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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Measuring the consequences for developing countries, of open access to the literature

In the long-standing debate on the conflict between copyright-protected journals and open science, one unique dimension is the consequence of closed journals for knowledge in developing countries. Writing on voxeu, Patrick Gaule and Nicolas Maystre say:

Nonetheless, there is a problem of access to the scientific literature in developing countries. In Gaule (2009), we find, controlling for the quality and field of research, that the reference lists of Indian scientists are shorter, contain fewer references to expensive journals, and contain more references to open access journals than the reference lists of Swiss scientists. This corroborates anecdotal and survey evidence documenting the difficulties of Indian scientists in accessing the scientific literature.

The goal of open access advocates to have all scientific publications freely available to the world from the day of publication of goals is laudable. But in the short run, it is more important to make scientific publications freely available for developing countries, because this is where the problem really is. A number of programmes have been set up for this purpose, including by publishers, but they are inefficient and exclude middle-income countries which are the most active in science. Thanks to new software, it is technically straightforward to grant automatic journal access to all developing country users. This solution should be widely adopted, with not-for-profit publishers taking the lead.

I have repeatedly noticed that NBER handles this better than CEPR. NBER papers are open access in India (except if you're using a Reliance wireless modem, where their IP -> location mapping is getting it wrong) while CEPR papers are closed. This is something that CEPR should review.

The fact that NBER gives open access to Indian users while CEPR does not is a source of random variation which can be utilised for measurement of the consequence of open access, through the following steps. Construct a dataset of a random selection of NBER and CEPR papers which have broadly similar citation characteristics. Find out how often papers written by authors in India cite these. The difference will measure the consequence of open access in a developing country. At some point, one might hope that CEPR will change their policy. This will make possible a Mark II of this research, where it will become possible to identify the dynamics and steady state impact of opening up access.


  1. Then I contacted their coordinator Nicole Hunt who told me that CEPR
    > papers are free as well like NBER. Here is the gist of that
    > communication:
    On reading this post, I communicated with CEPR coordinator Nicole Hunt.Here are my findings:
    1.One needs to provide one's address and email address to CEPR by sending a mail to CEPR and creating a profile at CEPR's website.This will enable free
    access to their papers.
    2.I suggested to CEPR to make this process user friendly similar to NBER and this suggestion is under consideration.
    3.It seems like this is not a defined process yet and the access is on an ad-hoc basis.This being weekend, I have not yet got the acess to their papers.Create a profile at CEPR website, try downloading a paper, it results in a failure and an email address to contact.Follow up on that id and you might get the access.I will confirm it here once I get it myself.

  2. This is to confirm that further to creating a profile at CEPR's website and my communication (as an individual from a developing country)with CEPR I have been granted free access to CEPR's papers.

    One feels a little lump in the throat when one gets these high quality materials free by virtue of being a citizen of a developing country.

    This is one privilige one would like to let go of. Let us quickly become developed!!


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