Monthly Archives: June 2010

Commentary: When Open Access isn’t

This week, PLoS ONE published an interesting paper by Bo-Christer Björk and coworkers on the free global availability of articles from scientific journals. One of the principal findings in this study is that 20.4% of articles published in 2008 are now available as Open Access (OA):

Open Access to the Scientific Journal Literature: Situation 2009

Background: The Internet has recently made possible the free global availability of scientific journal articles. Open Access (OA) can occur either via OA scientific journals, or via authors posting manuscripts of articles published in subscription journals in open web repositories. So far there have been few systematic studies showing how big the extent of OA is, in particular studies covering all fields of science.

Methodology/Principal Findings: The proportion of peer reviewed scholarly journal articles, which are available openly in full text on the web, was studied using a random sample of 1837 titles and a web search engine. Of articles published in 2008, 8,5% were freely available at the publishers’ sites. For an additional 11,9% free manuscript versions could be found using search engines, making the overall OA percentage 20,4%. Chemistry (13%) had the lowest overall share of OA, Earth Sciences (33%) the highest. In medicine, biochemistry and chemistry publishing in OA journals was more common. In all other fields author-posted manuscript copies dominated the picture.

Conclusions/Significance: The results show that OA already has a significant positive impact on the availability of the scientific journal literature and that there are big differences between scientific disciplines in the uptake. Due to the lack of awareness of OA-publishing among scientists in most fields outside physics, the results should be of general interest to all scholars. The results should also interest academic publishers, who need to take into account OA in their business strategies and copyright policies, as well as research funders, who like the NIH are starting to require OA availability of results from research projects they fund. The method and search tools developed also offer a good basis for more in-depth studies as well as longitudinal studies.

Having just set up a mirror of the OA subset of PubMed Central, I know that it contains only ~10% of the articles deposited in PubMed Central and only ~1% of the articles indexed by PubMed. It was thus with equal doses of joy and scepticism that I read numbers reported by Bo-Christer Björk and coworkers.

It soon became clear to me that the study did not adhere to the OA definition by the Budapest Open Access Initiative, which is as follows:

By ‘open access’ to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.

The Bo-Christer Björk et al. do not define what exactly they mean by OA. However, from reading their paper is is pretty clear that any article for which they can get hold of free full text is counted as OA. The license under which the copy is distributed does not to matter, and they thus count the 90% of articles in PubMed Central that are published under non-OA licenses as OA. It does not even seem to matter if the free full text is legal or not, implying that any article of which an illegal copy can be found somewhere on the web is counted as OA.

I have heard of Gold OA and Green OA. It is tempting to call this Black OA. But I won’t. Because it just isn’t OA.