INNOVATE / ACTIVATE

I/A 2.0 Session Summary - Open Access

Michael Eisen (Public Library of Science), David Hansen (Berkeley Law), Margaret Phillips (UC Berkeley Library), Nick Shockey (Right to Research Coalition/SPARC), Ali Sternburg (Washington College of Law PIJIP)

The Research Works Act was just the most recent in a line of bills that seek to legislate on the issue of open access (OA) to research. But private initiatives have operated quietly––or not so quietly––for many years with great success. The goal of the session was to bring create a discussion of all relevant parties to map common paths forward toward greater OA adoption.

Open Access refers to unrestricted access and unrestricted use. Who cares about Open Access? The session leaders believe that libraries, students, scientists and the general public all have an interest in OA. University libraries spend around $1B a year on subscriptions to journals. This money is backed through faculty salaries, buyback subscriptions, students who are paying for it in their tuition, and alumni who pay membership fees.

There is no tension between the consumers and the producers of scientific publishing. Institutions overspend on these scientific journals and if anything, the resources at hand do not actually limit us. Rather, we are limited by the legacy of the systems––mainly the infrastructure––that our predecessors have created for publishing research articles. We are further limited by the fact that the people who work in the scientific field have unfortunately build their careers upon the current system, and they are limited by the inertia of those who run our universities. Scientists are programmed to believe that their careers are based upon their publications, and the more publications in the most prestigious journals, the more renowned you are. The public, however, can only access those journals at a high cost. As David Hansen noted, universities should use be using their influence to push scientists toward open publication of their work, perhaps even as a prerequisite to receiving funding.

What’s being done to remedy this archaic system? Session leaders discussed their efforts in highlighting the feasibility of an open access scientific journal, particularly their work over the last several years to try to undermine the structure of the traditional journal. PLoS ONE, for example, publishes based on whether the research is scientifically valid; there’s no judgment as to how important the particular finding may be. It is now the single biggest scientific journal in the world.

Session leaders urged session participants to join in the brainstorming on how we move in the direction of a system where receipt of public money is conditioned on publication of the research openly.

They also noted the need to raise student awareness. Students should be made aware that their libraries pay thousands of dollars per-subscription, which in turn means higher tuition. Students can contribute in this space by promoting OA at their universities and law schools, and by making it widely known that students at smaller institutions are greatly disadvantaged in their access because their schools cannot afford the exorbitant subscription fees. We need to recognize that the majority of college students in the US are at institutions like community colleges that have very limited access to journal subscriptions.

We also need to recognize that the general public should be interested in OA as tax dollars go to fund research, yet much of the research remains inaccesible. Not only is the the vast majority of research funded by public tax dollars, it is also backed by volunteer labor of student researchers.

In the near future we need to create a system that stores information on who the readers of these journal articles are, what their background is, and why they read the particular articles they do. Such a system could replace the current infrastructure and further the goal of increasing meaningful communication between scientists, thereby furthering scientific innovation.