Reflections on Open Access

Ignat T. (2022). Reflections on Open Access. Tietolinja, 2022(1). Persistent address:

Tiberius Ignat.

Dr. Tiberius Ignat, the Director of Scientific Knowledge Services, discusses his views on some essential themes on Open Access. Questions motivating his thoughts were borrowed from BOAI’s query that was made in September 2021 as BOAI steering committee was working to update their recommendations for BOAI’s 20th anniversary (see BOAI20).

1. What were your long-term hopes or goals for OA, beyond growing the quantity of OA research? In assessing the success or failure of the OA movement, now or in the future, what kinds of accomplishments would you consider?

I always see OA within the frame of Open Science (OS). According to this, my goal to OA is to become an undoubtful element of Open Science, which is about bringing transparency to the path to evidence (as in scientific claim). For too many, OA is about the narrow understanding of accessing the research publication. This view represents a poor understanding of OA. Instead, OA should be an instrument that increases the transparency of discovery. This is my goal to OA: the expert text is available (under appropriate copyright licence) to the broader public and machines, to allow them to scrutinize the fundamental layers of the research process and technologies that led to its statements. Alone, the publicly accessible version of the record is not enough to fulfil this goal.

Accomplishment: The OA scientific text should contain metadata and other connectors that allow human and machine penetrations to deeper levels such as data, protocol, software, methodology, peer-review process, etc. These penetrations could only be allowed under certain conditions that are known upfront, tailored and publicly governed. Free access to researchers’ expert text is necessary but not sufficient for the full OA definition. For full compliance, the OA record should contain an appropriate copyright license, interoperability elements that enable scrutiny to the respective research work (at least in the Version of Record) and appropriate tools that make this ensemble (text and research work) machine actionable.

Another goal for OA must be the educational factor. OA must be pursued and carefully synchronised with the increase of the public’s scientific literacy. If we fail to build this synchronization, we expose our society to significant risks. The expert text (from manuscript to the version of record) is hardly digestible for the public. Its difficult-to-read characteristic allows reads, twists and interpretations that could be maliciously used.

Accomplishment: Proper education for further re-uses, such as science journalism, should be provided, as well! Some walks of life, for example, science legacy journalism or unedited media (e.g., social media) need constant education to re-use and disseminate properly the expert text.

Another goal, mostly referring to green OA, is to keep misinformation and disinformation at bay. We are far from the ‘acceptable level’ here. We witness an increased penetration of pseudo-science and fake identities in pre-print servers, to name only a couple of examples of green OA contamination.

Accomplishment: the preprint services should reach a level of development that ensures the acquisition of only promising manuscripts, and it further ensures their accelerated transformation to trustful knowledge. For this, the green OA solutions (such as pre-print servers, as they exist in 2021) must be deeply re-engineered. What we have today on this front leaves us unprepared for the future.


2. What are the most important actions institutions could take to advance OA?

  • Explain Open Access
  • Set up Open Access presses
  • Publish Open Access
  • Develop responsible pre-print services

Explain Open Acces
Explaining Open Access to your community should include at least two elements: why Open Access is necessary, and that open access publishing is quality agnostic (note for the readers: please note “open access” with and without capital letters). To explain why Open Science is necessary requires going deeper into Open Science. In my opinion, the biggest novelty Open Science induces is pre-competitive collaboration[1]. Hence, Open Access to fundamental research is necessary to accelerate the pre-competitive collaboration phase of research which otherwise remains too expensive and restrictive.

To explain that Open Access is quality agnostic requires specific training in scholarly communication for both senior and junior researchers, and (re)building the specific bond between libraries and researchers.

On a different front, with a growing mass of open access articles, an educational programme for the larger society should be developed along the line. Most of the scientific articles are written in an expert key and are prone to be misunderstood, abused, and even licensed for unfit purposes. Explaining Open Access should become part of the Science-Public interface.

Set up Open Access presses
Setting up Open Access presses is a very important action for the overall Open Access strategy. It brings research institutions in the governance of scholarly communication, and it re-connects research organisations with professionals that support quality publishing (starting to disconnect from them in the 80s was a major mistake). Not least, having their own Open Access press, the research organisations will have a much better understanding of what kind of effort is needed to continuously support healthy communication between scholars and between them and the broader society. Note, the effort to support scholarly communication has been done continuously by research institutions since the 17th century but their understanding of what is needed to build that specific publishing infrastructure decreased over the years (the emergency of digital publishing only accelerated this trend).

Scholarly communication has multiple roles[2], but over the years it was emphasized with predilection the role of dissemination (reading about discoveries). A new role has been recently assigned to it: scholarly communication, a proxy for research assessment. One important role has been left behind: certification (for quality of research). Originally, the academic journals supported quality in research through peer review. Scholarly communication became a space for scrutinising researchers’ work and confronting their conclusions. With “cascade portfolios”, scholarly communication started to loosen the certification role of academic publishing. For a healthy publishing environment, the Open Access presses at research organisations should bring the necessary diversity to the scholarly communication landscape, enabling this way the distinctive development of the “certification” role in scholarly communication. Among other things, such a diverse and healthy publishing network should strengthen the position of the version of record, modernise the peer-review process, scale the practice of registered reports and support the academic monographs. All of these, by developing a symbiosis with preprint services (see below).

Publish Open Access
Publishing under open licence(in open access or hybrid journals) is another important action for advancing Open Access. Negotiating publishing deals (incl. transformative agreements) is necessary but not sufficient to make an irreversible transformation to Open Access. Furthermore, such deals require deeper considerations and analysis. Regretfully, legal considerations are left unaddressed at this moment, both on the procurement and accountancy sides. Buying publishing rights in advance is a monumental commitment: to become public on discoveries that are not yet made. The APC-led publishing model is transformative not only business-wise but also ethically wise. Yet, these transformations are not well anticipated. Many leaders of research organisations and libraries are not attentive enough to their effects. Plan S remains controversial, and it didn’t prove to encourage agility across stakeholders.

Develop responsible pre-print services
Pre-print services – among which setting up pre-print servers are most common – should evolve to become professional services, governed by principles (e.g., quality, full disclosure, interoperability) and laws (e.g., copyright, data protection, licensing). Freedom and Responsibility are the two facets of the same coin[3]. While greatly exercising freedom, the preprint services have still a lot to do on the responsibility side. Building equally on these 2 facets of the preprint services is only possible if they become professional services. Developing professional preprint services could be a great example of public-private partnership, a much-needed institution in Europe. Yet to be designed, the preprint services are much more than setting up preprint servers. These services could form the foundation of scholarly communication by providing publishing infrastructure, enabling diversity, and contributing to research education. Therefore, research organisations should take leadership and demonstrate determination in designing and providing preprint services, acquiring professional skills to develop the preprint servers (note the difference) and contribute to regulating the preprint landscape. Note what a vast enterprise is the mighty preprint!


Dr. Tiberius Ignat,  Director of Scientific Knowledge Services
LIBER Citizen Science Working Group, member


[1] Institute of Medicine 2011. Establishing Precompetitive Collaborations to Stimulate Genomics-Driven Product Development: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

[2] Mabe M. Henry Oldenburg & the Invention of Journal Publishing.

[3] Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl. Beacon Press, 2006, ISBN 978-0807014264

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