A few weeks ago, I went to an Open Access night held at the library. Sadly, it appeared that only my peers from another class and library personnel attended. In order to get open access more utilized and accepted, more people need to (1) know about it and (2) care about it.
Open access refers to research published online that has no fees associated to them. These articles are available to anyone (with internet access) who wishes to read them, and are therefore a step in the right direction for making science available to a more diverse audience, and not solely to either academics or those with the financial means to purchase subscriptions. Currently, it appears to me that when people think of scientific journals, they typically think of those that are only available to journal subscribers. In this case, the publishers of the journal own the rights to all the articles they publish.
Open access is a great strategy for bridging the gap between scientists and the pubic and for making the distribution of information more inclusive for all. That being said, I see a major issue with open access – not enough people know about open access and not enough researchers do or want to publish in open access journals.
Even though I believe open access is a positive movement and likely the wave of the future, it does not matter if open access exists if nobody utilizes it. In order for open access to truly make a difference in providing information to much larger and diverse groups of people (and thus make science more inclusive), more people need to learn about it and more scientists need to utilize open access. To be honest, I really did not know much about open access until I started graduate school. As an undergraduate, I remember being annoyed when I could not download articles that I needed for my classes when I was not on campus, but I did not think much about it or why that was. Nobody ever talked to us about what it means to have a subscription publication vs. an open access publication. In order to spread the word about what open access is, why it is important, how it is different than subscription publications, and the advantages it has over subscription publications in regards to topics related to diversity and inclusion, professors need to explain this to students as undergraduates (and teachers to high school students).
Why the norm is that people must pay to read others’ research does not make any sense to me. Why would people conduct research when 90% of the world cannot access it? With subscription publications, only people who subscribe to the journal can access the articles. This equates only to people who are interested in the journal’s topic (and therefore likely conduct research in the same, or similar, fields) and those with the financial means to pay for subscriptions. This creates a cycle of the same people, studying the same thing, and reading the articles written by the same scientists. Perhaps if we opened our research to the public, fresh, new ideas from people not so involved in the minute details of our work will enable break-throughs. When you read the same paragraph over and over again, it becomes easy to miss errors because you know what it says – I think this concept holds for publications as well.
Overall, open access could enable new ideas to circulate, could bridge the gap between scientists and the public, may increase the number of people interested in the topics we all hold so dear, and may even make our world more inclusive. We all know what it feels like when someone asks “what do you do,” and as you start talking, eyes glaze over, and a short response of “oh, that’s nice” ensues. People are more likely to care if they have some basic background in what is being discussed. Open access could grant the basic background needed to interest the public in our research, which, in turn, helps decrease issues with diversity and inclusion, as research and data are made accessible to more people. While millions of people will not benefit from open access, due to no internet access, I strongly feel the open access movement is heading us in the right direction for making education, science, data, etc more relevant to the masses.