Forum 2015 – Access to Health Research: Open access

Many thanks for re-emphasising the important difference between free and open access. Open access is defined differently by different people, which can create some confusion. Wikipedia itself, arguably  the world’s greatest example of open-access publishing, defines open access as: “Open access (OA) means unrestricted online access to research. Open access is primarily intended for peer-reviewed academic journals, but is also provided for a growing number of theses,[2] book chapters,[3] and monographs.[4] Open access comes in two degrees: gratis open access, which is online access free of charge, and libre open access, which is online access free of charge and with some additional usage rights.[5] These additional usage rights are often granted through the use of various specific Creative Commons licenses.[6] Only libre open access is fully compliant with definitions of open access such as the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities.” Arguably, this definition itself needs to be updated (and the beauty of Wikipedia is that anyone can do so). I sense, for example, that more and more people think it is misleading for a publisher to describe their content as “open access” when in fact it is free-to-view, but without usage rights. That said, free-to-view is vastly preferable to restricted-access.

To take our discussion on open access forward, I would be grateful to hear your thoughts on three questions:

1. Is universal open access to health research the long term vision that we should all be working towards?

Personally, I believe the answer to this statement is a resounding “Yes”. What do you think?

If you agree, I would like to put a second question:

2. What is already happening, and what more can be done, to accelerate progress towards universal open access to health research?

Open access publishers such as PLoS and BioMed Central have led the way, and I hope they are enjoying as much support as ever to continue to grow. Now virtually every major publisher is introducing open-access within their business strategy – isn’t it amazing to think that, until just a few years ago, all major publishers were resisting open access? All the ‘traditional’ publishers collectively have enormous experience and expertise, and it is surely desirable that they transition successfully and progressively towards open-access publishing. What might be done to help such transition?  

Some observations: More and more research funders are insisting on open access to research findings (and including a budget line for this purpose as part of the overall research costs). This is a hugely important driver. Also, more and more research institutions have agreements with open-access publishers, thereby removing costs and time for individual researchers. And bibliometric research is increasingly showing clear benefits and impact of open-access research. Here on HIFA, it is quite obvious that the vast majority of papers that are discussed are open-access. A HIFA member recently even said that if a paper isn’t free or open access, they don’t need to know about it! I suspect many share this, and it is food for thought for researchers who are still wondering whether to publish open versus restricted access.

Furthermore, more and more citizens worldwide are aware of what open access is all about, and see it as a logical and ethical imperative.

Is there anything further that can be done to accelerate progress and smooth the transition towards universal open access to health research?

And lastly, given the focus of HIFA:

3. What is already happening, and what more can be done, to encourage and support journals published in LMICs to transition to open access?

Best wishes,


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