Towards Open and Equitable Access to Research and Knowledge for Development
PLoS Medicine (2011)
Leslie Chan and colleagues discuss the value of open access not just for access to health information, but also for transforming structural inequity in current academic reward systems and for valuing scholarship from the South.
Towards Open and Equitable Access...
Essay Towards Open and Equitable Access to Research and Knowledge for Development Leslie Chan*, Barbara Kirsop, Subbiah Arunachalam There is growing recognition that the capacity to conduct research and to share the resulting knowledge is fundamental to all aspects of human development, from improving health care delivery to increas- ing food security, and from enhancing education to stronger evidence-based pol- icymaking. Today, the primary vehicle for disseminating research is still the peer- reviewed journal, which has retained much of its traditional form and function, although now it is largely digital. But despite improved access to the Internet, researchers in the developing world con- tinue to face two problems���gaining access to academic publications due to the high cost of subscriptions, and getting their research published in ������international������ journals, because their work is either considered to be only of local or regional interest or does not meet the quality standards required by the major commer- cial indexes. The cartographic representa- tion of the world according to the volume of publications from each country in early 2000 starkly depicts a world of highly unequal contribution and participation in science (Figure 1). This inequity has led to the misguided notion that little, if any, research of substance is generated in the global South, and that the needs of researchers in poor countries are therefore met solely by information donation from the North. The one-way North to South flow of knowledge is not all that is necessary for development, and the Research4Life pro- gram only addresses part of the problem (http://www.research4life.org/). The Re- search4Life program is the collective name for three journal access programs���HI- NARI, AGORA, and OARE���and com- prises a public���private partnership be- tween major commercial publishers and three United Nations (UN) agencies (Box 1). The recent announcement by the commercial publisher Elsevier (a HI- NARI founding partner) of withdrawal of access to their journals from Bangla- deshi institutions, and the subsequent announcement that Bangladesh is in transition towards a paid licensing scheme , is sobering. It reminds us that large multinational publishers are driven primarily by commercial motives and market shares, and that HINARI may be serving as a marketing device to prepare the ground for national site licenses in the countries with rising GDP or growing research needs. Site licensing is a standard subscription prac- tice of commercial publishers for provid- ing institution-wide electronic access to their journals. Fees for site licensing generally vary according to the number of institutional users. It is also common for large multinational publishers to combine all of their journal holdings into one large ������take-it-or-leave-it������ bundle, often referred to as the ������Big Deal������ . While the Big Deal is a legitimate commercial strategy, even rich institu- tions in the North can ill-afford the continuing rising cost. It is very clear that for low-income countries, the so- called information philanthropy  is not a long-term sustainable solution to ensure access to publicly funded research publications, a prerequisite for develop- ing a strong and independent research base. Misguided Dependencies on Free Subscriptions Coming as these programs do with the blessings of the UN agencies and powerful commercial publishers, it has been hard to wean research communities off dependen- cy systems and onto true open access (OA) resources. These resources include the growing number of OA journals and institutional repositories worldwide that are now accessible free of cost to anyone with Internet access. The growing volume of OA resources provides a far greater degree of freedom for researchers to exchange and collaborate, for knowledge to be translated into useable forms by frontline health workers, and for emerging technologies such as text mining and semantic tagging for faster knowledge discovery to be used. It must be under- scored that such usages and redistribution are not permitted by donated content included in the Research4Life programs, even though users are free to read such content. Further, while the ������free access������ programs purport to be providing essential articles to researchers in poor nations (excluding countries such as India where the publishers have an existing market), access is not country-wide, but is only available if the researchers work in the registered institutions. South���South Collaborations For scholarly publishers and researchers in the South, OA is particularly important because it provides an unprecedented opportunity for South���South exchange and for local research to become an integral part of the global knowledge commons. More importantly, research findings from regions with similar socio- economic conditions may be far more The Essay section contains opinion pieces on topics of broad interest to a general medical audience. Citation: Chan L, Kirsop B, Arunachalam S (2011) Towards Open and Equitable Access to Research and Knowledge for Development. PLoS Med 8(3): e1001016. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001016 Published March 29, 2011 Copyright: �� 2011 Chan et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Funding: No funding was received for this article. Competing Interests: Leslie Chan, Barbara Kirsop, and Subbiah Arunachalam are trustees of the Electronic Publishing Trust for Development, which promotes open access. Leslie Chan is the Director of Bioline International, which hosts the African Health Sciences journal. Abbreviations: HINARI, Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative JIF, journal impact factor OA, open access UN, United Nations WHO, World Health Organization * E-mail: email@example.com Provenance: Commissioned not externally peer reviewed. PLoS Medicine | www.plosmedicine.org 1 March 2011 | Volume 8 | Issue 3 | e1001016
relevant than research from the richer countries. This is particularly true with health care and medical treatments. Take, for example, the journal African Health Sciences, edited by Dr. James K. Tumwine and published by the Faculty of Medicine at Makerere University in Uganda. This 10-year-old journal is thriv- ing on the Web (http://www.bioline.org. br/hs) and gaining international recogni- tion and global usage, showing that OA is not only viable, but with time will become the norm. The journal is one of a small number of African-based journals indexed by Medline, and the journal content is also archived in PubMedCentral (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/jour nals/378/), ensuring the long-term ac- cessibility of the growing body of knowl- edge recorded in the journal and by the growing community of researchers from the region. It is encouraging to know that across Africa, the number of journals that are becoming OA is growing, as is awareness about institutional repositories, thanks to the efforts of organizations such as the Electronic Information for Libraries (http://www.eifl.org/) and the Electronic Publishing Trust for Develop- ment (http://www.epublishingtrust.org/), the latter of which all three authors are trustees. Structural Inequity in Current Reward Systems Another major potential of OA is the correction to the current structural prob- lem of the academic evaluation and reward system, which has been dominated by a set of narrowly defined citation measures, most notably the journal impact factor (JIF), owned and controlled by the information conglomerate Thomson Reu- ters. The consolidation of the JIF as a global yardstick for measuring the quality of journals has created a highly competi- tive landscape of journal ranking and citation gaming, with journals from the developing countries being consistently marginalized [4,5]. This structural inequality has resulted in a citation and reputation divide in the developing world, with a sub-community of authors who publish almost exclusively in ������international������ journals indexed in the Thomson Reuters (formerly ISI) Web of Knowledge, while others are oriented towards research and publication in ������lo- cal������ journals on topics of interest to ������local������ audiences . And even though the latter may have greater impact for local or regional economic growth and public policy, these publications are often neglect- Summary Points N Unequal access to and distribution of public knowledge is governed by Northern standards and is increasingly inappropriate in the age of the networked ������Invisible College������. N Academic journals remain the primary distribution mechanism for research findings, but commercial journals are largely unaffordable for developing countries local journals���more relevant to resolving problems in the South��� are near-invisible and under-valued. N Donor solutions are unsustainable, are governed by markets rather than user needs, and instil dependency. N Open access is sustainable and research driven and builds independence and the capacity to establish a strong research base it is already converting local journals to international journals. N However, as open access becomes the norm, standards for the assessment of journal quality and relevance remain based on Northern values that ignore development needs and marginalise local scholarship. Figure 1. Unequal contribution and participation in science. Image �� Copyright SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan). Available: http://www.worldmapper.org/display.php?selected=205. The authors have been granted permission to reproduce this figure under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Source of data used to create map: World Bank���s 2005 World Development Indicators. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001016.g001 PLoS Medicine | www.plosmedicine.org 2 March 2011 | Volume 8 | Issue 3 | e1001016
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