RE: The Value of OA

From: Alma Swan <>
Date: Wed, 4 Apr 2007 20:16:35 EDT

Peter Banks wrote:

> However, like most commentators, Anderson takes the value of OA
> as a given: "There is no question that OA offers potentially
> significant benefits to society. All other things being equal,
> free public access to scientific information is clearly a good
> thing." I think that this common assumption merits a far more
> critical examination than it has received.

> But even if democratic communications probably won't save
> mankind for its worst tendencies, can access to scientific
> information accelerate research

Yes, it can. Open access is essential for the optimal progress of
research for the following reasons:

1. It increases the visibility of research output and hence its

2. It speeds up the research cycle

3. It enables semantic computer technologies to do two things:

i) create one research space from which new information can be

ii) track, monitor, and measure citation and other patterns, thus
enabling better understanding of scientific developments and
better predictive methodologies (highly desirable for managers
and funders of research)

4. It is a critical enabler of
interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary research

All these things are discussed at more length in an invited essay
("Open access and the Progress of Science"), including supporting
data, in the next issue (May/June) of American Scientist, out
soon on a bookstall near you.

> In talking with researchers at major research institutions, I
> have yet to meet a single one who felt that access to
> information was a limiting factor in research.

John Houghton has already provided references to the empirical
studies of others that appear to contradict this. In our own
work, too, we have found that every time we ask researchers about
this we get a completely different answer to the one you hear.
And they are still saying it. Dozens of them, from all
disciplines, sat around the table in focus group sessions I ran
through last autumn and told of their difficulties in getting
hold of articles they wanted (and these were just the articles
they know about).

Many simply give up the chase - with untold repercussions for
research progress, of course. These were people from some of the
best-resourced research universities in the UK, places that could
by no stretch of the imagination be described as
'less-connected'. The report of that study will be published in
the next week or so by the Research Information Network (and will
be open access).

> The study of how information changes research, practice, and
> understanding is too important to remain unexamined or to
> remain the untested given of the open access movement.

Indeed. And those who examine it (empirically) and test it
(empirically) draw the conclusion that open access will be a
great driver in the advancement of scholarship.

Alma Swan
Key Perspectives Ltd
Truro, UK
Received on Thu Apr 05 2007 - 10:43:58 BST

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