Weekly digest: what’s happening in open science?

Steph Macdonald

Featuring literature pirating, ownership issues surrounding data sharing, and the benefits of open citations.

Time for subscriptions to walk the plank? via The Lancet

Many of us are left feeling frustrated when that essential research paper is stuck behind a paywall. For researchers from higher-income countries, access to subscription journals is often provided by the institutions they are affiliated to. Unfortunately, this is not always the case for upper-middle- and lower-middle-income countries where many organizations struggle to cover these high subscription costs. Therefore, medical professionals from these countries do not have access to the most current research and treatment plans, and many of them turn to illegal ‘pirate platforms, such as Sci-Hub, to access scientific papers. The World Health Organization-led Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative (HINARI) was set up to offer free access to not-for-profit medical facilities and research institutions in lower-middle-income countries. However, even with this initiative, most medical journal downloads from Sci-Hub still come from lower-middle-income countries. A substantial number of downloads also come from upper-middle-income countries that do not receive a HINARI subsidiary, a fact that further highlights the continued inequality surrounding access to medical literature.

The fine line between open access and biopiracy via PLOS Blogs

Free access to data, such as genome sequences, is important for the dissemination of scientific knowledge, especially for researchers from lower-income countries who often experience restricted access to scientific data owing to high costs. Despite the advantages of open access, there are some concerns that the continued availability of digital sequencing information may open the doors to biopiracy, whereby commercial researchers use genetic information from one country without sharing the benefits and potential royalties with the local community. The Nagoya Protocol, which became effective in 2014, requires researchers to obtain prior informed consent from the country of origin before using native sequencing data. However, improved access to digital sequencing information may soon render the Nagoya Protocol irrelevant. Applicable mostly to commercial research, this article urges the scientific community to take a greater role in discussions on the ownership of digital sequencing information.

Making citations freely accessible via Scholarcy

Citations within research papers enable the reader to follow the same path of literature as the author – a challenging endeavour if these citations are not accessible. The initiative for open citations has seen an increase in the number of freely accessible citations deposited to Crossref, which then converts citation data to XML format. However, many journals have large collections of older papers that are not available in this format, meaning many citations are not freely accessible. Although several tools have been designed to overcome this problem, none are publicly available. A new reference extraction API developed by Scholarcy aims to overcome this limitation by combining extracted data with Crossref and Unpaywall.

New role for financers in the DOAJ board and council via the DOAJ Blog

This week, Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) announced its new governance model to be instated from January 2019 to cope with its growing influence in the scientific community. Founded in 2003, DOAJ now comprises over 12 000 open access journals. Currently managed by a small internal team, the new model proposes an expansion to include an advisory board and council that will consist of 9 and 15 seats, respectively, and will comprise representatives from major donor organizations. DOAJ hopes that this restructure will help to address strategic target areas, including funding and sustainability, improved functionality, stability and scalability, as well as education and outreach.