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Open Access: Access to knowledge

24 Oct

“Access to knowledge is a basic human right.” Yet sadly as scientists we are often forced to operate in a framework in which this is not always the case. This week sees the celebration of the eighth Open Access Week, and whilst there have undoubtedly been many achievements by the Open Access (OA) movement since 2009, there is still a long way to go before mankind’s basic human right to knowledge is restored.

Open for business: The Open Access logo (Photo credit: Wikimedia)

Open for business: The Open Access logo (Photo credit: Wikimedia)

So why all the big fuss about OA in the first instance? If you are reading this as a layperson or as a scientist at the outset of their scientific career, then you may be surprised to find out that it costs (often large sums of) money to read online research articles. Even if these fees are not being charged to you personally, the chances are that it is costing your research institution or library thousands of pounds/euros/dollars that could otherwise be spent on research, resources, jobs, or infrastructure (as an example, in 2009, Clemson University in the US, an institute with less than 17,000 students, spent an astonishing $1.3 million on journal subscriptions to the publishing magnate Elsevier alone).

Over the past 30 years, journal prices have out priced inflation by over 250%; but it wasn’t always like this. In the past journals existed for two reasons: as an affordable option for scientists to publish their work in (as opposed to the more expensive option of personally-published books), and as a place where members of the general public and the wider scientific community could find out about the advances in science that their taxes were helping to fund. Sadly, in recent times many journals seem to have lost their way on both counts, hence the need to open it up again.

Climbing Higher: The cost of journal articles continues to rise completely out of proportion to inflation (Photo credit: Association of Research libraries)

Climbing Higher: The cost of journal articles continues to rise completely out of proportion to inflation (Photo credit: Jorge Cham/PHD Comics)

The beginning of the modern OA movement can be traced back to the 4th July 1971, when Michael Hart launched Project Gutenberg, a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works for free. However, it wasn’t until 1989 (and with the advent of the Internet) that the first digital-only, free journals were launched, amongst them Psycoloquy by Stevan Harnad and The Public-Access Computer Systems Review by Charles W. Bailey Jr.

Since then, the OA movement has grown considerably, although it is important to note that publishing articles so that they are free for all is itself not without expense. Despite the lack of print and mailing costs, there are still large infrastructure and staffing overheads that need to be taken into consideration, and so rather than make the reader pay, alternatives have to be found.

One alternative, known as the Gold route to OA, is to make the author(s) of the article pay for the right to have their research accessible by all. Many journals already require an Article Processing Charge (APC) to be paid before publication, and so some journals have simply elected to add an additional charge if the author wants to make their journal open to the general public.

The other main alternative is the Green route to OA, which involves the author placing their journal in a central repository, which is then made available to all. The journal in which the article was originally published will usually enforce an embargo period of a number of months or years that must pass before the published articles can be placed in these repositories, although this can often be circumnavigated by uploading final, ‘accepted for publication’, drafts of the article. You can read more about OA subject repositories in this article.

A sea of golden green: the availability of gold and green OA journal articles by scientific discipline in 2009 (Source: Björk, et al.).

A sea of golden green: the availability of gold and green OA journal articles by scientific discipline in 2009 (Source: Björk, et al.).

Both of these approaches to OA have their respective advantages and disadvantages, and normally research intuitions and/or funding bodies guide the route that researchers choose. The Research Councils UK (RCUK), for example, has a policy (which can be found here) that supports both the Gold and the Green routes to OA, though it has a preference for immediate access with the maximum opportunity for reuse. It is worth noting at this point that another key aim of the OA movement is that published research is free to reuse in future studies. This might seem like a fairly trivial point, but currently for any articles published in closed access journals, express permission is needed from the publishers if the results are to be used in any future studies.


Top of the food chain: the top 10 UK universities in terms of APC funding distribution (Source: RCUK).

The major barrier that still needs to be overcome with regards to OA is determining who pays for the right to free access. At the moment many governments have a centralised pot, which they allocate to their different research institutes. However, issues arise when one considers the limitations that this imposes on poorer countries, institutes, research disciplines, and independent researchers. There is also the minefield of determining who gets how much and why; my own institute, Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) has only been allocated enough funds to pay for 7 academic papers a year via the Gold route to OA. When you consider that some researchers would hope to publish that many papers themselves on a yearly basis, there is clearly a disconnect. It is for these reasons that many are pushing for ‘OA 2.0’, an initiative in which articles are, in the words of EGU’s former executive secretary Arne Richter, “Free to Read, Free to Download and Free to Publish.” However, such an approach will require a major change in the modus operandi of almost all publishing companies. It is worth noting that Copernicus, who are responsible for publishing the majority of EGU’s affiliated journals are very strong proponents of the Open Access movement, and have been one of the leading lights in an otherwise murky world.

The sad truth of the matter is that many of the more traditional journals are now run as big-business, moneymaking machines, safe in the knowledge that they can get away with charging large fees, because scientists are still desperate to publish in places with a ‘high-impact’. However, if enough scientists rise up and move away from these restrictive journals, and migrate towards those with an OA policy, then the impact factors will soon follow suit (in fact, there is already strong evidence that publishing in an OA journal will result in more citations for your research). Only then can we begin to reinstate knowledge as a basic human right available to all, rather than as an expensive luxury dolled out to the privileged few who can afford it.


By Sam Illingworth, Lecturer, Manchester Metropolitan University


Open geoscience

23 Jul

Not so long ago I was in a meeting with EGU’s young scientist representatives, who had gathered online to discuss the issues facing those early in their academic careers. One member of this dedicated team put forward a compelling notion: that the future of open access is in the hands of today’s early-career researchers. This post aims to answer the question that followed: “how could EGU’s team of eager early-career researchers help their peers grab hold of the open opportunities out there?” by offering up a few routes to open science…

A lot of hard work, carefully created figures and data don’t make it to your publications, but they are still a useful part of the scientific process and can help other scientists if they can see what you found. A great way to share this sort of information is on Figshare – and it’s citable too.

The same goes for conference presentations – don’t let them gather dust on your desktop. The aim of a conference is to share your work more widely, so, when you’re done, put your slides up on sites like SlideShare to share it beyond the conference. Keep your contact details in the presentation and you could find yourself with new collaborators.

Open the doors to more collaborative geoscience. (Credit: Oxyman)

Open the doors to more collaborative geoscience. (Credit: Oxyman)

Posters can be made open too. After our annual General Assembly, we invite authors to upload their posters and presentations, but there’s no need to restrict your openness to the EGU conference. F1000 posters is an open access repository for posters in biology, so if your work bridges the biogeosciences, be sure to submit it there. If you’re in another field, try Figshare (despite the name, it’s not just for figures!).

The EGU offers a number of open access journals for the Earth, planetary and space sciences, but there are many more journals where you can publish your work, if the scope of EGU journals doesn’t quite cover your field. The American Geosciences Institute hosts a comprehensive list of open geo journals on their website, and the Directory of Open Access Journals is exactly what it says on the tin – a hub of high quality open access publications. The stringent criteria required to enter their database means that predatory open access journals are filtered out.

But what about impact? Going open doesn’t mean lower impact, in fact, with your paper being openly available to all, it’s more likely to be seen and cited, so the impact at the article level could well be higher than if it was in a subscription-based publication. You can track the impact of your research outputs using ImpactStory, or by using the Altmetric bookmarklet to keep tabs on more than just citations, from where it’s featured in news articles and blog posts to where it’s been mentioned on social media and more.

Don’t let your work gather dust. (Credit: How Matters)

Don’t let your work gather dust, share it. (Credit: How Matters)

The European Research Council considers that providing free online access to publications is the most effective way of ensuring that the fruits of the research it funds can be accessed, read and used as the basis for further research. Many funders are also moving in this direction, providing further incentive to publish open access papers.

When your manuscript is ready, submit it to a preprint server (e.g.,,, or EGU papers have an open review process, which helps ensure the assessment of a submitted manuscript is thorough and fair, but it also means that the science is out in the open sooner – the merit of a preprint. This helps establish precedence, highlighting that you were working on something first, and can remove barriers to scientific progress (we all know peer review can take a while!). Some establishments aren’t a fan of this though; so before you put a preprint online, check Sherpa/Romeo to make sure your institute, funding body and the journal(s) you’re interested in are on board with the benefits of preprints.

Models are near ubiquitous in the geosciences and their importance in assessing the impact of climate change goes without saying. But what if you couldn’t replicate the results of, say, an important climate model? You would need to go back to the model’s code and see where your calculations and the ones before differed. Sharing code is compulsory for journals like Geoscientific Model Development, but many don’t stipulate the need to share it. You can go one step further to help your community by sharing your code on GitHub, whether it’s compulsory for your latest article or not.

Free the work from your desktop folders. (Credit:

Free the work from your desktop folders. (Credit:

With all these opportunities to go open, wouldn’t it be great if you had an opportunity to keep track of all your outputs? There’s an answer for that too – ORCID. ORCID is a unique researcher identifier that links all your research outputs, from manuscripts and conference abstracts to grant submissions and research figures, ensuring you get credit for the work you do.

For something less formal, but perhaps more open in that you can go beyond the academic community, try blogging about your research – we readily welcome guest posts here on GeoLog, but there are many places you can set your science free. Try The Conversation, SciLogs, pitching your idea to another geoscience blogger or better yet, establishing your own blog to write on. You can also go further to promote your research and facts about your field on social media – a great way to form connections with other academics and put your work in the public eye.

These are just a few thoughts on open geoscience, but there are likely more ways go open than could ever be summarised in a single post. Take this is a starting point, seek out more options for yourself, and, if you already have a few tips on how to make geoscience more open, spread the word.

By Sara Mynott, EGU Communications Officer

If you have any thoughts on other ways geoscientists can move towards open science, please add your thoughts to the comment thread below. 

Introducing ESurf

3 Apr

ESurf, more formally known as Earth Surface Dynamics is the new open access journal from the EGU. Focussing on the processes that affect the Earth’s surface at all scales, ESurf aims to communicate the interactions of Earth surface processes with the lithosphere, biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere and pedosphere. Highlighting field measurements, remote sensing and experimental and numerical modeling of Earth surface processes.

The first issue of Earth Surface Dynamics!

As with most other EGU journals, Earth Surface Dynamics has an open review process, where the submitted papers are also available in an open access discussion forum (Earth Surface Dynamics Discussions). What’s more, because ESurf is the ‘new kid on the block’, all submission charges are currently waived, so it’s free to submit, free to access and free to use. Brilliant!

Take a look at the first issue here and to keep updated on the latest research in Earth Surface Dynamics, follow the journal on Twitter (@EGU_ESurf).

More information about the launch of this great open access journal is also available on the EGU website.

Events for Young Scientists at EGU 2013

20 Mar

Short Courses

Open Access (OA)

Demystifying Open Access – an open discussion for early career researchers tackling how OA can benefit young scientists without compromising their careers. From what it costs to publish an open access paper to how we can measure its impact, all interested scientists are invited to drop in and join us over drinks in a marketplace of discussion.

How to apply for a job. It’s a topic rarely addressed in postgraduate courses, but in this session, career training experts will help you make the most of your strengths and show them off to a potential employer. Pick up some tips about finding the right job for you, preparing a good CV, and writing a targeted cover letter.

The Blogs and social media in scientific research session explores the ways in which scientists can use blogs and social media to communicate their work. Why should scientists blog or use Twitter?  How do they find the time? And what are the benefits? A panel of blog and social media-savvy scientists will talk about their experience before opening the discussion to the audience.

Last year’s communicate your science workshop

If you’re a Geomorphologist, you’ll be set for the week as the Geomorphology division has loads on offer! Pickup skills on dating techniquesproject supervisionopen access publishing  and you can also meet the master for tips from seasoned academics.

If you’re a Hydrologist, there’s also the opportunity to meet experts in the field in a round-table discussion with established scientists. You can also pick up pointers on writing the perfect hydrology paper.

See the session programme for more short courses at EGU 2013.

Meeting other Geoscientists during the tweet up at last year’s General Assembly.


The opening reception on Sunday, 7 April is a great opportunity to meet people, network, get to know the Assembly venue. There is free food and drink as well as specific places for Young Scientists to meet up on the Green Level. Tall signs will tell you where to go, so stop by to meet fellow early career researchers, division presidents and the Young Scientist representatives for the EGU (Jennifer Holden and Sara Mynott).

Earlier in the day, there will also be an opportunity for women in the geosciences to attend a networking event run by the Earth Science Women’s Network, for more information and how to register, see here.

Check this post for more details on networking opportunities at the General Assembly.

Have your say!

What would you like us to do for you? Join us over lunch (food provided!) to find out what the EGU can do to for Young Scientists and let us know what you’d like more of. These will take place on Tuesday 9 April and Thursday 11 April.

Other Sessions

The Medal Lectures, which highlight the work of brilliant scientists. Head on over to the lectures on the Arne Richter Award for Outstanding Young Scientists (ML4-ML7) and be inspired!

You can also join in a conference call for Young Researchers in Earth Sciences, which aims to promote interdisciplinary research efforts among early career researchers.


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