The Rise Of Open Access Scientific Publishing
    By Matthew T. Dearing | February 7th 2012 10:23 PM | 19 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    Accessing the absolute latest in scientific communications directly by the independent amateur or citizen scientist has been a financially daunting prospect for decades; practically impossible. The top research journals carry high subscription rates (price out for yourself one of the best), and the science professional relies on their employing institution to cover the costs of access through the resident library budget, save for a personal subscription to their most treasured journal.

    Of course, a great deal of front-line scientific research is funded by governmental agencies, which translates into taxpayer dollars. So, shouldn't the taxpayer be able to access the fruits of their financial investments? Or, should the taxpayer just expect to later benefit from the results of research after implementation by companies and institutions? To avoiding opening a messy can of political warfare here, we will instead focus on the fact that there has been a rapidly growing trend from part of the scientific publishing industry itself to provide open access ("OA") to the most recent articles from scientific research. This trend has been influenced from both the scientific authors and their funding agencies.

    A traditional culture about to change

    The traditional business model for scientific journal publications is for professional scientists to submit their draft papers to a group of peers -- typically in related fields of expertise -- who brutally review, critique, and feedback on the work. Revisions are made until acceptance of the peers is reached and the paper is published in a future volume of the journal. Individuals or, most typically, institutions then pay for access to obtain printed and digital versions of the published papers. Prices for access are high. It's expensive to pay for the printing, editing, and the peer review process for such technically challenging and critical information and a bit of profit has to fit in there as well.

    To change this culture and allow for the free dissemination of scientific advances, new models are being developed and tested. Money still has to be made, of course: the expenses are still present, even if the published materials are openly available to the readers, and even if they are solely digital presentations. One such model requires the author to pay a significant fee to be published (assuming they passed muster with the peer review), or if the author can't bite the financial bullet, then their funding grant money or institution can help out with the bill. This approach is referred to as "Gold OA."

    An alternate version, which fits into the traditional subscription publishing model, is self-archiving of published work by the individual author. If the journal offers this permission, which is more often now required by funding agencies, the author maintains a digital copy of the work on a personal or institutional resource separate from the publisher. This "Green OA" approach is dependent on the individual author's follow-through on archiving and requires a separate cataloging service to provide any sense of organization.

    The OA explosion

    The Open Access movement significantly expanded during the first decade of the 21st Century. A detailed study of this growth of open access by Laakso, et al. [1] published in 2011 (available as open access, of course) found that about 19,500 open access articles in 740 journals were available in 2000, and by 2009, nearly 192,000 articles could be accessed for free in 4,769 journals.

    The development of open access publishing 1993–2009. (ref. 1)

    The Public Library of Science (PLoS), starting simply as an advocacy group in 2000 and then expanding to an OA publisher in 2003, has been arguably the most successful innovator and proponent of the open access movement in scientific communications. PLoS currently follows the model of author-pays-to-publish-post-peer-review and has been publishing cutting edge scientific research featuring seven journals with tens of thousands of peer reviewed articles.

    Quite recently announced (January 30, 2012), an even more extreme model of open access will begin later in 2012 that utilizes post-publishing open peer review with the ability to revise published work after releasing it to the public. This new approach being launched by the "Faculty of 1000" (F1000) group will require a similar pay-to-submit model. Called F1000 Research, this system will also allow for an "open" format for how information is presented, which may include poster presentations, traditional written articles, graphs and charts, and even raw data. The published information will be immediately available after a simple formal check from F1000 advisers that the submission is scientifically relevant, and registered readers will have the opportunity to provide comments and ratings.

    The other side of OA

    On the other hand of this seemingly exciting new trend for the seeker of open knowledge, the author-pay-to-publish model can potentially be a major hurdle for independent amateurs wanting to publish their work in peer-reviewed journals. The fees certainly are steep and it might be assumed that the majority of amateurs do not have the personal funds to move their work through the publishing system. Just as major funding agencies, like the National Science Foundation, require and provide assistance with publication fees for open access availability for scientific professionals, the independent researcher will need to search for outside financing to support the work if it is to intermingle with the professionals.

    Although it certainly isn't required that an independent publish their work through a traditional or open access route, it is the peer-review process that really is required to vet the work and help develop it into a final form that provides accurate and valuable information to the rest of the world. The principal of the peer-review process is a critical resource for the scientific community to ensure that rigorous information is disseminated, and the independent should not be outside of this, or at least some form of, quality control. If the independent wants to be taken seriously, they should try to play with the majors, and deal with the financial burdens in innovative ways.

    So, it seems that the long-term success of Open Access is rather exciting for the amateur and citizen scientist. It is certainly exciting for Dynamic Patterns Research, which is not a large academic or commercial organization with massive budgets to cover massive journal subscriptions. However, the OA development is not a straightforward path for the future of the business of scientific publishing. Quality is never really free, and for organizations to provide this important peer review and publication services that we need and desire, expecting it to be free might mean significant sacrifices somewhere else.

    The debate between the traditional and OA models has been brewing for years, and although growth in OA resources has been substantial in recent years, there is still a long way to go to discover that secret formula for a sustainable business model for Open Access publishers. The premier publishing group, Nature, (and rather expensive journal publisher) hosted a web debate forum [2] in 2004 on the issue of access to scientific literature. In particular, Kate Worlock wrote a "pros and cons" review describing many important concerns that OA would bring to publishers, all of which would directly impact the end user. 

    Most notable, in the digital age publishing is heavily dependent on new technologies, and advances and innovations require great investments to develop and implement. With the popular pay-per-article model at current typical rates ($500 to $2,500), publishers will expect a great deal less revenue to meet operational expenses, invest in the future, and make a profit. And, making a profit is not an evil activity: it is from this profit that future growth and beneficial investments can be made possible. With reduced profits, the potential lack of investment ability could bring scientific publishing to stagnation and irrelevancy in the marketplace, obviously resulting in a direct negative impact on the scientific community.

    As suggested above, although author fees could be covered by funding sources, host institution libraries might also be on the hook to support their resident research. The open access payment model only shifts the costs from one line item category to the next, and as fees grow higher in the future, budgets may continue to be equally stressed. In addition, larger research-focused academic institutions with significant output might end up subsidizing the pay-per fees from smaller teaching-centric colleges or commercial organizations with fewer annual submissions from their faculty.

    Possibly the most critical concern is that many important scientific journals are published by academic societies which host additional activities and benefits to the scientific community. The profits from a society's publishing division allows for the development of membership programs, conferences, and other benefits. With a loss of publishing income, member groups will have to make up revenue elsewhere, likely from the pocket books of the members themselves.

    The Federal Government's conflicting approach

    As already mentioned, the United States federal government has provided mandates for research funded by taxpayer money to be published in an openly accessible way. For example, the National Institutes of Health requires all of their funded research to be listed with the government-hosted PubMed Central. However, just recently on December 16, 2011, a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives called the "Research Works Act," which proposes to restrict the existing mandate of network dissemination of published work -- without the publisher's prior consent.

    Certainly this an tantalizing development, which one might cynically think that the publishers have something to do with it ... and, one might be right: The Association of American Publishers announced strong support for the legislation. A thorough review of this complex debate was offered a couple weeks ago by The Chronicle of Higher Education [4], and it is interesting to note that many academic publishers, like MIT Press and Oxford University Press, have already expressed their opposition to the AAP's position and are clearly trying to distance themselves from the anti-open-access side of the debate.

    The primary point from the publishers is that although federal funds certainly initiate some of the research work, it is only through the independent professional efforts of the publishers providing peer-review, analysis, editing, and the final development of the work in a format that is desired by the community, that the research work can even be presented for others to access.  And this independent presentation should not be controlled by the government on a case-by-case basis.

    Making OA revered

    With all of the issues facing scientific publishers to deal with the inevitable advancement of Open Access, it will still largely be up to the scientific authors themselves to make the transition to sustainable OA complete. In the culture of academic scientific research, recognition is still critical as the old mantra of "publish or perish" still drives many young post-docs and non-tenured faculty. Listing twenty articles with unknown journals might not provide the needed prestige as one killer article in the top journal in the field.

    Scientists are still getting a handle on what OA resources are available today, and, although many may strongly support their work to be freely available, there still comes a necessarily selfish point where one's own career and security is paramount, and selecting the right journal for submission becomes vital. A detailed survey from 2006 of researchers was reviewed by Alma Swan [3] describing the current state of mind of authors in their selections of journals and what their concerns and ideas are toward Open Access. Of particular note, many researchers still are not aware of the available OA resources in their field, as they likely remain focused on the publications they "grew up with" during their own education. With the current generation of new scientists, it will then be up to the OA publishers to bring their journals to distinction both in the view of their respective scientific communities and in the eyes of the individual scientists working in the field.

    We have developed a concise reference list for reaching open access scientific knowledge, which tries to highlight some of the most important resources currently available. The reference list below should provide an exciting portal for interested amateurs to explore some of the top scientific advances happening today.

    Open Access Resources

    • Public Library of Science ::
      A non-profit publisher and advocacy organization committed to providing open-access scientific communication to advance progress in science and medicine.  Open PLoS ONE or view the other PLoS Journals.
    • ::
      Maintained by Cornell University Library, arXiv is an open access resource to nearly 3/4 of a million e-prints in physics, mathematics, computer science, quantitative biology, quantitative finance and statistics. New articles are submitted by the authors and are "pre-print" versions that have been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal for publication consideration or are self-archived versions of previously published work.
    • SpringerOpen ::
      Springer is a major publisher of over 2,000 academic journals covering science, technology, and medicine and thousands of new books each year. The SpringerOpen division is focused on open access journals that are processed with their same high level of rapid and thorough peer review.
    • PubMed Central ::
      An open-access digital library of over two million published journal articles housed at the United States National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine (NIH/NLM).
    • Physical Review X ::
      From the American Physical Society, publishers of the prestigious Physical Review Letters, comes PRX their newest journal, entirely open access and peer reviewed, and committed to excellence covering pure, applied and interdisciplinary physics.
    • Optics Express ::
      Published from The Optical Society (OSA), whose goal is to advance the science and technology of light, this open access peer-reviewed journal rapidly reports on the latest developments in optics and photonics.
    • Elsevier Delayed Access Journals ::
      A major global scientific and health information publisher, Elsevier produces about 2,000 journals and 20,000 books and reference works. Although none of their current publications are open access, they do maintain a short list of important journals, mostly in biological and health sciences, that become open after 12 months.
    • F1000 Research ::
      Coming later in 2012, F1000 will offer an open scientific publishing system that allows for the presentation of research with a variety of formats, including traditionally written articles, poster presentations, graphs and charts, and even raw data. An open, post-publication peer review process will allow for vetting of the work and revisions by the publishing author will be encourages and facilitated.
    • Directory of Open Access Journals ::
      Browse through listings of the available OA journals by subject and discover your new favorite research reference in the field of your choice.
    • The Registry of Open Access Repositories :: 
      A searchable database providing timely information about the growth and status of OA repositories around the world.
    • The OAIster (Open Archives Initiative) Database ::
      A searchable database for millions of records from thousands of contributors that are all open access. Archived results include journal articles, electronic books, audio, video and photographic files, theses, and more, and it's all open access.
    • CiteSeerx ::
      A searchable archive covering scientific literature from the computer and information science fields. Hosted by Penn State and currently sponsored by the National Science Foundation.
    ... ...

    For more information on the issues in the Open Access revolution, review the PLoS collection of published articles on the topic going back to 2003, including why PLoS became an open access publisher.

    [1] Laakso M, Welling P, Bukvova H, Nyman L, Björk B-C, et al. 2011 The Development of Open Access Journal Publishing from 1993 to 2009. PLoS ONE 6(6): e20961. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0020961

    [2] Nature web focus: "Access to the literature: the debate continues." 2004

    [3]  Swan, A. (2006) The culture of Open Access: researchers' views and responses in Jacobs, N., Eds. Open Access: Key Strategic, Technical and Economic Aspects. Chandos.

    [4] "Who Gets to See Published Research?" Jennifer Howard, January 22, 2012, The Chronicle of Higher Education


    The Public Library of Science (PLoS), starting simply as an advocacy group in 2000 and then expanding to an OA publisher in 2003, has been arguably the most successful innovator and proponent of the open access movement in scientific communications.
    I love PLoS - yayyyy, America! - but you will get a lot of disagreement from people on that statement.  arXiv is clearly the most successful in terms of reach and acceptance while BMC came before PLoS and is more successful in every metric.

    I've long been advocating an 'open publication' model - no fees for anyone, not the scientist and not the reader - for some time but I have spent a lot on the communication aspect of Science 2.0 and starting publishing is tough, so I am excited about the Faculty of 1,000 tool.  
    arXiv is actually my personal favorite since I have a stronger connection in the physical sciences, and PLoS, while offering physical science sub-categories, still seems heavy on the biological side of things (and I used arXiv back in the day of my own academic research and never PLoS).
    However, PLoS took OA to the next level by actually becoming a journal publisher themselves, which I think really advanced the notion that OA could provide credible, important new research and not just a "listing" service.
    ______________________________________ Matthew T. Dearing Dynamic Patterns Research
    Thor Russell
    It should be possible at least in theory to make the economics work if the people reading and using the papers are prepared to make a donation once in a while if they find the work worthwhile.I mean say if a paper is peer reviewed by 3 researchers, taking 20 hours each for a total of 60 hours and that paper is then downloaded by 1000 people, 100 of which find it useful. To find a paper useful it must surely be worth at least $30 to you otherwise the time to understand it etc would have cost you much more than that. So thats $3000 to share around 60 hours of review, i.e $50 per hour to the reviewers on average spread over the years following the publishing of the paper. Server costs etc wouldn't be a significant share of the $3000. 

    Now actually getting people to donate after the fact may be a bit more difficult, the site/system could just start with giving someone a free account, let them download the first 20 papers or so, then get slightly more annoying if they continued to download many papers but never donate. 

    If micro-payments were common and you didn't need to sign in to something like PayPal to pay someone like 20c then that could also make things work better. Its quite often that you would spend say 30 mins reading something an feel like tipping the author 20c (much cheaper than going to a movie and often higher quality) but there is no easy way to do that. 
    Thor Russell
    The model I envision would even pay people to do peer review.  There is no reason anyone should do anything for free when pay-to-publish and pay-to-read company employees get paid.

    But the obstacle is what you note; in the early days of shareware, people paying was common. A friend of mine quit the company we were at and worked from home because a shareware graphic utility he created made him more money.  But we have an entire generation of people who have been raised with a sense of entitlement - things should be free. It's the downside to me spending the time working on an open publication thing.  These other groups all get government money to do this stuff - it isn't a business model if you need taxpayers to do it.
    Thor Russell
    In my model, the $3000 (or the $1 if pretty much no-one reads it) goes to the peer reviewers, just in the years following the papers release, rather than upfront. However if the system got up and running you could build up a fund and use it to bring some of the payment forward to when they actually did the peer reviewing if there was reason to believe it would be a high impact paper. There's still the problem of getting new scientists work peer reviewed, if it was judged that it wouldn't be read, then there would be no financial incentive for an established scientist to look at it.
    Yes we do have a sense of entitlement and allow ourself to be bombarded with ads, instead of giving a small electronic tip when we "like" something and little ads. I would prefer the second option, but the barrier to entry and "co-evolution" arguments where the present system "
    protects itself" all come into play.
    Thor Russell
    Do never let peer reviewers have an advantage from the piece being published! It is already so that a paper is mostly rejected merely because one did not cite the reviewer's own work. They then indirectly tell you that and accept once they are cited, often regardless of whether the paper is nonsense. Your model makes this even worse.

    All this big dance about OA and Elsevier being rich leaves me cold. As long as peer review is not radically transformed, science will slip further into the publish-or-perish crisis.
    Thor Russell
    Yeah, pretty much every model seems to be open to some kind of obvious abuse. Do you have a model in mind that doesn't involve a complete rewiring of our brains?
    Thor Russell
    Peer review needs to be completely redone. 1) It must be blinded (really blinded, meaning no way the reviewer knows who the author is, which is difficult given the nature of some fields, but it is not that difficult), 2) it needs to be strictly according to scientific standards and not the "well, you have not cited me and I don't really like you anyway, and what you say sounds like something I don't believe and I have no time to look further whether it is the same at all, so I don't even read more than half the introduction" kind of shit, and also, 3) who the reviewers are and their review should be made public - many may refuse to review in that case, but that fact alone indicates how necessary it is.
    Thor Russell
    They sound like good ideas. How do you get around factionism however? Making the review public would sure help but I imagine it would still be a problem especially if the reviewer didn't see themselves as biased or they were just narcissistic.
    Thor Russell


    I like your ideas.  However, I have another take on "peer review".

    This is most certainly not just directed toward Sascha, but all here!


    What journals were available when Galileo, or Newton, or other founders of science wanted to disseminate their works?

    Was there no "peer review" back then?

    Is getting published in a "peer reviewed" journal (or other such "peer reviewed" vehicle) the be-all and end-all of "peer review"?

    Isn't publication really just the beginning of the actual peer review?

    I think the use of the term "peer review", as presently constituted, skews the argument, and perhaps even people's thinking.

    While I think that the present form of publication filtering that is called "peer review" has some benefit in pre-filtering scientific publications, so we, as scientists, at least, hopefully, don't have to wade through quite as much "junk"; I think it gets over played, and puffed up beyond what it truly is, and what benefit it truly serves.



    What journals were available when Galileo ... Isn't publication really just the beginning of the actual peer review?

    I know what you are saying, but this view forgets the different reality now. There are three aspects:

    1) Even 50 years back, you still could read basically all the publications in your field and still had time to read letters of amateurs. Today, there is so much published daily, if the peer review for example lets work vanish in second world journals that nobody reads, which is basically done with all my critical work in case it is not flat out rejected [only my mediocre useless stuff ever got into high ranking journals)], nobody will ever further look at it! Thus: No, the peer review does not start afterward.

    2) Moreover, you forget funding. Yes, fine, I can put my best stuff on the archive so that perhaps somebody even comes along and plagiarizes it (that happened to me), but that neither means I will ever get credit, nor does it feed my family, let alone allows me conducting further research.

    3) Your type of argument is liked by scientism apologists. Eventually, like after 50 or 100 years, the truth prevails, even though current science is always full of nonsense. That may be, but firstly, it would be nice if science could be more trustworthy before, you know, with urgent problems and all, and secondly, people do not get that old, so you can just imagine how much good science we consistently lose along the way with this method. Again, those that did not get funding to do their research, they are gone!

    3.5) and all those that do get funded are also half gone from progress, as they spend most of their time writing and applying and ... .

    "4"~conclusion) Some say that reforming peer review would make it more difficult to publish. Good, that is what we need, because basically, most of what is published is useless crap only published to ensure careers inside publish-or-perish. It wastes everybody's time. My colleagues write every day and almost never do research. They must! Almost everybody has to! There is no other way to survive anymore, except if you do not care about your future (see me). How is it even that people who have their name on 50 paper's a year do get our respect? There is no human who can come up with more than three or four novel scientific ideas worth reading by all the others in the field a year! It is not that a few bad apples are fraudulent, at least 70% of all publications are to a large extend fraud/hidden plagiarism that should have been rejected as the useless drivel it is, period!

    I say: There must be a cap on publications! No more than three papers that any scientist may put his name on a year! Scientists must have time to do do science again! Fraudulent careerists must be weeded out of the system!

    I don't see any big monetary cost's for electronic open access publishing.
    The author doesn’t get anything.
    The reviewer doesn’t get anything.
    A web server cost’s very little.
    Editing, that needs of course some money.
    Some administration.
    It surely doesn’t add up.

    That's the puzzle.  The large open access publishers say they 'add value' - the same thing subscription journals say.  And they both claim their value makes the cost worth it.
    I have two problems with open access.
    (1) Those with large grants can afford to buy open access, but new researchers or those without large grants are at a disadvantage.
    (2) Secondly, I feel that paying to publish sets up a conflict of interest for the publisher and may undermine the quality of publication in favor of who has money. I was surprised that this was not addressed by the author.
    What I would like to see is reseach articles costed at a much smaller fee -- say $1 -- per download. There have been many times where I came across an article that I wanted to access, but didn't because it would cost $30. If the price had be $1 or even $5, I would have downloaded it. Instead, I logged off, logged into my university account, and downloaded it from my library. It took me an extra 10 minutes to get the paper (thats an opportunity time cost of about $9). I think the journals could actually make more money if the price per article was lower. Currently people are willing to spend up to $3 to photocopy a paper, so why not let them download the paper for a small fee and save the effort of photocopying it.


    In the realm of open access, peer review, endorsement and notability are pure lies.

    Peer review does not work properly. The reviewer has an impossible task. He can only cover a restricted area properly. So, outside that area he works on the base of intuition rather than on knowledge or fair expert judgment. Thus, many articles pass peer-review in an unjustified way. On the other hand this situation creates the danger of unjustified rejects and stimulates the creation of clique communities.
    The mechanism inhibits the spread of new fresh ideas. Imagine what notability does to Wikipedia. Wikipedia does not contain unorthodox or new fresh ideas.

    This discussion did not yet mention It was setup out of annoyance about the endorsement rule and clique-like filtering that is applied by the owners of If you talk about real open access publishing, then it is provided via viXra.
    The future way to earn money for journals is to search such open access sites and report about the real diamond papers, and criticize less trustworthy papers.

    If you think, think twice
    Thanks heavens, some mathematicians and others are declaring war on Elsvier ... .

    Timothy Gowers is surprised and delighted that thousands of mathematics and other researchers have joined him in a public pledge not to have anything to do with Elsevier, the Amsterdam-based academic publishing giant. He is leading a boycott because of company practices that he says hinder the dissemination of research.

    Dear Matthew,
    Interesting read
    Just to add to your research
    WebmedCentral (www, has been successfully employing post publication peer review model for the last 18 months or more (similar to what f100 research propose to launch)

    "Peerage of Science" ( ) is a recently founded company / community seeking to remodel the whole peer review process. Among other things, the authors are anonymous to the reviewers, the review process happens before offering the article to any journal, reviewers get credit for their work, and the quality of review is also scored. The founders of POS are biologists, and at the moment most of the community seems to be centered around their research area. Hopefully people from other branches of science will also join in. The POS community needs to expand quite a lot for the system to take off properly


    I am a retired physicist. After my studies I started working in the industry. If you do that, then you quickly lose contact with the academic community. After retirement I started a private research project that investigates the fundaments of physics. As part of that activity I joined some discussion groups and blogs on the internet. There I test my ideas. It works well. I also tried to publish. Since I do no longer belong to an renowned scientific institution, publishing poses problems. Even the so called open access sites like arXiv have installed barriers such as the requirement for endorsement. I finally made the decision to publish all of my papers and books on the real open access site viXra. Further, I use my private website for publishing ongoing research results.

    I have the idea that an increasing number of individual scientists encounter similar situations even before retirement. This means that the open access publishing sites are filled with an increasing number of papers that contain valuable original ideas. Thus, there is room for a journal that reports on these diamond papers. At the same time the journal may criticize papers that contain obvious misconceptions. This would stimulate the authors to improve and correct their productions and will raise the quality of the content of the open access site. Such a trend will install a new kind of e-science. Peer review is not required in this setting. It will enlarge the role of scientific discussion sites and the role of real open access publishing sites.

    If you think, think twice