Open Access – unrestricted access to peer-reviewed academic research – has been popping up on my radar lately, brought on by the tragic death of Aaron Swartz. Sad that it takes the death of a brilliant young man to shine a light on the absurdity of heavy-handed copyright enforcement and the right of the public to have access to research that, in most cases, they have bought and paid for.
Knowledge that teachers need to educate our children, locked away and inaccessible.
And this Journal of Comparative Neurology annual subscription price for this peer-reviewed medical journal? $30,860 per year. This is the institutional price….FOR ONE JOURNAL!
Remember, this is the amount that institutional libraries pay – publicly funded institutions. This is our money going to pay private corporations for access to research that, in most cases, WE THE TAXPAYERS HAVE ALREADY PAID FOR! We fund most of this research, and then give it to these publishers who lock away access to the research & force us all to buy the results back. It’s insane.
I have no idea what a similar Canadian institution pays, but Harvard alone pays close to $4 million dollars per year in access fees to publishers (aside: this article above contains some real and practical advice for academic researchers who wish to support open knowledge).
I understand that this isn’t an easy issue. That academics feel under intense pressure to publish in prestige journals in order to secure more funding, jobs, etc. And it was heartening to see the #pdftribute hashtag emerge on Twitter. But, as Berkley Associate Professor Michael Eisen says, academics can do more:
Posting our PDFs is all fine and good, but the real way to honor Aaron Swartz is to combat this pervasive institutional fecklessness and do everything in our power to make sure no papers ever end up behind pay walls again. We have to demand that our universities alter their policies to reward, rather than punish, free scholarly publishing, and that they stop cutting the checks that keep this immoral system afloat.
Can do more…need to do more, as Anthropologist Sarah Kendzior points out in her excellent Al Jazera article The Political Consequences of Academic Paywalls.
When an activist needs information about the political conditions of her country, she should be able to read it. When a lawyer needs ammunition against a corrupt regime, she should be able to find it. When a journalist is struggling to cover a foreign conflict, she should have access to research on that country.
Meanwhile, 15 year old Vancouver high school student Jack Andraka uses free, open access journals and comes up with a new test for pancreatic cancer.
“I used them religiously,” Andraka said, “Just because, in most online databases, articles cost about [US]$35, and there are only about 10 pages.”
“The public funds a lot of this research. Shouldn’t the public have access to it?”
The case for open access – open to use and open to reuse – couldn’t be more clear in my mind.