Why open access publishing is growing in Latin America

Latin American researchers have a specific social commitment to ensure that their work is accessible and contributing to the good of their communities, says Victoriano Colodrón 

June 19, 2018
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The move towards open access publishing in scientific research is certainly a global one. However, Latin America or Iberoamérica, a larger community that includes Spanish- and Portuguese-language countries in both Europe and the Americas, is using the OA publishing model to a far greater extent than any other region in the world. Iberoamérican scientists especially are committed to the movement as a way to ensure that society benefits from their research.

Dramatic growth in repositories

The extent of OA’s adoption depends on who you ask but according to researcher Juan Pablo Alperin in his dissertation “The public impact of Latin America’s approach to open access, “it is evident that the degree of adoption of the OA models is fairly extensive [in Latin America], although there are no exact figures. The estimates range significantly, from as low as 51 per cent and one expert claiming closer to 95 per cent of all online journals being OA.”

However, a report recently published in Spanish by CERLALC, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation centre for the promotion of reading and publishing in Latin America and the Caribbean, uses OpenDOAR data to highlight the fact that currently there are 519 OA repositories in Iberoamérican countries, with Spain leading (22 per cent), followed by Brazil (19 per cent), Portugal (10 per cent), Peru (10 per cent), Colombia and Argentina (both with 9 per cent).

Regardless of which numbers you turn to, OA’s growth in Iberoamérica has been dramatic over the past few years. As an example, the number of OA repositories in Peru went from eight in 2010 to 48 in 2018. In Argentina, they grew from six to 44 in the same time period and from 25 to 99 in Brazil.

University presses prefer OA, even for books

A recent study of 140 Latin American university presses conducted by Elea Giménez Toledo from the Spanish research council CSIC, and Juan Felipe Córdoba-Restrepo, president of the association of Colombian university presses, ASEUC, reveals that OA is gaining tremendous interest among university presses as well. 

For instance, 32 per cent of the university presses surveyed reported that their institutions have specific policies supporting OA, while another 35 per cent are in the process of developing them. Nevertheless, 63 per cent of respondents declared OA publishing programmes, which means that university presses are publishing in OA despite the lack of official policies in some cases. 

Interestingly, OA covers books in Latin America, not only journals, as is the case in other parts of the world: almost half of the university presses publish books under an OA model.

Life sciences journals defend OA

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Scientific Electronic Library Online, a network of cooperative electronic publishers of scientific journals on the internet. Created in Brazil, today there are 13 Iberoamérican countries represented in SciELO’s journal collections, plus South Africa, with more than 1,200 active journals totalling approximately 750,000 articles.

Further evidence of the growing interest in OA and Open Science in Iberoamérica is the recent declaration in defence of OA issued by a large number of editors of life sciences journals in Spain.

Among other recommendations and requests, the declaration urges national research agencies to require their researchers to deposit their publications in institutional repositories and to reduce the emphasis of the journals’ impact index as a personal promotional tool.

Instead, it suggests that these journals promote new indicators related to the scientific content in articles instead of journal-related metrics.

Ultimately, the great diversity of publishing practices and institutional approaches account for the skyrocketing OA movement in Latin America, although regional economic constraints also play a role. Some believe traditional subscription models may restrict meaningful access to scientific knowledge in this part of the world.

On a cultural level, many Iberoamérican scientists hold a particularly resolute social commitment to OA, with a desire to lower any barriers between publicly funded scientific researchers and the benefits to society at large. Many researchers in Latin American countries also hope that OA-based dissemination methods for their work will help improve its visibility and impact on a global basis.

Victoriano Colodrón is senior director international relations at Copyright Clearance Center.

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