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Nobel laureates call for open access

Mather Image2.jpg
John Mather has called for open access

By Hamish Johnston

It’s a debate that’s been around as long as the Internet — should academic research papers be free to read by one and all (open access) or should university libraries pay for journal subscriptions?

41 Nobel laureates are backing open access, and have written to members of the US Congress to ask them to support a bill calling for the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA). The group includes four physicists — Sheldon Glashow, John Mather, Douglas Osheroff and David Politzer.

I’m not a lawyer, but I believe the the act would require that the results of all federally funded research be freely available online.

But are we well down that road already?

Over the past few years you may have noticed that more and more papers published in prestigious journals such as Nature and Science appear on the open access arXiv preprint server immediately after being published. I don’t know if this is done with the publisher’s blessing, but I’m guessing that it is tolerated in the hope of avoiding the sort of legislation that the US laureates are calling for.

So what about our journals here at IOP Publishing?


We have an open access journal called the New Journal of Physics, which fits the bill as far as the laureates are concerned. Physicists pay to publish their papers, and if the entire industry went this way, funding would have to be diverted from libraries to the researchers themselves.

Access to most of our other journals is restricted to subscribers — but most articles are open access for 30 days after publication. And I’m told that IOP Publishing is happy for authors to post the text of accepted papers on arXiv, but not the final version that appears in the journal.

So it looks to me like open access publishing is possible already — just make sure you pop your accepted manuscript onto arXiv and the Feds will be happy.

But is this sustainable — if the accepted versions of papers are freely available, why would a scientist pay to publish or a university library bother to subscribe?

In other words, who is going to pay for managing the peer-review process that many scientists believe is essential?

An idealist might argue that scientists themselves could manage peer review — but does a busy physicist really want to be chasing her colleagues for overdue referee reports or field telephone calls from an irate colleague whose paper has been rejected? Who is going to copy edit papers written by authors whose first language is not English? And who is going to ensure that the journal keeps up with the latest advances in information technology?

That brings us back to the New Journal of Physics author pays model…is this the way of the future?

Sorry for all the question marks…and what do you think?

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  1. Fair to all, is to give a publisher, who needs to have income, the rights to the material for 30 days, then make the info open.

  2. croghan27

    Don – I am not familiar with the ins and out of the scientific paper publishing establishment, but a month does not seem like much time ….
    Could you give some details of why you chose 30 days.

  3. Brian Beverly

    Do information barriers benefit science? Signing a letter is not enough because if you want change then you need to hire lobbyists.

  4. Under Open Access philosophy, Redalyc aims to contribute to the editorial scientific activity produced in and about Ibero-America making available for public consultation the contents of 550 scientific journals of different knowledge areas:


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