New Initiative Seeks to Make All Particle-Physics Papers Freely Available

LARGE HADRON COLLIDER: An initiative organized by CERN looks to switch the entire field of particle physics to open-access publishing. Image: Maximilian Brice/CERN
A major journal is balking at the plan, preventing over 3,000 high-energy physics papers from becoming open-access and sparking a minor stand-off with CERN

January sees the start of what has been billed as the largest-scale open-access initiative ever built: an international effort to switch the entire field of particle physics to open-access publishing.

But the initiative, organized by CERN, Europe’s high-energy physics laboratory near Geneva in Switzerland, has not yet fulfilled its dream — it currently covers only a little more than half of published particle-physics papers.

The scheme’s scope was slashed in the summer when the field’s largest journal, Physical Review D, pulled out, although its publisher, the American Physical Society (APS), did agree to publish papers on experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider on an open-access basis without charging author fees.

And as the starting gun sounded, a number of US libraries, including those of Stanford University in California and Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, declined to pay into the system. Robert Schwarzwalder, associate university librarian for Stanford’s science and engineering libraries, wants to see open-access research but is not sure that CERN’s initiative is needed, given that versions of almost all high-energy physics articles already appear online for free on the preprint server arXiv and the repository INSPIRE-HEP. Yale did not return Nature’s calls.

In the global scheme, called the Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics (SCOAP3), libraries either pay reduced subscription fees for participating journals, or stop paying them altogether. The cash saved goes into a central SCOAP3 fund, used to pay publishers up front to publish open-access articles.

Instead of hiding articles behind paywalls, publishers will make them immediately available on their own websites, with generous rights for reuse. Authors will retain the copyright. Libraries will not necessarily save money, because the average fee for publishing a paper — €1,150 (US$1,570) — has been set roughly to match publishers’ lost subscription revenues. But in three years’ time, contracts may be renegotiated, so open-access fees might go down.

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