UN Meeting Urged to Back Open Access Science

David Dickson | SciDev.Net | December 7, 2003

Member governments of the United Nations are being asked this week to give their support to initiatives that offer free access to research results published in the electronic versions of scientific journals. The potential endorsement is contained in the draft of the Declaration of Principles that is due to be agreed during the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which opens in Geneva on Wednesday, and concludes in Tunisia in November 2005.

The current draft of this declaration states that the signatories seek to promote the creation and dissemination of scientific and technical information "including open access initiatives for scientific publishing". But the proposal that governments should adopt this language in the final WSIS declaration may prove controversial. For the concept of 'open access' is still being vigorously  debated within the scientific publishing world.

Earlier versions of the draft declaration contained only a passing reference to such a concept. However a sustained campaign to insert stronger language has been conducted over the past year by a number of leading 'open access' activists. These have been working primarily through a working group on scientific information that met regularly during the WSIS's so-called preparatory committee meetings (PrepComs), chaired by Francis Muguet, a computational chemist at the l'École Nationale Supérieure de Techniques Avancées in Paris.

"We see open access as a win-win strategy that, in the context of the developing countries, has tremendous potential to bridge the digital divide," says Muguet. "That is why we are so keen to see it included in the WSIS texts".