June 9, 2017

Opening up scientific research to developing countries

Abstract: Institutions in some parts of the world do not have the same ability to pay for accessing research as large universities in developed countries do. Hence it is important for these institutions to have some alternative way of accessing material that they need in order to be able to conduct research and to teach. The increasing openness of scientific research has been beneficial for institutions in developing countries, and the aim of this blog post is to look at how western institutions and governments are supporting open scientific knowledge for the benefit of poorer countries.

For this entry I would like to take a look at how the open availability of scientific information benefits institutions and researchers in developing countries, what has already been done to make this access easier and what still has to be worked on. One of the problems surrounding access to published research is that in most cases, institutions need to subscribe to journals in order to be able to access scientific articles which they need for research and teaching purposes. In developed countries where universities and research institutions have relatively generous budgets this is an issue which can be relatively easily overcome. In developing countries however, this can be a major hurdle.

One way in which the scientific community has been trying to overcome this issue is by making research openly available, meaning that it can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection regardless of whether they are subscribed to a particular journal or not. This is a relatively recent movement, and it has been led by the opening up of publicly funded research. The idea is that if research has been funded with public money, then it should be publicly available to those who need it. Several governments and organizations which fund this kind of research have led the effort to make publications openly available – these include the British government, the World Bank, as well as the Wellcome Trust (Source: The Guardian).

But what about research which is not funded by national governments or international institutions? Is there a way for this kind of research to be made openly available as well? Turns out that there are in fact several ways that this can be (and is) done, and each have their own set of benefits and drawbacks. Two of the most important ways this is done are “gold” open access and “green” open access. Gold open access means that the author of the paper will have to pay the publisher a certain amount, and then the paper will be published and openly available. The idea here is that publishers will still be able to stay in business, and the paper will be available even to those who would not be able to otherwise pay to read it. The main drawback here is the impact that this has on the author. Depending on how many papers an author or an institution publishes, this way of making them open can get expensive really quickly, since it can cost up to several thousand dollars per paper to do this. Another drawback is that this model can negatively affect institutions in exactly the developing countries which open access is meant to help – because if they have to pay to make their research open, they might not have enough money to do this, so it really just shifts the problem of access but does not solve it.

The green open access model is quite a bit different, and consists of setting up “open access repositories”, where research publications from a specific institution are put and made available for others to access (Source: The Guardian). The difference here is that the institution takes care of making the article open access, rather than paying the publisher to do it for them. Some universities even have specific programs which are aimed at making their research available to institutions in developing countries for free or for a reduced cost. An example of this is Oxford University in the U.K. Oxford has a program that they call the Developing Countries Initiative, which is aimed exactly at making sure that research institutions in poorer countries have access to the publications published through the Oxford University Press (Source: Oxford Developing Countries Initiative). One interesting criteria that is included in the description of the Oxford program is that they must be non-profit research organizations, meaning that it is not enough that an institution in a developing country wants access to research, it must be for educational or non-profit research purposes, so that people do not use this as a way to try to make money by avoiding having to pay for publications.  The New England Journal of Medicine has a similar program, where users from certain countries are allowed free access to the journal articles online, since they would be unable to buy them.

The next question is what is there that can still be done to make the whole process simpler and more effective. As I have already written, many major universities, institutions, and governments have taken it upon themselves to make their research accessible to institutions in developing countries. But there is a lot that can still be done. Not all research publications are available this way, and it would be much easier if there was some sort of central repository where all articles could be accessed, rather than each institution which wants to do this having to set up their own. Another consideration is why should this apply only to developing countries? What about countries which are labeled developed but where institutions still don’t have enough money to be able to afford to access a large part of the research they need? Overall, quite a lot of progress has already been made in this area, but there is still a lot left to accomplish. This also poses the question whether it would not be better for scientific research to be open to everybody, rather than simply those who we decide to help out.


Wagner, G., Fecher, B. (2015). Flipping journals to open: Rethinking publishing infrastructure in light of Lingua/Glossa case. Retrieved from http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2015/12/03/seizing-the-moment-is-our-understanding-of-open-access-too-shortsighted/


  1. Hi Phil, thanks for your post! It relates a little bit to mine, http://openscience-thebetterscience.blogspot.co.at/2017/06/whatever-happened-to-iraq-virtual.html. In my research I came across http://www.research4life.org which provides access to developing and other countries. I've heard a couple of criticisms about these programs, first that they don't have the staff to make it effective and do the outreach and maintenance, and second, that if a country starts to have too many downloads then they get moved off the free list. I don't know if that is true, but it is important to build in considerable support structures for librarians in countries trying to implement digital libraries, including budgeting for and assessing all the subscriptions and platform services.

  2. Dear Phil,

    The blog post you submitted was about how Open Science in different ways affects the scientific (and in that, maybe the whole) world of developing countries. The post follows the sensible structure of first elaborating a bit on Open Science in general, explaining key terms like “green” and “gold” open access and why this might be useful especially for institutions in the mentioned developing countries. Though, Phil made sure not to only present advantages, but also Open Science’s drawbacks, letting the post appear quite reflective and relatively unbiased.

    Issues about developing countries in my view cannot be valued enough, and if the science world aims at doing their part to better the lives of people/scientists in developing countries I think this post does deserve an excellent rating. Since it clearly points out some of the great advantages Open Science as in comparison with ‘standard’ science, the chosen topic does also nicely connect to the seminar itself. Though, since I did not really see the new scientific findings and insights apart of the insights of the sources that Phil used, I am only giving 4 out of 5 stars. However, I shall add that I totally understand that it is quite hard to find out something new in the frame of a small blog post!

    --> Level of importance: 4/5 stars

    For the category of the validity I will “only” give 3 out 4 stars, because, as mentioned above, the stringent argumentation is not very clear to me, as I cannot see what the post exactly provides except a really nice summary of Open Science in developing countries. Though, this summary gets nicely illustrated with good examples, which I really liked and which was also adding validity to the claims you made.

    --> Level of validity: 3/5 stars

    Regarding the scientific practices of citing your post seems to be very sound. The citations are clear and - to me - are very sensible. The article also has a good, clear structure that it works along, the logical setup of explanations, posing questions and illustrating problems with examples and quotes does seem very useful to me.

    --> Level of completeness: 4/5 stars

    On the level of comprehensibility I can literally only complain about first world problems. The language is very clear and easily understandable, making the post and the knowledge it tries to spread accessible to everybody who is capable of understanding english to a certain extend. You really do not have to be an expert on science or even Open Science to get what you want to say. Yet, this actually is at the same time the thing that I also want to critisise a little bit, because I think language-wise you could have been slightly more creative, especially since this was ‘only’ a blog post and not a regular scientific paper. Details like the rhethoric questions at the beginning of the third paragraph make everything much easier to follow, so if you are going to write another blog post at some point you might consider using a little more creative ways of conveying your message. But as I said, not doing this does not necessarily make this post bad, it is just a way to improve it even more!

    --> Level of comprehensibility: 4/5 stars

    Overall, I liked the post and engaging with it, especially because I think the possibilites of Open Science for developing countries are pretty self-evident, which you nicely describe in your post. The only things that I somehow missed while reading are a clear result of your work and a ‘bloggy’ language. But this is probably just a matter of practice. Still, good job, Phil!

  3. Hi! You chose a very important topic with open access to research in the Global South. You give a good intro to issues of open access in general. Your post, however, is a bit too short for the assignment (only 1000 words). At the beginning a more concrete question (e.g. on which aspect you will focus) would have helped the reader as well as sub-headings or quotes. You could have explained the notion of developed vs undeveloped countries in one sentence. No image captions and sources, the open data image does not really fit to the text. I really like the questions at the end of the blog post, however you could have summarised your findings in one paragraph, as well as given a hint to your method of researching the topic.