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Europe PMC team

 | 21 October 2013


5 annoying things about Open Access

To start, I should say that all at Europe PMC support Open
Access. This is just a short list of some issues that can be frustrating…

1.    The often incorrect definition of green and gold
routes to Open Access
I am a relative newcomer to Open
Access having only been working in this area for a couple of years. Before that
I was a research scientist, and the movement had largely passed me by, with the
exception of noticing that I didn’t have to click through the university journal
subscription pages to download some articles.
Having said that, I have now lost
count of the number of meetings I’ve been to about Open Access where the
introduction has included an incorrect definition of the distinction between
green and gold open access. ‘Green’ often gets described as free, whereas
‘gold’ you have to pay for. I’ve already said that I’m a newbie in this area,
so I will refer you to Peter Suber’s
Open Access
for a definitive explanation.
In brief, green is self-archiving
in a repository and gold is open access delivered by journals. There may be
associated costs, but that is not the defining difference.

2.    The constant argument between Open Access
advocates about which route, green or gold, is best.

It is an important discussion, but sometimes it can diminish the central
message about the
benefits of Open Access – some of which are being highlighted this week by the Accelerating Science Award Program (ASAP) which recognises individuals who have applied
scientific research – published through Open Access – to innovate in any field
and benefit society.

Crucially, Europe PMC enables both green and gold routes to Open Access.
So, researchers (or their
can choose which route to use – most funders offer the flexibilty of both routes.

Of course, it’s more complicated than that, as the ‘choice’ is often
affected by publishing options, for example. But, just for today, the simple
take-home message is that you can go ‘green’ using the Manuscript Submission
Service via
Europe PMC plus, or ‘gold’
by publishing Open Access with a publisher who deposits their contents or
individual Open Access articles with us (you can find out more on the
journal list).

3.    That Open Access can be so much effort!
In theory it’s a matter of a few
mouse clicks to make an article Open Access, but in reality a researcher needs
to understand the impact that funder, institutional and publisher Open Access
policies can have on each other.  And
they already have enough to do carrying out their research.
We know that the current system
is not perfect, and that the researcher is usually the one at the receiving end
of sometimes conflicting advice in this area. We don’t have a solution just
yet, but hopefully it’s worth sharing that the 24
Europe PMC funders are talking to each
other, and to publishers and institutions to try and reach agreements that will
make things easier on researchers in the future. These conversations can take
time, but they are happening.

4.    This next one is not an irritation with Open
Access, but with the mis-guided conflation of Open Access with poor or no peer

This reared its head again only a few weeks ago in a (non-peer-reviewed) article published
by Science where the author had submitted a spoof paper to a sub-set of Open Access journals. His conclusion was that there is ‘little or no [peer review] scrutiny’ at many open access journals’. Others have already made a far better job than I could of
addressing the flaws in the design and conclusions described in that article,
for example,
here. My impression from comments on Twitter and blogs is that there is
generally agreement that the research calls into question the integrity of the
peer review system, and is nothing to do with Open Access (beyond the fact that
the only journals included in the study were Open Access). In fact, some Open
Access publishers are taking the lead in trying to address some of the problems
long-associated with the peer review process, such as
eLife and the Nature Frontiers series of

Last, and by no means least:

5.    Articles about Open
Access that are not themselves Open Access. 

know I’m not the only person to find this odd/frustrating/completely
counter-intuitive. But, really? Is it some kind of elaborate joke on the part
of the authors?

To read about some more frustrations with Open Access, this time from the perspective of a science librarian dealing with Open Access content, I recommend reading this post (‘How open is it?‘) by Elizabeth Newbold at the British Library – we sit near to each other, so it’s been interesting comparing notes this week!

There are a lot of exciting things happening during Open Access
week (21-27 October 2013). I hope everyone has a good week, whatever they’re
doing and wherever they are in the world.
I will be busy getting ready to launch our science-writing
competition, Access to Understanding 2014, in partnership with the British
Library. Look out here and on Twitter @EuropePMC_news in November for further

2 comments on "5 annoying things about Open Access"

Duncan Hull says:

Interesting list! For number five, see the Open Access Irony Awards, one way to vent your frustrations!

Anonymous says:

If the best way to understand the behaviour of the senior echelons of any organisation is to assume it has been infiltrated by elements dedicated to its destruction, then the OA movement, which anyone can 'join' is certainly going to have its problems…

Let's not forget there's a $15bn publishing interest that has every interesting in sowing FUD till the cows come home. It would be surprising indeed if the the internets were not awash with scum-topped waves of red herrings poisoned in the algal overgrowth vested interests weave their agnotological evil (see big tobacco, global warming, or sorry, would that be climate change?).

Cameron Neylon would agree with you ( that the Green vs Gold terminology is unhelpful. I've never liked it: the very arbitrariness of the terms makes them hard to remember. So yeah, let's just say what we damn well mean.

(A little) more open access irony here:

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