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FreePint BlogOpening up research - contradictions?

Wednesday, 29th February 2012 Please login top-right to be able to star items

By Joanna Ptolomey


There seems to be a contradiction between the possibility of international repositories opening up access and problems caused by the charges made by Elsevier for this very service. Wider dissemination is also being blocked by government legislation. Where next?


I recently reviewed SciVerse Applications product for VIP magazine. One of the key valuable features was the ability for organisations to showcase their institutional repositories and share to a wider audience via an app, thereby allowing them to open up access and allow higher citation counts for their researchers and their work.  

Strangely, SciVerse Applications is an Elsevier product, and it has been having some trouble with this very same research community boycotting its products through the cost of knowledge campaign. In particular the research community are to boycott publishing, editing and reviewing papers for any of Elsevier’s journal titles.

In a blog, City University London's Neil Stewart outlines the cause of discomfort clearly in three key areas

  1. The ongoing prices Elsevier charges for access to its titles, and the resulting profits it makes.
  2. Elsevier’s so-called “bundling” of subscriptions, whereby libraries are forced to buy titles in large packages, with the packages containing both titles of interest and those to which libraries would not necessarily otherwise subscribe.
  3. Elsevier’s support for thResearch Works Act (RWA), a piece of legislation which seeks to roll back open access to scholarly research by reversing US government funded mandates, such as the mandate to deposit National Institute of Health funded research to PubMed Central.

Academic institutions want to capitalise on their research outputs by wider dissemination models that add to the impact. Neil Stewart has evidence that the institutional repository model has helped his own institution promote wider dissemination with open web access to its repository. He quotes downloads to over 55 different countries, the preservation of their research for posterity, and increased citations to an institution's work when compared to a closed peer review system.

The peer review system is not set to change anytime soon, but there are chinks in the armour. Cash-strapped organisations and prominent researchers have been taking a stand for a while, but this recent skirmish does seem different. There does appear to be strength in the numbers and the market is generally shifting.

Take PLOS One for example. It is generally regarded as one of the most respected open access peer-reviewed journals at the moment. It welcomes primary research from any scientific discipline. It is changing the landscape of the peer-review dissemination and impact road - and it is gaining in popularity.

In great news roundup style – let's finish on a bombshell. It now appears that late on February 26 Elsevier was reported to be backtracking and withdrew its support from the controversial US bill, the Research Works Act. It is this that critics feel would restrict public access to published, publicly-funded research.

Publishers should be wary of the contradictions they are setting: on one hand, creating tools for disseminating research such as SciVerse Applications; on the other, blocking wider dissemination via government legislation.

Time to make-up your mind publishers – the party is moving to a new location. But there's still time for you guys to join in and lend the research world a hand.


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Joanna is a freelance information consultant and analyst. She started her career in information as a clinical librarian in the NHS before moving to global consultancy group DTZ. Prior to working in the information sector Joanna was a project planning engineer in the construction industry for 10 years.

She hopes to help people use information for assessing risk, making decisions and in governance. She is particularly interested in inequalities issues such as accessibility, information literacy and the information divide especially in the healthcare sector. She is the author of a chapter 'Digital divide and accessibility' in Government Information Management in the 21st Century. She is also the author of the book Taking charge of your career: a guide for library and information professionals.

You can follow Joanna on Twitter.

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