The Rise of Open Access

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The Rise of Open Access
the rise of open access.jpg
  • The comic above is from the article "The Rise of Open Access" published by Science. The article page doesn't display the image anymore, but PDF version is still available on the site. A larger version of this image can be found here.


This comic is a one-off exclusive created for the journal Science by Randall Munroe. It shows how much "Science" there is and how much of it will be Open access. It is not part of the main comic series.

It shows how much Science is there by showing how many papers have been published. It states that there can be 140 citations per page. On a Word document with a narrow margin and regular font you could fit about 140 citations on one page with a word size of 6. It then states that we can fit 1000 pages per book. 1000 pages is a lot for children's books[citation needed] and even larger fiction books such the Harry Potter series have about 600 pages. However, many reference books and dictionaries have over 1000 pages. For a size reference, picture Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 1.3 times larger. We then start stacking books, each one having 140,000 citations in them.

The comic then says that a list of papers published in 1880 will have 100 pages, or 14,000 citations - not even one book. By 1920 the pile will be growing at 500 pages per year. This means that if it were linear, there will be 50 books, or 50,000 pages, in 2020. However, this growth is clearly exponential, as shown by the 1975 volume alone taking up four books. At the time this comic was published there were five books each year and growing.

The comic then shows a timeline, featuring Cueball, Megan and Ponytail. From 1880 to 1900 there are barely any books; at 1900 there are three books; this drops back to one until 1920, where there are four; at 1930 there are nine; and at 1940 there are a whopping 14. It is further shown at the second timeline that the number continues to grow exponentially. Along the timeline there are random bits of trivia.

The second part of the comic shows how much of all that information is, or will be, open access or available to the public without many copyright restrictions. For example, xkcd is open access because it is licensed to be viewed and copied for non-profit means. As the comic states, the advent of the web has facilitated more science becoming open access. The second picture is another timeline featuring Cueball, Megan, Black Hat, and Danish in an area labeled Open Access. The various milestones depicted demonstrate how the proportion of information available as open access has now reached more then half, and is continuing to grow.


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 preprints
1999 NIH director proposes an archive of free biomed papers
2000 Pubmed Central debuts
PLoS founded (now PLOS)
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, Danish fishes a book out of a pile of volumes with a fishing rod.]

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Hi, if anyone can start working on this, that would be great. It needs more information and to check my math.Dontknow (talk) 23:30, 17 April 2017 (UTC)

Oh, and if you can encourage other users to work on extra comics, that would be great. Dontknow (talk) 16:23, 18 April 2017 (UTC)

This reminds me of sand castle. -- Comment Police (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)