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

Dominique Babini

That new information and communication technologies are available allows us, as a society, to make our contents, technologies, and activity processes open.

The opening process gives great opportunities to move forward with more participation and efficacy in constructing new knowledge and sharing it with those society’s sectors able to apply it when meeting specific needs.

As in any opening process, which is a social construction, decisions must be made based on the principles we believe it should be founded.

Briefly, I will address some facts and decisions that have been part of this Open Access process (Suber, 2015) – open and free online access to full-text scientific and scholarly publications – that let us see the principles that were with it who has been here for over more than two decades.

We talk about open access to scientific and scholarly knowledge so that we can show that before making decisions about what, how, for whom, and why contents, technologies and processes should be made open is important to clearly understand the principles and visions.

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?

The path to more open ways of sharing knowledge since its beginning was split in two different visions for open access to scientific and scholarly knowledge in developed countries. Decades ago the privatisation of knowledge entered the scholarly and scientific field, it outsourced great part of journals and scientific and scholarly books production to the commercial sector. On the one hand, there were scientists aware of what it costs to scientific research budgets such outsourcing. They defend that research funded with public funds should be freely available for 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 were open access visionaries.

  • 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 Web.1 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 allowed another researcher, Canadian cognitive scientist Stevan Harnard, who was concerned for the inflated prices of scientific journals, to propose his “Subversive proposal” 25 years ago. He was inviting all scientists to disseminate freely on the Web their articles 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 on public funds destined to research.2
  • Not long ago, another young man, American computer programmer and Internet hacktivist Aaron Swartz was, even since he was a teenager, involved in programming successful undertakings for Internet 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 to “private theft of public culture” and to “the privatization of knowledge” by international corporations of scientific information.3 Since he considered that scientific articles needed to be accessed publicly and be free, he released a great number of them from the commercial circuit in one of his habitual hacks. 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 was in shock. After his death he was given a place at the Internet Hall of Fame.
  • Currently, since many scientists’ institutions worldwide cannot afford the inflated subscription to scientific journals, they freely access to more than 60m scientific articles of the commercial circuit through the pirate site SCI-HUB, created in 2011 by Alexandra Elbakya, a Kazakhstani software developer and neuroscientist. As a student and researcher it was troublesome for her to obtain scientific articles she couldn’t pay. Hence she decided to start with this project for she disagree on the high payments for buying 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 reminds us of Napster’s beginnings, the one for digital audio files.

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

While these pioneers denounce and propose to release knowledge financed with public funds long-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 be freely available for those who need it.

In this process of making scientific and scholarly information open, which began several years ago, there’s a clear difference between the principles in policies of open scientific information in the main countries producers of scientific knowledge —developed countries—, and those from Latin American countries.

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. If governments and agencies that finance research demand that scientific output be freely available online, then the big business wouldn’t be able to keep charging for reading scientific publications through subscriptions payments 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, 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 to research since with public funds authors are paid for their writings, copy editors who evaluate journals’ articles are also paid from there, as well as many journal editors, and journal subscriptions are covered too. Rushing to move forward the open access transition more quickly is leading several initiatives, mainly in member countries of the European Union6 and Great Britain,7 to consider the publishing industry as a partner in this change.

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 concerning this transition to make the output of scientific research 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 is not clear, however.

Latin America, different principles, different route, where universities are the main characters

Just as a set of few scholarly publishing corporations —who to their usual subscription and pay-par-view business are adding charges for publishing in open access— have controlled scholarly communications in Europe and the United States for decades; universities, other kind of 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-profit, 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 open scientific knowledge produced by the region and published in the region have clearly defended access to knowledge as a right and its management as a public good.

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 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 support journals for 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 journal digital repositories mentioned above join institutional digital repositories that are the reflection of institutions themselves 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. Take for example thematic regional repositories too such as CLACSO, network for social sciences; SIDALC for agricultural sciences; Biblioteca Virtual de Salud, amongst others. They all disseminate any kind 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 it is there where the majority of scientific and scholarly journals are published (Salatino, 2017), journals with a local and regional scope (Vessuri, Guédon and Cetto, 2013; Salatino 2018), CLACSO —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}. Extending thus the 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 having nowadays 4m downloads per month.

The collaborative project AmeliCA10 —its main members are the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico-UAEM, CLACSO, University of Antioquía in Colombia, National University of La Plata in Argentina and Redalyc in Mexico— defends the principles of knowledge managed as a common good by the same community. It will allow to articulate the collaborative work of those university teams in the region that 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 give 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 privatising knowledge.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 this progress of open knowledge 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


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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



Albornoz, M., Barrere, R. and Sokil, J. (2017). Las universidades lideran la I+D en América Latina. In: Mario Albornoz and Rodolfo Barrere (Coord.), El Estado de la Ciencia. Principales Indicadores de Ciencia y Tecnología Iberoamericanos / Interamericanos 2017 (pp.31-44). Buenos Aires, Argentina, RICYT and OCTS-OEI. Retrieved from

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

Cetto, A. M; Alonso Gamboa, J.O.; Packer, A.; Aguado López, E. (2015). Enfoque regional a la comunicación científica. In: Hecho en Latinoamérica: acceso abierto, revistas académicas e innovaciones regionales, pp. 19-42. Buenos Aires: CLACSO. Retrieved from

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

Salatino, M. (2018). Más Allá de la Indexación: Circuitos de Publicación de Ciencias Sociales en Argentina y Brasil. Dados, 61(1), 255-287.

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

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