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Southampton plays leading role in historic announcement on research communication

Published: 14 February 2002

This Thursday (14 February) is marked by a historic event in research communication, when the Open Society Institute, established by George Soros, launches the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI).

In the words of the BOAI declaration: "An old tradition and a new technology have converged to make possible an unprecedented public good. The old tradition is the willingness of scientists and scholars to publish the fruits of their research in scholarly journals without payment, for the sake of inquiry and knowledge. The new technology is the internet. The public good they make possible is the worldwide electronic distribution of the peer-reviewed journal literature and completely free and unrestricted access to it by all scientists, scholars, teachers, students, and other curious minds. Removing access barriers to this literature will accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge."

Two existing open-access movements have been pooled in the BOAI, the second of which has its origins at Southampton.

The first originates from the 1999 call by Nobel Prizewinner Harold Varmus for free access to biomedical research literature, which attracted support from 30,000 researchers worldwide, and inspired the Public Library of Science, which is now creating new open-access journals. In addition to this, the BOAI draws on the Self-Archiving Initiative, pioneered at the University of Southampton, which aims for immediate open access to peer-reviewed papers published in all peer-reviewed journals.

The Southampton initiative was launched by Professor Stevan Harnad, whose 'Subversive Proposal' was published in 1994, the same year that he arrived at the University of Southampton. Since then, support for self-archiving has been gathering force throughout the global academic community, and research in the Department of Electronics and Computer Science at Southampton has provided and made freely available the Eprints software for Universities to create Archives in which their researchers can self-archive their papers, freely accessible for everyone.

These Archives are compliant with the Open Archives (OAI) Standard, in which Southampton also participated. This makes them inter-operable with all other Eprint Archives, so that their contents can be searched and retrieved as if they were all in one big global collection. Professor Harnad describes this as 'a kind of Google for the peer-reviewed research literature only.' By linking all papers to the papers that they cite, the contents of these archives will also become navigable in the classical scholarly way, and the citations can be analysed online to give users, funders, and evaluators many powerful new indicators of research impact.

The Budapest Open Access Initiative is not only supported by funds from the Open Society Initiative and other foundations that it expects to attract. Universities and their researchers worldwide are also committing themselves as organisations and individuals to implementing one or other of the BOAI's twin strategies (self-archiving and open-access journals), or both.

"We hope that this dual action BOAI strategy will grow quickly," said Stevan Harnad, "first freeing access to this special literature through self-archiving. Then, if (and only if!) free-access shrinks or eliminates the market for toll-access, it will induce the publishers of the 20,000 toll-based peer-reviewed journals either to cut costs down to the bare essentials (peer-review) and make the transition to open-access (with peer review paid for by the author's institution, per paper, up-front), or to risk having their titles migrate to new open-access publishers who will.

"OSI and its co-funders will provide start-up help in funding self-archiving and open-access publishing, encouraging the researchers and their universities to take this all-important matter-the access to and the impact of their research-into their own hands at last." According to Professor Harnad the benefits of open access to this literature are threefold. First, open access maximizes the impact of research by maximizing access to it for its potential users. Second, open access also maximizes the degree to which researchers, and hence their research, are informed by the research of others. Finally, open access also promises eventually to relieve research libraries' serials budget burden, freeing those funds in part to pay for peer review and in part to be spent on much-needed books as well as new digital library resources.

The Open Society Institute, the foundation network founded by philanthropist George Soros, is committed to providing initial help and funding to realize the goal of open access. It will use its resources and influence to extend and promote institutional self-archiving, to launch new open-access journals, and to help an open-access journal system become economically self-sustaining.

The University of Southampton has already made a major contribution to research and development in this area. The Department of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) hosts a multidisciplinary multi-university archive (CogPrints) and also one of the first open access journals (Psycoloquy). In addition, ECS has developed the (free) OAI-compliant Eprints archive-creating software (Version 2 is available on 14 February to coincide with the BOAI announcement), and is receiving funds from JISC (the UK Joint Information Systems Committee) to make this software open source, while the OpCit project is linking e-print archives by their cited references and providing new tools for literature navigation, citation analysis and impact assessment.

Notes for editors

  1. Websites for further information:
    http://www.soros.org/openaccess
    http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/0240.html
    http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Tp/nature4.htm
    http://www.eprints.org
    http://www.jisc.ac.uk
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk
  2. The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University, which celebrates its Golden Jubilee in 2002, has 21,000 students and over 4,500 staff and plays an important role in the City of Southampton. Its annual turnover is in the region of £215 million.
  3. The Department of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton is the largest department of its kind in the UK, and is ranked sixth in the world for academic research in electrical and electronic engineering. It was awarded the top grade of 5* for the quality of its research in the 2001 UK Research Assessment Exercise, and received the top mark of 24 for its most recent teaching quality assessment.

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