Study group claims free access to research papers has reached a 'tipping point'

Aug 23, 2013 by Bob Yirka report
Per cent of freely available peer-reviewed papers, 2004-2011. Credit: Science-metrix report

( —Éric Archambault, president of Science-Metrix, is claiming in a paper produced by his company that free access (open-access) to research papers has now reached a "tipping point." The implication is that now that at least as many researchers paper are available for free as those behind paywalls, more and more will be made available for free to the public until eventually all of them can be accessed by anyone that wishes without charge.

The idea of open-access for research papers is a relatively new idea. Online sites such as Nature or Science charge a fee for the right to read the articles they publish. But that, open-access advocates say, hampers scientific progress by preventing a lot of people from using such papers to further their own research. There is also the issue of who really owns the rights to papers produced that cover work paid for by governmental agencies. The Obama administration, tackling the issue head-on, just this past February mandated that all that come about as a result of government funded work be made available free to the public within one year of initial publication. More recently the European Commission has announced that it will implement a similar plan, though the time frame is to be just six months.

To learn more about how many papers are already available for free online, Science-Metrix undertook a study (paid for by the European Commission) using an outside source to estimate the number of papers published in 2008 and subsequently made freely available. That review came back with 32 percent. Not satisfied with that result, the company undertook its own study searching for papers published between 2008 and 2011. They claim to have found to 42 percent of 320,000 papers they searched for using netbots. Then, because they estimated that their search engines missed some free articles, they bumped the number up to 50 percent, which led Archambault to make his tipping point claim. The company suggests that the reason the number has grown so high is due to several developments. The first is the growth in open-access sites (from 4 to 12 percent of total published articles over the period 2004-2011). The second and likely making more of impact, however, is the trend towards allowing free access to articles initially published behind paywalls after a certain amount of time has passed—typically a year.

Whether articles published as open-access have indeed reached a tipping point remains to be seen, what is certain now, is that the practice continues to incite great debate in the scientific community regarding both its merits and flaws.

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5 / 5 (1) Aug 23, 2013
Then, because they estimated that their search engines missed some free articles, they bumped the number up to 50 percent...

The wording isn't the best and increasing what you're looking for by almost 20% claiming it to be error of the search engine doesn't sound to credible. While they do mentioned that paywall sites usually release it after a year. Why don't they take that year limit into consideration?

I'm no statistician and perhaps I'm being nitpicky, but the two numbers of 32% made by European Commision funding doesn't seem compareable to the 50% made by the company itself. They are using different time frames and time is an important factor on when papers become free.

It'd be interesting seem how quickly papers are released for public access now compared to then/2008 (e.g. immediately, 6 months, 1 year, etc.)

Edit: I suppose I should actually read the paper first before jumping to conclusions. brb
5 / 5 (1) Aug 23, 2013
So after reading of the actual report, it seems like Science-Metrix "wasn't satisfied with the results" due to the scope and the way it was carried out, not because of the scope. I suppose that's what misled me. It'd still be interesting to do a temperature check on papers to see how quickly OA is provided.
3 / 5 (2) Aug 23, 2013
Here are a few of the many things I find ridiculous about the scientific publishing industry.

1) Editors at private companies get to decide what research is the most important. They have become the authority we all must bow down to in order to advance our careers. Funny, but I was taught in school that science doesn't accord any individual special authority over the value or correctness of knowledge. But if you are a scientist trying to feed your family, you must respect the authority of these editors. It has gotten to the point where it really doesn't matter if your research is of good quality, or important, just that it is published in the right journal. Other scientists admire you if you publish in Nature, and they ridicule you if you publish in Nucleic Acids Research.

2) University Professors, who are paid by the government, do work for these private publishing companies, for free. They review these articles. I guess it's a pay-to-play system, but it is wasteful of taxpayer $.
5 / 5 (1) Aug 23, 2013
It should all be free and accessible to everyone one that has internet, i see no down side to free information.

Paywalls are pointless now and also hinders alot specially for the poor, of whom could equally have the minds of those that have the money to buy papers.

So yeah im all for free information. Get rid of paywalls. I don't know any scientist that does what they do to make money as their primary objective.

I wonder if Einstein made people pay to read his papers. Or did he just freely give them out to any one who wanted to learn.
not rated yet Aug 24, 2013
Finally :)
The most paywalled research articles are those related to medicine. This is not only frustrating but also greatly limits society's knowledge about potentially life-saving research.
It is hard to ask a doctor about a new treatment when you don not know it even exists.