Open access refers to the ability to freely access a scholarly article from anywhere in the world, without the need for a journal subscription.
Removing the subscription barrier has been shown to increase the visibility of scholarship, with a corresponding increase in citation rates in many fields. Open access takes a variety of forms, including institutional or discipline-specific repositories for pre-prints; mandates requiring specific government-funded research articles to be placed in PubMed Central; and born-digital open access journals. All of these forms can enhance the distribution of knowledge and broaden the impact of scholarship.
Open access publishers like BioMed Central and the Public Library of Science (PLOS) show that open access is fully compatible with peer-review, high quality editing and publishing, and journal impact factors. Open access journals are fairly new, but many are developing a good reputation, and in some cases are replacing traditional journals as the desired place to publish.
Paywall: The Business of Scholarship (September 2018) was produced by Jason Schmitt at Clarkson University, Potsdam, NY.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Dickinson College, like most academic institutions, pays for its students, faculty, and staff to have access to a wide variety of journals and information resources that are not open access. It would be cost-prohibitive for the average individual to buy access to their own subscriptions, let alone in the quantity that Dickinson does. Thus, people who are not associated with academic and research institutions usually don’t have access to all of these same information resources.
Inequity of access to information can have negative, even deadly consequences—and this makes it a social justice issue on multiple fronts.
- When scientists in information-poor countries do not have access to relevant medical research, it can lead to healthcare disasters. For example, the 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic in West Africa spread as quickly as it did in part due to the length of time that it took to identify Ebola as the culprit. It was accepted as common knowledge in the public health community that Ebola had not been seen in that part of the continent prior to 2013. However, that wasn’t true—studies from the 1980s indicated that the virus was present in the region, but those studies were locked away behind a paywall in a European journal. (Link to NYT article.)
- Placing criminal justice resources in journals that require a subscription or a fee to read an article runs against the very concept of “social justice” as defined by the philosophers John Rawls and David Miller. (Link to article.)
- Open access can be used to expand access to quality education to more people and make that education more affordable and effective. This idea is often referred to as Open Education. (Link to website.)
- Textbook prices rose 3 times the rate of inflation between 1977 and 2015, placing a greater burden on students and their parents, many of whom are already taking loans out to pay for their education. Open source textbooks can make education more affordable and increase the likelihood that students will actually use their textbooks. (Link to article.)
- Citizen scientists—non-professional individuals and groups who engage in science to address societal concerns—may be unable to access studies or data that relate to their work. This makes them more likely to waste time designing projects from the ground-up, rather than basing them on existing practices and the experiences of others. This also means that citizen scientists often can’t access the scholarship that professional scientists may base on the work of those citizen scientists. This diminishes the potential impact of citizen science on the greater society. (Link to article.)
There are initiatives that have begun to address some of the above issues. One of these is the Hinari Program, organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) and major academic publishers to provide access to a large collection of biomedical and health literature for registered institutions in low- and middle- income countries. However, even programs such as these have problems. Choosing which countries meet the qualifications of low- or middle- income is one; the fact that access is still limited to researchers at registered institutions is another.