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LaTeX, Open Source Software, Facilitates the Adoption of Open Access by Authors, Repositories and Journals

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M45, the Pleiades, May 14, 2007 | © Courtesy of Adam Evans.

LaTeX, a software environment for type-setting scientific texts, supplies digital infrastructure not only for researchers, such as in the fields of mathematics or astronomy, but also for Open Access repositories and journals, while minimizing their costs.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


Open Astronomy is an Open Access journal recently launched by De Gruyter Open on the basis of the journal Baltic Astronomy initially founded in 1992. As Philip Judge, a senior astronomy scientist from the High Altitude Observatory of the University Corporation and National Center for Atmospheric Research, a non-profit consortium of North American universities and colleges sponsored by the National Science Foundation of the United States, has agreed to serve as an Editor-in-Chief for Open Astronomy in early 2017, his primary motivation has been to promote the openness of scientific research. At the same time, since the journal does not demand article processing charges, it needs to minimize its publication costs, which is achieved, among other means, by the extensive deployment of LaTeX.

As an open source document preparation system, LaTeX can be downloaded free of charge, even though copyright restrictions can apply to the modifications of this software, which has, however, ensured the backwards compatibility of documents composed in LaTeX. Since this is a markup language for the compilation of complex scientific texts, such as those including notation symbols, mathematical formulas and foreign language characters, LaTeX effectively outsources typesetting to scholarly authors. This has also made LaTeX into a de facto standard format for scientific documents in multiple fields of sciences and humanities, such as mathematics, physics and linguistics, as it allows the production of high-quality PDF-format documents regardless of their complexity.

The adoption of LaTeX has helped Open Astronomy to establish its reputation in the scholarly community, as Philip Judge indicates: “The journal’s philosophy is openness […], since [t]here are no page charges, submission is encouraged using LaTeX (free software) […], and there is help with the English language”; while reducing the technical barriers to article publication. According to Judge, this is expected to encourage the contribution of “work containing genuinely new results and ideas, the editors [such as Ewa Chmielewska, Managing Editor of Open Astronomy] being open to articles that other journals might unfairly treat as risky.”

Indeed, in some scientific communities, such as those of physicists and mathematicians, LaTeX enjoys an almost exclusive use, to which journal publishers respond with providing LaTeX template files containing their specific formatting. This enables publishers to concentrate on copyediting and proofreading, while streamlining the workflow for submitted manuscripts. For Open Access and hybrid journals this allows to reduce their article processing and subscription fees respectively. Furthermore, Open Access scientific pre-print repositories, such as arXiv supported by a university consortium and the Simons Foundation, also make an extensive use of LaTeX.

This function of LaTeX as an inter-operable, version-independent software infrastructure for scientific publication, thus, dovetails with the principles of Open Access as a basis upon which new scientific journals, e.g., Open Astronomy and Discrete Analysis, are launched.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: M45, the Pleiades, May 14, 2007 | © Courtesy of Adam Evans.

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