Researchers Push For Open Access For Scientific Journals

Brett Smith for

Back in April, a frustrated U.K. mathematician let forth a litany of criticisms on his blog about the scientific journal publisher Elsevier and it sparked a movement – the Academic Spring.

Cambridge University professor Tim Gowers said he and his colleagues should no longer be chained to the oppressive regime of private publishing companies who erect large paywalls and use strong-arm negotiating tactics to keep research papers, which are often publicly funded, from non-subscribers.

After a few boycotts and some lobbying, the movement may have had its first tangible victory — a British government report has suggested that 50 to 60 million pounds ($78 to $94 million) be used for ℠open access´ to publicly-funded research.

Of the money being set aside, 38 million pounds should be earmarked to help pay for the charges associated with open access publishing. The rest of the money can be used for the access and investment in so-called ‘repositories’ that enable online searching of archived research papers, the report said.

“In the longer term, the future lies with open access,” Janet Finch, the Manchester University sociologist who led the review, told Reuters. Finch also echoed the report that said the current state of scientific research publishing will continue “for the foreseeable future” with subscription and open access journals co-existing.

Some observers have said that although the British share of the academic publishing industry is small, the implementation of such a policy could have ripple effects across the Atlantic.

Many supporters of the scientific journal say the editorial and peer review process associated with their publishing is costly, but necessary to ensure the most relevant and accurate research is published. Also, the private-owned publishing industry has created a hierarchy with many researchers´ status and financial well-being riding on the ability to get research published in one of the more prestigious journals.

However, the industry has many critics. In addition to Gowers, many other research professionals say that open access to publishing isn´t only the right thing to do, it´s also better for the academic community.

“At my institution we are lucky enough to have access to many journals. But inevitably myself or one of my colleagues occasionally needs to see something that we haven’t subscribed to and so we have to pay a fee to see research that has been publicly funded,” Elizabeth Fisher, University College London neurosurgeon told BBC News.

“So it would be tremendously useful for our research if we didn’t have to think twice about this sort of thing.”

Stephen Curry, a biology professor at Imperial College London, wrote an interesting article for the New Scientist that points out an unintended consequence to open access publishing – an explosive growth in the public market of ideas and well as increased access for academia.

“Most scientific literature is written by researchers, for researchers. The dry, jargon-laden language is frequently impenetrable to scientists outside the specialism, never mind the general public — a barrier higher than any paywall,” he wrote.

“By expanding the readership of scientific papers, open access could stimulate demand for a literature that is intelligible as well as accessible. The stuttering debates on genetic modification, climate, vaccines, drug policy and energy show that we need to find ways to build more meaningful dialogue.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *