Open access (OA) – making academic research freely available to all – seems self-evidently a great idea. It’s good for the public, which gains access to work it has funded, and it’s good for researchers, as knowledge about their research reaches a far wider audience than it would trapped behind a publisher’s paywall. Open access papers are often free because the researchers’ institutions pay “article-processing charges” (APCs) to a publisher. This is known as “gold” open access. A letter to Nature pointed out that this can be problematic for many organisations:
The shift from a ‘reader pays’ to an ‘author pays’ model of scientific publishing presents a financial threat to environmental non-governmental organizations (eNGOs). Many of these support, conduct and publish applied research on real-world solutions to the planet’s most pressing challenges. Funded mainly by donations, eNGOs must now choose between taking conservation action and publishing more research papers.
Agreeing with that viewpoint, Olivier Pourret and a dozen co-authors have published a preprint on SocArXiv extolling the virtues of the main alternative to gold open access – “green” open access. Authors adopting green OA self-archive their work on a personal Web site or institutional repository. The SocArXiv preprint lists some of the advantages of this approach:
It provides quick and often free publishing routes, while being much more affordable for libraries and funders to maintain/support. Quality assurance is also provided because not two or three but rather hundreds and thousands of researchers can help in community-driven peer review while the results can feed into informed discussions for policymakers and industry leaders to develop solutions (…). Green OA can be mandated without infringing academic freedom. A green OA policy at a university or a country can cover the institution’s entire research output, regardless of where authors choose to publish. Moreover, green OA is compatible with paywalled publication. Well-drafted OA policies can ensure that authors always retain the needed rights and spare them the need to negotiate with publishers. Even when the most prestigious journals in a field are placed behind a paywall, green OA allows authors to have their cake and eat it too.
Although green OA is particularly apt for environmental non-governmental organizations, its benefits extend to everyone. It’s not the only solution to the problem of costly APCs – the original Nature letter mentions the more exotic diamond open access, also known as platinum open access. Here, a paper is published in a journal without any payment to the publisher by the researchers’ institution. Typically, that is because costs are paid by someone else – for example, governments, foundations or other benefactors. Although a good solution in many ways, it’s also a rather rare one. Today, it’s easiest to go green.