Who can and should have access to research?

Todd Vandenbark

Open Access logoIn a recent article in The Economist magazine, it makes the argument that “When research is funded by the taxpayer or by charities, the results should be available to all without charge.” The article goes on to point out the huge profits (and increases in profits) by publishers, and how scientists are making this possible by providing their research free-of-charge in exchange for publication.

This is not a call to break up or bring down big-name publishers. They provide services that libraries have come to depend on. But if research is funded by public funding — gathered through taxes or charitable contributions — then the public should have complete and prompt access to its results, good or bad.

Publishers counter with (among many claims):

  • Their work provides added value to the research, and
  • The current one-year embargo is not enough time to recoup the investment made in adding value.

In testimony before Congress, one publisher argued

“The cutting-edge research in psychology published by APA is rarely obsolete within a year and may have a shelf life of five to 10 years or more. Furthermore, only 16 percent of the eventual ‘lifetime’ usage of APA journal articles—in the form of downloads—occurs within the first year after publication.”

The best rebuttal to this argument actually came in the form of a comment on the article in the Chronicle of Higher Education: publishers “neither pay for the intellectual content they publish (authors get no payments including no royalties), nor do they pay for the intellectual effort of the peer-reviewers – all of that professional/academic expertise is given to them for free.”

In addition, is the “added value” anywhere close to the prices publishers charge for access to this information? Now there is an area ripe for research!

One argument for open access is seldom, if at all, being made, and for this author, it is the most compelling: lives may hang in the balance. Some people cannot wait one, five or ten years for the publication of research that will lead to life-saving medical advances. Loosely described, building up collected knowledge of research is like arranging a box of dominoes so they are all standing on end, and next to one another. Arrange them all in the right way, and a single tap will send them all cascading into one another, until all are knocked down.  Researching and determining steps to treatments to take down conditions such as diabetes, various cancers, treatment-resistant diseases, and a myriad of other maladies should occur promptly, and benefit the many, not be delayed for the profit of a few.