Saturday, January 15, 2011

It drives me crazy when the term "open access" is used for anything free of charge

Just a semi quick one here ...

There is a new article in Science Now reporting "Quandary: Scientists Prefer Reading Over Publishing 'Open Access' Papers - ScienceInsider". It discusses a new report from the SOAP (study of open access publishing) project. The reports coming from SOAP are very important and can be very useful. That is not what drives me crazy here.

What drives me crazy is that this article and an almost uncountable number of other articles and discussions I see about "open access" publishing throw around the term "open access" inappropriately. This term is now used for basically any of the diverse array of array of journals or articles within journals for which there is no charge to read (the articles). The problem here is that the term "open access" really should be reserved for material that for which the term "free" applies not just to how much you pay for it (i.e., free of charge, like free beer) but "free" as in "freedom" (i.e., Braveheart free or Statue of Liberty free).

Here is a good definition of "open access" from Peter Suber "Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions."

To me, more important the "free of charge" is "free of most copyright and licensing restrictions". This aspect of open access frees up the scientific literature to be reused and redistributed by anyone and has the potential to truly revolutionize scientific knowledge. Free of restrictions allows material to be used in textbooks and web resources (e.g., PLoS Hubs) and databases, remixed and remashed and whatever. No restrictions allows bloggers and other writers to take figures and post them and reuse them and spread knowledge. Free of charge simply allows people to read the paper at no cost - useful - important - but not all that "open access" is about.

If you want to learn more about the difference between "open access" and "no charge to access" the best place to look is Peter Suber's "Open Access Overview." And please, don't fall for all these new journals calling themselves "open access" when all they do is make material available for no charge. Look at the restrictions the journals place on use of the material. What is the license used for the article? Does it allow any type of reuse or are there commercial or other restrictions? What is the copyright policy? And so on. In other words, just how "open" are they really?

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post. I wonder whether authors realise the restrictions that the 'wrong' open access publications could apply to their content? How will this effect the inclusion of 'tainted' content in next-generation tools/analyses?


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