Breath of open access—a life-line for scientific communities and challenges to overcome on a global scale
While the more conventional way of accessing publications via a library subscription or an annual sign-up fee is still at large, all the innovative ideas, theories, and discoveries are reaching a wider audience around the world through the freedom that OA journals offer. It is seeding more innovative ideas and fueling curiosity of those that have the potential for great academic and research excellence, yet unable to pay to access the latest literature.
Contrary to traditional subscription-based publishing, open access (OA) publishing allows free access and unrestricted study of original work and has seemed to ease its traction over time. While the more conventional way of accessing publications via a library subscription or an annual sign-up fee is still at large, all the innovative ideas, theories, and discoveries are reaching a wider audience around the world through the freedom that OA journals offer. It is seeding more innovative ideas and fueling curiosity of those that have the potential for great academic and research excellence, yet unable to pay to access the latest literature. I come from a small island in the Indian Ocean—Sri Lanka—with limited funding for research. I personally have encountered great research ideas and enthusiastic analytical minds with a thirst for knowledge yet struggling to overcome the traction of limited literature access.
Without literature, it is hard for science to sustain. Unfortunately, institutions in countries that can only afford a handful of subscriptions have limited funding available and very little support or awareness to make the situation any better.
There is an appreciable effort by platforms like Sri Lanka Journals Online (SLJOL) managed by National Science Foundation (NSF) of Sri Lanka, supported by the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publication (INASP) that aim to promote awareness and use of Sri Lankan published journals using an OA format. Similar efforts are made by Latin American Journals Online (LAMJOL), Bangladesh Journals Online (BanglaJOL), Nepal Journals Online (NepJOL), etc. to support medium to low-income countries to access scientific findings. Nevertheless, there are ample numbers of reputed international journals far from the reach of these communities. As an undergraduate student back in Sri Lanka I have had firsthand experience on this and I still recall the struggle. Quite frequently I still hear complaints of my colleagues back at home about the difficulty to access and download the latest journal papers.
In a century that science and technology is dominating the world and knowledge is considered power, a decade old publication is still inside invisible paywalls for many scientific communities around the world.
OA journals bring them a unique opportunity to access up-to-date academic communications. While the current OA publications cannot still fill the shoes of subscription-based journals in terms of sheer volume of published papers, OA journals would at the very least instigate to bridge this huge void.
Science is for the benefit of life, and benefits arise from the application of academic findings to improve the standard of living.
Translation and evolution of today’s discoveries can only be a reality when there is ample academic freedom for scientists to learn the findings of today, study and improve them for tomorrow. Open access publishing seems to be a crucial step towards that.
This increased visibility that the reader benefits from also benefits the author by providing a far greater audience and feedback, that eventually also brings more downloads, collaborations and citations for their work [2,3]. With the latest technologies, our valuable work would be accessible to anyone with a computer or smartphone at their fingertips. Nevertheless, authors do face challenges in publishing in open access journals. Authors are conventionally inclined to go for high prestige subscription journals for several reasons, (1) ostensible economic favourability, (2) conventional norm of prestige and (3) simply not recognizing open access publishing as a feasible route for publication. In most cases, the publication cost for subscription-based journals appears to be free for authors as the subscriptions are purchased by the institution libraries. While the open access publications are freely accessible, authors are required to pay the journal a processing fee, unless it’s subsidized by a government entity, professional society, etc. Fortunately, certain universities have established an open access fund aimed at supporting open access peer-reviewed publishing.
“We might get financial support from the university” or “I have points from peer-reviewing to cover the publication fee” are common relieve phrases I have heard from my PIs, peers or have uttered myself here in US. Hence, when it comes to challenges in open access publishing, it is not just limited to low-income countries.
Despite the rise of open access journals, there is still the perspective that subscription journals are prestigious to publish in, measured by higher impact factors (of course there are some high impact factor OA journals out there). But this is gradually changing because of higher quality work appearing in open access journals, encouragement to publish in OA journals by their institutions or alike, more authors recognizing OA as a viable route to publishing with added benefits and higher standards imposed by certain open access journals. Though such change would be slow and gradual, it would add a positive impact for OA publishing.
In my opinion, despite the popular belief, this is not a competition between traditional vs OA publishing. We should recognize that traditional publishing has served many and OA has the potential to cater for the rest. For the benefit of many research communities, OA publishing needs a scholarly thrust by open-ended discussions to find effective ways to overcome its challenges and maybe find ways to merge the benefits of both traditional and open access publishing.
1. Wanigasinghe, J. Sri Lanka Journals Online ( SLJOL ): Ten years of success. Ceylon J. Med. Sci. 54, 1–2 (2017).
2. Eysenbach, G. Citation advantage of open access articles. PLoS Biol. 4, 692–698 (2006).
3. Piwowar, H. et al. The state of OA: a large-scale analysis of the prevalence and impact of Open Access articles. PeerJ 6, e4375 (2018).