Paywalled research papers might be the current business model, but scientific research should be available to all, not just those who can pay for it.
In academia, published papers are part of the tenure process. You not only have to do research, publish papers, and hope that your work is cited in other research to get promoted.
Despite the notion that this research needs to be available to everyone, much of it is still behind a paywall. Josh Nicholson and Alberto Pepe estimated that about 65 percent of all cited papers are behind a paywall. Why is this important? They say it is because “some of the world’s most important scientific research is inaccessible from the majority of the world.”
A case for paywalls:
Publishing is big business. It takes a staff to manage a journal that publishes research. Essentially, someone has to pay. Most journals have chosen to charge the reader, because the alternative, charging the scientist for publication, is not a viable business model.
Publications that charge for access are generally considered more prestigious in academic circles. Thus, it’s safe to assume that the best research is published in paywalled journals. In my research for this article, I did learn that taxpayer-funded research through the NIH was supposed to be accessible to the public one year after it was published.
A case for open access:
Nicholson and Pepe averaged the cost of the paywalls at $32.33 for one access point. That is way too costly for a graduate student or an average individual (or journalist whose boss refuses to pay).
One key reason the internet was developed was to share research between scientists. Although universities often buy subscriptions to paywalled journals, most research is not accessible to the average person some four decades later. It’s been argued that research should be made public to hold scientists and the government accountable. Published research should be promptly and broadly disseminated, according to a policy statement made by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Can the business model hold up?
The tide is slowly changing, but most say that it’s not quick enough. Some experts believe that the scientific publishing process is not a business model that can withstand the changing culture. I’m sympathetic to the publishers, but I’d like to see more scientific research available to individuals at a price point that makes sense.
It’s going to take a shift in attitude at many levels to see change. Scientists need to utilize open access journals. Universities need to change policies. Publishing journals need to look at their business model. The generation that wants change is not in a position to make that change, but in a few years, they may be.
We can only hope that they find a new process to allow everyone access.