Information: Open Access
With a world of scholarly heritage under lock and key to the wealthy and to the well-connected, who are we to not also be granted such a key?
How We Are Deceived
This day and age, it appears that the general society has unlimited access to knowledge through the Internet and through libraries; however, this view is completely wrong. The majority of the world’s information is hidden away, accessible only to those who can pay for it or those who have the right connections. If an individual can’t pay these large sums or can’t make the right affiliations, they are barred from any form of access. In a world that claims to be more open and more connected than ever before, it seems there are only more doors blocking us away from information and knowledge instead of letting us in.
By not allowing individuals to have access to such information, we are not only allowing there to exist an unequal distribution of power within our society, we are also allowing ourselves to be gypped from the opportunity of learning about ourselves and the world around us. Indeed, we are creating a society, through such barring of access, where we accept that we are not equals. We are accepting a society where the wealthy or the well-connected are of higher tier than people of different standings. This puts emphasis that if an individual does not come from a wealthy or well-affiliated background, they are not important enough, they are not smart enough, or they are not relevant enough to gain such access. This blocked information also puts a wedge between countries as it sends a clear message to developing countries that they are not important enough to partake in the scholarly activities of first world countries, further prohibiting these developing countries from improving themselves. Truly, the sharing of information has become a business, instead of an opportunity for society to gain from. As Aaron Swartz eloquently puts, “Like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations.”
How Do We Gain Access?
If you can’t pay the sums and you can’t make the right connections, how do you gain access? Ah, it appears like you have reached a dead-end, and should simply give up and accept some people deserve to access this information and others not. This is where you are wrong. Through the ingenious work of online initiates, we can fight for our right to access information both in legal and illegal realms. Within this blog, we will discuss the Open Access Movement and its efficacy within modern society. As the cliché goes, “Where there is a will, there is a way.”
The Open Access Movement
Background: The Open Access Movement is a legal movement pushing for the removal of all restrictions on access and for the removal of most restrictions on use in respect to all forms of published research output. This includes publications such as peer and non peer-reviewed academic journal articles, theses, book chapters, conference papers, and monographs. As defined by the Budapest Open Access Initiative in 2002, Open Access will provide “the free availability of public internet, [that] permits any user to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself.”
Pros: This form of movement is ideal in theory as it legally pushes for the freedom of individuals to gain access to such locked away information. Indeed, it outlines a model that grants the general public free access to all academic publications while also proposing a “cost-recovery model” that will prevent some of the disadvantages that the authors could incur from the movement. This cost-recovery model includes the idea of making “publication charges, subsidies, or charging subscriptions only for the print edition, with the online edition gratis.” Moreover, this model also provides for the idea of changing the traditional concept of copyrights to something more open for society to feel “free to build upon.”
Through Open Access, researches can actually maximize the impact of their research as it will be easier to access and distribute such information within society. Indeed, they will be able to share their newfound knowledge more easily, while also being able to receive critique and help for their work more quickly. This is ideal, as such open access positively builds upon the researcher’s career by granting them a larger public view while also greatly helping the development of their research. The Open Access movement will also significantly help libraries as no library “can afford to subscribe to every scientific journal and most can only afford a small fraction of them.” By freeing scholarly information to all, libraries can distribute even more information to the public without fear of the monetary costs. Especially in regards to developing countries, such a movement can greatly impact the general society in a significantly positive way as this movement would be the only way that everyone could access scholarly information. Finally, at the end of the day, most of the research being conducted is actually “paid for by taxpayers through government grants” which means such taxpayers should have the right to access the information produced by their fundings instead of having to not only pay the taxes but to also pay for access.
Cons: Such a movement, although seemingly quite beneficial, will shift the burden of payment from readers to the authors themselves. If an author can no longer make a profit (instead has to pay with their own money to publish their work or conduct the research,) they are less likely to want to conduct any research let alone publish it. This shift also leads to the potential problem of publishers, if such government subsidies are provided, accepting all papers submitted instead of publishing only quality papers, as they will make a profit from accepting any paper. Another problem that arrises from this movement is that institutional budgets will have to be adjusted “in order to provide funding for the article processing charges required…by many open access journals.” This sort of adjustment may reduce this institution’s ability to publish research as they will lack sufficient funds, and therefore, some research may not become a part of public record. On the same thread, open access may cause the redirection of money “by major funding agencies… from the direct support of research to the support of publication.” This means that the money originally spent on supporting new research projects will instead be allocated to publishing the research and henceforth cause the amount of research projects to decrease.
Overall: The Open Access movement is ideal in theory, and something I would support; however, there are still many kinks within the movement that prevent it from changing the face of scholarly information and the right to access it. If such kinks, including the “cost-recovery model”, are remediated, then this movement will change access to information in a incredibly positive, powerful way within our society.
What Should We Do?
Although there is still much work to be done in order to grant open access to all scholarly information, it is work that is required for our society to do in order to become more equal and more fair. It should be a human right to access information, not a privilege, and through such a movement this ideal can come to reality. Without a doubt, information is power, and this power should not be privy to the few but instead privy to all. As Aaron Swartz famously said, “With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge-we will make it a thing of the past.”