Demands for Open Access to Research Gaining Momentum

May 31, 2012

A petition calling for open access to all federally funded research has gained more than 25,000 signatures, a threshold that triggers a response from the White House. The petition, posted in “We the People” section, asks all taxpayer-funded research to be made public similarly to the National Institutes of Health’s Public Access Policy.

The petition, spearheaded by four advocates, does not set a specific time line, but it asks:

We believe in the power of the Internet to foster innovation, research, and education. Requiring the published results of taxpayer-funded research to be posted on the Internet in human and machine readable form would provide access to patients and caregivers, students and their teachers, researchers, entrepreneurs, and other taxpayers who paid for the research. Expanding access would speed the research process and increase the return on our investment in scientific research.

Among the supporters of the initiative is the Public Library of Science, which since its launch in 2000 has become a leader in the open access movement. Unlike its older, more established scientific publishers, PLoS doesn’t sit behind a paywall or withhold peer-reviewed research from the public for any length of time.

The high price of access to paper has incensed an editor at a prominent journal so much that he resigned in protest and shared his frustrations with the world. Dr. Winston Hide wrote in a blog for The Guardian:

No longer can I work for a system that provides solid profits for the publisher while effectively denying colleagues in developing countries access to research findings.

[…]

The open access movement in science represents a wind of change – or at least the promise of one.

Dr. Hide is an associate professor of bioinformatics and computational biology at Harvard University and was the associate editor at Genomics, a journal published by Elsevier.

Elsevier is one of dozens of publishers that contribute free access to their books and journals via Research4Life, an umbrella organization aimed at leveling the scientific playing field. Around the time Dr. Hide resigned, and the U.S.-led open access movement was making headlines, the group announced that Elsevier was donating free access to additional scientific books.

Researchers, too, have come under pressure in recent years as more governments require published papers to be accessible to the taxpayers who paid for it. But many researchers suffer through an arduous submission and editorial process and even wait longer just to get accepted into a top-tier journal, according Dr. Moses Chao, president of Society for Neuroscience.

In the Spring 2012 issue of Neuroscience Quarterly, Dr. Chao lamented the length of time top-tier publishers take to accept (or reject) and publish a paper. The growing wait time damages neuroscience and hinders progress, he added.

But there’s also a need to seek out Neuron, Nature Neuroscience and other top-tier journals, said Dr. Chao.

There are several reasons why we prefer to take the time to publish in a top-tier journal. For many, there is implicit trust and prestige in placing an article in a highly respected journal. For some, it is essential for a job search or a promotion. For others, it is to garner support for grant applications. A chief reason is to obtain credit and communicate the results in a place where it will be highly cited.

Despite the call and need for public access to scientific progress, and another boycott of Elsevier, it remains unclear whether the open access movement can engender the type of prestige and respect we as a society have given to the for-profit journals.

Will the open access movement succeed? Is open access helpful to researchers as well?

 

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