Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Another World is Possible: Particle Physics Goes Open Access

Well, it finally happened. The entire (sub?)field of particle physics, okay, ninety percent of it, just went open access (OA). Details, via Nature:
After six years of negotiation, the Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics (SCOAP3) is now close to ensuring that nearly all particle-physics articles — about 7,000 publications last year — are made immediately free on journal websites. Upfront payments from libraries will fund the access.
Payments, from libraries, that would have gone to vendors are now going directly to journal publishers, eliminating the middle man. Simple. Elegant. Less expensive.

Let's get to the big question: is this replicable in other fields? Kind of. CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, oversees the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) that is responsible for producing much of the research in particle physics, and as such, the organization exerts more influence over what's published than similar bodies in other fields. It's hard to imagine the American Political Science Association (APSA), for example, being able to sway publishing in that field the way CERN does for particle physics. Political scientists aren't dependent on APSA for producing research; there's not a political science equivalent of the LHC. In addition, as Nature notes, particle physics is a concentrated field, in which twelve journals account for ninety percent of the scholarship produced in article format.

In sum, if you want to replicate this in another field, look for one with a strong, centralized organization and limited options for article publication. The organization can control research production, as CERN does, or wield power via accreditation, certification, or other means. It's not unthinkable that a OA could be a part of such a regime, in terms of either sheer volume or percentage of scholarship that is made accessible. That organization and just a few publishers/journals ensures fewer parties at the negotiating table, which may make it easier to reach an agreement to achieve open access in a field.

In the meantime, please credit SCOAP3, CERN, and these journals for taking this unprecedented step. Another world, another scholarly publishing ecosystem, is possible. Librarians play an important role in SCOAP3. Let's not just watch, let's get creative and build off of this.

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