Meeting on Open Access Publication in Life Sciences: Should scientific information be free for all?

20 Sep 2007

Introduction Lisa Vozza, Italian Association for Cancer Research
The Scientist Gordon McVie, European Institute of Oncology
The Scientific Organisation 1. Les Grivell, EMBO
2. Laurent Romary, Max Planck Society
The Funding Agency Lucia Monaco, Telethon
The Publisher David Hoole, Nature Publishing Group
The Open Access Publisher Mark Patterson, Public Library of Science
The Sustainability of the Open Access Model Paola Dubini, Università Bocconi

On a sunny Monday in June several figures from the world of Biomedicine met at the Università degli Studi di Milano. The agenda was fundamental in nature: The future of scientific publishing in the 21st Century.

Science is often seen as lagging behind society on the issue of free information for all. The Open Access (OA) model has gained in popularity in recent years but is based on solid principles put forward hundreds of years ago that scientific research must be available to all, rich or poor. It has two simple components:

1.) Free, irrevocable, worldwide right of access to, and licence to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display work publicly and to distribute derivative works, in any digital medium for any responsible purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship.

2.) The publishing is supported by an academic institution, scholarly society, government agency, or other well-established organisation that seeks to enable open access, unrestricted distribution, interoperability, and long-term archiving.

Speakers were invited from all areas affected by OA developments; scientists, clinicians, funding organisations, publishers, OA publishers and Universities gave their opinions on the principles, logistics and future of medical research publishing.

Lisa Vozza from the AIRC (Italian Association for Cancer Research) kicked off proceedings with an introduction to OA in Life Sciences, refering to the relatively new institutions 'Public Library of Science' (PLOS) and 'Biomed', both of which are pioneers in the OA field. She detailed several arguments for OA, quoting Guardian columnist Ben Goldacre: "OA journals are young and online only; they are bringing innovation to scientific publishing with supplementary, interactive materials; readers' feedback; and signed peer-review."

Lisa continued by discussing a survey on the citation rates of OA papers compared to regular articles, both published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) between June and December 2004. It was found that the average number of citations of OA articles was higher than that of non-OA articles, indicating that OA articles are more immediately recognized and cited by peers than non-OA articles published in the same journal. Thus, she suggested, OA is likely to benefit science by accelerating dissemination and uptake of research findings.

However, Lisa also highlighted some potential drawbacks of OA, such as the increased financial pressure on public funding agencies and charities, a possible decrease in numbers of journals with a reduction in the base of paying readers, and learned societies that publish journals lacking money for conferences, workshops and scholarships.

Gordon McVie from the European Institute of Oncology started his talk with a characteristicall