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Open access gains ground

Half of scientific papers published in 2011 can be accessed online for free, a new study has suggested. 

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn

Source: European Union, 2010

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science

The level is about twice that previously estimated and is likely to cheer advocates of the movement to make the results of publicly-funded research freely available.

According to the study – published on 21 August by Montreal-based research evaluation consultancy Science-Metrix – Brazil, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the US have the highest rates of open access publishing.

In Europe, 20 out of 27 countries, including the UK, are likely to have tipped towards a majority of papers published in 2008-2011 being made available for free, it adds.

Articles in biomedicine, biology, and mathematics and statistics were the most likely to be free to access, while the lowest rates were in the social sciences and humanities, applied sciences, engineering and technology.

The report also found that more than 40 per cent of scientific peer-reviewed articles published worldwide from 2004 to 2011 are now available online in open-access form.

The authors of the study put the big increase on previous estimates down to a refined methodology and wider definition of open access.

They derived their figures by randomly sampling 320,000 papers from the database Scopus, published in 22 fields between 2004 and 2011, then searching online in repositories, publisher websites and institutional archives for the full texts. 

The European Commission, which funded the study, said it demonstrated that a “tipping point” in open access publishing has been reached.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, commissioner for research, innovation and science, said: “Putting research results in the public sphere makes science better and strengthens our knowledge-based economy.”

From 2014, the EU body expects publication of all the research it funds to be open access – either through “gold” or “hybrid” models, with any upfront publisher costs eligible for reimbursement; or through the “green” self-archiving model no later than six months after publication, or 12 months for social sciences and humanities papers.

In the UK, open access publishing is already mandatory for papers funded by a number of funders including the research councils and Wellcome Trust, although policies and levels of compliance vary.

elizabeth.gibney@tsleducation.com

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Readers' comments (3)

  • Stevan Harnad

    Important question for Eric Archambault:

    The report seems to say that it is 50% of articles published between 2004 and 2011 that are freely accessible online in 2012, not that it is 50% of articles published in 2012 that are accessible online in 2012. In fact the report estimates that it was in 2012 that articles published in 2008 reached 50%.

    Which is correct?

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  • Stevan Harnad

    Correction: The above should have read:

    Important question for Eric Archambault:

    The report seems to say that it is 50% of articles published between 2004 and 2011 that are freely accessible online in 2012, not that it is 50% of articles published in 2011 that are accessible online in 2012. In fact the report estimates that it was in 2012 that articles published in 2008 reached 50%.

    Which is correct?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Stevan Harnad

    Thanks to Richard Noorden of Nature, who has replied that I was mistaken. It is indeed 50% of publishing year 2011 freely accessible by the end of 2012, i.e., within a possible range of 0-20 months from publication.

    I hope we'll soon have month by month data for the repository portion, and then we'll do a proactive study for 2013-2014 papers, month by month, as they're published.

    There are two reasons the timing is so important:

    (1) The growth tip of many (thugh not all) field of science is within the first year of publication.

    (2) Publisher embargoes are mostly 12 months.

    So 12 months is the figure to beat. If most of the free access is after 12 months, that's a publisher triumph and a research community loss. 50% immediate access would be a real watershed: the target, of course, is 100% immediate access.

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