One of the less well-known things about F1000 is that we partner with HINARI, the Programme for Access to Health Research, to provide access to F1000 to institutions and researchers in developing countries. Institutions can apply for free or discounted access (depending on their gross national income—GNI), and regularly active Faculty Members are invited to sponsor an institution of their choice.
F1000 is only a tiny part of what HINARI does of course: their main focus is getting primary literature into developing nations, and many publishers of primary literature are signed up. Sounds good, but it was a tad disturbing to read in the BMJ that five publishers have withdrawn free access to 2,500 journals in Bangladesh.
The list of publishers withdrawing access includes
Elsevier (which, the BMJ editorial notes, includes Lancet titles): 1610 journals
Springer: 588 journals
Lippincott Williams and Wilkins: 299 journals
American Association for the Advancement of Science: two journals
American Society for Animal Science: three journals.
On the other hand, Wiley & Sons (still) allow free access to the Cochrane Library, and of course SpringerOpen and BioMed Central (both of which are Springer stables) will remain freely available. Nonetheless, this move seems to be somewhat callous, not to mention cynical.
HINARI uses GNI as a basis for granting access, although there are obscure “factors relevant to our public-private-partnership” that affect the banding of these countries. Latest figures from the World Bank suggest that Bangladesh enjoys a per capita GNI of US$580, with a purchasing power parity of US$1,550 (2009; PDF). Whichever way you cut it, that’s less than the US$1,600 per capita HINARI uses as a basis for free access.
But a programme manager at HINARI said that such a decision was not unusual practice, once publishers started make “active sales”. I can’t help thinking of certain other unethical business practices—supplying formula where there isn’t access to (free) clean water, giving samples of formula and then charging when mother’s milk has dried up, that sort of thing. Scientific papers aren’t as cute (generally) as newborn babies, but there is definitely something fishy going on here.
According to the BMJ, the programme manager said “Access is still available through those institutions which purchase the journals.” It’s not clear to me if she’s advising that those institutions freely distribute journals they’ve paid for throughout Bangladesh (which must be against the terms of their licence, surely?), or what.
What do you think? Is this a reasonable business decision under these circumstances? What is the way forward for Bangladeshi researchers now?
(edited to add: the DOI for the BMJ piece isn’t resolving: the full URL is http://www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.d196.full.)