[LIS-Forum] Need for open access
subbiah_a at yahoo.com
Wed Mar 30 19:12:08 IST 2011
Here is an editorial from the latest issue of PLoS Medicine. The same issue
carries an invited commentary
On the Path to Global Open Access: A Few More Miles to Go
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* Author Contributions
The PLoS Medicine Editors*
Citation: The PLoS Medicine Editors (2011) On the Path to Global Open Access: A
Few More Miles to Go. PLoS Med 8(3): e1001014. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001014
Published: March 29, 2011
Copyright: © 2011 PLoS Medicine Editors. This is an open-access article
distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which
permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided
the original author and source are credited.
Funding: The PLoS Medicine Editors are each paid a salary by the Public Library
of Science, and they wrote this editorial during their salaried time. No
specific funding was received for this paper.
Competing interests: The PLoS Medicine Editors' individual competing interests
are athttp://www.plosmedicine.org/static/editorsInterests.action. PLoS is
funded partly through manuscript publication charges, but the PLoS
Medicine Editors are paid a fixed salary (their salary is not linked to the
number of papers published in the journal).
Abbreviations: HINARI, Health Internetwork Access to Research Initiative; OA,
* E-mail: medicine_editors at plos.org
The PLoS Medicine Editors are Virginia Barbour, Jocalyn Clark, Susan Jones,
Melissa Norton, and Emma Veitch.
Provenance: Written by editorial staff; not externally peer reviewed.
It has been a couple of months now since the withdrawal of access via HINARI to
medical journals in Bangladesh by several publishers caused an upset in the
medical publishing world . HINARI (Health Internetwork Access to Research
Initiative) is a WHO-supported program  that partners with subscription-based
publishers to allow researchers in the world's poorest countries to access some
of their journals under certain conditions (for example, researchers have to
access the journal in defined institutions). After much lobbying from
researchers, editors, and others following the withdrawal, HINARI access has
been—for the time being at least—reinstated, though with a substantial lack of
clarity over the longer term plans of a number of the publishers . Although
traumatic for the researchers who lost access, the incident has triggered a
useful debate on the value of open access (OA; immediate, permanent free access
and permanently guaranteed unrestricted reuse, as enshrined in a Creative
Commons license  and as practiced by publishers such as PLoS) versus free
access with no legal rights attached. It is hard to think of a better example to
demonstrate the precariousness of this latter type of free access, which can
mean that access may be withdrawn for no reason.
Now that the heat of the HINARI debate has died down, it is an opportune time to
consider how this dispute, and others like it, can be used constructively to
move toward a position where universal OA to the medical literature becomes the
On the positive side, the debate has brought many new voices into the discussion
around access, particularly those on the online discussion forum HIFA2015 ,
where the diversity and strength of opinions expressed was most likely the key
instrument in ensuring that the publishers' withdrawal from HINARI was not only
brought to light, but also largely reversed.
The debacle also allowed constructive discussions around the substantial
limitations of HINARI and its inability to provide a long-term sustainable
solution to access in the developing world. It also allowed airing of many OA
issues, including the difference between free and open access ; the
logistical difficulties experienced by some researchers in accessing online
journals, such as those in locations with low bandwidth; the suspicion of some
researchers of online-only journals; and concerns over publication fees.
Thus the argument about how to implement such access, particularly in the
developing world, is far from over. The issues above are very familiar to OA
advocates. When PLoS Medicine was getting started seven years ago, we
encountered many of the same questions from the (admittedly mostly
developed-world) authors and readers we canvassed then. The phenomenal growth of
OA since then has reassured many of those who initially questioned the model and
its sustainability: submissions and publications are increasing each year at
PLoS and in other open-access journals, reflecting the increased confidence of
authors in this model. OA papers are also highly accessed, though our data
suggest that most of this access, and most of the authors, still come from the
The HINARI incident thus highlights the fact that HINARI is, sadly, still needed
both because of traditional publishers who have not yet implemented OA, even in
the developed world, and because substantial gaps remain in our knowledge about
how OA will work for the developing world. Hence, there is some way to go before
this model of publishing can become the norm worldwide. Despite the best
intentions of open-access publishers, we have failed to reach out adequately to
debate with researchers and readers in the less-developed world about the
potential benefits of open access. Instead, as is often the case when the
developed world prescribes for the less-developed world, we have assumed that
what works well in Paris, London, or San Francisco will work just as well in
Addis Ababa, Beirut, or Lima.
Some examples of these active concerns about OA: first, are OA journals being
delivered in the best format for readers in the developing world? If print
really is better in some places, are we doing our best to ensure that the online
journals are optimized for rapid downloading and printing of articles? If access
to online journals will be primarily via mobile devices rather than computers,
are we delivering the content in appropriate formats? Second, do we understand
the reputation metrics outside of Europe or the US that will ensure that the new
OA journals are trusted and meet the requirements authors face for academic
promotions or other professional needs ? Even more importantly, are there OA
journals available that cater to the needs of readers and authors across the
developing world? Should publishers be helping groups to start their own
journals, rather than assuming that the existing OA journals will be accepted?
Medical journals have many roles, but, above all, dissemination of medical
information is key. This crucial role was stated clearly back in1997 by Neil
Pakenham-Walsh (the founder of HIFA2015) and colleagues, and it is no less
relevant now : “Providing access to reliable health information for health
workers in developing countries is potentially the single most cost effective
and achievable strategy for sustainable improvement in health care.”
Much therefore remains to be done in improving access to health information in
the developing world. By providing a logistical framework for open access (by
the adoption of appropriate licenses), and by showing what can be done in the
developed world with OA journals, OA publishers have done much to make it
possible more widely. The next crucial step is to engage with readers,
researchers, and authors in the developing world to understand better their
information needs so that we don't fall into the trap of pushing information in
only one direction. Open access is about facilitating the movement of
knowledge—in all directions.
Author Contributions Top
Wrote the first draft of the editorial: VB. Contributed to the writing of the
editorial: JC SJ MN EV.
1. Kmietowicz K (2011) Publishers withdraw 2500 journals from free access
scheme in Bangladesh. BMJ 342: d196. doi:10.1136/bmj.d196.
2. HINARI (2011) HINARI Access to Research in Health Programme.
Available:http://www.who.int/hinari/en/. Accessed 16 February 2011.
3. Wise A (2011) Elsevier statement on Research4Life. Lancet 377: 377. FIND
THIS ARTICLE ONLINE
4. PLoS (2011) Definition of Open Access.
Available: http://www.plos.org/oa/definition.php. Accessed 16 February 2011.
5. HIFA2015 (2011) A Global Campaign: Healthcare Information for All by 2015.
Available:http://www.hifa2015.org/. Accessed 16 February 2011.
6. Chan L, Kirsop B, Arunachalam S (2011) Towards Open and Equitable Access to
Research and Knowledge for Development. PLoS Med 8: 1016.
7. Packenham-Walsh N, Priestley C, Smith R (1997) Meeting the information needs
of health workers in developing countries. BMJ 314: 90. FIND THIS ARTICLE ONLINE
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