The Rise of Open Access

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The Rise of Open Access
The accelerating pace of scientific publishing and the rise of open access, as depicted by cartoonist Randall Munroe.
the rise of open access.jpg


This comic is a one-off exclusive created for the journal Science by Randall Munroe.


How much science is there?
Scientific publication has been accelerating--a new paper is published roughly every 20 seconds. Let's imagine a bibliography listing every scholarly paper ever written. How long would it be?
If we can fit 140 citations per page... [image of page] > [image of stack of pages] > ...1000 pages per book... [image of book labeled "All of Botany" "Volume VII"] > ...and then we start stacking books... [image of stack of books]
[The books in the stack are the aforementioned "All of Botany Volume VII", "Math (100000? papers)", "Applied Psych 1-17?", and "Weird Science 1984".]
A list of papers published in 1880 would fill 100 pages.
By 1920, the list would be growing by 500 pages a year.
The 1975 section would fill four huge volumes.
Today we're up to 15 volumes per year--a page every 45 minutes.
...This is what the full list would look like:
[Chart below showing the approximate number of volumes per year. On the right end, starting around 1990, a bubble with the words "Moved to open access" points upward to a different chart under the header "How open is it?" Under the cloud is a header "Traditional Publication", referring to the volumes in the chart. There is a box around approximately 2000-2010, with a note underneath saying detail. The years 1999 to 2014 are in a separate chart below.]
Cueball: All scholarly articles from before 1880 fit in just a few volumes.
[The rest are notes added to various points on the graph.]
Year Note
1869 First issue of Nature
1880 Science founded
1987-89 First online journals appear
1991 Paul Ginsparg launches ARXIV for physics reprints
1999 NIH director proposes an archive of free biomed papers
2000 Pubmed Central debuts
Plos founded
2001 30,000 scientists call for a boycott of journals that don't allow free access on Pubmed within 6 months
2002 Biomed central begins charging $500 author fee
HHMI agrees to pay author feeds for open-access publication
2003 PLOS Biology launches, charges $1500 author's fee
2006 U.K. medical research council mandates free access within 6 months
PLOS raises top author fee to $2500, launches PLOS One, which reviews for scientific rigor, not importance
2008 NIH requires that papers it funds be made free within 12 months
Harvard faculty agree to post papers in university repository
2010 PLOS becomes profitable
PLOS One becomes world's biggest scientific publisher by volume
2013 White House orders all scientific agencies to plan to make papers free within 12 months
2014 European Commission will require free access within 6-12 months
[The following publications are also noted in speech bubbles in bibliography form, but are cut off by the edges of the bubbles.]
Einstein, A. "Über die von der molekularkinetischen Theorie der Wärme geforderte Bewegung von in ruhenden Flüssigkeiten suspendierten Teilchen." (1905)
Einstein, A. "On a Heuristic Point of View Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light." (1905)
Einstein, A. "Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper." (1905)
Einstein, A. "Ist die Trägheit eines Körpers von seinem Energieinhalt abhängig?" (1905)
Hubble, E. "Effects on Red Shifts on the Distribution of Nebulae." Proceedings by the National Academy of Sciences Volume 22 Number 11 (1936)"
Bethe, H., Alpher, R.A., and Gamow, G. "The Origin of Chemical Elements." Physical Review Volume 73 Number 7 (1948)
(Although all other names are listed in a lastName, firstInitial format, Randall put "G. Gamow" instead of "Gamow, G.".)
(The author listed (Watson, J.D.) did not write the article (Molecular Structure of Deoxypentose Nucleic Acids) but he did write another paper on DNA that was published in the same article of Nature.)
Watson, J.D. and Crick, F.H.C. "A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid" Nature 171, 737-738 (1953)
Wilkins, M.H.F., Stokes, A.R. & Wilson, H.R. "Molecular Structure of Deoxypentose Nucleic Acids" Nature 171, 738-740 (1953)
Godel, Kurt, B. Meltzer, Schlegel, Richard "On Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica and Related Systems." Physics Today Volume 17 Issue 1 (1964)
(Again Randall switches the order of last name / first name and puts "Richard Schlegel".)

How open is it?
Since the advent of the web, much of scientific publishing has been moving to open access. According to Science-Metrix, open access reached a "tipping point" around 2011: more than 50% of new research is now made available free online.
[The following text is inside a cloud shaped bubble.]
Open access papers
Megan: As journals move to open access and digitize their archives, old papers from every period move here...
Cueball: ...In addition to the flood of new papers being published here directly.
Black Hat: 25% of open-access papers are freely available on publication. The rest becomes free within 12 months on journal websites or other repositories.
[Next to Cueball, a woman fishes a book out of a pile of volumes with a fishing rod.]