Change is the essence of evolution. History is replete with examples where yesterday′s scientific dogma is consigned to today′s garbage bin. This continuous upheaval, where Newton makes way for Einstein and Einstein for Hawkins, is the essence of progress. A common thread uniting all these changes is research, which has been carried forward from already published literature. Giving research a direction and succeeding in the process, needs a thorough evaluation of available published research material. Unfortunately, till now, access to such material was difficult because most research work was controlled by institutions and publishers who restricted it to only those who were able to pay for it.
With Internet use becoming more common and overall costs of dissemination of knowledge falling significantly, the logical question that arose was - why should access be restricted when the research itself is conducted from taxpayers′ money? This paved the way for an initiative known as the Open Access (OA) initiative, which is a means of making scientific literature digital, online and available free of charge to readers, while also cutting the delay inherent to the print medium.
Researchers gained some respite when PubMed came up with a free online database of abstracts from about 5000 leading journals. Yet this was not sufficient, as access to entire articles was still restricted. To overcome this, PubMed Central was launched in the year 2000 (http://www.pubmedcentral.gov). Although it contained complete texts of articles, submission was voluntary and hence its scope was limited. The freedom torch was carried further, in the face of considerable resistance, by the Public Library of Science (http://www.plos.org) and BioMed Central (http://www.biomedcentral.com) when they began publishing full articles online without any toll on the access to the articles.
The Budapest OA Initiative1 and the Bethesda2 and Berlin3 statements are major milestones in opening the access further. But the moot question still remains - who will pay for the cost of publishing? There are various (more than 9)4 models of publishing available today, wherein, the Reader Pay model (restricted access) seems to be giving way to the Author/ Institution Pay (open access) model.
There are two kinds of readers- one, who changes his way of practice if available literature says so, thus using literature as a source of continued medical education; and the other, the avid reader, who reads not only to update himself, but also uses the data to usher in change in the form of his own research. The second reader gradually metamorphoses into an author if his research meets the standards of peer review. He does not expect monetary remuneration for publication and is more interested in wide dissemination of his work and increased readership. The major impact of his research is felt when others doing similar research quote or cite his work. So OA is a boon for him- but a boon with a price tag attached to it- up to US $1500 or more per article,5 if the Author Pay model is followed.
The OA movement is not without any opposition and drawbacks. Only 11 per cent of the world′s population uses the Internet. Reading medical literature for long periods on the Internet is not comfortable for most of us. Also, on the flip side, the content of published material may become unregulated if it is not peer-reviewed. Most of us do not have the time to differentiate between good work and bad work. There is also a potential fear of losing older literature as future of long term electronic archiving is uncertain.
Be that as it may, OA is here to stay and we all have something to gain from it. So, how do we overcome this hurdle posed by the Author Pay model? Is there a middle path between the unaffordable Reader Pay and unregulated Author Pay models? Fortunately, there is. It is in this context, that journals like the Indian Journal of Ophthalmology (IJO) have a major role to play. The cost of publication being borne by the journal and the parent association from its own resources, the IJO can afford OA. The IJO relies on its formidable team of reviewers to ensure that the reader gets authenticated peer-reviewed material. Similar efforts will have to be made by other publishers to ensure that their literature is not flooded with unregulated and repetitive material.
All said and done, the IJO model of OA is workable and helps authors receive instant and wide readership. As a case in point, take the example of the Journal of Postgraduate Medicine (JPGM), published from Mumbai, India. Its commitment to the OA policy has not only increased the number of submissions, but also the citations.67
I would ask you all to support the OA initiative by adhering to the following points:
- Publish your paper only in peer-reviewed journals that provide OA.
- Serve as an editor or reviewer in journals committed to OA.
- Ask for research funding to cover costs of publishing in the above.
- If you publish in a non-OA journal, retain the copyright to your work and offer in its place the right of first print and electronic publication
It is my firm belief that removing access barriers to scientific literature will promote and accelerate research, as it enriches the education process, helping to share knowledge between the haves and the havenots. OA unleashes the full potential of scientific literature and lays the foundation of uniting humanity in a common quest for knowledge.
1. Open Society Institute. Budapest Open Access Initiative. [cited 2005 Jun 8]. Available at http://www.soros.org/openaccess/read.shtml
2. Final NIH statement on sharing data [press release]. 2003 Bethesda National Institutes of Health; February 23
3. Max Planck Society. Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities. cited 2005 Jun 8 Available at http://www.zim.mpg.de/openaccess-berlin/berlindeclaration.html
4. Willinsky J. The nine flavours of open access scholarly publishing J Postgrad Med. 2003;49:263–7
5. Liesegang TJ, Schachat AP, Albert DM. The Open Access Initiative in scientific and biomedical publishing: Fourth in the series on editorship Am J Ophthalmol. 2005;139:156–67
6. Bavdekar SB, Gogtay NJ. The Golden Jubilee Conference: The outcome, success and opportunities J Postgrad Med. 2004;50:243–6
7. Bavdekar SB, Sahu DR. Path of Progress: Report of an eventful year for the Journal of Postgraduate Medicine J Postgrad Med. 2005;51:5–8