How Open Access Impacts Us and Why It’s Worth It
Open access makes scientific knowledge accessible to all at no cost. But, some still can’t afford it. We cover the key issues facing open access adoption and how they directly impact researchers.
Academic paywalls aren’t exactly popular. Not only do they keep the public in the dark about scientific advancements, they limit researchers — particularly those from developing countries — in their attempts to conduct research. If every journalist, educator, researcher and layperson had access to the entire landscape of literature, what kind of world would we have? After demolishing this barrier to widespread scientific knowledge, it’s easy to imagine scientific progress and insight propelling us forward unimpeded.
Unfortunately, there are still sizeable hurdles in attaining this intellectual utopia. One of the key issues is in how we’ll finance open access using already expensive systems. Publishers have put a big price tag on open access publications for authors, furthering the inequity that already exists between researchers from different countries. In this newsletter, we’ll dive into this complex issue and how it impacts every facet of the research world — even research tools like Litmaps.
Open Access is freeing, but not free
Open access refers to the broad movement and initiatives intended to dissolve academic paywalls and make research widely accessible to all. Many large-scale organisations already abide by some open-access requirements. Just last year, the U.S. passed a new policy requiring all federally funded research and data to be freely accessible. Although that won’t be finalised until 2025, other initiatives are already in full swing. For two years now, Plan S has required that research funded by cOAlition S members, a global collection of large-scale funding organisations, must be open access.
By enabling ideas to be shared more rapidly and readily to a diverse audience, open access has made information more accessible than ever before. But, it’s also presented a host of challenges. The key problem rests in the publication process of new papers: how they are financed, reviewed and then cited. Publishing costs money, which is why most reputable journals have paywalls. Once these paywalls are dissolved, the already exorbitant journal costs and “article processing charges” increase even more. For example, it costs USD$11,690 to publish open access articles in Nature Neuroscience. This may not be an issue for a well-funded U.S. researcher, but for those in developing countries, it makes publishing a near impossibility. That’s why over 40 editors resigned from similar journals a couple weeks ago — in protest of these unethical fees.
The increasing costs, coupled with the demand for open access publications, paves the way for predatory journals. Trying to appear as respectable journals while potentially lacking proper peer-review processes, these journals prey upon researchers interested in having open access publications at lower costs. These journals are often under attack, being delisted from central databases or noted on blacklists. But even correcting for these journals is a double-edged sword because some researchers count on them to get published and thus maintain their careers.
How Open Access impacts us
The issues with open access may sound broad, but at the ground-level, they effect researchers day-to-day. For example, as a researcher:
You may be targeted more heavily by predatory journals.
Open access article fees may affect whether or not you can afford to publish.
The landscape of research you can access may change in unexpected ways.
To some degree, search algorithms like those used at Litmaps, are insulated from any direct impact from open access changes. That’s because Litmaps uses open access metadata, and so isn’t limited just to open access papers. However, we are all intrinsically influenced by the availability of what literature is out there. If open access promotes publications from predatory journals, then we’ll all see those grow in the broader literature library. Furthermore, open access papers may get more citations, so you may be even more likely to find these papers when searching.
Despite these challenges, open access is meeting its mission of making research more approachable and accessible to all. Just take this example of scientific papers being downloaded at thrice the rate after the paywalls were lifted, especially in low and middle-income countries. Open access supports the unifying mission of all research institutions, universities, etc. to share and advance collective knowledge. It’s only a matter of getting it right.
Have you published open access? We’d love to hear about your experiences with open access literature. Comment below or tweet at us @LitmapsApp.
EU governments to rein in unfair academic publishers and unsustainable fees, April 25
Editors quit top neuroscience journal to protest against open-access charges, April 21
Open access is not enough. We need open equity, April 15
Journal blacklists are a useful way to promote academic integrity, April 14
We won’t defeat predatory journals by making a list of them, April 4
Fast-growing open-access journals stripped of coveted impact factors, March 28
List of all MDPI predatory journals (*Updated), February 23
Open access in scholarly publishing: Where are we now? January 11