Open Access Vs. Closed Access

It is hard to picture a world without it, but I imagine those who lived their entire lives without knowing the internet still got along just fine. That being said, I would bet those same people would be jealous of the access to information we have available through the internet. And to me it is as simple as that. Every person who has access to the internet (that isn’t censored) has such an unbelievable amount of information available to them that to not utilize it is an insult to those in the past who strived for knowledge, but could not obtain it.

But this isn’t enough. While we truly do have access to an amazing amount of information it is important to remember that knowledge isn’t static. The current knowledge that we are reading about in textbooks or from published research may be irrelevant in the future. Just look to Copernicus, Robert Hooke, Dmitri Mendeleev, and many others who proved that what was previously considered knowledge was in fact incorrect. What these three, along with anyone else who has discovered something new, had was access to information. Albeit some of the information they were working with was incorrect, but they were able to sift through all of the information available to them and work out the correct hypotheses. Imagine if they had only been granted access to some of that information. There is a chance that they maybe would have followed the same path that someone previous had already tried only to come up with the incorrect answer again. I am sure this type of scenario has played out multiple times in history (and probably still does today), but seeing as how we have a tool as powerful as the internet it is almost unbelievable that this may still be an issue.

In this discussion of access to information it is important to recognize that the internet is what is allowing this seamlessly fluid movement of knowledge, and more importantly it is the idea of open-access that is trying to push the envelope even further. Open-access supports the idea that knowledge is not meant for those who can pay for it, but rather for everyone. If the issue were as simple as just allowing everyone access for free, though, then this would not be such a highly polarizing subject. Some of the main issues with journals switching over to open-access include a decrease in quality of peer-review, an increase in misunderstanding of topics (due to a decrease in amount of editing), a dilution of worthwhile scientific literature, and the notion that open-access has abandoned its original intent and is now just focused on decreasing costs (the previous three points are found here). The decrease in quality of peer-review was a “study” done by someone to assess how easily a fake study could be published in an open-access journal. As brought up here it is almost silly to note that the “sting operation” was published in Science, even though there were no paid-subscription journals that were sent the fake study, which means there was no control to compare these results with and overall questions the validity of any conclusion drawn from their results. As for the other points against open-access there is little to no data supporting these claims and are just opinions. Opinions that are fair to have, but also the same can be said for the opposite opinion as well, which in this case is for open-access.

On the flip side, you have support for open-access, with a major selling point being the cost for researchers to publish their work. In 2011 it was estimated that publishing in paid-subscription journal cost around $3,500-4,000 on average, which was a bit higher in comparison to the average for publishing in open-access at $660. This cost to publish is only what is seen on the front end, but really what this whole debate is about is having open-access (aka free access) to peer-reviewed journals. As for who is covering the cost of journal subscriptions it typically comes down to the libraries at academic institutions, which are running out of money to pay for access to these journals. A solution to this money problem is obviously paying less for subscriptions, which is where open-access journals come into play. You would think that the cost to publish along with the cost of subscription is absolutely offering a much higher quality product when compared to open-access journals, but that is not necessarily true. It can be assumed that may be the case, and at the moment seeing as how people’s first choice may still be paid-subscription journals, but that is changing as more people are looking for other options. And looking for these other options may not only be dictated by cost of publication, but also acceptance rate as well as the fundamental idea of wanting their research to be available to anyone and everyone who wants to read it.

I personally believe that open-access is not just an interesting idea, but is honestly what we need to do as a global society. Knowledge should not be for those who can afford it. There is the argument that public funding of research should mean public knowledge of said research, but I think it should go farther than that. In the past it may have been argued that we could not disseminate knowledge even if we would have liked to, but that is not the case anymore. With the invention of the internet there is no excuse that everyone should not have access to every new bit of information that is discovered/thought of. This viewpoint is idealistic at best, and most likely not shared by many, but I would like to think that we should not force everyone to share their knowledge, but rather it should be viewed as commonplace and a privilege to share their knowledge with everyone.