Open Access, and the Story of Why Are We Paying to Access Important Information

Open access is a topic I have been thinking about a lot lately.  And not just the stories of glamorized and easily implementable “open access” that the media picks up and drops two weeks later – open access as a way that information is communicated.  Anyone who has talked to me for more than five minutes knows that I am passionate about the way information is communicated, received, and re-communicated elsewhere – which serves as the basis of open access.

The White House recently addressed the issue of open access in a memo, which stated that the findings and papers that come about as a result of publicly funded research will be made publicly available.  While this is a huge step in the field, I can’t help but think that we are years behind.  How many critical results of research have come and gone without garnering public attention, simply because the public cannot afford the astronomical prices to scientific journals?  This is information that most people are unfamiliar with – mostly because the information is on as close to “lockdown” as possible.  ( http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/24/us-usa-whitehouse-information-idUSBRE91N01C20130224)

Physics is one of the fields that is breaking crucial ground in terms of taking steps towards open access.  A relatively new journal, (coincidentally entitled) the New Journal of Physics, is a completely open access journal that has risen through the ranks of pay to access journals to become a prestigious publication that just happens to be open access.  While this step was huge for the field of physics, it remained relatively quiet – my husband, who is a PhD candidate in Biology at MIT, had never heard of the journal.  (By the way, I highly recommend checking out the journal: http://iopscience.iop.org/1367-2630)

It is difficult for an organization, journal, or even an individual to rise through the ranks of paid access, and that doesn’t even touch the difficulties that would come with changing the infrastructure of how research articles and materials are accessed.  It is a problem that is ingrained in the way information is presented to the world – essentially, the mindset that if money can be made off of something, someone will try it.  I, however, will continue to think aloud to myself – and to anyone that will listen – about why it is that we are expected to pay so much to access materials that could be so important to our daily lives.

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