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Posted: 6 Jan 2012
Open Access to Scientific Publications

“I want a poor student to have the same means of 
indulging his learned curiosity ... of consulting the same
authorities ... as the richest man in the kingdoms.”
Antonio Panizzi,
librarian of the British Museum, 1836

Open Access means making scientific publications available at no cost to anyone with an internet connection and allowing users to reproduce the paper in part or as a whole, distribute it openly and  build upon the content as they desire as long as due credit is given to the original authors. By making the results of research available to a wider audience, Open Access improves the exchange of information and accelerates scientific progress.

Current Situation in HIV Vaccine Field
The Life of Scientific Paper
Funder and Institutional Mandates
Gold Open Access
Green Open Access

Current Situation in the HIV Vaccine Field

A recently conducted study found that among newly published papers in the HIV vaccine field only 20% were openly available, while 80% required a subscription for access. It also found that the level of access provided by institutional subscriptions varies widely around the world, with some institutions able to access 90% of HIV vaccine research papers, while other institutions could only access 20%.

Distribution of the recently published
HIV vaccine research papers
(Voronin et al., 2011)

Older papers were found to be much more accessible, with approximately two thirds of papers being in open access, possibly due to funder and institutional mandates (see below).

Research institutes and universities in countries in sub-Saharan Africa, bearing the disproportionate burden of HIV epidemic, have relatively high levels of access to scientific publications due to the WHO-supported HINARI program, which provides access to scientific journals for free or at a significantly reduced cost.

Read the full study for more details:

Access to Scientific Publications: The Scientist's Perspective. Y. Voronin , A. Myrzahmetov, A. Bernstein. PLoS ONE. 2011.

Most researchers agree that the benefits provided by increased access to publications justify the need to promote open access. In the process of developing the 2010 Scientific Strategic Plan of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, the Working Group of Young and Early Career Investigators (YECIs) called in its Report (pdf)  for "increased open access to data and reagents in the HIV-1 vaccine field to ensure that YECIs (as well as others) can contribute maximally to the collaborative HIV vaccine efforts." The YECI Committee also noted in their Report: "...we endorse open access publication and the creation of a pre-print server of peer-reviewed HIV-1 vaccine research."

Funder and Institutional Mandates

Many research funding organizations established policies encouraging publications in open-access journals and requiring that the scientific papers resulting from their grants become openly available within a certain period from the date of publications. For example, NIH requires open access within 12 months of publication, while Wellcome Trust and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (pdf) require it within 6 months of publication.

A large collection of funders' and institutional mandates can be found at ROARMAP: Registry of Open Access Repositories Mandatory Archiving Policies.

The Life of Scientific Paper

Each paper goes through several stages before it takes the final form that can be downloaded from the journal’s website. While the community has not yet come to a consensus regarding the terms referring to each stage, we use the following definitions:

Preprint The original version of the paper as first drafted by authors and submitted for peer review to a journal. By definition, the authors hold the copyright to this version of the paper. In some fields, such as mathematics, physics and computer science, the standard is to share the preprint on preprint servers (see
Postprint The version of the paper accepted for publication in a journal. This version differs from the preprint in places where authors addressed comments by the reviewers. Non-open-access journals sometimes request that the copyright for this version is transferred from the authors to the journal. Open access journals usually allow the authors to retain the copyright.
Journal pdf The final version of the paper as it appears in the journal. The value added by the journal in laying out the text and figures is used to justify the journals’ ownership of the copyright on this version. Non-open-access journals use the copyright to limit distribution of this version of the paper. Open-access journals allow unlimited distribution of the paper as a whole or in parts as long as the original source is credited (see below)

Gold Open Access

Gold Open Access denotes publication in a journal that makes the publication immediately available to everyone with an internet connection. The number of such journals in HIV vaccine field is relatively small, with PLoS journals, Viruses andRetrovirology being the notable examples. Some subscription-based journals now allow the authors to choose to publish in open access for a fee. However, the authors should be careful to make sure that full open access is indeed granted under such agreements (Carroll, 2011).

 Creative Commons licenses allow authors to clearly indicate, which rights they reserve upon publication. Typically, Gold Open Access permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Read more on Wikipedia.

Green Open Access

Copyright agreements from many publishers allow authors to freely distribute postprint versions of the paper by email, post it on a personal or laboratory website, and deposit in an institutional or a subject database. This author-driven access to publications is known as "Green" open access.

In the HIV vaccine field, a small number of subscription-based journals, such as  AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses and The New England Journal of Medicine allow the author to distribute the final journal-created pdf of the article from the day of publication. Journals such as Journal of AIDS and Journal of General Virology allow author-distribution after 12 months from the date of publication.

However, many journals allow authors to self-distribute the posprint version of the paper: Journal of VirologyThe LancetScience,Vaccine, and many others.

The SHERPA/RoMEO database allows one to easily find out the policy of any journal with regard to self-distribution of articles. Below is a small sampling of journals that allow self-archiving of postprints by authors:

Current Opinions in Immunology
Journal of Experimental Medicine

Journal of Immunology
Journal of Virology