DR. ARUN KASHYAP // Open Access to Scientific Information and Research – Concept and Policies for Latin America and the Caribbean

Mar 8, 2013

• Hon. Sandra Falconer, Minister of Information
• Mr. Everton Hannam, Secretary-General, Jamaica National Commission for UNESCO
• Mr. Robert Parua, Officer-in-charge, UNESCO Kingston cluster office
• Excellencies; distinguished guests, Ladies and gentleman, good evening and a very happy International Women’s Day to all.

I am delighted to be here at this concluding session of the Regional Latin America and the Caribbean consultation on “Open Access to Scientific Information and Research.” I am sure that you had fruitful discussions over the four days meeting and all of you are now geared up to catalysing an enabling environment and strengthening capacities to facilitate the implementation of Open Access to Scientific Information & Research in your respective countries.

As the United Nations we are very proud of the valuable initiative led by UNESCO to support Open Access of information and enhance inclusive opportunity for all to benefit from the global flow of knowledge.  By strengthening innovation and equitable development, we are confident that it will contribute towards the achievement of Millennium Development Goals.

The internet provides an innovative opportunity to convey information at virtually zero marginal cost to a broader and diverse audience, and empowers them with options to use it in a personalized and creative manner.  At one level, it has led to the creation of Massive Open Online Courses initiative of Yale, Harvard, MIT and Stanford, which is serving to provide access to high quality education to motivated students globally at no cost; and on the other level it has especially impacted scientific publishing.  Not surprisingly, it has leveraged the potential of internet technologies leading to electronic publications, digitized scientific information, electronic journals and electronic storage of information; and it has led to the materialization of the concept that has brought us together here in Kingston.  It constitutes the basis for Open Access - the practice of providing immediate unrestricted access – read, download, copy, distribute, print search, etc. via the Internet to peer-reviewed scholarly journal articles.  The advantage of Open Access – and please forgive me for I am preaching to the converted - lies in the fact that access to critical research information is often limited by the exorbitant cost of research articles, various challenges to the publishers, and the overt creation of knowledge roadblocks for varying reasons. While I have highlighted access to written articles, the concept of open access to information including data, is more universal.
 
The numbers of scientific journals that operate on an open access basis is consistently growing and has increased from 1400 titles in 2005 to nearly 5138 titles in 2010 representing about 20% of the total Journals globally.  Experts in the area believe that – (what the 2001 Open Access Declaration adopted in Budapest referred to as the) “green method” of publishing will - for articles replace the commercial model in the near future because it not only allows authors to publish their work in journals of their choice, it simultaneously provides open access to their works through repositories. 

While encouraging free flow of information, Open Access therefore promotes a balance of interests of the creators, publishers and users of information.  And, by minimizing barriers to the gaining of information, open access allows researchers to maximize the use of scientific results.  It is a no brainer that open exchange of ideas including  scientific ideas are not only a distinguishing feature of democracy, as it also benefits the society by substantially increasing the pool of the users of the knowledge and thereby creating greater social equity in the use of information for the improvement of everyone’s wellbeing . 

Allowing unrestricted access to knowledge origination from state-sponsored/publicly-funded research in the public domain was arrived at as a conscious decision by authorities both within the developed and the developing countries.  For instance, the US Government has declared that taxpayer- funded research should be freely available within 12 months after publication - a concession to publishers, who have said that a year’s delay is needed to maintain their revenue from subscriptions.  This process, the Government believes will accelerate scientific breakthroughs and innovation, and also boost economic growth.  Until now, only the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has required its research to be publicly available after 12 months. The new policy would roughly double the number of articles made publicly available each year to about 180,000.

In the spirit of nurturing a system in which research work is immediately available and free to read, the UK government in September 2012, announced £10m in funding for its academics to publish their research in journals that allow free public access to the material online without a subscription. The Government is diverting nearly 1% of the national research budget to finance the open access route and is requiring the authors or their institutions that use it to pay publishers up-front to make work public (in line with what the Budapest declaration termed as the Golden method).

The Latin American and Caribbean region is demonstrating a steady progress of regional initiatives that offer Open Access to the full text of scholarly and scientific publications from the region free of charge to authors and end users. In Latin America, two thirds of the investments in research and development are funded by State resources. Funding for open access initiatives comes, directly or indirectly, from public funds and from international cooperation. Key open access players are national science agencies and universities especially the libraries, journal editors, press units, ICT units, and research and academic branches.

This region has had a long tradition of information networking and  offering open access to the research results through regional subject-based repositories that started with bibliographic records in the 80's (now with full-texts), and in multidisciplinary regional peer-review journal portals that have been developing since the end of the 90's. These two are significant contributions from the region to the open access movement, together with the introduction for debate in Congress, by Brazil (2007) and Argentina (2010), of a Parliament bill to promote open access legislation at respective national levels which mandates deposit of State-funded research results in digital repositories.

Despite the progress, the issue of sustainability of the open access model is yet to be resolved.   For many scientists, including in the Latin America and the Caribbean, credibility implies an option to publish in a commercial journal rather than for open access publishing.

Open access initiatives globally – and therefore in the region require improved internet access. Even though in Latin America and the Caribbean, on an average 30% of population uses the Internet and 9.2% of the population subscribes to broadband, this access is mainly limited to urban areas. Levels of connectivity in the Caribbean are relatively low; in fact it varies from 6% in several countries, to 60% in a few exceptions.  There is also a need to increase literacy levels within the region, as this would be a prerequisite for anyone to take better advantage of the information that would be made available through Open Access.

In addition to the ICT infrastructure, there is a need for funding for authors  and institutions to publish online and for users to access the content online.  This would in part be dependent on appropriate Open Access policies including those that can resolve misunderstandings about copyright issues and Open Access.

On the supply side there is a necessity for an increased coverage of the work that is spearheaded by researchers in Latin America and the Caribbean in international journals that are accessible through Open Access initiatives.  Also increasing the numbers of journals in open access repositories would require thoughtful negotiations.

The Creative Commons is a publishing mechanism that renders open licenses for publication or for items deemed to be scholarly communication. Currently, through Creative Commons, partners in 11 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are promoting the use of Open Access licenses. Seventy Five per cent (75%) of Open Access academic publications in Latin America have not established Open Access editorial policies for regulating the use of the Open Access content, neither have they provided a legal framework for the use of publications, thus leaving interpretations to the default legislation in each country.

The United Nations considers Open Access vital and advocates the need for appropriate policies to efficiently govern the use of the content prior to providing publications through Open Access.  Currently, UNESCO, WIPO, FAO, The World Bank, WHO, IMF and ILO are attempting to validate Open Access through viable  examples and best practices.

Rationality based evidence informs us that Open Access empowers citizens and as I have mentioned earlier creates equitable access to cutting edge research information, knowledge and outcomes.  Ensuring equitable and inclusive development is vital to the work of the United Nations.  And, as I mentioned earlier, today is being recognised as International Women’s Day.  The role of women in building knowledge societies is critical in the development of any information policy, but more so in policies relating to Open Access. There are often barriers that prevent women from accessing ICTs and benefiting from these life-changing technologies. Appropriate Open Access policies are necessary to bring about this much needed change that allows everyone to take full advantage of the access to available scientific research information. Open Access to information, I am confident, will further the vision to advance gender equity in every sphere of lives and livelihoods of the global citizens. 

There is growing evidence that women who have access to information on issues, such as disease prevention, better child care, improved sanitation and clean water, delivery of health care, environmental protection (through Open Access) have been able to generate increased incomes and productivity as well as increase their participation in governance. Through Open Access initiatives, more women have had access to publishing opportunities as these initiatives have levelled the playing field for all genders.

And, for Open Access to become a norm rather than an exception, it is vital to have evidence based validation of improved quality of education and research. This is especially important in the developing countries, including the small island developing states, that need access to global research, knowledge and best practices to improve the quality of life of all citizens, particularly  the vulnerable communities and on a sustainable basis.  Availability of rigorous studies demonstrating the contribution of Open Access publications to the achievement of the MDGs is a step in the right direction. 

As we approach 2015, the United Nations and, especially UNESCO will continue to catalyse the harnessing of information and communication technologies and enhance access to the global database of research for development in the areas of education and science within the Latin America and Caribbean region.  This would include demand based assistance for development of enabling policies and new and innovative partnerships to adopt Open Access, Open Educational Resources and gender-sensitive and gender-inclusive ICT policies that would enhance opportunities for all, especially women and girls.

I trust that all of you have found this important consultation beneficial.  It is now high time for the United Nations to catalyse actions at country-level on the agreements and recommendations made in respect of developing and mainstreaming sound Open Access policies.  I look forward to UNESCO taking the lead to consider the possibility of having this important concept discussed in the Post 2015 national discussions that envision the future we want for all.  And, for Jamaica, I would like take the opportunity to express UN’s commitment to working together in ensuring that the benefits of this important initiative reach all Jamaicans and empowers them to change their own lives, and those of the vulnerable and marginalized communities.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming and participating in these discussions. I wish you all a pleasant journey back to your respective homes.  Thank you!

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