Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Thursday, July 10, 2008

More Nature coverage of OA in developing countries

Massimo Sandal, Future of open access could be online and peer-reviewed, Nature, July 10, 2008.  A letter to the editor.  Excerpt:

Raghavendra Gadagkar (Nature 453, 450; 2008) argues that the open-access 'pay to publish and read for free' model leads to a disadvantage for scientists in developing countries. I disagree. Gadagkar correctly states: "page charges may be waived for authors who cannot afford to pay." He then adds: "a model that depends on payment by authors can afford only a few such waivers." This is not necessarily true: for example, some open-access journals provide discounts to particular institutions.

I would prefer to see what little money is available to a developing country spent on helping to publish their scientists' papers rather than financing publishing houses based in First World countries. At present, open-access publication may be hard for those in the developing world to afford, but in the long run it will be advantageous, offering them free access to educational and academic resources.

Most important, the future of open access probably does not lie in journal publishing models. The huge success of online literature databases such as arXiv, free to publish and access, is significant. Such databases currently host mostly non-peer-reviewed preprints, and so are of little value for career building. But academic organizations throughout the world could, if they wished, build an equivalent archive of peer-reviewed papers.

I also disagree with Gadagkar's view: "If I must choose between publishing or reading, I would choose to publish". No one can expect to do serious science without access to the current academic literature....


  • Sandal's letter is a reply to Gadagkar's deeply uninformed letter of May 22, 2008. Gadagkar made two false assumptions:  that all OA journals charge publication fees and that all OA is delivered by OA journals.  Sandal rebuts both assumptions, but weakly. (1) His reply to the first buys into Gadagkar's false assumption.  Instead of responding with the fact that most OA journals charge no fees at all, Sandal merely points out that some OA journals offer discounts and that the fees (at least from journals published in developing countries) are worth paying.  He is correct on both points, but needlessly allows the deeper misunderstanding to pass unchallenged.  (2) His reply to the second rightly points out the existence of OA repositories.  But he fails to point out that OA repositories charge no fees, the key fact needed to rebut Gadagkar.  And Sandal incorrectly assumes that all OA repositories are like arXiv in focusing more on preprints than postprints. 
  • This is disturbing because Nature chose to publish Sandal's reply in lieu of three other replies offering more complete rebuttals to Gadagkar's letter.  One rejected letter was by Stevan Harnad, one was by Subbiah Arunachalam, Leslie Chan, and Barbara Kirsop, and one was by me.  (My letter is based on my blog post of May 22.)  When Nature rejected our letters, Barbara Kirsop put them together and sent them to the AmSci OA Forum, where you can now read them for yourself.   
  • Gadagkar argued against the effect of publication fees on researchers in developing countries.  But Nature gave his letter the very misleading title, "Open-access more harm than good in developing world", as if OA as such rested on author-side fees.  Sandal argues that fees are often affordable or worth paying and that OA archiving is an alternative to OA journals.  But again Nature gave his letter a very misleading title, "Future of open access could be online and peer-reviewed", as if OA as such bypassed peer review, at least so far.  Leaving my own letter entirely to one side, Nature's selectivity in publishing responses to Gadagkar, and its misleading titles, suggest that it is not interested in the full story here and is not even neutral on the issue.

Update.  Also see Barbara Kirsop's comment, concluding that the Nature headlines, not OA, do more harm than good.