Status of Open Access in Taiwan 2017

(Extended version of my lightening talk at #FORCE2017, Berlin)

I am Chen-Yi Tu, PhD candidate from Institute of Oceanography, National Taiwan University. As an fisheries oceanographer, I study the climate impact to fish distribution. My research would not be possible if the climate and stock assessment dataset were not available. One of my published articles is about fisheries in Sea of Japan. The institutional repositories in Japan provided access to several crucial articles that none of the library in Taiwan subscribes those journals. I always feel indebted to these services. So the experiences lead me to the open movement, particularly on open data, open access and open science.

Before start talking about the open access, perhaps we should take a look of this map. There are more people living inside the circle than outside of it- that’s why it is necessary to discuss open access from Asia perspectives. Also, the high population density and increasing level of educations imply that open access in Asia can potentially reach out to more people. But before that, we need to get to know the status quo.

In Taiwan, the statistics show we have around 180000 researchers in 2013. From 2009 to 2013, these researchers published about 131300 papers on scientific journals. That is, most of the researcher published at least one paper during this interval. But this governmental report does not provide information on how many of these papers are open access.

Lack of information may actually implies a lack of policy and strategy. This is not just found in Taiwan. This year I contributed to Asia Open Access Regional Survey by Asia OA, which is a special forum hosted by Coalition of Open Access Repositories (COAR). This survey is aiming at providing account of open access in 16 regions of Asia. The report can be found at COAR website. Generally speaking, the regions that responded to survey are active in terms of open access. But many of them do not yet have a cohesive strategy. Also, lack of funding hinders the development of infrastructure to support open access. Hence, the open access activities in these regions are often very distributed and uncoordinated.

In Taiwan, the main funding agency (Ministry of Science and Technology) has no open access policy at all. But we do have open-access institutional repositories- 127 out of 159 universities (including public and private) have institutional repository. All the information can be found at “Taiwan Academic Institutional Repository” portal.

For local open access journals, Directory of Open Access Journal (DOAJ)provides an overview. There are 31 open access journals in Taiwan. Most of these open access journals adopt CC BY-NC-ND licenses (22), with few exceptions for CC BY (4).

The future looks dim, but there is still hope. I would explain in the following two stories.

  • Collective negotiation with Elsevier over ScienceDirect

Last year, Nature broke a news with title “Scientists in Germany, Peru and Taiwan to lose access to Elsevier Journals.” There are many discussion on how Germany managed to negotiate a deal with Dutch publishing giant Elsevier and promoted open access at many levels, but what happens in details and afterward receives less attention. Basically, Taiwan’s universities collectively started negotiation of the subscription deal with Elsevier over ScienceDirect at April last year. Because of the raising subscription fee almost consumed the whole budget for database subscription for many universities, the negotiation unsurprisingly broke in December.

Elsevier started to negotiate with each university individually. But National Taiwan University library said no, other universities also followed. I remembered receiving an email from the university library to all the students and faculties, explaining this situation and providing alternative- free article delivery among libraries before they can make a deal with Elsevier. Fortunately, the negotiation resumed this January and finally reached an agreement and the primary target. The subscription resumed in June.

Most of the students and faculties I know are supportive to the library’s action. Although they may not immediately shift to open access, it shows that people are aware of the issue of paywall and high subscription fee at least in NTU.

  • Open access journal “Zoological Studies” by Biodiversity Research Center, Academia Sinica

Zoological Studies” is an open access international journal that publishes peer-reviewed articles. It is supported by Biodiversity Research Center of Academia Sinica. It seems to be a stand-alone journal without collaborating with large publisher, but it actually was published by Springer from 2013 to 2015.

Back then, I was worried about the issue of “mixed” open access journals and felt that “Zoological Studies” would one day becomes victim of it. Surprisingly, “Zoological Studies” ceased to publish with SpringerOpen at the end of 2015. I asked one of the editors about how the decision was made, he said: “It is actually much more cheaper to publish all by ourselves! Besides, the amount of work for the editors was almost the same after publish with Springer- even increases because of the communication cost.”

It is also worth-noting that the impact factor for “Zoological Studies” jumps back to 1.008 this year, higher than the end of 2015 (0.885). It suggests that big publisher does not guarantee an increase of impact factor- just contrary to a common belief.

To sum up, I would describe the status of open access in Taiwan as a “bottom up process.” Though no official policy for open access, there are many individual/ organizational efforts to keep the academic work open to the public: providing the dataset and scripts along with articles, offering preprints of one’s own papers and maintaining an open access journal. These accumulating efforts may, one day, cause a “paradigm shift” to the scholarly communication in Taiwan.

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