Recently I was listening to a podcast discussing the recent Finch Report which comes out in favor of the Gold path of Open access. What open access is attempting to resolve is the problem that much of government funded research costs too much before it is made accessible. It costs so much that even some research libraries are unable to access the results.
The basic model is that the researcher applies for funding. This process is time consuming and often fails. Therefore too many people are chasing too little money. Those who are fortunate to receive funding will eventually need to publish their findings in scientific journals in order to advance in their careers (and to push scientific progress forward).
Scientific journals are basically other academics acting as editors and reviewers (for the most part unpaid). So the government is paying the academics to do this work as well. Once the material is published the university libraries have to buy a subscription in order to make the work available to their researchers.
How many times in this process have we paid for the the results before they are available? In most cases none of the material is available to a wider audience outside academia.
The Gold Route to open access would make research available to researchers and the general public by making the researchers pay the publishers in advance to make their material available. In other words taking the subscription fees from the library budget and adding it on to the research grants.
There are problems with this.
1. The lock in to publishers is still strong. The reason why we are discussing a scientific publishing crisis is that the cost of purchasing access to the articles is too high to bear. Gold Open Access does not address this problem in the long term. Sure, in the beginning it may be cheaper than subscriptions but we are still locked into the publishers who have raised the prices of subscriptions to a level that even wealthy universities are struggling to survive. Do we really think they will not do the same when faced by individual researchers desperate to publish in order to move forward in their careers?
2. The greed issue. Journals need to fill their pages with scientific articles. Isn’t there a danger when they are being paid per article that they will be tempted to dismantle rigorous standards in favor of cash?
And most importantly
3. Authors without funding (Read Mark Carrigan’s excellent piece on this). What about those unfortunate researchers who did not receive funding? Either they will not publish (impossible situation in academia), they will take money from other projects to pay for publishing (Fraud? Embezzlement?) or the universities will have to pay (increases costs again).
As funding is the exception and not the rule (most grant applications are denied) most of the publishing in my field is done without direct financing. For example this summer I am busy writing two articles during my holiday. They are important to me and to my research but they are not funded through projects. But once I publish I will be in a better position to obtain funding – who should pay for this?
The gold route creates a wonderful situation for the publishers and will turn the well financed researchers into direct sub-contractors to the publishers, and those without financing into the beggars.
This is not good science.