Open Access Deemed 'Dangerous' by Royal Society

David Dickson | SciDev.Net | October 24, 2005

One of the world's oldest scientific societies has warned that the spread of open access journals — as well as open archiving — could have a "disastrous" impact on scientific publishing, possibly forcing some peer-reviewed journals to close. Proponents of open access deny this claim, saying there is no evidence to support such alarmist statements, and that its authors have confused various strands of the open access debate.

The statement was made this week by the UK Royal Society, which established the world's first (and on-going) peer-reviewed scientific journal, Philosophical Transactions, in 1665. The society says it welcomes recent technological advances that improve the exchange of knowledge both among researchers and between them and wider society.

It also acknowledges that some scientific publishers "appear to be making excessive profits". This is a key complaint made by librarians in recent years, and one that has triggered enthusiasm for the open access concept.

But the Royal Society complains about the pressure being applied by some funders — particularly in biomedical science — who are lobbying for immediate open access to research papers, and for faster development of web-based open access journals, repositories and archives.

As a result, the society believes that the impact of 'open access' models has not been properly considered, and that the primary aim of improving the exchange of knowledge might not be realised.

The society also says that publishing models in which researchers pay to submit or publish papers "introduce a new disincentive to the exchange of knowledge".