According to a study released by the European Commission’s directorate general for research and innovation, almost half of the scientific papers published in 2011 are now freely available under an open access policy.

Concerning open access policies, the report found that the majority of 48 major science funders considered both key forms of open access acceptable: open access publications in journals (referred to as “gold” and “hybrid” open access) and self-archiving (referred to as “green” open access). More than 75% accepted embargo periods – that is the gap between a publication and it becoming freely available – of between six to 12 months. And therein is where the controversy can be found.

The self-proclaimed open access “archivangelists” point out that while indeed many articles are now open access, the amount of time it takes from when an article is first published until it becomes open access remains highly unacceptable. According to their analysis, only 8% of papers published in 2008 were actually made openly accessible in 2008. While the authors of the European Commission’s study boast high open access numbers, these figures are heavily biased by studies that were actually self-published in open access journals to begin with. Hence, while it may seem that the world of publishing is moving towards an open access approach, it is indeed a very minor trend and publishers still have a long way to go before they can call themselves open access worthy.

What is even more aggravating, according to the Archivangelists, is the fact that the study included papers that were originally published under an embargo and were only made available in open access form after lengthy periods of time, with some embargos being as long as 5 years.

In a post appearing in Science Insider, some of the author’s colleagues claim that while the study “has given us good news about access” it would be incorrect to define the data as open access data.

If indeed open access is to become the “default setting” by the year 2020 (as quoted by EU Research Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn in the University World News), a major shift in policy still needs to take place, especially in the world of the gold publishers.

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