[ox-en] Report from "Berlin 4 Open Access - From Promise to Practice"
- From: Stefan Merten <smerten oekonux.de>
- Date: Fri, 31 Mar 2006 21:16:23 +0200
I'm just going home from the Berlin 4 Open Access conference. It was
really a *very* interesting conference and I'm glad that I was there.
I created an extensive report from the conference. On this list I'll
post my impressions from the conference. If you like check
for additional reports on all the talks there and also a couple of
Mit Freien Grüßen
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Berlin 4 Open Access Conference
From Promise to Practice
March 29-31, 2006
Golm (Potsdam, Germany)
Conference web site: http://berlin4.aei.mpg.de/
.. _conference web site: http://berlin4.aei.mpg.de/
150+ participants from all over the world, vast majority from
universities and research institutes, some from libraries, publishers
and funding institutions, some Open Access activists and other
activists (Oekonux and the Wikipedia universe)
Report by Stefan Merten
General remarks and impressions
Here are some general remarks and impressions from this conference. Of
course they are done with an Oekonux perspective in mind.
What really struck me was that neither financial nor license questions
played a major role. As far as the financial question is concerned in
many countries there is a long tradition that science is funded mostly
by the state anyway. So fund raising is a normal activity for
scientists and (usually) they don't need to sell their output for
re-financing. Therefore the type of problem arising with software or
music - how is the creator remunerated? - simply doesn't exist in the
scientific community or rather has a standard answer.
The other point I found really striking were that licenses were next
to no topic. Here and there there was a reference to CC licenses - and
then often without really knowing about them - but except one talk it
was actually not a topic. Some comments on this topic make me assume
that so far the scientific community just does not see the importance
of this topic. This also applies to other types of "intellectual
property" like patents or the like. Patents for instance were not
mentioned at all. This is indeed in heavy contrast to the patent
policies which in many places are forced onto universities nowadays.
However, in some cases the situation for copyright is a bit different
than for instance music. With contemporary music you have one or more
creators and they are usually clearly determined. But you don't have a
creator for an ancient carved stone from Babylon. Also the raw
research data which throughout the conference was mentioned quite
usually is not published along with the papers and - differently to
papers published in a scientific journal - thus has not copyright
regulation from a (classic) journal. Also one needs to consider that
for science there are exceptions from copyright law in many law
systems so in a way scientific use is not as much subject to copyright
law then for other uses.
It was also interesting that this whole Open Access thing seems to be
mainly a European thing. The USA not only didn't show up much in the
program but also is usually not among the early adaptors of Open
This Open Access thing - or Free Science as I like to call it - is
really very similar to how Free Software evolved. The most striking
similarity to me is that Open Access is not an ideological construct
forced down the throats of the real actors but comes directly from the
needs of the actors and with the goal to improve their work. This
conference clearly was a place to feel the drive of this movement.
Also it is striking how many and which players are promoting Open
Access. Big research institutions like Max-Planck Society or funders
like the Wellcome Trust welcome and promote Open Access by their
respective means. As well state institutions welcome and promote Open
Access. To me this looks quite similar to how Free Software is
promoted at least if you consider Europe.
Another striking similarity to Free Software - and probably the basis
for Open Access - is that scientists think that it delivers higher
qualities to them than the traditional publication process. And
quality is meant in various respects here - not only the quality of
content but also for instance the time some research material is
available in the public. Also just as software development in general
is changed by Free Software methods especially for the humanities
people seem to be convinced that an adoption of Open Access policies
will change the face of the humanities.
A couple of talks emphasized that there are a number of scientific
methods which are only possible when you have access to the raw data
and/or the published papers. There were a number of examples given on
the conference (Astronomy, text mining for biology, taxonomy, ...).
The Internet and free access as is possible by using Open Access
enables these new scientific methods. However, not only pure access is
necessary but also ways to locate the information. Interestingly US
speakers showed up mostly in this area. They praised the new methods
available with computer supported science but said virtually nothing
about Open Access.
This enabling of new methods also reminds me of Free Software where
the sheer existence of a large body of Free Software enables uses
which were not even possible to anticipate. Again the Freedom built
into the process enables new and useful applications of the
Several presentations touched the topic of financing Open Access
infrastructure. My impression was that paying for publication is the
widely accepted model for this. In this model the author - or rather
his/her institution - pays for publishing in an Open Access journal
rather than the readers paying for reading. A couple of times it were
recommended to simply include such cost in the regular funding of
scientific projects. The only alternative suggested were sponsoring
models where a consortium of funders sponsors Open Access
infrastructure. This could be a bridge to include traditional
publishers in this whole process. In particular nobody suggested that
- contrary to Free Software - setting and keeping up Open Access
infrastructure is done during non-paid time.
Several times the motivation of the scientists for promoting Open
Access became clear. One speaker said "I want my paper to be read by
anyone interested and if s/he sits in the desert of Afghanistan!".
Clearly Open Access is *the* model to make access as barrier free as
Today Open Access infrastructure comes in several forms. Of course
there is some self-archiving by the authors but throughout the
conference this has not even been mentioned. The next step of
concentration are institutional repositories where a scientific
institute gathers the publications of that institute. These are
already useful but the accessibility is still limited because you have
no centralized entry point and you need to have a reference to the
right repository in the first place. There are two answers to this
problem. The first answer is centralized repositories either on the
basis of a nation state or based on a scientific field. The second
answer are meta-archives which gather meta-data from other sources and
present it in a unified way including search functionality and more.
All funding institutions giving talks on the conference had a clear
Open Access strategy. They mostly recommended to make an Open Access
policy mandatory for the receivers of the funds instead of only
One of the speakers spoke out what way my impression whole of the
time: Open Access can not be reversed any more. Of course there are
still things which can be wished for and there is a lot of work to do
to make Open Access as powerful as can be but as of today there is no
way to reverse this movement to Open Access.
The very last presentation presented some kind of a vision where Open
Access is only a starting point - though a fundamental one. So far
Open Access is more or less digitizing paper. However, science in the
future has the chance to change dramatically by using the Internet.
This includes technical options which need the availability of raw
data as well as cooperation. For such scenarios Open Access clearly is
the foundation. I guess it can be compared with the universal
accessibility of web pages which make search engines like Google
possible which - as we know - really make the Web what it is today.
Once more this reminds me of Free Software where a relatively simple
change in the license gave room to a whole new world.
I'd like to finish with the conclusion that Open Access at the moment
delivers half of the Freedom in the sense of Free Software: The
freedom to universally access and use the material is the precondition
for more Free Science. What is still lacking is that the freedom is
also a result of the way science is done. This is probably due to the
tradition of science where the single researcher is seen as the
genius. However, if science goes further down the road of networked
science open cooperation will rise because of its usefulness and then
freedom will also be the result of the whole process. Some fields -
and physics need to be named here - are already a good way down this
road. I'm sure because of the improved quality of this type of
networked science the others will follow sooner or later.
Challenges for Open Access
Today an important challenge for the Open Access movement is the
availability of a technical infrastructure which offers access and
archiving. This challenge is addressed by several initiatives.
Types of publications
There is a lot more behind scientific papers than the content of the
actually published paper. In particular there is the raw data from
which scientific conclusions are drawn. The Internet offers the chance
to publish this material as well which would be valuable for other
scientists to prove the conclusions drawn from the data and to draw
own conclusions. This type of data, however, comes in many, many
formats and is much harder to structure than a set of PDFs.
The availability of Open Access repositories and archives is nice but
researchers must actually *use* Open Access for their own work. Though
Open Access is widely accepted as a concept practice is still not as
frequent as one would wish for (in particular in the humanities).
However, there are a couple of institutional and state initiatives to
promote Open Access among researchers.
Open Access makes more sense if - at least for a certain field - there
is a single entry point to find the material available. This needs
cooperations between institutions offering such services.
Open Access Initiatives
Impressions from the poster presentation.
Budapest Open Access Initiative
* February 2002
* Probably the first initiative also probably coining the term "Open
Access" to a wider audience.
Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing
* June 2003
* Has some stronger focus on the money side.
Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities
* October 2003
* Restricts paper copies to those needed for private use.
* Includes the topic of cultural heritage in parallel to scientific
These declaration are also known as the *BBB declarations*.
Scientific institutions can sign these declarations to demonstrate
their support of Open Access.
All three initiatives are very similar. They all include a definition
of what Open Access should mean. Basically they end up with describing
the rights licenses such as CC or Free Software grant to the general
All of the initiatives also emphasize the need to promote Open Access
actively. They also emphasize the need to have some technical
infrastructure to make Open Access possible at all. With different
emphasis they also note that there are possible problems with
intellectual property rights which need to be researched further. In
particular the BOAI sees copyright as a tool to open access instead of
restricting it - just like the Copyleft idea.
The following is from the poster presentation at the conference and
only looks at the German scientific scene. Throughout the conference
it became clear that there are lots of scientific institutions which
promote Open Access.
Has a clear policy to promote Open Access and actively does it by
providing support and urging researchers to use Open Access models.
Open Access policies are in the making but not as matured as for the
There is a commitment for Open Access and they start to implement
A project offering technical infrastructure sponsored by DFG.
Contact: projekt oekonux.de