One of the key forerunners of the open access idea was arxiv.org, set up by Paul Ginsparg. Here’s what I wrote a few years back about that event:


At the beginning of the 1990s, Ginsparg wanted a quick and dirty solution to the problem of putting high-energy physics preprints (early versions of papers) online. As it turns out, he set up what became the arXiv.org preprint repository on 16 August, 1991 – nine days before Linus made his fateful “I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones” posting. But Ginsparg’s links with the free software world go back much further.

Ginsparg was already familiar with the GNU manifesto in 1985, and, through his brother, an MIT undergraduate, even knew of Stallman in the 1970s. Although arXiv.org only switched to GNU/Linux in 1997, it has been using Perl since 1994, and Apache since it came into existence. One of Apache’s founders, Rob Hartill, worked for Ginsparg at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where arXiv.org was first set up (as an FTP/email server at xxx.lanl.org). Other open source programs crucial to arXiv.org include TeX, GhostScript and MySQL.


arxiv.org was and is a huge success, and that paved the way for what became the open access movement. But here’s an interesting paper – hosted on arxiv.org:

Contemporary scholarly discourse follows many alternative routes in addition to the three-century old tradition of publication in peer-reviewed journals. The field of High- Energy Physics (HEP) has explored alternative communication strategies for decades, initially via the mass mailing of paper copies of preliminary manuscripts, then via the inception of the first online repositories and digital libraries.

This field is uniquely placed to answer recurrent questions raised by the current trends in scholarly communication: is there an advantage for scientists to make their work available through repositories, often in preliminary form? Is there an advantage to publishing in Open Access journals? Do scientists still read journals or do they use digital repositories?

The analysis of citation data demonstrates that free and immediate online dissemination of preprints creates an immense citation advantage in HEP, whereas publication in Open Access journals presents no discernible advantage. In addition, the analysis of clickstreams in the leading digital library of the field shows that HEP scientists seldom read journals, preferring preprints instead.


Here are the article’s conclusions:

Scholarly communication is at a cross road of new technologies and publishing models. The analysis of almost two decades of use of preprints and repositories in the HEP community provides unique evidence to inform the Open Access debate, through four main findings:

1. Submission of articles to an Open Access subject repository, arXiv, yields a citation advantage of a factor five.

2. The citation advantage of articles appearing in a repository is connected to their dissemination prior to publication, 20% of citations of HEP articles over a two-year period occur before publication.

3. There is no discernable citation advantage added by publishing articles in “gold” Open Access journals.

4. HEP scientists are between four and eight times more likely to download an article in its preprint form from arXiv rather than its final published version on a journal web site.


On the one hand, it would be ironic if the very field that acted as a midwife to open access journals should also be the one that begins to undermine it through a move to repository-based open publishing of preprints. On the other, it doesn’t really matter; what’s important is open access to the papers. If these are in preprint form, or appear as fully-fledged articles in peer-reviewed open access journals is a detail, for the users at least; it’s more of a challenge for publishers, of course… (Via @JuliuzBeezer.)

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