Open Access – and a little bit of piracy

So I thought the Open Access forum was great.  I honestly had no idea what open access was all about.  I was a little skeptical when I heard the term for the first time since I find some of the more idealistic terms and movements end up being just that, idealistic and not realistic.  From the name and the brief (and inaccurate) description I was given, I pictured the OA movement as just another “we want people to do all the work and give us stuff for free” type of thing.  Having had enough of those, I wasn’t overly interested.  BUT!  I was so happy to be proven wrong.  I think it’s awesome that the OA movement manages to be forward-thinking with a practical realism that somebody has to pay for things to make them work.  I totally agree with the idea that research should be distributed as much as possible.  I have often wondered about how people in poor countries get access to research (short answer – they don’t), but I had never thought about the impact that access limitations have on policymakers and even just average Joe government workers.  I think it’s unfortunate that the people who most need the research may be the ones least able to access it.  Not saying that your typical government official or employee would actually go looking for scholarly papers, but it’d be nice if that was at least an option.  As a taxpayer, I pay money for research and then don’t get access to the results.  Instead, researchers have to pay money for a 3rd party to publish the results and then charge me again as a student to access them.  That doesn’t make sense.  There’s a part of me that thinks, if people are willing to pay them what they do, I can’t actually blame them, but after learning that 10 publishers control so much of the market share, I’ve realized it’s no longer a free market.  But, I still don’t think piracy is the way to go.  I think when people make an agreement, they should stick with it, even if it’s some stupidly lopsided one between researchers/library/publishers.  I’m all for killing that current agreement by OA publishing and archiving and making legal alternatives for publishing through Elsevier or Springer.  A pirate server that hosts all research is not a way to establish legitimate alternatives to the current overprice journal system.  We still need technical review and we still need vetting of journals, and frankly, we still need to pay copy editors and journal administrators.  I think it’s awesome that people are willing to publish open access, but I think there is a huge difference between someone willing giving their work away and someone stealing that work and posting it online.

I was glad that the forum included two people who are actually involved in publishing and glad that one of them was from a non-OA journal.  It was interesting to hear from them about the actual costs of running a journal.  Even though OA is a great thing, it still costs money; however, we can do more to make that affordable.   When journals with the same overhead costs charge prices ranging from $150 to $40000, we can make changes.  I love the idea of libraries throwing money at researchers to publish their papers in an OA journal rather than throwing money at Elsevier.  Also cool to hear that no technical reviewers for Collabra have pocketed the money.

Anyway, I think we’re still a ways off from an actual, meaningful swing from our current model to an OA model, but I’m glad we’re on our way.  I think we need to do more to actually talk to tenured professors rather than just bright-eyed and bushy-tailed grad students or this will never go anywhere.  If we just talk about this with grad students who haven’t experienced professional academia and who have almost no leverage to make a change, we’re never going to get to where we want to be.  Hopefully we all remember what we’ve learned when we get to be professors.  If not, we’ll just have to wait till the incredible growth rate in the price of journals collapses the current market on its own.  I’d rather not wait though.