Why making academic research free is complicated


Currently, the majority of published scientific findings – and the vast majority of prestigious new research – are hidden behind a paywall. more than Most important scientific publications Charging high fees for readers to access prices rising faster than inflation. Annual Membership B temper nature It costs $199, Sciences Starting at $79/yearAnd the scalpel He charges $227. And these are just a few of Hundreds of magazines Where a new search appears.

This money goes to the publishers, not to the academics who actually write scientific papers. And while some top journals give researchers the option of making what they write free to read, they do so by reversing the fee structure, placing the burden on the author instead.

temper nature, For example, it accuses authors who are not affiliated with institutions Approximately $9,500 To view a paper without the paywall. Given that grant-funded research is not actually profitable for the researchers themselves, this is a significant obstacle that disproportionately afflicts junior academics and those from low-income countries.

But in an effort to tear down the paywall and make science more accessible, the White House announced last month New instructions Requirement that all taxpayer-funded research, including data used in the study, To be available to the public at no cost by the end of 2025.

Biden’s plan is one of the biggest gains so far for “open flagMovement. In practice, it often refers to publishing papers describing new scientific findings immediately and without paywall. It can also include sharing full data sets and codes used for analysis publicly.

The movement toward transparency and the science of open access began with 90’s activityI got to the White House in 2013 During the Obama administration, as it was a force in American politics As early as 2007. Biden’s interest in open science predates his presidency. In 2016, note That “taxpayers fund $5 billion per year for cancer research each year, but once it’s published, nearly all taxpayer-funded research goes behind walls.”

There is a direct argument behind making publicly funded research available: taxpayers already pay to fund a study, so why should they also pay a journal fee to see the results? We hope that making the latest data and research results available will allow scientists and business people to build more quickly on new discoveries, and members of the public will have a more accurate sense of the state of scientific knowledge.

But despite decades of advocating “open science,” the idea is far from universally accepted – and there isn’t even a firm definition of what it means.

The push for an open flag – and backsliding – did not start with the United States, and previous international efforts could hint at how the new guidelines are likely to work.

in 2018, Robert Jean Smitswho was then a senior consultant for open access and innovation at european political strategy centerHe founded a movement to open access to science. Benefit of growing support in Europe. recruit a Number of influential funders To require grant recipients to publish their research to the public, even though it was drastic transformation From the previous European standards based on the paywall system for Academic Publication.

In their recently published free-to-download book, Shock S planAnd the Smits and co-author Rachel Beals argue that science will be more successful as an international collaborative effort, but that scientists in currently poorer countries will be more successful. I am quiet High access fees. For society to reap the full benefit of new discoveries, the results must be available to everyone, not just academics.

While open access leaves appear small if inconsistent Increase citations From other scholars, compared to the paywall-blocked research, this greatly underestimates the real impact: Dutch survey by Springer Nature It found that 40% of visitors to their open access site were not academics, and simply had a personal or professional interest in a topic.

under S plan.who went into effect In 2021 in 12 European countries, scientists who receive grant money from an affiliated funder, as a condition of this funding, present their findings. open access. They can post to Free public repositorySuch as Zenodo And the arXivor Payment of fees for a traditional magazine. Universities often negotiate deals directly with publishers to cover these fees Some of the funders present them Special Programs To cover the application fee for the research they funded.

Biden’s new plan will have similar requirements, but they apply to the huge number of researchers and universities that receive funding from the US federal government, covering roughly 400 different organizations and agencies. The The transition is set to be complete by the end of 2025.

Freeing research paid largely from taxpayer money can seem like a no-brainer, but over time, it does. Possible downsides From open science efforts such as the Plan S mandate it became more apparent. While paid-to-publish but free-to-read platforms bring more research to the public, They can add barriers to seekers and Exacerbate some of the existing disparities in academia. Scientific publishing will remain for-profit industry and very profitable One for publishers. Converting fees to authors does not change this.

Lots of new founders open access journals Drop the fee entirely, but even if they aren’t trying to make a profit, they still need to cover their operating costs. they back off Advertising revenueAn individual Donations or charitable GrantAnd the Corporate sponsorshipeven crowdfunding.

But open access platforms often lack the prestige of popular magazines like temper nature. Scholars early in their careers – as well as in Less affluent universities in low income countries – often depend on Unstable and short term Grant funding to conduct their research. they career path career path Depends on the output of an impressive file Publication recordthat Indeed an uphill battle.

Official journals are reluctant to commit to open access, because application fees may prevent potential researchers from submitting their work. And if magazines do not charge submission fees or reader subscriptions, they will have to turn to other sources of income, which may be unsustainable in the long run.

There are other ways in which the open science movement may fail to live up to the optimistic claims of its proponents. So far, the movement has focused on publicly funded science. Institutional R&D and privately funded research are exempt from the mandate. with commercial support Innovation and Entrepreneurship is one of the explicit goals of the Biden administration, some groups concerned that “marketing” Science will actually reduce transparency, and that Financial conflict of interest In commercially funded research will lead to biased studies.

The impact of the open science movement is growing thanks to projects like Plan S, but it’s hard to gauge exactly how far it has come now. Their coalition of funders supported 200,000 new studies in 2020 12% of articles In most cited magazines.

The White House guidelines will be widely used Strengthen Accreditation – Funded by the US Government 195000 to 263000 Studies in 2020 – but it probably won’t be enough to shift the world of scholarly publishing towards a new, more accessible paradigm. If science is truly meant to serve the public interest, it must be in the public interest to make it available.

A version of this story was originally published in the Future Perfect newsletter. Register here to subscribe!


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