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The Year in Open Access – a subjective review

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Some events or turning points in history are noisy and receive attention. Others happen silently, with minimum or no public recognition. That is why it is sometimes a good idea to look back and understand the lesser-known moments, which have important implications from today’s perspective, particularly since this gives us an opportunity to investigate trends of development and to prepare for future ones.

One of such silent but crucial point for open access was an announcement made by the European Commission in August last year. According to research, as many as half of peer reviewed articles published in 2011, were freely accessible on the Internet. Moreover, 40% of all peer reviewed papers published between 2004 and 2011 were available free of charge by then. This gave significant context to the major, widely disputed event, which followed a few months later. I am of course referring to the huge campaign on Creative Commons licenses, carried out by Elsevier, a key player in the publishing market. The thousands of takedown notices sent from the company to and other scientific social platforms, will surely have impacted authors’ concerns about copyright contracts.

Looking at what happened, for instance, in the field of computer software and music, it is very likely that “the take-down war” will intensify – though we already know its outcome. Scientists all over the world want to share their knowledge and they have the possibility to do so in cooperation with publishers who offer Creative Commons licenses.

The case of John Bohannon (or Ocorrafoo Cobange) was also widely discussed. Some members of the scientific community concluded that this proved the fallibility of the open access publishing model. Meanwhile, since Bohannon did not examine any control group composed of toll access journals, we can only say that he exposed the incompetence and/or bad will of some editors.

In my opinion, the Nobel Prize for Randy Schekman, the eLife editor and enthusiastic promoter of open access, is good news for all of us. Shekerman recognizes, that as a recent Nobel laureate, he has the rare opportunity to reach a broad audience for the ideas he holds. His recent boycott of Cell, Nature and Science has spurred a vigorous discussion on exclusivity in the academic community.

Altogether 2013 was a good year for open access, and it is almost certain that 2014 will be even better. But things are changing rapidly and, although I am positive that open access will become increasingly more popular, I am not sure whether it will be the same open access we know today. The rise of initiatives, such as PubMed Commons, makes one question the future of peer review. What will be the role of a publisher when post-publication peer review and article based metrics take over standard peer review and journal impact factors? What place will libraries and colleges have when online articles and courses become an equally good source of knowledge as expensive books and university lectures? These are interesting times and I expect there will be a lot of things to write about and to discuss in next twelve months.

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