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/