Yesterday, I advised you of the launching of EOS (Enabling Open Scholarship) and its website.
EOS is a movement that first and foremost aims to bring together universities from all over the world (this is why the name “EurOpen Scholar” employed in 2007 was changed to « Enabling Open Scholarship”) in an attempt to make the researchers’ obligation to deposit the full text of their publications in an institutional repository (in our case: ORBi) a worldwide practice.
EOS is based on the following rationale:
1. The cost of publications (papers in scientific journals) has become exorbitant, leading to the emergence of the Open Access (OA) concept. As everything comes with a price, taking the OA concept to its logical conclusion means that we will have to pay to publish rather than read.
2. Today, one cannot fail to notice that journals which have adopted the OA policy and attracted researchers with reasonable publishing costs are sabotaging the concept by tripling, even quadrupling their prices (this is the case for BMC and to some degree, PLOS whose price, as yet has « only » doubled).
3. The reasons for this deviation can partially be explained by the lure of profit and the fact that BMC was bought out by a large publishing group. The major factor though is the implementation of the third party payer principle. Universities have traditionally purchased journals as well as various « packages » and taken out subscriptions. They increasingly form consortiums to buy the documentation their researchers need, which most often now is available in both paper and electronic formats. Consequently, researchers have become oblivous to the real cost of their acquisitions. This unawareness becomes even more acute when electronic documents are consulted, accustomed as we are to the almost free use of the Internet.
4. OA pioneers such as Peter Suber first thought that the fact that researchers have to pay to get published – and use research budget money to do so – would result, by eliminating the third payer, in OA prices being tightly controlled.
5. Logically, we took our reasoning one step further and surmised that universities would save money by not renewing their subscriptions to standard journals and would thus be poised to help their researchers by covering publication costs in OA. This is what we did at ULg: we covered the publication costs of BMC’s various journals, the most popular in Open Access.
6. By doing so of course, we reestablished the third party payer principle, giving rise to exorbitant price increases, which thus appear an unavoidable economic and social phenomenon (we were naive enough to think otherwise). In reality, we reinstituted a distance between seller and user and took our foot off the brakes. Things got out of control and we were forced to cancel the initiative. I was personally very disappointed as the number of ULg publications in BMC had been skyrocketing. Even though we might have been able to manage the flow, we could not have absorbed the entire cost of the drastic price increase per article. This clearly invalidates the COPE principle which Harvard, Cornell, Berkely, and MIT have all embraced.
7. This is why we have no other choice but to admit that the only model which might still satisfy the absolute necessity to maintain the widest and cheapest possible access to research literature is for research institutions to build up bibliographical repositories. To be complete, these repositories must be institutional. Other initiatives, such as thematic repositories, are of interest but must remain complementary. Indeed, repositories are most often not consulted by theme but rather serve as a directory for the universities which organize them. If access to a specific paper depended on the reader consulting the University of Liege website, our worldwide reading ratings would be very low indeed. However, the good thing is that search engines regularly « scan » our repositories and find our papers on request by introducing one or several keywords. Whether a reader finds him/herself in our institutional repository without knowing it is of no importance. This, of course, implies that texts have to be deposited in XML or HTLM versions.*
8. This gives researchers maximal visibility and readers the chance to read as much as they want on any subject of interest to them. At the same time, the traditional model of journal publication will not disappear as people will still want to thumb through magazines, sometimes coming across a paper they would never have read otherwise. However, total access to information is maintained as is pressure to return to reasonable pricing.
9. It is possible that all scientifc literature will one day be published using this model and that researchers will finally regain complete control of a process they contribute to as writers, reviewers and buyers. All that would be left to do is set up, at the level of individual universities, a peer-review process (the reviewers also being researchers) and create evaluation committees which would have a quality label and thus be empowered to give the green light to the publication of quality papers. Reviewers’ comments would be published jointly, so that everyone would know that such or such an article had been reviewed. To say that this is impossible without going through an editor is absurd as editors themselves depend on researchers to review papers; moreover, it is insulting to researchers as it implies that editors are the sole guarantors of professionalism and impartiality.
EOS’ objective is thus to bring together universities and research institutions so they may take concrete steps to reduce the costs of scientific publication to an acceptable level and make scientific literature accessible to all, especially to those in developing countries, where the difference would be the most radically felt. They would go from virtually no access to complete access.
* : The text was amended in the light of the comments received.