Open access publishing: the way of the future?

Mischa Vickas questions a free for all publishing model


To paraphrase Francis Bacon, “UniKey is Power”. With the mere whisper of “mvic6571” and “*****” into the library server, I can gain access to the extensive realm of human knowledge outside of Google. But what happens when I graduate? And what of the millions who do not hold the power that is the UniKey?

Enter Open Access (OA). One of the principles of OA, as our very own library states, is that “knowledge derived from public funding should be freely accessible online, for public use”. Fair enough. If my taxes contribute to a government-funded research project, should I not be able to access its findings? Logically, yes, but the path to OA will be challenging.

In traditional publishing models, journals generate revenue by keeping articles behind a paywall, requiring readers and authors to obtain subscriptions. As students, these costs are covered by the university, through our fees, but at a large discount to us. Non-students, including our ideally research-informed policy makers, can expect to pay about $30 for a single article, even one that is the product of public funding.

Realising this injustice of knowledge, the Australian Research Council (ARC) this year implemented a policy requiring any publications that come out of its funded research to be made available in an open access (free) institutional repository (such as Sydney University’s eScholarship Repository) within 12 months of publication in a subscription journal. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) made a similar move in July, 2012. With a combined annual budget of about $2 billion, these organisations represent a large portion of Australian research.

This requirement for authors to self-archive, known as the ‘green’ model of OA, will only be as successful as publishers are generous. 60% of journals allow authors to self-archive, but some may also impose copyright restrictions. For example, while a member of the public may be able to freely read an article, the reproduction of charts or diagrams may not be permitted for non-academic research, even with acknowledgement.

Further, the success of green OA depends on the public’s awareness of these repositories. There is currently no direct link to the eScholarship Repository on our university or library home pages. While it can be accessed through Google Scholar, embedding the repository into the main online access points to our university would foster a public value of our institution when accessing research.

Finally, compliance with these policies will be largely up to individual universities as opposed to the funding bodies. In an academic environment of ‘publish or perish’, the quantity of articles produced by researchers means that it is beyond the capabilities of funding bodies to ensure that authors are always following the rules. A way to ensure they do is to encourage an academic environment that values free access to research, and this can only be achieved if we, as members of the public, seek out this research.

So while graduation may see you stripped of your UniKey, the power that goes with it can remain so long as we push for open access.

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