Lancet editorial highlights 2 aspects of OA

An editorial in this week’s Lancet (free registration required, or see the excerpt at Open Access News) highlights two interesting aspects of open access.

First, though, some quibbles:

  • The editorial claims that open archiving hasn’t been very successful (specifically: “open archiving has been less successful [than gold OA], although government mandates are likely to increase future publication on internet repositories”). What about the nearly half-million articles in arXiv?
  • The editorial’s use of the word “publication” to refer to deposit in repositories is unnecessarily confusing. Although some unpublished materials (such as theses and working papers) are deposited in repositories (which could be considered “publication”), the context here is previously published papers being deposited (“archived”, “posted”) in a repository.

So, the two aspects of OA which the editorial highlights:

  • OA as competitive pressure on non-OA publishers. The editorial begins by stating how the recent Harvard policysent a “cold shudder [...] through the spine of the traditional publishing community”, and proceeds to ask, “How have traditional publishers responded to the research community’s interest in wider access to medical science?” It’s hard to compete with free, and — even where publishers don’t convert to OA — that competition forces publishers to improve their value proposition.
  • OA as facilitator of pervasive and integrated information solutions. As the editorial argues,

    So what do doctors want from the information they use? They want quality and reliability. They want instant access whenever and wherever they need it. They want information in multiple formats, print, podcasts, and online. They want less, not more. They want to stay up-to-date. They want guidelines as well as individual research papers and systematic reviews. They want access to the views of key opinion leaders. They want information that is watermarked in such a way as to ensure its independence and integrity. They want information that is connected: research to reviews, images to text, testing to books. They want information to match their place and activity. Few medical publishers have paid attention to these needs. [...]

    What should editors and publishers do? They need to cast dullness to one side, and become leaders instead of followers. They need to start shaping the physician’s information world, instead of reacting to it. They need to pay less attention to their financial bottom line, and commit themselves to a larger, more inspiring mission—to join doctors in working to achieve the highest attainable standards of health for the communities they serve. Most medical publishers have forgotten that mission. It is time they returned to it.

    OA isn’t necessary for any of those purposes — but it sure makes it easier. Removing permission barriers facilitates developing innovative solutions to deliver information — not just to specialists, but to researchers in other fields and the public.

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