The Web is a brilliant information resource, but only if producers share their context online. A noteworthy example is academic publishing. Scientists rely on being able to access other’s work, to provide a foundation for their work. However, this is done through publishing companies, who own the rights to the works in return for distributing it. Therefore, universities and others have to pay to access the papers required for their research. These paywalls create a system of ‘Harvards’ and ‘have-nots’ (see diagram and Hoffmann 2008).
Removing these barriers are the aims of the ‘Open Access’ (OA) movement, as they are incompatible with the open nature of the Web. Furthermore, scientific work is a public good – as you consume a paper, others also benefit (as you are likely to use that knowledge in creating more).
A YouTube video that nicely explains the complex arguments around OA (Jorge Cham et al. 2012)
They advocate two phases of OA. Firstly, so-called ‘green’ self-archiving of papers in an open repository at the author’s institution (for example Eprints, developed at Southampton). Such archiving grants access free to the paper, as a supplement to a journal article. Such archiving increases citations (see graph), indicating an increased research impact. This could be because articles are available more quickly (Hanard 2003).
Also, they want to transform the publishing industry’s business model to a ‘gold’ one (see Newcastle University n.d.). This is where readers no longer pay to read, but authors pay to publish (out of their research grants). Hanard (2003) says that OA fully exploits Web technologies, as papers can be ‘citation-interlinked’; creating a ‘fully searchable, navigable, retrievable’ academia-wide repository.
However, OA is not perfect, and it raises problems. Firstly, publishers, who own the rights, aren’t the content creators. Therefore, what is best for the author (whether or not that is OA) often doesn’t align with publisher’s interests. Academic publishing is very lucrative (see The Economist 2012), and therefore, publishers are likely to resist change. OA relies on publisher’s “usage policies”, which define how papers can be used (SHERPA RoMEO tracks these at http://www.sherpa.ac.uk/romeo/).
President Bush mandated that research funded by US National Institutes of Health should be available via OA. However, this achieved a mere 4% compliance level (Suber 2008). This shows that the road to complete OA is long and winding. However, it seems inevitable that eventually publisher’s business models will change due to the Web (sites exist that share academic papers illegally). Should profit-seeking publishers be the ultimate curators of research knowledge?
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Jorge Cham et al. 2012 “Open Access Explained!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=L5rVH1KGBCY
Harnad 2008, “Validating research performance metrics against peer rankings” http://www.int-res.com/articles/esep2008/8/e008p103.pdf
Harnad 2003, “For Whom the Gate Tolls?” http://cogprints.org/1639/1/resolution.htm
Hoffmann 2008, “Editorial: ‘Harvards’ and ‘Have-Nots’ on a Level Playing Field: Open Access as a Publication Model for Contemporary Area Studies” https://www.jstor.org/stable/40175251?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
Newcastle University n.d. “Green and Gold Open Access” http://www.ncl.ac.uk/openaccess/green-gold
Suber 2008 “An Open Access Mandate for the NIH” https://mitpress.mit.edu/sites/default/files/titles/content/knowledge-unbound/suber8479c24.html
The Economist 2012 “Scientific publishing: The price of information” http://www.economist.com/node/21545974 (apologies, ironic paywall)