Project Underway To Convert High Energy Physics Literature To Open AccessPublished on 5 January 2009 @ 1:56 pm
Intellectual Property Watch
By Catherine Saez
As rising prices of top-quality journals in high-energy physics jeopardise researchers’ access to essential peer-reviewed articles, leading physicists have put forward an alternative model for open access publishing.
Access to past and current research reports is of vital importance for researchers according to the high-energy physics (HEP) community, and as libraries have had to cancel costly subscriptions worldwide, an initiative led by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) aims to gather global resources to make that research openly accessible.
The community pioneered open access through “repositories” containing collections of pre-prints freely accessible on the internet. Those repositories are electronic databases where articles describing scientific results are made available by the authors prior to their formal publication in peer-reviewed journals.
The world’s first pre-print repository was established at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in the late 1950s. It included working papers and reports submitted to CERN by authors from institutions across the world, CERN Director General Robert Aymar said in a scholarly communication to be published in early 2009 in the European Review.
Repositories facilitate access to research articles before their publication, thus enabling new results to influence current research as soon as the article is released.
Notable examples of repositories in HEP are the CERN Document Server, the SPIRES database run by the Stanford linear Accelerator Center since the late 1960s as a database of particle physics literature, and arXiv.org, started in 1991 in Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, now run from Cornell University.
However, peer-review, which verifies the quality of an article submitted for publication, is not performed in repositories. Peer-review is organised by publishers and carried out by specialists in the field. This process provides a platform for the evaluation and career evolution of scientists and is useful to measure the quality and productivity of research groups and institutes.
High-quality HEP journals are essential for the community, because the journals provide the peer-review service, but this service is costly. The rising cost of subscriptions has put dire financial pressure on libraries, forcing them to cancel subscriptions, said Jens Vigen, head of the Scientific Information Service at CERN. The present subscription model is not sustainable and the community needs a new model to contain costs and achieve open access.
A new model for open access publishing has emerged, aiming to convert the entire body of HEP literature to open access. The publisher’s subscription income from multiple institutions would be replaced by income from a single financial partner: the Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics (SCOAP3).
SCOAP3 is a consortium composed of high-energy physics funding agencies, high-energy physics laboratories and leading national and international libraries and library consortia.
According to the model, partners from all countries contributing to HEP literature would become members of the consortium. “Each country should be responsible for the funding of the peer review corresponding to their scientific output” said Vigen. “And the ultimate goal is to draw everybody into the SCOAP3 system.” The transition to open access will be facilitated by the fact that only six peer-reviewed journals publish the majority of HEP articles according to a report of the SCOAP3 Working Party [pdf].
At this time, most European countries have agreed to participate, so did 44 US partners. Turkey, Israel and Australia have also joined the consortium. Discussions are in progress with several countries in Asia, such as India, China and Japan, said Vigen. While about 50 percent of the funds have been pledged, the consortium will not start approaching the publishers officially yet. “We need to have important players on board, like Japan and China, before going to the publishers,” he said.
Although formal discussions with the publishers have not officially started, the consortium indicates that publishers show a pro-active attitude of support to open access in HEP. Publishers would benefit from a more sustainable model and researchers will have a broad access to peer-reviewed articles, according to the SCOAP3 working party.
The costs of SCOAP3 would be distributed among all countries according to a fair-share model based on the distribution of HEP articles per country. An allowance of 10 percent of the SCOAP3 budget is foreseen to cover publications from scientists from countries unable to make contribution to the consortium.
Once the process of securing the budget and negotiations are achieved, the consortium will establish governance and become active. It will be run by CERN. According to Vigen, “CERN management has offered that CERN runs the consortium as an in-kind contribution to the consortium, no charges will be carried by members.”
The consortium is expecting an impending launch. “The timeframe for launching the consortium is linked to the negotiations with potential partners, mainly in Asia, in order to have a global distribution of partners, but hopefully it will be launched in 2009,” said Vigen.
Once it reaches critical mass, SCOAP3 will be formally established and its governance put in place. SCOAP3 will then issue its call for tender to publishers, in order to assess the exact cost of its operation, and then move forward with negotiating and placing contracts with publishers.
In parallel, SPIRES and the CERN document server, which are both databases, are joining their resources to form INSPIRE, a database where all articles on particle physics will be stored and accessible on an open access basis. If the SCOAP3 project is successful, all articles published within the SCOAP3 framework will be copied and stored in INSPIRE, which then will store both pre-prints and peer-reviewed articles.
Catherine Saez may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.