Open Access in Physics and Chemistry, or, A Tale of Two Disciplines

My most important reading is Peter Suber’s Open Access News an incredible wealth of high-quality reading. Here’s one from today … Heather Morrison, Open Access in Physics and Chemistry, or, A Tale of Two Disciplines, a presentation at the McGill Library School, November 27, 2006:
There are disciplinary differences in awareness of, and approaches to, open access and other types of “openness”. It is likely that there are no great differences than the differences between physics and chemistry. Physics, as a discipline, has long been the leader in open access archiving, beginning in 1991 with the establishment of arXiv, and continuing with the CERN Documents Server. In physics, open access is mainstream, with open access archiving peacefully coexisting with traditional publishing. Physics is currently leading a push towards full open access publishing.Chemistry, in contrast, has had very low rates of self-archiving of peer-reviewed journal articles, and traditional publishers, until recently, were fighting open access. However, a slightly different picture emerges when we consider the broader concept of “openness”, as chemistry appears to be emerging as a leader in open data and open source science.
Many thanks Heather! The last paragraph relates to the activities – Open (NoteBook) Science, Blue Obelisk, etc. frequently commented on in this blog. Heather has been a tireless champion of OA and related fields and it’s also worth mentioning that Canada is among the most progressive countries in this area (for example see Two library groups support draft CIHR policy.). It is REALLY encouraging to have people like Heather support our cause.

There’s a strange “looking glass war” here. Having spent 11 years developing Chemical Markup Language (actually the first XML DTD) I got used to XML books saying “the chemists are using CML to exchange chemical information”. The well-kept secret was that they weren’t. They couldn’t care less about XML, RDF, RSS, REST XSD,… So Henry Rzepa and me took the campaign out of chemistry and put our effort into supporting XML in general – by creating and running the XML Dev-Mail List. By adding our 1% to the other contributors we may have had a “butterfly effect” in helping XML to make it (that was certainly not a forgone conclusion). Now, 11 years on, parts of chemistry are starting to take it seriously. Not all, but enough. A critical mass.

So what I take from this is that we need Heather, Peter, SPARC, etc. to help develop the concept of Open Data and Open Science. We’ll obviously continue to do our own bit in chemistry but it will probably be a considerable time before it becomes mainstream. Another 10 years? Note that of the Research Councils UK (RCUK) almost all promote OA and some form of Open Data – except the EPSRC).
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3 Responses to Open Access in Physics and Chemistry, or, A Tale of Two Disciplines

  1. Chris says:

    Why does the EPSRC not promote OA? Is it pressure from the RSC?

  2. pm286 says:

    (1) The EPSRC is not just chemistry – it’s engineering (and IT) as well. The best place to look for informed comment is Peter Suber’s blog – I’d look under RCUK and EPSRC. Among the factors which I’d guess are important are (a) conservatism in the disciplines (b) the strong publisher lobby in the UK (Blackwell, Reed-Elsevier, etc.) who put the case that UK’s wealth depends on preserving the current position and (c) particular people (search for Lord Sainsbury on PS’s blog). I think that the rest of the world will drag the EPSRC into line at some stage – all these bodies are connected by elastic bands with Wellcome pulling at one end and various degrees of inertia elsewhere.

  3. Richard says:

    Anything to do with chemists having a history of being a bit secretive?

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