Open Access : Towards a New Practice of Scientific Communication

The development of scientific publications’ self-archiving and free access archives, defended by movements for open access, reflects the needs of scientific research in terms of communication and dissemination. Giving everyone access to scientific publications seems to promote the visibility of research work – and much more quickly than via the traditional publication process. Open access in particular is the object of many debates common to all scientific disciplines and must be considered in the framework of the historical context of scientific publication. This new practice of scientific publishing is symptomatic of societal changes caused by free access to content shared intentionally on the Internet and thus generates debates similar to that surrounding free downloading, dissemination of works and copyright protection.

This article is a translation of: L'Open Access : vers une nouvelle pratique de la communication scientifique.

The development of scientific publications’ self-archiving and free access archives, defended by movements for open access, reflects the needs of scientific research in terms of communication and dissemination. Giving everyone access to scientific publications seems to promote the visibility of research work – and much more quickly than via the traditional publication process. Open access in particular is the object of many debates common to all scientific disciplines and must be considered in the framework of the historical context of scientific publication. This new practice of scientific publishing is symptomatic of societal changes caused by free access to content shared intentionally on the Internet and thus generates debates similar to that surrounding free downloading, dissemination of works and copyright protection.

Open Access. source: 
Open access

ArXiv: A Response of Open Access to the Delays of Publication

ArXiv, the first open access server of electronic prepublications of scientific articles, was established in 1991. The aim of the website was to put online draft articles or scientific articles in the process of being published. It soon became clear that there was a demand for long-term archiving of the articles on the ArXiv server, revealing a real need in this field.



The arrival of ArXiv marked the beginning of initiatives to promote open access as an alternative to the dissemination of scientific and technical information by publishing houses alone. We will see that initiatives towards open access, rather than competing with publishing houses, often owe their existence either to an aspect lacking on the part of traditional publishers, or to a distinct need. ArXiv for example, mitigates the slow nature of the publication process by making these texts accessible to everyone during the long process of publication. At a time when scientific advances are international and move forward by small, rapid steps, accelerating access to new publications was necessary for research to be disseminated on an international scale.



The free dissemination of discoveries is still the most efficient method to resolve problems common to a given scientific discipline. Richard Barbrook



Nevertheless, ArXiv can also appear to be a way of getting around paid subscriptions that are necessary to access publications. The use of this pre-publication repository as an open access repository sheds light on the difficulty faced by users when they are not part of an institution that can afford subscriptions to the most important journals.


The very reason behind scientific publication, however, is the dissemination of results and data in a context of international scientific and technical advances.


Open Access: Supported by Institutions and Governments

The open access movement started in the 1990s with the mobilization of the academic community (researchers, librarians, etc.) in favor of free and easy access to scientific information in order to facilitate the dissemination and development of knowledge. This movement later grew and gained the support of official positions taken by a large number of scientific foundations, university managers and governments through international declarations.

The first movement to explicitly declare itself as an open access supporter was the Open Archives Initiative (OAI) in 1999. Three years later it was followed by the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI), the Budapest Declaration for open access, the Charter of ECHO, the open letter by researchers calling for the establishment of a ‘Public library of science’ and the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing. These initiatives aim to achieve unrestricted open access for scientific publications and long-term archiving.


Conference on open access (2011) 
9th conference on Open access


From 2003 the movement for open access grew considerably. Initiatives were supported by institutions and governments, and were legitimized in October 2003 by the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities [1] signed by more than 300 universities and institutions across the world, including the most prestigious.



Scientific publication moved from the library to the Internet © photogj –
Scientific publishing


Major research funding establishments also played a role in defining the policies requiring researchers that they support financially to freely distribute articles that they publish (the Wellcome Trust in England in 2003, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the USA in 2005, and more recently, the Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek in Belgium).


OPINION OF THE ACADEMY OF SCIENCES REGARDING DIRECT SCIENTIFIC COMMUNICATION Text adopted by the French Academy of Sciences (Académie des sciences) on 5 July 2005 

Given the positions taken by institutions and governments, several institutional dissertation and article repository websites were created, and since the start of 2011 most establishments in France use the doctoral thesis repository website on the thèses-en-ligne server (TEL) that also allows the online self-archiving of HDR (accreditations to conduct research).


Paris Sud University instruction page for publishing theses (in French):

You are the only judge to decide whether your thesis should be published online or not. You can decide to publish your thesis straight away (once defended academically) or after an ‘embargo’ period  […] From a date determined by yourself, the full text will be automatically made available from: – the Sudoc catalog – the catalog of Paris Sud 11 libraries (in French) – TEL (thèse-en-ligne), a particular environment of the multidisciplinary open archive for French Research HAL. – DART Europe: E-theses Portal, catalog of European electronic theses (18,000 theses from 300 universities in 19 countries at the end of 2010) – From all databases that will gather references issued by STAR according to the OAI protocol.

The library will be in charge of publishing this thesis: once an ‘electronic document hosting request’ has been completed, you have nothing left to do with regards to either HAL or TEL for example.

You have the right to change your mind without justification either by making a hosting request or withdrawing your request by registered post, with acknowledgement of receipt, to the following address: Université Paris Sud 11, Bât. 300, 91405 Orsay cedex.



TEL is a specific environment of the open multidisciplinary archive (HAL) used for the reception and dissemination of scientific articles at the research level, whether published or not. HAL is a common platform for publications and scientific writings originating from an inter-establishment agreement signed in 2006 by all French universities and ‘Grandes Ecoles’ through their associations, and by research bodies such as the CEMAGREF, the CIRAD, the CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research), the INRA (French National Institute for Agricultural Research), the INRIA (French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control), the INSERM (French National Institute of Health and Medical Research), the Pasteur Institute and the IRD (French Institute of Research for Development). However, the percentage of French scientists who say they place their texts in open archives is relatively small (see the first MyScienceWork article on social network practices in science).

Several open archives of this type are accessible online across the world: in the United States (1 and 2),  South America, Australia, Canada, Germany, and the United KingdomScandinavian universities also have an archive, and there is even a world archive.

A map of the development of open archives worldwide should be made available online in June 2011 to replace its beta version:


Furthermore, in 2005 the American Congress and the House of Representatives voted in favor of a law requiring that articles written by researchers financed by institutions dependent on the Federal Gouvernment must be made freely available to all (after a certain amount of time). Political demands forced scientific publishers to accept this law. Similarly, in the UK the Science and Technology House Committee recommended implementing institutional self-archiving platforms be put in place on which scientists supported financially by these institutions must publish a copy of their publications.


Open Access: Towards a New Practice of Scientific Communication

The question of payment for the work of open access publishing becomes central. But to consider this question, one must first make a distinction between the two trends developing within the open access system.

The first trend, referred to as ‘Green OA (Open Access)’, requires that the authors and their establishments take charge of ‘self-archiving’, in other words the placement of their work in open archives. Belgian institutions favor this method and developed institutional repositories (for example the University of Liège’s ORBI, Louvain Catholic University’s DIAL and the Free University of Brussels’ (ULB) DI-fusions. Today there are more than 1,400 open archives worldwide (a map of institutional repertoires is available). According to Heather Morrison, self-archiving increased by 171% between the beginning of January and the end of March 2011! In this case, articles are deposited electronically on a server operated by the institution that can be easily accessed across the world, without charge, via the Internet. Authors keep their rights but concede a certain number of them (the right to copy, download, share, link and so on) to the institution and the readers. However, if a scientist only publishes his/her results on the institutional archives and does not publish through a more traditional publishing house, a method must be found to monitor the quality of texts submitted and the consistency of formats. In general, though, and this is the case of the Belgian archives cited above, placing works in institutional archives is done in parallel with the submission of an article to a traditionally published journal – when it is permitted by the terms of copyright.


The growth of open access between 1993 and 2009. Source: M. Laakso et al. PLoS ONE 6, e20961 (2011)
Cost evolution


In the second case, referred to as the ‘Gold OA’, publication is carried out by the publishing platform of an open access journal. A few examples: the Public Library of Science PLoS ONE, PubMed for biology and medical work developed by the American government, OpenEdition in France that includes three platforms for humanities and social science (including, Biomed Central for STM, and Scielo in Brasil. Most of these open access journals are financed according to an ‘inverse’ model on the basis of which the unavoidable publishing fees are paid either by the authors or their institutions, and not by subscribers who have free access to the documents. The average price to publish on PloS ONE is 1,350 dollars.



[…] It seems that the most obvious, natural solution to us – as it is the closest to the traditional process – the pay-per-view system, is a commercial failure each time it is attempted by a publisher. It appears as though this viewing method that so tempts large public publishers for obvious reasons, is poorly adapted to the uses and needs of researchers and students [...]

Digital publication is never ‘free’, says M. Minon. The most important point is to know who will finance it: the user or the producer. The question of ‘upstream’ or ‘downstream’ financing of scientific publishing is crucial, mainly because it involves very different actors. ‘Upstream’ financing often means that publishing structures must be implemented within universities and research institutions – structures financed through public funds that take charge of work normally done by publishing companies. From this viewpoint access to information can be free (though not necessarily) for the user, in opposition to what commercial publishers, constrained as they are to gain their revenues by distributing information, are able to offer. The opposition between upstream and downstream financing put forward by Marc Minon must must be moderated though by the awareness that commercial scientific publishing is not an economically autonomous sector: many texts published in this context receive substantial subsidies from the public sector…

Pierre Mounier in Homo-numericus speaking about Marc Minon’s report entitled ‘University publishing and digital perspectives’ (Edition universitaire et perspectives du numérique).




Many works suggest that 30% of the scientific and academic literature is available on the Internet – two-thirds using the Green OA framework, one-third using the Gold OA framework. A recent study showed that placing documents in an open access repository, using the Gold system is increasing by 20% per year. In France, according to a study by URFIST about researchers’ informational practices, (EPI – French public information association- of URFIST), 38% of scientists say they had already placed their articles on open access archives in 2010. These archives grew to over 500 in 2011 according to Heather Morrison and there are currently 6,000 open access journals listed on the Lund Directory of Open Access Journals ( Articles in these archives are refereed by their colleagues*.


Archimer, Ifremer’s archiving institution, is one well-functioning example. Since 2005 it has offered a group of bibliometric tools and more than one open access repository to its members. Members of Ifremer, since September 2010, are required to place their publication in Archimer, which now gathers more than 80% of this institution’s publications, contributing to the dissemination of oceanographic data to everyone).

The question of content quality was clearly posed at the very start of the open access movement. A number of solutions are possible in this area. First of all, peer-review is just as feasible with open access as it is with traditional publishing as long as a sufficient number of scientists adhere to the system. Open access also offers downstream solutions for evaluation: that is to say, after publication (open peer review, independent review).  Two possibilities can be considered in this case. Either the evaluation is done by peers, or through a system of comments and marks made available to readers who can then participate in the evaluation of the text. Many initiatives developed this type of evaluation such as, for example, Faculty of 1000 (F1000), an open access repository and, most prominently, post-refereed platform on which expert committee members judge the quality of a publication (relating to biology and medicine) after it is published.

Rating indexes of open access journals were also developed and show that some of these journals are in a relatively good position and offer quality content. The quality of the content of these publications available in open access is thus reliable, though it is always interesting for readers to look into the evaluation process implemented around the texts that they consult.


Projections into the future

Significant crises have shaken scientific publishers for a number of years, at the same time that their “clients’” moral and commercial expectations require the evolution of publishing houses’ practices. The question, then, is to know whether we are headed towards the end of publishing houses or whether they will adapt to new tools and new personal, institutional and governmental expectations. Viewed from another perspective, a new adaptation of publishing would lean towards a better socialization of science through collaborative tools. It is also necessary to allow users to reclaim ownership of their publications. For this to happen, it would be of benefit to all to allow authors access to data relating to the level of dissemination of their publications and their impact. Authors, for example, could have an idea of how many people have viewed the article. They would also be able to read comments made by these readers on the article or other articles they have found to be interesting. This is all part of a need to personalize one’s bibliography that would assuage what many scientists consider to be a lack of organization in their bibliographic practices (see our previous article).


The digital era is revolutionising scientific practice © laurent hamels –
@ metal


New practices have slowly emerged in the field of scientific research, alongside open access: - e-science (collaborative and participative): Open Labs, Open Data (datasets, research protocols, raw experimental results, lab book 2.0) - scientific social networks (Research gate, MyScienceWork) - social research institutions - research blogs, microblogging (conference reporting) - social bookmarking (Platform for sharing bibliographical references): Mendeley, citeUlike,   Connetea, 2collabs, zotero, Citeulike + ZeitGeist = CiteGeist), endnote, bibtex + journal picks.

An upcoming article on MyScienceWork will focus on these tools and consider new scientific practices in detail.

To conclude, the needs of scientific communication show that open access is an opportunity to be seized to maximize the visibility of research and allow scientific results to achieve a greater, more rapid impact. The simple, rapid process of putting results online will likely promote interdisciplinary communication and increase both the author’s audience and visibility. Moreover, open access journals should make the pre-publication and post-publication process more transparent. This would result in a better appropriation of the article by its authors.

The development of open access is part of a process of integration of new Internet practices guiding research towards an improved socialization of scientific practices crucial in the era of information overflow. This new practice of scientific publishing responds to a need, but also to concerns expressed about the integrity of the largest scientific publishers (link to our article on the scientific publication).

The discussions surrounding free access to publications are part of a number of ongoing debates that oppose legislation protecting authors’ rights on informational and cultural goods, with the movement towards open access to, for example, downloading music, free software, newspapers and daily newspapers. New societal modifications will undoubtedly take place relating to the opening up of digital media, as will the adaptation of jobs and tools to these transformations. In the case of scientific publishing, the very foundations of some major companies are being called into question. This process will either result in a remodeling of the publishing system within the publishing houses, or the disappearance of these publishers as they are replaced by new economic models.



We would like to give a warm thanks to Hans Dillaerts for proofreading this article. The link to his site is the following: Libre Accès à la communication scientifique (Free Access to scientific communication)

* There are many open access journals and counting them is a complex task, given the large variety of formats. The figure of 6,000, put forward by Heather Morrison, uses a very broad definition of open access journals and is sometimes criticized for this. We have used the smaller figure of 1,400 to take into account various estimations of the number of open access journals.


[1] Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities

Copyright of the Home page image :

Find out more: [1] Libre accès à la communication scientifique, site de H. Dillaerts et H. Bosc, [2] Scientific Publication: the model and scandals, L. Bianchini, MyScienceWork 2011, [3] The Evolution of Social Network Practices in Science, L. Bianchini, MyScienceWork 2011, [4] Libre accès : entre idéal et nécessité, un débat en mutation, P. Mounier, 2010, [5] Open science, open-access, science 2.0 : De nouvelles modalités pour la communication scientifique, Julien Sicot, 2010, [6] Dramatic Growth of Open Access March 31 2011, H. Morrison, [7] Laakso M, Welling P, Bukvova H, Nyman L, Björk B-C, et al. (2011) The Development of Open Access Journal Publishing from 1993 to 2009. PLoS ONE 6(6): e20961, [8] Conclusions du Conseil sur l’information scientifique à l’ère numérique: accès, diffusion et conservation, 2007, [9] Defrosting the digital library: Bibliographic tools for the next generation web, Hull, D., S. R. Pettifer, and D. B. Kell, PLoS Comput Biol 4 (10), (2008), DOI:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000204 [10] The website SPARC, [11] Free Scholarly Electronic Journals: How Good Are They?, M. Fosmire, S. Yu, 2000, [12] Brown, P.O., Eisen, M.B. & Varmus, H.E., 2003. Why PLoS Became a Publisher. PLoS Biol, 1(1), e36 [13] Open Access and Scholarly Communication: What new librarians should know, Information Studies Department Colloquium: « What new librarians should know about open access and scholarly communication », UCLA, 2010, [14] Publishing Open Access Academic Materials, Brett Bobley talks on why it is important for academics to publish open access materials for academics to increase their own personal impact.