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Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) at the head of Open Access as demonstrated from Cybergeo’s experience

Christine Kosmopoulos et Denise Pumain
Traduction de Alvin Harberts
Cet article est une traduction de :
Les Sciences Humaines et Sociales, moteurs de l’accès ouvert : la preuve par Cybergeo
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In May 2016 Cybergeo, European Journal of Geography celebrated its 20 years anniversary at the headquarters of CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research). It was the first purely electronic journal in social sciences. Cybergeo is at the forefront of the movement defending free access for the dissemination of scientific knowledge. Its 20 years’ experience brings the proof of the viability of an open model for the diffusion of scientific information whose quality is controlled by the global scientific community. It also does confirm the strong increasing impact of open access to science when it is supported by a constant attention to innovation.

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Cet article est une traduction de l’article Les Sciences Humaines et Sociales, moteurs de l’accès ouvert : la preuve par Cybergeo.

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1The symposium held on May 26, 2016 for the 20th anniversary of Cybergeo1, was an opportunity to review the achievements and advances produced in scientific communication by an international peer-reviewed journal, free and in open access. This event provided an opportunity to recall the challenges associated with the new models for disseminating basic scientific research, at a time when public research in Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) is facing the harshness of private publishers and financiers at the risk of its own survival. The major questions raised by open access in science have therefore been addressed, illustrated by the different stages of development of Cybergeo2 and the choices made in accordance with this founding principle. If we wished to return here to this 20-year journey, it is because the story of an independent, non-commercial, open access scientific journal illustrates one of the many initiatives emanating from research units that are developing original instruments for disseminating scientific information. These new forms of dissemination benefit the entire scientific community, and also all citizens. They are revolutionizing the traditional system of access to publications through subscriptions from universities and research centres to the journals of commercial publishers. They renew our practices of transfer, valorisation, sharing and even evaluation of scientific data. In this unprecedented context and in the face of resistance from major publishers, it is really the functioning of scientific research that is targeted. In a way, its survival depends on it.

The Turning Point of “Open Access” in Science

A new context, a new era for scientific communication

2The development of the Internet has been a "breakthrough" innovation to facilitate and accelerate exchanges, which has renewed models and practices for transmitting scientific information. The introduction of online "open archives" made it possible as early as the 1990s to shorten the dissemination times of scientific articles via the traditional channels of peer-reviewed journals distributed by major commercial publishers. The ArXiv platform3, created by Paul H. Ginsparg in 1991 and increasingly active, offered scientists, especially physicists, the possibility of depositing documents of various kinds and formats concerning their work and making them freely accessible to all Internet users. The OpenDoar4 site launched in 2006 by the University of Nottingham listed more than 2600 open archive directories in the world in 2014. In 2009, the European Commission launched the OpenAire platform5 (Open Access Infrastructure for Research in Europe) on the occasion of the 7th Framework Project. This platform aims to accompany all the winners of EU-funded projects in making their publications freely accessible within 6 to 12 months. To date, OpenAire2020 has harvested over 5700 directories worldwide and the number of open access publications collected is close to 18 million.

  • 6 Ky Nguyen, ingénieur CNRS.

3At about the same time, journals such as Cybergeo were also precursors of the open access movement by engaging in a completely new way in this new model of scientific dissemination of those created in the social sciences, few survived in the early years (Kosmopoulos, 2002). Launched in April 1996 under the direction of Denise Pumain, Cybergeo set itself the objective of enabling faster communication of research but also to widen as much as possible the exchange of ideas, methods and results. In order to achieve this it opted for an exclusively digital online publication, without a paper version, and most importantly in open access i.e. free of cost for readers and authors. In the spirit of openness and wide dissemination, a bilingual French/English interface was set up from the get go with the possibility for authors to publish in all European languages. Thanks to a computer engineer6 familiar with new information and communication technologies (ICT), the adventure could begin! At the time this was done in a very traditional way, before dreamweaver or automatic encoding, html pages were developed by hand, while exchanges with authors, the international reading committee and correspondents were already done online, but by email.

  • 7 European Theoretical and Quantitative Geography Colloquia (ECTQG) Organizing Group.

4In 1997 Denise Pumain, convinced by the rapid development of the journal, conceived in consultation with the large group of European geographers meeting every two years since 19787, began a debate in Environment and Planning A with a pioneer article "Are cyberjournals a promised land for research communication?” (Pumain, 1997), in which she explains the advantages that the scientific community can derive from this new form of publishing while insisting on the risks involved in this immense potential of information and the difficulty of regulating it...

An original functioning

5For a faster publication Cybergeo does not launch calls for contributions. The published articles, focused on geography but with a great diversity of disciplines, are either from colloquia or spontaneous submissions. Divided into seven major thematic sections, they are published as soon as they are peer reviewed and accepted. Unlike traditional journals which group several articles per issue, here each article is considered as an issue.

6Faced with the growing number of spontaneous submissions (more than a hundred per year), from 2012 onwards the journal will only publish articles submitted spontaneously and will abandon the publication of dossiers or conference proceedings. Each article submitted is evaluated by an initial committee which verifies the originality of the content and compliance with scientific requirements. Once this first step has been completed, each article is evaluated by a double blind evaluation process by at least two readers. As an indication, in 2016, 60% of the submitted papers are accepted after several reworkings and about 40% are rejected.

7In addition to peer-reviewed articles, Cybergeo also publishes content of a different nature from traditional productions such as Current Issues on events in the discipline, clarifications of the status of an issue, proposals for results or documents, or even atypical texts with varied content (E-Topics) or interactive documents. Its operation also allows it to innovate not only in terms of content but also formats. In 2014 Cybergeo inaugurated the Model Papers/GeOpenMod section in which authors publish a short article on the model they are developing in geography with accompanying full computer code in free access. In the same spirit of a collective requirement for reproducibility of scientific experimentation, a Data Papers section was created in 2017; again, these are short articles intended to describe, with all their metadata, databases set up by researchers and which will be made available in open access, in order to allow their re-use. It has to be said that in our disciplines open access is perfectly combined with the fundamental principles of reproducibility, refutability and validation, essential pillars for the cumulative nature of scientific knowledge.

8It is also in 2017 that the Cybergeo Conversation blog starts on the Hypotheses8 research notebook publishing platform. In addition to the Cybergeo journal, this is an informal conversation space for users who wish to react to publications, add comments or additions, or post useful information. The idea is to develop more interactivity around scientific publication and also to promote the journal's articles about current events. This blog invites more generally a very broad public to participate in the scientific debate.

A stronger commitment to open access through new partnerships

9Until 2007 the journal was hosted on a server of the Géographie-cités laboratory9. In 2007, 11 years after its creation, it joined the portal created in 1999, presently called OpenEdition10. It has contributed to the evolution of the editorial software Lodel, which has adopted multilingual publishing, one of Cybergeo's particularities, hitherto unpublished in the Human and Social Sciences (HSS). The partnership with the team leads Cybergeo to adopt new standards in terms of accessibility, interoperability and display with the goal to facilitate navigation for Internet users, to quickly access the information sought, but also to encourage better identification by search engines and wider dissemination in cyberspace of open access. The evolution towards the new interface required practically a full year, with very precise specifications. All articles published from 1996 to 2007 as well as other publications (over 800 documents) have been reworked in detail and structured in accordance with the new standards. The migration of the content was made possible thanks to the collaboration with the technical team of, as well as with INIST and two technicians from our Géographie-cités laboratory. In total, more than 6000 pages have been meticulously reproduced as well as hundreds of illustrations. By collaborating with, Cybergeo adopts the OAI-PMH metadata interoperability protocol and joins the global open access full text distribution networks, which bring together open archives such as ArXiv and the national repository HAL11 in France, as well as all major European harvesting projects such as OpenAire2020. Cybergeo has found a partner at the cutting edge of technology in terms of open access in For Cybergeo, beyond the technical aspect, the new challenge has been to extend its capacity to adapt to the growing pressures linked to its international reputation. Indeed, at the end of the 2000s, dozens of spontaneous submissions arrived by email, from French authors, but also from other countries (Italy, Great Britain, United States, Canada...) which slowed down our processing circuits and destabilized the editorial organization established 15 years ago. A threshold has obviously been crossed. The idea was to find a professional online application at a reduced cost that would allow us to manage the workflow of hundreds of submissions, evaluations and publications. In 2010, offered us to test the Open Source Journal System (OJS)12, developed by the Public Knowledge Project (PKP) in the spirit of open access now instituted by the famous Budapest Open Access Initiative in 200213. At OpenEdition's request, we submit a number of proposals to improve the application, but a large part of them are the responsibility of the PKP team, which must itself negotiate globally with all the partner journals. Some improvements have indeed been made, but OpenEdition was forced to make choices and renounced the maintenance of the application for its reviews. Since 2014, our editorial management system is directly hosted in Canada on the OJS server. The application has not changed much since, but its services are nonetheless a valuable tool, indispensable for a large paper.

A new source of innovation

10Since the launch of the Internet and the open access and open source movement, the appropriation of digital technologies by research actors has produced many innovations, and marks a historic moment in the history of science, from both a technical and epistemological and philosophical point of view. The fact is that never before has the question of meaning been so closely associated with the technical dimension, hence the important changes in the nature of the missions of HSS research engineers, who are increasingly in direct contact with research projects. One of the consequences of these business evolutions is the launch by the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences (InSHS) of the CNRS of a pilot project VariSHS (Enhancing the activities of the engineers of the InSHS) which aims to establish an observatory of the contributions of all kinds of CNRS engineers in research in order to analyse them collectively, characterise them, enhance them but also to reveal new emerging professional profiles. Indeed, never before in the history of scientific research in HSS have the requirements of dual competence - training in a discipline in HSS and qualifications in engineering - been so necessary to understand the full potential of these developments but also more concretely to master and exploit them.

11CybergeoNetworks14, a prototype that illustrates these developments, was launched in 2016 to mark the journal's 20th anniversary in collaboration with four young researchers15, for semantic content analysis and to reveal the journal's networks of relationships and impact. This is an application from the scientific community, again in open access, which performs statistical and semantic analyses of data extracted from Cybergeo's corpus and online data associated with the journal (search engines, tweets, citations and publications). The interest of this application is precisely to provide information on the review, hitherto unknown, with a very fine level of granularity. It allows, for example, to locate the authors of the journal's articles, the countries studied and cited in an international dimension, both cartographically and statistically, and to reveal emerging themes through semantic analysis of the corpus, as well as citation and dissemination networks. CybergeoNetworks is therefore not limited to quantitative results, but contributes in an original way to the assessment of the qualitative dimension of the research published by the journal, which is completely new in bibliometric practices in the broad sense.

12In fact, in the face of bibliometric indicators such as the impact factor or citation indices (h-index, g-index, Eigen-index, etc.), CybergeoNetworks is emerging as an alternative tool for analysing the position of a journal in the scientific field, more precise and more exhaustive. The application makes it possible to analyse the semantic networks of the keywords used by the researchers, put in relation in the open space of the Internet, the study of the impact of the articles through the not only statistical but also semantic analysis of the contents of the quoted articles and those who quote them. This is an extremely important qualitative leap, since these algorithms have the advantage of providing intelligent information on the nature and meaning of the quotation, and not only on a number of quotations. An application such as CybergeoNetworks provides information, both for quantitative evaluation and for the history of science, that is much richer than the impact factor of citations provided by closed and private networks such as the Web of Science (WOS) or Scopus. We were able to show how inadequate these impact measures were, especially for HSS (Dassa et al, 2010; Kosmopoulos et al, 2008), as much as those called "altmetrics", which are also quantitative and generalist and lacking any qualitative information.

The economic stakes of open access

13Cybergeo is part of what was originally the "golden way" of publication, i.e. via open access distribution channels. The peer validation system is maintained and the content is freely accessible to all, without subscription and without financial or technical barriers. The initial objective of the "golden way" was to provide access to peer-reviewed scientific journals, for scientists, for citizens, but also for the world community and especially developing countries, without cost to the reader or the author. We know that many countries are deprived of this scientific culture because they cannot pay the astronomical costs of subscriptions to the scientific journals of the major publishing houses that have a monopoly on the distribution of scientific articles and books, among others (because this is also the case for social networks, quantitative evaluation, etc.).

14But while we thought we could free ourselves from the exorbitant and exponentially growing financial costs of these subscriptions to the bouquets of journals imposed by private scientific publishers, the term "open access" in science has become, without the knowledge of those who generously bore it, a financial windfall for pension funds, whose profits exceed those known from traditional subscriptions (Kassab, 2015).

The offensive of private publishers

15As S. Kassab (2015) makes very clear, the consequences of the famous Budapest Conference (2002) and the formalization of the open access movement have indeed confused financial markets for a decade. But since 2010, the famous scientific publishing houses (Elsevier, Francis & Taylor, Springer, etc.) have recovered by appropriating the "golden way" model and diverting it from its initial objective. Many arguments from the open access movement and hitherto refuted by these same publishers, such as the increased visibility and impact, are used to encourage authors to choose their open access formula, which is now chargeable.

16In fact, there are now in what is defined as "gold Open Access" hundreds of journals in which authors (and institutions) are required to pay to be published in free access, these so called "Article Processing Charges" (APC) supposed to cover all the costs of putting online articles to which access is open. These fees can amount to $4,000 or more per article depending on the notoriety of the journal. But the crowning glory is what we call "hybrid journals", i.e. journals that are partially open access (for articles by authors who have paid) and whose subscriptions are still charged to institutions! The financial impact is enormous. In 2015, the turnover of the 6 largest players in scientific publishing reached 7.5 billion euros (out of 23 for scientific publishing as a whole...) with an operating margin of 36% on turnover. In short, from 2012 to 2015 Elsevier's profits increase by 400%! (Kassab, 2015). The so-called "open access", which is now available in several ways (APC, hybrid reviews, public funding, delayed open access with embargo, etc.) (Flamerie, 2015), imposes huge costs on taxpayers and citizens, knowing that these benefits do not go back to research, but mainly to financial investors.

  • 16 17 Serge Bauin, 2015, conclusion of the day at the international conference "Le libre accès dans le (...)
  • 17 Jonathan Nossiter's film released in 2004.

17These open access models, now well established in hard sciences and which, to use Serge Baouin's16 expression are "gold only for publishers", are beginning to reach HSS, notably via co-publications. A whole system has been designed to force researchers to let their work be exploited for the benefit of certain publishers: the latter organise the dissemination of scientific information, whose reliability they guarantee thanks to evaluations (in principle unpaid) carried out by researchers, they charge authors and users for their services via journal subscriptions, while proposing bibliometric measures intended for institutions that evaluate the production and regulate the researchers' careers. Thus, quantitative evaluation applications, measures based on reputation (altmetrics), or "professional" social networks, etc. have been set up to complete the system around these private distribution monopolies. They tend to impose on research a mode of operation that makes them indispensable, while not proposing the tools that would be best suited to understand the real impact and stakes of research, since numerical indicators alone lead to confuse data with information, to relegate the meaning of research results to numbers with little meaning. Eugene Garfield, who was at the origin of this measurement system, warned against the (then potential) use of evaluation tools based on citation indices as early as the 1960s (Garfield, 1963). 50 years later, according to a complete system similar to the one denounced for another sector of activity in the film Mondovino17, the taxpayer pays huge subscriptions to Thomson Reuters or Elsevier to obtain bibliometric indicators on the productions they distribute, which are required in many countries for the granting of funding and career advancement of researchers, who are nevertheless the producers and volunteer evaluators of this research carried out on public funds. Taking better account of the reality of open access to research results is indeed a crucial issue which the scientific community has a duty to take up and for which it must mobilise its many competences. Otherwise, the risk would be that under a system whereby the activity of researchers must be evaluated on the basis of the number of their publications in paid journals, the current trend would be reinforced, leading to the impoverishment of public research and the increase in the benefits of stock options.

The response with an alternative sustainable model

18For Cybergeo, this challenge was met by choosing an alternative Freemium18 publishing model independent of commercial publishers and launched in 2012 by OpenEdition. This model offers a subscription, at variable cost depending on the country, to the Freemium member magazine bouquet at universities and research centres in exchange for a whole range of services. Freemium is entirely controlled by research actors and respects authentic open access. The objective remains access for all to peer-reviewed scientific publications, without cost for the author or the reader, with the possibility of disseminating, printing, transferring, sharing, depositing in an open archive, etc. The total cost of the entire editorial service, from submission on a platform, through peer review, to posting an article online in an open access journal such as Cybergeo is estimated at around 600-700 euros per article. We are very far from the rates imposed by private publishers whose main interest is to make a profit.

  • 19 Curious as it may seem, some libraries could not make a free journal available to their readers wit (...)

19Faced with the hegemony of models with so-called open access, very expensive, from private publishers, Freemium has established itself for us as a reliable alternative, which guarantees a certain durability to the journal through revenues depending on the number of subscriptions from institutions. As far as consultations are concerned, the results were not long in coming. Cybergeo's editorial team can indeed be satisfied to see the journal now posted on dozens of academic sites around the world19 and in a more unexpected way to watch the downloads of its articles multiply as the now exceed one million per year since 2014. To expand its impact, the journal opened a Twitter account in 2014 with nearly 1,700 subscribers. With over 1200 publications and a worldwide readership, particularly in Latin America and Africa, Cybergeo is a success story. Behind this success story, there are of course the universities subscribing to Freemium, but also all the energy of the researchers associated for 20 years in the editorial and reading teams to ensure the scientific quality of an international journal, as well as the support of a laboratory and the CNRS. Here again, OpenEdition's spirit of innovation could be translated into a keyword: "authentic open access", should we now also specify "free"? In any case, the term "golden Open Access", which confuses a whole series of different models, should now be banned, and the term "diamond" has been proposed to qualify and distinguish the choice of free access without cost for readers and authors.

  • 20 These are platforms that host open access journals whose submissions are made via repositories in o (...)

20While the project on the digital law in France has generated and continues to generate many controversies to the point that Article 30 of the law authorises the HSS, and only the HSS, to deposit their pre-prints in the open archives only after an embargo period of 12 months (compared to 6 months for the other sciences), proof is provided here that there are viable, sustainable and fair alternatives to the various commercial models of open access publication. Freemium, like other models (e.g. CCSD Episciences20) apply at very reduced costs that encourage investment in research. For the HSS, for which funding is often very difficult to obtain, the choice of alternative open access models produced by the scientific community seems crucial to us. Of course, it calls into question established systems and certain "balances" in the field of the dissemination of scientific information, but to persevere in the difficult context that we know of fundamental research, in the sense of excessive expenditure dedicated to subscriptions and publications does not augur well for a very bright future for our sectors.


21The idea that free access to the results of publicly funded research must become the rule has gained ground. The history of scientific dissemination points towards greater access to scientific information (European Commission, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, 2016). The digital revolution has revolutionized not only the technical organization but also the social configuration of information dissemination. In this context, the free access movement opposes the excessive confiscation of capital gains from public investment by private interests. In the balance of power thus established, certain initiatives of researchers end up having to be recognised. For example, Cybergeo, which Thomson Reuters had long kept separate from the lists of journals it included in the Web of Science database, was accepted in March 2016, in a class called "Emerging journals". This half success has in no way changed our conviction that peer review remains the surest guarantee of scientific quality.

22The act of publishing must be to the benefit of higher education and research, and more broadly to the benefit of the citizen and society. The choice to publish in a journal like Cybergeo is not insignificant. It is a commitment that respects the main fundamentals of open access in science. In other words, it frees up scientific dissemination (removing legal, financial and technical barriers), it greatly reduces the cost of production and dissemination in favour of research, it speeds up the dissemination of results, it ensures control by the scientific community, it increases the impact and the number of citations, it guarantees the right of ownership of data, and it constantly stimulates innovation (GeOpenMod, CybergeoNetworks...). In this way, it contributes to enriching and maintaining a scientific memory available to all citizens and precious for the history of science.

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Dassa M., Kosmopoulos C., Pumain D., "JournalBase - A Comparative International Study of Scientific Journal Databases in the Social Sciences and the Humanities (SSH)", Cybergeo: European Journal of Geography, 2010, No.484. DOI : 10.4000/cybergeo.22862

European Commission, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, Open innovation, open science, open to the world: a vision for Europe. Luxembourg, Publications Office, 2016.

Flamerie F., "Les modèles économiques du libre accès", Semaine internationale du libre accès, 2015.

Garfield E., "New Factors in the Evaluation of Scientific Literature Through Citation Indexing", American Documentation, 1963, Vol.14, No.3, 195201.

Kassab S., "Perceptions de l’Open Access par les marchés financiers.", Les 6ème Journées de l'Open Access, Consortium Couperin, 2015.

Kosmopoulos C., "Cybergeo et les périodiques électroniques scientifiques", Cybergeo : European Journal of Geography, Science et Toile, 2002, n°218. DOI : 10.4000/cybergeo.14253.

Kosmopoulos C., Pumain D., "Révolution numérique et évaluation bibliométrique dans les sciences humaines et sociales", Revue européenne des Sciences sociales, 2008, XLVI-141, 73-86. DOI : 10.4000/ress.151.

Pumain D., "Are cyberjournals a promised land for researchers ?", Environment and Planning A, 1997, No.6, 951954.

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6 Ky Nguyen, ingénieur CNRS.

7 European Theoretical and Quantitative Geography Colloquia (ECTQG) Organizing Group.








15 Pierre-Olivier Chasset, Hadrien Commenges, Clémentine Cottineau, Juste Raimbault

16 17 Serge Bauin, 2015, conclusion of the day at the international conference "Le libre accès dans les pays du Sud", ADF, Paris :

17 Jonathan Nossiter's film released in 2004.

18 For more information on Freemium:

19 Curious as it may seem, some libraries could not make a free journal available to their readers without a subscription invoice for that journal...

20 These are platforms that host open access journals whose submissions are made via repositories in open archive directories such as HAL, ArXiv. For more information:

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Christine Kosmopoulos et Denise Pumain, « Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) at the head of Open Access as demonstrated from Cybergeo’s experience », Cybergeo: European Journal of Geography [En ligne], Science et Toile, document 861, mis en ligne le 29 août 2018, consulté le 25 janvier 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Christine Kosmopoulos

CNRS-UMR Géographie-cités, France
Research Engineer

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Denise Pumain

CNRS-UMR Géographie-cités, France
Professeure émérite

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