Wikipedia raises the awareness and need for #openaccess

I was alerted today by a Wikipedia initiative ( ) by Daniel Mietchen (the primary editor of this page, but all WP pages belong to the world). I think it could have enormous impact in and for #openaccess.

I shall blog about Open Access shortly but I’ll comment (and probably get attacked for it) that effectively the only people who know about Open Access are:

  • Universities and their staff (current and recent)
  • Scholarly publishing houses
  • Funders (research councils, Trusts)
  • Policy makers (governemnts and civil services
  • People who have left one of these in the last five years

Beyond that I suspect that that Open Access is unknown as a term and unknown as an issue in the wider population whether in the rich West or elsewhere. Does your neighbour know what Open Access is? Or your parents? I’m guessing not. Open Access has (AFAIK) almost zero impact in the wider Internet population (please please prove me wrong!). The average Net user will come across closed access as a paywall, but they won’t know it by that name – they’ll simply be offered the opportunity to pay 40 USD for 1 day’s reading – they’ll compare this with Amazon, eBooks, etc . and move on.

So where do they look for organized information?

Wikipedia. Everyone has heard of Wikipedia, haven’t they? And even if they have only heard of Google, the WP entry is usually in the top 2-3 of non-sponsored links.

I have just finished using WP to identify which we got as a present. And it’s fascinating – Diascia coevolved with its pollinators so there should be some wonderful phylogenetics in the literature. There is! . Quite by chance it’s a CSIRO publication (whom I’ve been in touch with when in Melbourne).

El Grafo / CC-BY-SA-3.0 (via Wikimedia Commons).

I might want to add this article as a reference in the WP article. I would expect that many amateur gardeners could appreciate this article – there’s no hairy concepts (after all *I* can understand it, and I’m a chemist).

But can I? Is it Open Access? *I don’t know*. It’s on a web page from one of the authors. Were they allowed to post it as “Green”? I have no idea. Is it permanent? Could the publishers force them to take it down? Might it decay? I don’t know.

And nor do the readers.

Daniel writes:

This page is about how Wikipedia pages could signal to readers whether a particular reference is open access or not. The main purpose of such signalling would be to spare them the disappointment of clicking through to the resource only to find out that they do not have access rights to read it. The scheme is also useful for Wikipedia editors who can see at a glance whether a given reference would be licensed in a way that allows for the images, media or even text to be reused in Wikipedia articles.

Exactly. The key words are “disappointment” and “reused”. If I click through to Tank’s paper I find some pictures – these could be very useful for me to re-use. And many phylogenetic trees. These could also be very useful. But can I re-use them?

Daniel’s idea is for WP contributors to label all the references to articles as follows:

  • Behind a paywall
  • Freely available but not free to re-use (as in Tank)
  • Certified as BOAI-compliant (e.g. with a CC-BY licence)

He notes that the padlock icon above was developed by PLoS to denote BOAI-compliant but is being increasingly used to mean simply free-to-read. He suggests as I would

CC-BY icons.


So why am I so enthusiastic?

Because WP readers who try to use a reference will immediately be alerted to the issue. And it will be explained in very clear terms. So we shall rapidly increase the number of people outside the self-interested ivory towers of the #openaccess issue and the injustice of making a business of forbidding access to information and knowledge.



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2 Responses to Wikipedia raises the awareness and need for #openaccess

  1. Andrew Gray says:

    I am definitely in favour of marking OA access in some form, though I think the CC-BY logos are probably too specialised for the passing reader. A closed grey padlock / open orange padlock seems as good an approach as any; specifically highlighting BOAI-compliant material is less critical, since what the reader needs to know urgently is simply “can I read it”.
    Details of licensing information should really be left to the actual content; if it isn’t obvious Wikipedia can’t reliably tell you, and if it’s obvious then Wikipedia won’t need to.
    Thinking about OA on Wikipedia, one potentially very promising approach is to start searching out green OA copies of papers/postprints linked from WP and adding supplementary links to the repository copies as well as the “formal” ones. I wonder if it’s practical to do this in some kind of automated way…

    • pm286 says:

      Thanks very much Andrew,
      I would agree that listing links to “Green” articles could be useful. I am personally not very keen on Green as it cannot be aggregated, reused, etc. but I accept that others differ.
      Indexing their repos is something the OA community should have done years ago. Unfortunately when I raise this issue I am told it’s irrelevant compared with mandating – “let’s fill the repos and then think of indexing them”. So we have 1000+ repos which are basically unsearchable.
      It happens that Google, who can do-no-evil, now index them. Of course the output from Google is not Open so could not be reused other than painfully re-visiting the links manually. Better than absolute zero but this should be automated in the C21.

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