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Openness demands principles–the case of Open Access to scientific and scholarly information

Dominique Babini

New information and communication technologies available, allow us— society—to open our contents, technologies, and processes of our activities.

The openness process provides great opportunities to move forward with more participation and efficacy when constructing new knowledge and sharing it with those sectors of society able to apply it to meet specific needs.

As in any openness process, which is a social construction, decisions must be made based on the principles we believe such openness should be grounded.

Briefly, I will touch on some facts and decisions that have accompanied this Open Access process (Suber, 2015) —open and free online access to full-text scientific and scholarly publications—so we can see the principles present in that openness process which has been here for more than two decades.

My intention is to show that in matters of open access to scientific and scholarly knowledge is important to clearly understand the principles and visions before making decisions about what, how, for whom, and why contents, technologies and processes should be made open.

Whether the commercial sector in the hands of few international publishers, that with its inflated prices of 35-40% has been one of the main reasons why the Open Access movement began, should be part of the solution? Or should the scholarly community be the one to recover the management of scientific communications by developing its own platforms and services?

Open Access to scientific and scholarly knowledge in developed countries, where decades ago the privatisation of knowledge reached the academic and scientific fields and which outsourced great part of journals and scientific and scholarly books to the commercial sector, had two different visions for sharing knowledge since its beginning. On the one hand, there were scientists aware of the amount that’s taken from budgets for scientific research to cover such outsourcing. They contend that research funded with public funds should be freely available to everyone. And on the other hand, the sector of commercial scholarly editing in the hands of few international corporations.

I share four cases of those scientists that, in their own way, envisioned open access.

  • 30 years ago, Tim Berners-Lee, a young British scientist specialist on computing worked at CERN—European centre of atomic research headquartered in Geneva. He longed for sharing files with other researchers in a more efficient way so he invented the Web1 He could have registered his patent to start a very profitable business but instead he decided to freely share technology and now we all enjoy services based on it.
  • Such Web enabled another researcher, Canadian cognitive scientist Stevan Harnard, concerned for the inflated prices of scientific journals, put forth his “Subversive proposal” 25 years ago. He was inviting all scientists to disseminate freely their articles on the Web so that everyone could read them, starting thus the international movement of open access to scientific journals, which were managed by international commercial publishers in one of the most profitable business worldwide. Indeed, more than Apple, Google and Amazon, such business was built upon public funds destined for doing research.2
  • Not long ago, another young man, American computer programmer and Internet hacktivist, Aaron Swartz, since he was a teenager, he found himself programming successful services for Internet undertakings such as RSS and Creative Commons. Aged 22 he published his ”Guerilla Open Access Manifesto,” a call to share and exchange knowledge freely online, opposing the “private theft of public culture” and the “privatization of knowledge” by international corporations of scientific information.3 Since he considered that scientific articles had to be accessed publicly and free of charge, in one of his habitual hacks to release a great number of them from the commercial circuit and put them in the Web, he was arrested and sentenced to 35 years in prison. He committed suicide at 27 before his proceeding came to an end. The open access and web development world were in shock. After his death he was given a place at the Internet Hall of Fame.
  • • Currently, since many institutions worldwide cannot afford the rampant prices of subscriptions to scientific journals, scientists access to more than 60m scientific articles of the commercial circuit through the pirate site SCI-HUB for free. It was created in 2011 by Kazakhstani software developer and neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakya. As a student and researcher, it was troublesome for her to obtain scientific articles for which she couldn’t pay. Hence, she decided to start this project for she was reluctant to pay high prices for scientific articles. Several international commercial publishers filed lawsuits against her, demanding her to close her website. But her website has proved resilient in maintaining itself available through new internet addresses. Many researchers lend Alexandra their codes so that she can download articles from the commercial circuit and released them. Her initiative summons up memories of Napster’s beginnings, the one for digital audio files.

In all these cases, principles about the right of participation and access to knowledge are defended, as well as the fact that open access may be managed by the community involved via technologies and open processes, not by the market.

While these pioneers denounce and suggest releasing the knowledge financed with public funds that’s been owned by the market, more and more are the governments and scientific and scholarly communities in the globe that establish formal policies4 and infrastructures5 so that scholarly and scientific output may be freely available for those who need it.

In this process of making scientific and scholarly information open, which started several years ago, there’s an evident difference between the principles in open access policies of scientific information in the main countries producers of scientific knowledge—developed countries—and those from Latin America.

In the more developed countries, where there’s strong private investment in scientific activities and scholarly communications, though not said avowedly, open policies give room to international publishing corporations, firms headquartered in such countries, to take part in the open access flip, where their proposals are put across without delay. If governments and agencies that finance research demanded that scientific output be freely available online, then the big business wouldn’t be able to keep charging for reading scientific publications through subscriptions fees to print and digital journals and pay per view individual articles available online.

The proposal, then, of the commercial sector is to give access to the public but charge for publishing in open access, always maintaining profits somewhere in the region of 35%-40%. Such profits are less common in other successful firms. Everything is based on public funds destined for doing research since with public funds authors are paid for their writings, copy editors who evaluate journal articles are also paid with that money, as well as many journal editors, and journal subscriptions are thereof covered too. Rushed to move forward the open access transition with rapidity is leading several initiatives, mainly in member countries of the European Union6 and Great Britain,7 to see the publishing industry as a partner in this flip.

In the Global South we wonder…

Whether the commercial sector in the hands of few international publishers, that with its inflated prices of 35-40% has been one of the main reasons why the Open Access movement began, should be part of the solution?

Or should the scholarly community be the one to recover the management of scientific communications by developing its own platforms and services?

Faint though it seems, progress is seen in some scholarly initiatives in Europe, the United States and Canada, promoting cooperative and collaborative modalities to share management and expenses on this transition to make scientific research output and scholarly production financed with public funds open. Whether the future of open access in the North will be managed by the community or the market it’s not clear yet.

Latin America, different principles, different route, where universities play the leading role

Just as a cluster of few scholarly publishing corporations—who to their usual subscription and pay-per-view business are adding charges for publishing in open access—have controlled scholarly communications in Europe and the United States for decades; universities, other institutions and research agencies have taken charge of scholarly and traditional scientific communications and transition to open access in Latin America. They have developed regional, national and institutional services to give more visibility and open access to their publications, initiatives managed in collaborative modalities non-commercially, in a region where research is financed, mainly, with public funds.

In the more developed countries, where there’s strong private inversion in scientific activities and scholarly communications, though it’s not said manifestly, open policies give room to international publishing corporations, firms headquartered in such countries, to take part in the open access transition, where their proposals are put across without delay.

Principles that guide decision-making in the process of making scientific knowledge produced by and published in the region open have clearly defended access to knowledge as a right and its management as commons.

Latin America is recognised worldwide for being the place in the world that has progressed most in making their scientific and scholarly publications open (Alperin and Fischman, 2015).

Regarding scientific journals, these are the regional portals of high-quality journals that stand out:

  • Latindex-Catálogo, developed by UNAM for all the region.
  • SciELO, by BIREME in Brazil, for all the region, and
  • Redalyc, developed by UAEM for all the region.

These portals that aid journals in their dissemination and open access and provide indicators for evaluation “raised the profile as well as the quality of scholarly journals in Latin America” (Alperin, Fischman, Willinsky, 2012). The work of regional portals is done organizationally, methodologically and cooperatively (Cetto, Alonso Gamboa, Packer and Aguado López, 2015) slowly developing indicators to contribute to evaluation processes.8

To make scientific and scholarly output and that of other society sectors that generate knowledge open, digital repositories have been leveraged. To the journal digital repositories mentioned above we can add institutional digital repositories that reflect the output of institutions and are articulated in national networks of repositories, which are part of regional networks. Such is the case of La Referencia in Latin America, it has contents of national systems of digital repositories from 9 countries. There are the subject regional repositories too such as CLACSO, network for social sciences; SIDALC for agricultural sciences; Biblioteca Virtual de Salud, amongst others. They all disseminate any sort of content such as articles, journals, books, book chapters, research reports, policy brief, opinion pieces, multimedia, data files, amongst others. And just recently, specific data repositories, preprints, open educational resources and open science.

Considering that three quarters of Latin American researchers are at universities, mainly public (Albornoz, Barrere and Sokil, 2017; OCTS, 2018) and that therein most scientific and scholarly journals are published (Salatino, 2017), journals with a local and regional scope (Vessuri, Guédon and Cetto, 2013; Salatino 2018), CLACSO—the Latin American Council of Social Sciences, which has research centres in the main universities of research from the region has decided to join AmeliCA9 “a project from the South for the South{ut11}.” Widening thus the existing cooperative agreement between CLACSO and REDALYC endorsed by the Statement on Open Access to Knowledge Managed as a Common Good and consolidated with the Portal of 900 social sciences and humanities journals REDALYC-CLACSO that nowadays has 4m downloads per month.

The collaborative project AmeliCA10 whose main members are the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico-UAEM, CLACSO, Universidad de Antioquia in Colombia, National University of La Plata in Argentina and Redalyc in Mexico—defends the principles of knowledge managed as commons by the same community with no commercial middlemen. It will allow articulating the collaborative work of those university teams that, in the region, are doing research and experimenting new modalities to manage scientific and scholarly communications in open access and producing indicators that reflect the use and impact of knowledge produced in the region, both in the scholarly field and in its use and impact in the field where issues and needs reside, those which research tries to provide with new knowledge.

AmeliCA, with the support of UNESCO and other international organizations and initiatives is also organizing cooperative South-South activities with open access initiatives from other developing regions that share our principles and our concern about the furtherance of knowledge privatisation.11

Open science, open data, open access to research data and open government data, all are opportunities and routes that will help us attain the 17 Sustainable Development Goals approved by the 193 member countries of the United Nations.

Let us keep working so that the principles guiding our decisions and policies in furthering open knowledge may allow us to attain more fair, equitable and sustainable societies.

1. He and his team created the HTML (HyperText Markup Language), the HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) and the URL (Uniform Resource Locator).


3. “Elsevier, Springer, Willey-Blackwell, Taylor&Francis and Sage, the five big scientific publishers control 70% of all research published worldwide.” Interview with John Willinsky


5. https:





10. It will be officially introduced at the 8th Latin American and Caribbean Conference of Social Sciences, Buenos Aires, November 19th-23rd, 2018

11. One of AmeliCA's South-South initiatives is the meeting with CLACSO, sponsored by UNESCO “Strengthening South-South Interregional Cooperation on Open Access to Knowledge,” spokespeople of open access from Africa, Asia and Latin America participate. It will be held on November 22nd, 2018 at the 8th Latin American and Caribbean Conference of Social Sciences, Buenos Aires, November 19th-23rd, 2018


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Alperin, J.P., Fischman, G.E. (Eds.). (2015). {ut1}Hecho en Latinoamérica: acceso abierto, revistas académicas e innovaciones regionales. Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, Argentina: CLACSO. Retrieved from

Alperin, J.P., Fischman, G.E., Willinsky, J.(2012). Scholarly communication strategies in Latin America´s research intensive universities. Revista Educación Superior y Sociedad, 16(2). Retrived from

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OCTS-Observatorio Iberoamericano de la Ciencia, la Tecnología y la Sociedad (2018). Las universidades, pilares de la ciencia y la tecnología en América Latina. Buenos Aires, Argentina: OEI. Retrieved from

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Salatino, M. (2017). La estructura del espacio latinoamericano de revistas científicas. (PhD thesis). Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina.

Vessuri, H., Guédon, J-C. and Cetto, A. M.(2013). Excellence or quality? Impact of the current competition regime on science and scientific publishing in Latin America and its implications for development. Current Sociology62(5), 647-665. Retrieved from