Publishers struggle to co pe with open-access tide

March 5, 2009

Boston University has become the first major US higher education institution to post its academics' research online, bypassing the traditional route of publishing papers in peer-reviewed journals, which it said restricts public access.

Academics will be free to choose whether or not to make their work available on Boston's web archive, but the faculty governing body has endorsed the idea, as have all 17 of its schools and colleges. Anyone may use the research, as long as authors are cited and the intended use is not for financial gain.

The institution's move is the latest blow for scholarly publishers already facing cancelled subscriptions from cash-strapped universities.

Boston officials said that academic journals, which usually copyright the work they publish, restrict scholars from freely sharing research with colleagues, counterparts, students and interested members of the public.

It is not alone in its initiative. The government-funded National Institutes of Health has mandated that the results of all the research it funds must be made available with no restrictions for a year post-publication.

"Open access is an irresistible tide," said David Ozonoff, professor of environmental health at Boston's School of Public Health. "The publishers see this. They have been trying to prevent it, but it's impossible."

But John Tagler, director of the professional and scholarly publishing division of the Association of American Publishers, said this was an overstatement. Most scholarly publishers give extensive rights to authors to reuse the intellectual content they provide. "It's not as restrictive as they're positioning it here."

Mr Tagler said the validation process that research must go through to be published in journals is essential to maintain standards.

"There's a real difference between posting (research) on your university website versus going through a peer review, which gives it certification among international experts."

As more data go online, peer review will become more vital, he said.

"How (else) will you separate the wheat from the chaff?"

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