If state of the art scientific knowledge was shared not only within a restricted community, but available for everybody, the idea of free education for all could reach an entire new level. Before being shared digitally online, most scientific findings only circulated in academic spheres, mainly in printed journal versions. Unfortunately, accessing one journal article can be quite a costly endeavour and can thus not be afforded by everybody. Consequently, the state of the art scientific knowledge was mainly limited to a selected and specific community whose universities possessed paid licenses to online journals until recently. Although many research projects are funded through national taxation systems, their findings are mainly shared in licensed academic journals. Therefore, the majority of individuals from developed and developing countries could not access the scientific state of the art knowledge. This circumstance and the development of widespread internet access worldwide in the late 20th, early 21st century accelerated the so called Open Access movement.
What is Open Access (OA)?
The Open Access movement (OA) defines the term Open Access as unrestricted online access to peer-reviewed scientific and scholarly research (Schöpfel & Prost, 2013). Not only scientific papers published in journals are now OA but also a growing number of book chapters, monographs and thesis papers have followed the idea (Schöpfel & Prost, 2013). To enable easier access of scientific findings to a wider community of researchers, academics and libraries, two main declarations represent milestones in the history of OA: The Berlin Declaration and the Budapest Declaration of Open Access. By the Open Access Week in 2013, the Berlin declaration had been signed by 451 organizations.
Development of the Open Access Movement
The debate surrounding the effect of OA started with Steve Lawrence’s publication on "Free online availability substantially increases a paper's impact" in Nature (Lawrence, 2001) and has been controversially discussed ever since. Lawrence (2001) emphasized that OA could facilitate the connections among research groups and scientists, expand scientific networks, and maximize the visibility of scientific findings through web engine indexing. This could create a significant contribution to society, minimize redundancy and speed up the scientific process, rendering it even more transparent for the public (Lawrence, 2001).
A growing number of voluntary organizations such as the Right to Research Cooperation and other research entities such as the Frauenhofer Institute, support Lawrence’s idea (2001) that an OA article is more likely to be read and cited than an article to which the online access is limited.
Historically, the spreading of public Internet access worldwide in the 1990s and early 2000s fueled the OA movement such as the two methods of free online retrieval, namely Green and Gold OA, enabled easier access to state of the art research.
The two routes of Open Access: Green OA and Gold OA
As stated above, Open Access to scientific findings can be guaranteed and assured through two specific routes: the Green Open Access route and the Gold Open Access route. Green OA stands for the procedure in which the author publishes in any suitable journal and then self-archives this published journal article for free either on his personal website, the affiliated institutions' website, or shares it with the respective scientific community via online platforms as ResearchGate and PubMed Central. The Golden route represents OA's gold standard with authors publishing in peer-reviewed open access journals. Such hybrid OA journals provide Gold Open Access only for the articles the author has paid a publishing fee for. Direct Gold Open Access journal publishing has been growing rapidly between the years 2000 and 2009. It was estimated that around 19’500 articles were published OA in 2000, increasing to a total publication number of 191’850 articles in 2009. All those findings underline that journals guaranteeing OA have largely increased in numbers.
Advantages & disandavantages of Open Access
Accessing scientific results online represents a major advantage in contrast to paid online and print journals, as OA enables a worldwide audience to receive state of the art scientific knowledge of the respective discipline and can thus be immediately assessed. This facilitates the dispersion of scientific knowledge not only among academics of the respective field but also among the non-academic population. Thus, knowledge and scientific findings become available for everybody. Moreover, companies and professionals of one field of expertise can update themselves about the newest level of expertise in the respective field.
Nevertheless, despite the previously reported advantages, OA also incorporates several downsides: Whereas for paid access, only a selected group of readers could access the respective journal article, journal articles published in OA journals might underlie a selection bias of the submitting entities. As the costs for an article submission have to be covered by the publishing researcher or his/her funding entities, this might cause a selection bias in the sense that only those researchers able to pay the publishing fee might successfully submit their research. Moreover, current OA journals mostly have a smaller impact factor, making publishing articles in these journals somewhat less attractive for researchers who depend on high impact publications.
The idea of OA to scientific knowledge is not absolutely new but revolutionary in itself, as most academic research mainly has been circulating solely in the academic world. On the one hand the OA movement can potentially change this and may even fuel scientific development. Chances are that more journals will share their articles free online in the future. The main question remains how OA journals will resolve the obstacle of a publication fee for publishing entities and succeed in becoming high impact journals.
Björk, B. C.; Welling, P.; Laakso, M.; Majlender, P.; Hedlund, T.; Guðnason, G. N. (2010). Open Access to the Scientific Journal Literature: Situation 2009". PLoS ONE 5. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011273. PMC 2890572. PMID 20585653.
Lawrence, S. (2001). Free online availability substantially increases a paper's impact. Nature, 411(6837), 521-521.
Schöpfel, J.; Prost, H(2013). Degrees of secrecy in an open environment. The case of electronic theses and dissertations. ESSACHESS - Journal for Communication Studies 6. ISSN 1775-352X.