Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

South African Science Academy recommends green and gold OA

Christina Scott, Publish online, South African journals told, SciDev.Net, May 9, 2006. Excerpt:

South African research journals have been urged to dramatically increase their visibility - to policymakers, taxpayers who often fund the research, and readers across the developing world - by creating open-access Internet editions as soon as possible.

The Academy of Science of South Africa made the call this week in a report of an inquiry that found that in the past 14 years, one-third of South African journals have not had a single paper cited by their international counterparts....The academy’s executive officer Wieland Gevers, who led the investigation, stresses that a considerable body of world-class research has emerged from South Africa over time, much of it published to an international audience....Gevers says the government’s system for subsidising journals must be reformed to improve their quality and visibility.

Currently, the Department of Education pays universities 84,000 rands (US$14,000) each time a government-accredited journal publishes a paper by one of their academics, regardless of the journal’s international standing. Gevers says the department should divert US$165 of the subsidy to the journals, to allow them to fund online and open-access editions.

"I'm very happy with the report," said Dan Ncayiyana, editor of the South African Medical Journal, which is among the few to rank in international databases. "It captures the situation very well and I think it's good for South African science publishing." Adi Paterson of the Department of Science and Technology, which commissioned the study, welcomes the report as a basis for strengthening "incentives to support high-quality research publications" and to "forge a low cost open-access approach to the publishing of publicly funded research".  The report has been sent to science academies in Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Madagascar, Nigeria, Kenya, Senegal, Tanzania Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe to stimulate a broader debate about open-access.  It has also been sent to the African Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS), the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the science and technology secretariat of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).

Representatives of the Academy of Science of South Africa will discuss the findings at the South African Research and Innovation Management Association conference in Pretoria/Tshwane on 11 May.

Here's the key OA recommendation from the report:

Recommendation No 6: that the Department of Science and Technology takes responsibility for ensuring that Open Access initiatives are promoted to enhance the visibility of all South African research articles and to make them accessible to the entire international research community. Specifically:
  • online, open access (“Gold route”) versions of South African research journals should be funded in significant part through a per-article charge system (linked in the case of higher education institutions to an agreed fraction of output publication subsidies, and in the case of other research- producing institutions to adapted budgeting practice), but publishers should still sell subscriptions to print copies and should maximise other sources of income to lower the article-charge burden;
  • a federation of institutional Open Access repositories, adhering to common standards, should be established (“Green route”), with resources made available to help institutions in the preliminary stage, this virtual repository to be augmented by a central repository for those institutions which are unable to run a sustainable repository;
  • national harvesting of South African Open Access repositories should be undertaken as a matter of urgency, preferably by the NRF [National Research Foundation]; and the importance of affordable bandwidth for research communications for this purpose be drawn to the attention of DST [Department of Science and Technology] officials negotiating for better rates.

...The virtual repository would capitalise on institutional efforts, provided agreed standards were adopted, and provide a publication route for researchers in institutions without such a repository. The emphasis should be on “leapfrogging” the present turmoil and confusion in the system. The clear need for caution in assessing the presently somewhat vaguely defined business models for open access systems should not prevent the country from moving forward resolutely with a well-resourced programme for expanding its electronic access to the global and national scientific literature.

Comment. Kudos to the South African Science Academy for this bold proposal. I hope the South African government will take it up quickly. (1) The Academy is exactly right that OA to the nation's research output will significantly increase its visibility and impact. (2) The green part of the recommendation stops short of an OA mandate for publicly-funded research. Why? The report strongly recommends creating a national network of OA repositories, and then harvesting them, but it neglects the key step of ensuring that researchers deposit their work in them. South Africa should learn from the NIH, which has proved that making deposit discretionary, even if strongly encouraged, leads to a dismally low compliance rate. (3) The gold part of the recommendation is unique as far as I know. I like the way it proposes to make the subsidy to OA journals direct, unlike the current taxpayer subsidies to subscription journals, which are so well hidden that publishers like to deny them and pretend that government subsidies for OA "tilt the playing field" and represent unlawful interference with the "market". I like the way it tries to mitigate the size of the article processing fees, though I'd like to hear more about that plan. I like the way it avoids the problem of some naive recommendations that would require publicly-funded research to be published in OA journals.