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ETH Life - wissen was laeuft ETH Life - wissen was laeuft

ETH - Eidgenoessische Technische Hochschule Zuerich - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich
Section: Science Life
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Published: 10.02.2006, 06:00
Modified: 15.02.2006, 12:00
Open Access is making progress
Further opening up

Free access to scientific research results continues to gain support: major Swiss scientific institutions have declared their support for the "Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities"; the University of Zurich is setting up a document and publication server, an online repository; and the Public Library of Science, a non-profit organisation, has launched new open-access journals. One ETH professor has had a positive experience with the latter publications, even though he has some reservations as to how far their success will take them.

Christoph Meier

In recent years calls for open access to scientific research results have grown ever louder. The reasons are various. One is that subscriptions to specialist journals are increasing astronomically. Another is the principle that knowledge subsidised by the taxpayer should, as public property, be placed in the public domain and made available to all free of charge.

The latter attitude seems to be taking hold in this country. The Swiss National Science Foundation last week announced that the following institutions had signed the "Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities": the Rectors' Conference of Swiss Universities (CRUS), in which ETH is also represented; the Conference of the Universities of Applied Sciences Switzerland (CUAS); the Swiss Conference of Schools for Teacher Education (SCTE); the Council of the Swiss Scientific Academies (CASS); and the Swiss National Science Foundation for the Promotion of Scientific Research (1).

Even though Switzerland has not yet conducted a study to gain insights into the hotly debated but practically undocumented change in the publishing market that “Open Access” would generate, a recent survey by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeindschaft (DFG) of scientists’ attitudes towards publication and reception shows that researchers fully welcome this new form: over 80 per cent of those surveyed feel that an open-access culture and free exchange of scientific knowledge would be a good thing. The possibility of creating personal archives of scientific articles already published in specialist journals would also be widely regarded as positive.

The University of Zurich as a Swiss pioneer

The University of Zurich has taken a first step towards better self-archiving, which makes it the Swiss leader in matters of open access. This is perhaps appropriate, as it was the first Swiss university to sign the Berlin Declaration and was among the locations chosen for the premiere of PLoS Biology. Recently its in-house internet journal unipublic reported that the University was beginning to set up a document and publication server. Contributions from open-access journals and other research papers will be entered directly into this online repository. Depending on contractual restrictions, publications from traditional journals will also be included.

This endeavour brings to mind the ETH "E-Collection" project launched six years ago (2)(3). There the idea was to collect "grey" literature, i.e. documents not linked to a publisher. The stated aim of the E-Collection today is to make as many documents originating at the ETH as possible freely available to a wider public, not only refereed postprints, but also so-called "pre-prints" which have not yet undergone peer review.


Scientific literature is no longer to be kept under lock and key by its publishers but made available to everyone. large

But what might be the advantage for its neighbour of a new archive server such as the University of Zurich’s? Ingeborg Zimmermann, Deputy Head of the University Library, told ETH Life that she felt the system demonstrably increased the visibility and effectiveness of the University’s research. Such a system might also provide scientists all over the world easier access to relevant literature from their own universities. As to articles in traditional journals, Zimmermann believes that an in-house repository is a valuable option. And it should not be forgotten that the general public also has access to University of Zurich – or the respective institution’s --research.

Not in real competition with Nature or Science

Also of interest to the public are the publications of the scientist-founded non-profit organisation "Public Library of Science" (PLoS) (4)(5). In these journals each article provides a synopsis summarizing its results for non-specialists. The PLoS announced at the start of this year that in addition to its current five publications it plans to launch two more, PLoS Clinical Trials and PLoS One.

One ETH scientist who has published an article in a PLoS journal is Sebastian Bonhoeffer, Professor of Theoretical Biology (6). He did this, says Bonhoeffer, because he hoped that it would become a respected journal. His experience with PLoS as both author and referee had been good; it is an efficient team that works in a transparent way. However, even while believing that PLoS will continue to do exciting work and be successful, Bonhoeffer thinks it unlikely that its journals will ever achieve the status of Nature or Science.

(1) "Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities”, at:
(2) ETH-E-Collection:
(3) Cf. ETH Life report on the E-Collection "Die ETH E-Collection ist keine graue Maus“:
(4) PLoS:
(5) Cf. ETH Life reports on the PLoS: "Leere Drohung?“: "Please tell your colleagues": and "Jetzt publizieren sie dann selbst“:
(6) Cf. ETH Life report on "Virtuelles Stoffwechselnetz“:

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