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Achievements and Limitations of Open Access Movement

As described in our prior post, excessive commercialization in academic publishing led to an alternative form of sharing academic results called Open Access(OA). OA is a movement which supports the principle that research results(academic papers) should allow access and use for anyone without charge.

The full-scale start of OA can be seen as the Budapest Open Acess Initiative(BOAI) Declaration, a result of Open Society Initiative(OSI) in December 2001. The Declaration is a statement claiming principles, strategies, and delegations that require research papers over all research areas be available for free to the public via internet. The main purpose of the Declaration is ‘free use of academic papers that have been reviewed. In April 2003 Bethesda Declaration claimed further organizations and institutions to participate in the movement, and in October 2003 Berlin Declaration proposed expansion of the movement through Internet space. These three Declarations are together called BBB declaration, which are considered the major beginning of OA movement.

OAs nowadays are generally categorized into either Gold or Green OA. Gold OA normally means OA journals that involves peer reviews just as traditional journals do. Typical examples include non-profit Public Library of Science(PLoS), and for-profit BioMed Central(BMC). A common revenue model for for-profit gold OA is to charge publishing fees to authors, or their grant organizations, who can afford to pay it. Alternative revenue sources include promotion of articles, sales of other forms of publications, additional functions in publishing articles, and etc. In recent days, many journals have a form of “hybrid OA” where they provide both the traditional brick-and-mortar papers and publication to online OA. This allows authors to submit their articles to journal and distribute them on OAs at the same time.

Green OA, also known as self-archiving, utilizes OA repositories to share articles. These online repositories are usually operated by research organizations such as universities. A typical example of institutional OA repository is DASH of Harvard. Processes such as peer reviews are not included in green OAs. Articles uploaded to green OAs are generally postprints, those already had been peer-reviewed. A well known case of articles on green OA is the proof of Poincaré conjecture, one of the seven Millennium Prize Problems and the only one solved so far, by Grigori Perelman, which was uploaded to the green OA repository arXiv.

OA has been growing rapidly since the mid-2000s, and the graph below shows the number of articles published in OA journals belonging to the Open Access Scholarly Publisher Association (OASPA).

By 2012, a total of 92701 papers were published in the OA Journal. This number only includes the number of articles published in academic journals with full content OA, not including those from hybrid OA journals. Since then, OA has continued to grow, and in 2016, the number of articles published in OA journals exceeded 190000.

One of the greatest achievements of OA is that it has transformed existing publishers to allow authors to publish articles in the OA repository. When publishing a paper in a journal, the journal primarily owns the copyright, including the right to publish the paper in the repository. As OA became increasingly popular, authors continued to ask publishers for their authority over the Green OA. As these requests persisted, now most publishers allow Green OA. For publishers who do not accept OA openly, there is a high likelihood that they will authorize green OA if there is an individual request from the author.

OA papers get more attention because authors can get more readers than any subscription based journals. Access barriers resulting from excessive subscription fees in large journals have negative impacts on both authors who want to share research results and readers who want to access information freely. Breaking down the barriers of access through OA naturally increases the likelihood of other researchers accessing the paper, which leads to positive feedback in the academic community.

Harnad and Brody examined papers published in ISI(Institute of Science Information) in the field of physics. They calculated the impact ratio of papers published in the OA repository by authors and those not. The ratio varied from 2.5 to 5.8 times, showing an increasing trend every year. OA is creates an environment in which research results can be used and disclosed to all researchers without distinction of information. As a result, OA contributes to academic development by encouraging active sharing of research.

One of the limitations of OA is the failure to actively counter large publishers. In the Open Access Overview written by Peter Suber, it is stated that OA is not a movement to boycott academic or publishing companies, and they intended to prevent overlapping areas. As OA grew, large publishers saw the phenomenon as a business opportunity. When an author wants to publish a paper as OA, they charge the publication fee named Article Processing Charge (APC). APC is to charge the author for the full cost of publishing. In September 2014, Bernstein Research released an Elsevier stock analyst report entitled “Reed Elsevier: Goodbye to Berlin — The Fading Threat of Open Access.” Berlin means the Berlin of the BBB declaration that we mentioned before, and this report has a positive outlook on Elsevier which is out of the OA threat.

Many people expected that large-scale publishing companies would lose profitability and market power as OA became popular. But over the past five years, Elsevier’s holding company, RELX Group, has risen more than three times. Large publishers are generating additional sales thanks to APC, as well as subscription fees, and maintaining higher sales and operating profits than in the early 2000s when OA was not popular.

A more serious problem than the excessive commercialization of large publishers is the emergence of low-level OA journals. In 2013, a well-known scientific journal, ‘Science’, has published an article about it. Reporter John Bohanan has submitted a low-level paper to 304 OA journals to confirm their credibility. He received replies from 255 journals, and surprisingly, of the 255 replies, 157 replies were a permission notice. In the case of Gold OA, peer evaluation is necessary, but it was properly done not even in 40% of the total. In addition, there have been many more issues, such as post-release billing, fake editors and referees.

According to the BOAI FAQ, OA claims to be free to the reader and not to the author. In addition, in the Open Access Overview, Peter Suber asserts that the authors are not burdened by paying their own money because fees are usually paid by their institution or ongoing research funds. However, there is no logical correlation between the fact that the authors do not pay directly, and that the costs associated with publishing are too high. According to a study by Tiffany Bogicha, Sébastien Ballesterosa and Robin Berjona, the maximum marginal cost of publishing a paper is only $ 318. Researchers easily spend their funds for research because they do not pay for themselves, and publishers are using it to generate excessive profits.

The authors, reviewers and readers of the academic journal publishing market are all researchers. Pluto realizes a true academic communication platform centered on researchers. This allows researchers to deviate from the structure in which the central manager, publisher, has all the benefits, even though all the participants are researchers. By decentralizing existing markets from large publishers, researchers who are the sole platform participants can participate in key decisions, and these saved resources can be distributed to researchers and used for research.

In Pluto, the submission fee can be set by the author himself, and the profits will be distributed to the researchers involved in the review. Therefore, the profits that large publishers make can be used by scholars for academic advancement. In addition, since the reliability of the peer evaluation is guaranteed by applying the Reputation score to the reviewer, it is possible to prevent the publication of the under-level journal which was pointed out as the limit of the OA. Pluto builds a new platform that can overcome limitations of OA and ultimately contributes to researcher’s rights and academic development.

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