CERN undertakes largest ever Open Access Initiative

CERN-logoCome January 2014, CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), through its SCOAP3 project will make a significant portion of scientific literature in the particle physics field available for anyone with an internet connection under Open Access terms. According to SCOAP3, which stands for Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics,

“SCOAP3 is a one-of-its-kind partnership of thousands of libraries and key funding agencies and research centers in two dozen countries. Working with leading publishers, SCOAP3 is converting key journals in the field of High-Energy Physics to Open Access at no cost for authors. SCOAP3 is centrally paying publishers for the costs involved in providing Open Access, publishers in turn reduce subscription fees to their customers, who contribute to SCOAP3. Each country participate in a way commensurate to its scientific output in this field. In addition, existing Open Access journals are also centrally supported, removing any existing financial barrier for authors. As a result, articles are Open Access, the copyright stays with the authors, permissive CC-BY license allow text- and data-mining applications.”

According to CERN’s statement,

Eleven publishers of high-quality international journals are participating in SCOAP3. Elsevier, IOP Publishing and Springer, together with their publishing partners, have been working with the network of SCOAP3 national contact points. Reductions in subscription fees for thousands of participating libraries worldwide have been arranged, making funds available for libraries to support SCOAP3.

On the face of it at least, this sounds like terrific news for everyone in the field as well as the open access movement in general. For India, it is certainly great news. About a year ago, this article in the Mint captured the concerns of Samir Brahmachari, director-general of CSIR and Gagan Pratap, director of Niscair – where they discuss the unaffordability of many international journals. It’s hopeful that this open access initiative means that more of Indian academia (and more of the world in general for that matter) will be able to make use of leading global scholarship in this field.

I can’t say I don’t have any questions about the sustainability of the funding model but my questions mostly rely on countries not appreciating the benefits gathered through this model, which in turn relies on whether these benefits can be calculated and expressed. So for now, I’ll keep my questions aside and hope common sense prevails.

Some FAQs about SCOAP3 are available here.

Meanwhile… more news regarding Elsevier 

To be clear, this is a big step by the publishers involved, as it is a leap away from their traditional business models and this initiative would not have meant nearly as much if the biggies in the publishing world did not participate in it. So, for this, naturally plenty of credit should be given to Elsevier, Springer and the likes.

Thus I found it quite ironic that the same day this announcement was made I found several people in my twitter feed discussing take-down notices being sent on behest of Elsevier to several hundreds of authors for hosting their own papers on popular social networking website for academics, These incidences have found their way on to several sites, (see herehere and here for example). You can view some of Elsevier’s responses via Alicia Wise, director of access & policy, Elsevier here.

While it’s been true for a while that many academics are quite unhappy with Elsevier’s business practices, Elsevier is presumably on the right side of the law in asking for these take-downs., after all, is also a for-profit organization which is benefiting by this technically illegal sharing of copyrighted work. However, what it boils down to is that Academia is allowing more free sharing of the work while Elsevier arguably is not – and this is what is causing the outrage amongst many of the authors; for what kind of law makes it illegal for an academic to share their own work with their peers? So perhaps then, as many copyright reformists would suggest, the law is not on the right side of these authors.



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