerful publishers with an increased corporate mindset that demanded higher profits raised prices on journal subscriptions causing more libraries to lose them (e.g. even Harvard was challenged). This hurt science as it swelled the ranks of intellectually disenfranchised researchers and the deluge of preprint requests became an irritant to some of the top labs. At the same time, two technological developments challenged some of the value publishers were seen to add to academic work. First, desktop publishing and free typesetting software (e.g. Libre Office or LaTeX ) enabled scientists to create their own professional looking layouts and pdfs. Second, the proliferation of inexpensive open source Linux based Internet servers made it possible to post these pdfs on the Internet for essentially zero marginal cost.

Figure 2. Pay-to-access publishing model. Credit: Joshua Pearce

Figure 2. Pay-to-access publishing model. Credit: Joshua Pearce

The frustration with the standard model and these technological developments gave rise to an open access movement. There are now many open access publishers, which tend to follow a pay-to-publish model as depicted in Fig. 2.

Academics write articles and submit them to publishers along with an article processing fee that generally ranges between $500-$2,500/paper. As with the older model, other volunteer academics review the papers, however, if accepted they are published freely for everyone to read on the Internet.

As the startup cost for digital publishing is minuscule, many new open access publishers along with more than ten thousand open access journals have proliferated often with no publication fees. In addition, all of the major publishers now offer mixed models (e.g. researchers can choose to make their work open access for a fee or publish under the standard model for free).

At the same time scientists have begun aggressively posting pre-prints freely on the Internet. In some cases this is demanded by scientific funders (e.g. NIH), in other cases academics have simply chased more citations on sites like researchgate or academia.edu. In addition, entire academic disciplines, such as the physics community, have embraced open access preprint file sharing (e.g. on arXiv or their own institutional repositories).

Many academics either do not have the funds to pay high article processing fees or have become frustrated with the lack of openness in the scientific literature. For these academics, now a third model is available embodied by Sci-Hub.

“[..] no money is changing hands to enable scientists to access the papers they write and thus this model represents a serious business threat to publishers using either of the previous models”

Sci-Hub automates the process of pre-print requesting from the past. Academics can publish in any journal using model 1 and then to obtain open access to any scientific work simply go to the Sci-Hub website, type in the name of the article they want, and it is provided.

Sci-Hub does this by first searching a sister public repository of scientific research papers called Libgen. If the article is not there, Sci-Hub uses credentials anonymously to obtain authorized access to various paywalled collections. Sci-Hub then delivers a pdf of the journal article to the original requester and deposits a copy with Libgen for future uses as well (over 47 million at the time of this writing).

This third new model is shown in Fig. 3. It is clear from Fig. 3, that no money is changing hands to enable scientists to access the papers they write and thus this model represents a serious business threat to publishers using either of the previous models. Academic librarians find themselves caught in the middle.

Figure 3. Sci-Hub model. Credit: Joshua Pearce

Figure 3. Sci-Hub model. Credit: Joshua Pearce

Model 1 is the most threatened and this explains why Elsevier, the largest scientific publisher, sued Sci-Hub and was successful at getting an injunction against the original Sci-Hub site.

Some authors have pointed out that this lawsuit may have been ill-advised as it publicized what was otherwise a relatively unknown website. However, the lawsuit may have only had an effect on the timing of the rise of the third model, not its overall long-term effects. Shortly after the injunction, a new Sci-Hub site (outside of U.S. legal jurisdiction) was created to continue the same work.

It seems clear that even if publishers group together and invest massive economic and legal resources in shutting down each of these wack-a-mole sites, Internet freedom groups with substantial and unknown resources (depicted in Fig. 3 as Anonymous) would only further spread the scientific literature freely on mirror sites. Thus, it can be assumed that Sci-Hub or its descendants will be unlikely to be stopped by the current legal system.

Thus, it stands Sci-Hub and type 3 publishing models will have an effect on academic publishers using the other two models. The most likely effect will be the continued erosion in institutional libraries willing (or able) to pay substantial funds to scientific publishers (e.g. >$1million for Elsevier subscriptions) for access to their repositories of scientific literature.

Presuming that the costs of publishers providing their current services is approximately fixed, this will result in an increased cost of the repositories leading to a positive feedback loop. This effect will force more libraries to abandon the subscriptions, which is why this effect is sometimes referred to as a “death spiral”. Academic publishers can slow the death spiral by charging less for access to their historic repositories. However, this approach has obvious negative consequences as it will reduce margins and profits for their share holders. In addition, although hard-copy journals have been in a long decline, it appears clear that the Sci-Hub effect will push the available funds for physical printing too low to be sustainable. For older academics this may evoke terror, but for younger academics that have never accessed the literature in any other way than a webpage or a pdf, this will not be noticeable loss.

Academic publishers currently using the second model of pay-to-publish will also not be immune to the effects of Sci-Hub.

The primary benefit of paying for an open access publication, is there is some fairly strong evidence that open access results in higher citation rates. This is not overly surprising as academics must be able to read a paper to cite it. Citations have enormous value for academics as they are often important for hiring, promotion and tenure. However, Sci-Hub essentially turns all type 1 publications into open access publications for no article processing charge. The value proposition for paying for open access when Sci-Hub will provide it for free, is thin.

Scientific authors (particularly non-native English speakers) may be willing to pay for copy-editing and some other value-added publisher ancillary services, but researchers willing to pay several thousand dollars for simple open access can be expected to decline. Thus, it also appears likely that there will be downward price pressure on the pay-to-publish model. The effects will be the same as with the type 1 publishers, a race to the bottom of marginal costs.

“Sci-Hub will weaken all conventional publishing business models”

Although there are likely major changes in store for the academic publishing industry, all is not lost. The ideal journal from an academic’s perspective is one that has a high impact factor, rapid review, provides open access to the content on a rolling basis and provides rapid and high-quality ancillary services (e.g. typesetting, copy-editing, translation, video editing etc.).

The academic publishers still have a major asset in their branded high impact factor journals. New competitors following any business model have significant barriers of entry to overcome to generate a new high impact factor journal.

Academics will continue to want to publish in the high impact factor journals for the value of prestige. Academics also always want to see their results published as quickly as possible, particularly in fast-moving competitive fields. They are likely to be willing to pay for this speed.

As perhaps a reflection of the future, some journals are already charging a relatively low (on the order of ~$100) article processing fee up front before an article is sent to review. This appears to be a good model in the current academic climate for publishers as the cost is small relative to most research grants and contracts. It may also be possible to have researchers pay on an increasing scale for more rapid review. This has obvious risks, but maintains some funding for the academic publishing industry. In addition, academic publishers can look to new revenue streams such as ads and data.

The site academia.edu provides some insights into how such models could work. They have demonstrated that for easy and rapid open access to the literature, academics are willing to look at targeted ads (e.g. ads for academic positions). In addition, as the publishers would have sole access to the data generated by their readers they can provide valuable intelligence to industry (e.g. on which engineering topics are trending). In this case, the information about the users become the “product”, while the previous product (papers) are given away for free. In the end, the only defense for publishers against Sci-Hub is to give away for free papers via open access and move to new business models.

Even with new methods of maintaining revenue for academic publishers, Sci-Hub will weaken all conventional publishing business models. This presents the risk that academic publishing is lost by making it more accessible, which everyone can agree would be a net loss for humanity. To provide a backup in the case of mass academic publishing industry failure, non-profit publishers in the education and government sectors could fill the void.

Universities already shoulder the highest-skill labor for academic journal publishing: writing and peer review of articles. As was pointed out above, recent advances in open source software make type setting, digital publishing and Internet repositories relatively inexpensive and easy to setup and maintain.

Many universities already maintain some form of open access repository for graduate thesis publication, expanding this to full fledged journal publishing with the existing free Public Knowledge Project’s Open Journal System, which already supports over 8,000 journals, is relatively straight forward. In addition, universities could use their own substantial brands to add prestige to new journals. For example, MIT is experimenting with PubPub.

Similarly, government scientific funders already perform all the services of an academic publisher to enable peer-review of grant applications and publishing the results of the funded research with reports. Science funders such as the DOD, NIH, NSF, DOE, NASA and USDA can support peer-reviewed open-access journals for the scientists they fund in their sub-disciplines. The National Science Foundation Division of Physics, would, for example, offer the NSF Journal of Physics, which could be further divided by sub-division/sub-discipline.

To fully take advantage of the efficiencies possible by this process two new requirements will need to be implemented by funders. Grant requests could begin taking the form of an introduction and methods for a journal article and then in place of reporting for a grant publication in the government open access journal would become mandatory. The articles would undergo the same peer-review they do currently in any conventional journal. The editors would similarly be drawn from the scientific community and the journal could be managed by existing project managers during time released from eliminating reporting requirements.

It should be obvious that all of the methods provided here for academic publishers to maintain revenue will reduce the demand for Sci-Hub. Large-scale free and open access publishing whether by conventional publishers, universities or government funders will eliminate the need for Sci-Hub.

In the end, the scientific literature will be made freely available to all and Sci-Hub and its descendent’s will become irrelevant. This will be a massive net benefit to society and accelerate scientific progress. For academic publishers to remain relevant and avoid the same fate as Sci-Hub itself, they must shift to new business models rapidly and continue to innovate to serve the needs of academics in creative ways.

Nature journals make all their articles free to view

Nature, one of the biggest academic journal groups has announced that they will make all their articles free to view. While the articles will be available for anyone to read, they cannot be copied, printed or downloaded, the journal’s publisher Macmillan announced on 2 December.

nature publishing

“Subscribers to 49 journals on nature.com will be able to share a unique URL to a full text, read-only version of published scientific research with colleagues or collaborators in the most convenient way for them, e.g. via email and social media. Included are the world’s most cited scientific publication, Nature; the Nature family of journals and fifteen other quality science journals”, the press release reads.

This seems like a brilliant move which will allow scholars, students and passionate readers to access the content, while also preserving Macmillan’s main source of income – the subscription fees libraries and individuals pay to gain access to articles.

The PDFs with the articles will be available on the ReadCube platform. ReadCube is an open source desktop and browser-based program for managing, annotating, and accessing academic research articles; however, as mentioned above, you will only be able to read and annotate the articles – not download them. This move will also likely increase not only Nature’s popularity, but also ReadCube’s – a platform in which Macmillan has invested heavily. So basically you get a read only version of all the papers published in Nature, which you will also be able to share with your friends through a link that anyone can access. PDF articles can also be saved to a free desktop version of ReadCube, much like songs on iTunes can be saved on your computer. The only bad thing is that ReadCube is only available on Windows and MacOS, so if you’re running Linux or other operating systems, there’s a good chance it won’t work for you. Personally, I feel this is a pretty significant problem, as Linux users are most likely overrepresented in Nature’s audience.

“We know researchers are already sharing content, often in hidden corners of the Internet or using clumsy, time-consuming practices,” said a statement by Timo Hannay, the managing director of Digital Science, a division of Macmillan that has invested in ReadCube. “At Digital Science we have the technology to provide a convenient, legitimate alternative that allows researchers to access the information they need and the wider, interested public access to scientific knowledge, from the definitive, original source,” Hannay said.

This move comes as open-source research is becoming more and more prevalent; for example, over half of 2007-2012 published research is now available for free. The Chinese research agencies are pushing more and more for full open access research and the White House directs open access for government research. Personally, I am strongly for open access research – bar some exceptions in which there are strong reasons to put a paywall over the articles. I feel that this current system with library subscriptions is more business oriented than science oriented and it’s stripping away potential progress by limiting the access to science. However, while this initiative is laudable… it’s not exactly open access.

“To me, this smacks of public relations, not open access,” says John Wilbanks, a strong advocate of open-access publishing in science and a senior fellow at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri. “With access mandates on the march around the world, this appears to be more about getting ahead of the coming reality in scientific publishing. Now that the funders call the tune and the funders want the articles on the web at no charge, these articles are going to be open anyway,” he says.

So, what do you think? Is this just a PR move, or is it a legitimate attempt to move towards open-access research? Or is it both?

Nature was first set up on 4 November 1869. It was ranked the world’s most cited by the Science Edition of the 2010 Journal Citation Reports and is widely regarded as one of the few remaining academic journals that publishes original research across a wide range of scientific fields. They get about 3 million unique readers every month, and if you’ve been reading ZME Science for a while, you’ve likely seen that we often cite studies from them.

Original Press Release.

Over half of 2007-2012 published research is now available for free

More than half of all peer-reviewed studies published between 2007 and 2012 are now available, for free, on the internet, for everyone to access. The results were published in a report made by the European Commission. The report is part of the European Commission’s effort to monitor the evolution of scientific data availability.

“A substantial part of the material openly available is relatively old, or as some would say, outdated,” writes Science-Metrix, a consultancy in Montreal, Canada, who conducted the study, one of a series of reports on open access policies and open data.

The problem is that peer review data is usually made available after a delay, but there are many reasons to be happy about the evolution of published science. For starters, the number of studies published in open-access journals continues to rise, reaching almost 13% in 2012. The bulk of the Internet’s free papers are available through other means – made open by publishers after a delay, or by authors archiving their manuscripts online. But the number seemed to remain stable at about 40%, and as I said above, the main problem is a delay.

“The fundamental problem highlighted by the Science-Metrix findings is timing,” writes Stevan Harnad, an open-access advocate and cognitive scientist at the University of Quebec in Montreal, Canada. “Over 50% of all articles published between 2007 and 2012 are freely available today. But the trouble is that their percentage in the most critical years, namely, the 1-2 years following publication, is far lower than that. This is partly because of publisher open access embargoes, partly because of author fears and sluggishness, but mostly because not enough strong, effective open access mandates have as yet been adopted by institutions and funders.”

The results are estimates, and not a complete analysis on every single paper – so the actual numbers may be a bit off. Another thing worth noting is that many of the articles, although free to read, do not meet formal definitions of open access – for example, they do not include details on whether readers can freely reuse the material. So basically, some of the articles you may read for free may not be considered open source.

There were significant differences based on the field and country; for example, biomedical research (71% estimated free between 2011 and 2013) is one of the most open areas, while chemistry for example is much less open (39%). The study also showed that compared to the world average (54%), some countries fared better (Brazil – 76%, Netherlands – 74%). As for the UK, where the nation’s main public funder, Research Councils UK, has set a 45% target for 2013-14, has already reached 64% in previous years – so things are looking good.

This comes right after next week, the ‘Open Access Button’ was launched in London – a website and app that allows users to find free research. If no free copy is available the app promises to email authors asking them to upload a free version of their paper – with an explanation direct from the user who needs the manuscript.

“We are trying to make open access personal – setting up a conversation between the author and the person who wants access,” says Joe McArthur, who co-founded the project and works at the Right to Research Coalition, an advocacy group in London.

It does seem like we are entering a new age in research availability – and it really is exciting. It’s a slow process and there are many bumps along the road… but we’re getting there.

Colombian college student Diego Gomez faces jail time after he shared on Scribd a thesis written by another scientist. The act violates strict copyright laws in the South American country.

Student faces up to 8 years of jail for sharing scientist thesis on the web

Colombian college student Diego Gomez faces jail time after he shared on Scribd a thesis written by another scientist. The act violates strict copyright laws in the South American country.

Colombian college student Diego Gomez faces jail time after he shared on Scribd a thesis written by another scientist. The act violates strict copyright laws in the South American country.

In 2011, Diego Gómez Hoyos posted someone’s thesis about amphibian taxonomy on scribd while still an undergrad, hoping that by sharing the work he would help other fellow biology students. Come 2013, Hoyos was sued by the owner of the work and now faces copyright charges that, if found guilty, could have him jailed for up to 8 years.

Jail for sharing science


Hoyos quickly withdrew the paper from website as soon as he received the copyright infringement notice, but either way his case already came to the attention of the Colombian court.  The country revised its copyright bill in 2006 following a free trade agreement it signed with the United States, to protect foreign interests. It’s unclear how Colombia modeled its copyright law, considering the US has only a couple of criminal penalties for cases of extreme copyright infringement, while Columbia seems to treat cases indiscriminately.

[ALSO READ] How much is your university paying for journal access


“It is a really awful, disturbing case, for the complete lack of proportionality of the trial,” says Michael Carroll, director of the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property at the American University and member of the board of directors of the Public Library of Science. “In copyright systems all over the world we see authors of extreme claims but most other countries would filter out this case,” he adds.

Hoyos is now being backed by the Karisma Foundation, a human rights organization in Bogotá, which has launched a campaign called “Sharing is not a crime”.

“Lawmakers in developing countries, in their commitments to these kind of agreements, often don’t strike a balance,” says Carolina Botero, a lawyer at Karisma Foundation. “Reproducing a work without permission is not enough to face a criminal trial: it should have been done for profit, which is not the case,” she says.

Hoyos has refused to reveal the name of the copyright owner to avoid any kind of pressure that might fall upon the author. Still, he is in a very delicate situation. If found guilty, Hoyos, now pursuing a  master’s degree in conservation of protected areas at the National University of Costa Rica in Heredia, faces between 4 and 8 years in jail.

“My lawyer has tried unsuccessfully to establish contacts with the complainant: I am open to negotiate and get to an agreement to move this issue out of the criminal trial,” he told Nature.

The case has left Gómez feeling disappointed. “I thought people did biology for passion, not for making money,” he says. “Now other scientists are much more circumspect [about sharing publications].”

It’s cases like these that should prompt policymakers to adopt an open-access approach, for the greater good of science. Vanity and profit should have no place in these sort of discussions.


How much is your university paying for journal access?


At the turn of the 1990s, scholarly publishers were increasingly concerned about what had become known as the serials crisis. Journal subscriptions were rising at an average of 10% per year, which in turn meant each year libraries were struggling harder to keep up and in, consequence, many would cancel. To counter, publishers would further increase their pricing, then more and more libraries would cancel, and again rinse and repeat. The result: a vicious cycle that threatened to undermine a 350-year-old scholarly publishing system.

The Big Academic Buffet

Then came 1996 and Academic Press (AP) introduced what would become known as the “Big Deal” – online subscriptions to large bundles of electronic journals sold at a fixed fee for an arranged period of time (typically three years). Much like home cable subscriptions that include hundreds of TV stations, the Big Deal came with an all-you-can-eat offer for universities and libraries – and they all gobbled it up whole! At first glance, the system, which was soon adopted by all the other big publishing houses, was a breath of fresh air and came as a solution to a desperate problem.

The administrative tasks involved in subscriptions was dramatically shortened, as now there was just one collection of journals (i.e., the entire portfolio published by AP) and just one customer. Second, if the license fee was paid by means of top-slicing, the pressure on library budgets would be less severe. Finally, by bundling its entire portfolio of journals in a single product, AP could hope to break the cancellation cycle, since the bundle would be offered on an all-or-nothing basis.

Almost twenty years later, the Big Deal turned out not to be that much of a bargain. The Big Deal is like a single all-you-can eat subscription for a set fee, however libraries soon learned that there are many downsides to consuming academia in a bundle. Most libraries would spend a great deal of their budgets on the Big Deal, then would find themselves lacking funds for other important purchases like buying monographs, which had an impact on scientists and other researchers alike, a situation exacerbated by the fact that the proportion of research university funding allocated to libraries has been falling over time.

“Big Deals consume a disproportionately large percentage of the total library materials budget, and often the purchase of books suffers because monies have to be prioritised for journals,” says Paul Ayris, director of library services at University College London. “This affects scholarship in the Arts, Humanities and some Social Sciences since the unit of publication in these areas is still the book.”

But it would be wrong to portray the Big Deal as a cunning plan by publishers to entrap librarians, as some conspiracies might have us believe. So, libraries should hold no ill grudge for this, but they have other reasons to be unhappy. One being that journal charge preferentially for their subscriptions, as revealed by an investigative paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It’s not that universities and libraries pay a different price for the same bundle – this is something we all knew somehow – it’s the crazy inequality of it all.


Universities negotiate with academic publishing companies behind closed doors, and those deals usually come with nondisclosure agreements that keep the bundled prices secret. The authors of the study got ahold of “big deal” contracts with publishers (non-profit and for-profit alike) from 55 public university libraries and 12 consortia via FOIA (Freedom of Information ACT) requests or just plain asking nicely. It wasn’t no easy task, of course – Elsevier, Springer and the other big publishing houses contested the request for contracts from libraries like University of Texas or University of Washington, but the courts eventually ruled in favor of the researchers involved. The authors found that:

“The contracts we have seen show remarkable institution-specific price variation that cannot be explained by university characteristics such as enrollment and PhD production. Some institutions have been quite successful in bargaining for lower prices wheras others may not have been aware that better bargains can be reached. Perhaps this variation explains publishers’ desire to keep contract terms confidential.”

Take the case of University of Oregon and Oklahoma State University – both are similar in size and numbers of PhDs graduated each year, yet OK State paid $185,795 for the Wiley journal package and the University of Oregon paid $285,036. There are many other cases you can find in the full paper, and what this goes to show is that pricing is not made over some objective metrics, but rather by bargaining. University of Michigan paid almost twice as much as the University of Wisconsin for the same Elsevier package. Not coincidentally, UM’s acquisitions budget is almost double the size of UW.

So, is this the Big Deal libraries have been waiting for? In light of all this, I can only hope and wish that efforts that try to make journal entries open access for everybody, whether you’re in a library or home on your personal computer. Even so, the big publishing houses will rejoice just as well. It will be the government’s money that will pay for the subscriptions, instead of the libraries, and their money is the best and fattest in the world, straight from your pocket.

New, great open-access deal for particle physics

Fantastic news for physics lovers: pretty much all particle physics articles will now be open-source, thanks to a deal between a consortium and 12 journals.

In the most remarkable attempt to make hard, peer-reviewed science available to readers, the Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics (SCOAP3) is close to securing all particle-physics articles — about 7,000 publications last year — free on journal’s websites.

Particle physics is already a paragon of open source, with most studies being published on he preprint server arXiv, but most peer-reviewed studies were still published in subscription journals – a quite contested method, due to the practices of publishing companies, most notably, Elsevier. Basically, in order to receive access to the articles and journals they are most interested in, entities such as universities and institutes are forced to strike deals in which they buy more than they are interested in; but that will, hopefully change in the nearby future.


The new deal stipulates that research groups do not need to arrange open publication of their work, and over 90 percent work in the field will be published open source, as of 2014. Salvatore Mele, who leads the project from CERN, Europe’s high-energy physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, and home of the LHC announced the details, and seemed quite pleased with this development.

It is “the most systematic attempt to convert all the journals in a given field to open access”, says Peter Suber, a philosopher at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, and a proponent of open access.

The consortium managed to do this by inviting the journals to bid for three-year open-access publishing contracts, and ranked them by an undisclosed algorithm that weighed their fees against their impact factors and the licences and delivery formats they offer. The journals won big, gaining an average of €1,200 (US$1,550) per paper, but the biggest winners here are the public and physics. The consortium will pay this from an annual budget of approximately 12 million dollars, funded not by authors or research grants, but by pledges from more than a thousand libraries, funding agencies and research consortia across the world.

Source: Nature