The Pros and Cons of Open Access

If we look at today’s society we can learn almost everything from courses at the Open University to free apps and websites on smartphones. But does OA foster a more open scholarly communication system or is it simply a less reliable and reputable source of journals?OA+Benefits+2014 (1)

Check out my mindmap on the pros and cons of Open Access. The left-hand side is for arguments against, and on the right are arguments for 🙂 (I’m new to mindmapping online so if someone knows a better website, feel free to tweet it)

I also made a haiku deck on OA and some of its biggest factors affecting us.

The problem of accessing material was recently highlighted by Dr. Gary Ward in a press conference for the Federal Research Public Access Act. He argued that with increasing, cutting-edge research, it’s important that both students and teachers have easy online access so that teaching and learning material isn’t outdated before even finishing a course:

In my role as educator, I often find myself teaching my graduate and medical students what I have access to rather than what they most need to know. Just as one example, in a recent lecture I was preparing for our medical students… I was only able to access about two thirds of the articles that I needed in order to make sure that I was providing these budding young doctors with everything they needed to know about the subject. I can tell you that’s extremely frustrating to me as an educator and it’s clearly not in the best interests of my students. This problem isn’t unique to the University of Vermont. Every academic institution faces this problem – from the best-funded private institutions down to the small liberal arts colleges and community colleges. It’s just a question of degree.

– Dr. Gary Ward, Professor of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics, and Co-Director, Vermont Center for Immunology and Infectious Diseases, University of Vermont.

If it weren’t for Southampton paying journal subscriptions for me to gain access to, I would really struggle to write essays and have good, reputable, academic content in my work. I support OA because everyone can read the latest research. This isn’t only limited to students though:

• A patient looking for information on a treatment his or her doctor has ordered or on a trial of a drug that could treat a disease
• A small business startup researching the latest related technological developments
• Any one of us interested in understanding climate change (which had a lot of hits since Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar win speech).

For me, Open Access promotes sharing knowledge for the public good. It has a ginormous inventory of reliable, scholarly sources in a library of reliable sources due to peer reviews. However, this Guardian article argues that quantity vs quality is becoming an issue in OA:

Academic research is not something to which free access is possible. Academic research is a process – a process which universities teach (at a fee).

For those who wish to have access, there is an admission cost: they must invest in the education prerequisite to enable them to understand the language used.

I found the video above to be helpful in explaining how OA works and what the goals behind it are. However, as pointed out in my haiku, charging users is not the only way to make money: you can make even more money from advertising than by simply charging users a fee. Free content = more people will view it = even larger ads fee. A YouGov survey suggested that more than half of users don’t know that ads subsidize free content ! Some no-fee OA journals have direct or indirect subsidies from institutions like universities, laboratories, research centers, libraries, hospitals, museums, foundations, or government agencies. This also extends to “auxiliary services, membership dues, endowments, reprints, or a print or premium edition” as stated by Peter Suber. Some even rely on volunteerism or a combination of these means to make profit showing that not only one demographic in today’s society benefits from OA material.

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