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Yes, 100 per cent open access is possible

Yes, 100 per cent open access is possible

UM signs DORA declaration

Open access publishing has skyrocketed over the past few years. Large publishers have come around and the accessible journals are on the rise. But how is the UM doing? How many Maastricht publications are available to everyone? Do young researchers do it too or just those who have already made it? It's Open Access Week again, organised by the University Library.

Universities that produce articles funded by taxpayers’ money, but then have to pay a bucket load to be able to read them, because of the publishers' extortionate subscription costs. No, that is so outdated.

At the UM, almost all researchers have at least once co-worked on an open access publication, says Ron Aardening, who deals with science communication and publishing at the university library. That is an assumption. What is definite, is that half (52 per cent) of the Maastricht articles are by now freely accessible, as appeared from an internal investigation. With this, the UM is in line with other universities in the Netherlands. Leiden holds the lead with 60, while Twente is last on the list with 44.

The differences per faculty are significant. At the UM, the Faculty of Science & Engineering published the most openly accessible articles in 2018, relatively speaking: half of a total of 167 publications. The Faculty of Medicine reached 44 per cent, but the counter showed 3,233 articles. Law dangles at the bottom with 29 per cent of the 130 pieces. A total of 4,062 peer-reviewed articles were produced at the UM last year – both openly accessible and not.

We shouldn't draw too many conclusions from these faculty percentages, Aardening warns. “The cultural differences between the disciplines are huge. In the field in which FSE operates - the sciences - it is accepted practice to share articles in the form of so-called preprints with peers, who then provide open comments. After that, they end up in the special archives. Sometimes they appear later on as a publication, but sometimes no publisher is involved anymore.”

Google Scholar

Open access has several sides. There is the so-called “golden route”, when an article is accessible in a journal and can be read by everybody, downloaded and reused, the “bronze route”, when an article can only be read and downloaded. And there is the “green route”. This is where the (laid-out) publisher's version is hidden behind a paywall, but the rough draft – the author's version - can be viewed and downloaded using an online archive, for example from the university library.

Aardening: “Using the green route, we can still have 100 per cent open access without involving the publishers. We are going to contact all UM researchers whose articles end up behind a paywall. Until now, we only did so with PhD graduates. It makes no difference to the traceability on the Internet. The University Library's archive is just as visible in the hits from Google Scholar as the journals.”

Broad audience

Do only seasoned professors use open access, or also the younger guys who still have to make their mark? It is actually the other way around, says Aardening on the basis of the monthly workshops that he organises for graduate schools. “The younger researchers are more into it than the older ones who have been publishing in the same favourite journals for years. They have been published there before, they know the editors.”

Younger researchers are not so set in their ways and often choose open access journals. “Also because times have changed. Ten years ago, those journals were not very prestigious, but now they are. Genome Biology and Nature Communications have factor 12, which is high. Just like the 11 for Science Advances, and 8 for PloS Medicine. Besides, if everyone can read it, that availability can produce more citations.”

On top of that, there is the fact that ‘youngsters’ these days attach more value to social relevance, which fits in with the present-day trend to not only assess researchers for their publications but especially for the social impact of these. “So if you want policymakers to take note of your results, you need to make sure that you are visible, that your publications can be read by everyone, but also that you translate it to a broad audience. That you twitter, blog and give lectures on it. You have become your own brand.”


Nevertheless, open access publishing is not in “the heads and hearts” of researchers, experiences Erik Driessen, professor of medical education and chief editor of the open access journal Perspectives on Medical Education. “PhD candidates weigh up the impact factor when choosing a journal, as well as the reputation and the emphasis of a journal on a particular type of content. Seldom do they think about the question whether or not to publish with open access. They only do so when the journal of their choice offers that option. You can also publish with open access in traditional journals, but that may cost quite a bit of money. The British Medical Journal recently asked three thousand pounds excluding VAT. In consultation with the PhD candidate concerned, we decided not do that.”

Most researchers also have no idea of the consequences of publication in a traditional journal. “They don't concern themselves with the fine print, but this may state for example that authors transfer the copyright to the journal. So if you first publish about a questionnaire for say measuring the susceptibility to diabetes, then the journal can refer to their copyright when you want to write about it later on in a different journal. They don't usually do so, but in theory they could.”




Maastricht Open Access Week this year highlights Open Science, a movement that not only argues for accessibility to articles, but also for the open exchange of rough research data among researchers.

In line with open science is the signing of the ‘San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment’ by rector Rianne Letschert on Friday 25 October. With this so-called DORA declaration - already signed by 1,200 organisations worldwide - the UM is obliging itself to not just assess its researchers purely on the number of publications and the impact factors of the journals in which they have published, but also on the scientific or social impact of their publications. What did they achieve? Did policymakers pick up on it? Were they a guide towards improvements?

Netherlands at the top

Compared to surrounding countries, the Netherlands is at the top of the open access march. Whereas in 2012 only 20 per cent of all scientific publications were openly accessible to everyone, the rate had gone up to 44 per cent in 2016. The Netherlands is followed closely by Great Britain (43 per cent) and Switzerland (42). The United States (40) is in fifth place and Belgium (36) in tenth place. China is at the bottom (23), all according to the data from Web of Science.



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