Open Access & Science

This is another post for Commons Machinery

In the 17th century, radical ideas were blooming and with these ideas came the need to share them so that they would benefit the largest amount of people. The first scientific journals (the French Journal des sçavans and the English Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society) were begun in 1665 to systematically report experimental progress.

This sentiment was also echoed in the first modern piece of copyright legislation: the Statute of Anne from 1710, which recognized that the power of ownership over text had to be moved from the publisher to the author,“…for the encouragement of learned men to compose and write useful books…”

This encouragement was necessary as it was recognized that such books were important for society as a whole. Their importance was not to increase the stature of the writer but to increase available knowledge in society. Copyright was developed for the spread of learning.

In academia today, it seems we are in a slow state of decline from these principles. The Open Access movement does provide a sense of hope, but, in general, the distribution of knowledge in academia today is a sad state of affairs.

The cost of scientific journals is on the rise (the serials crisis). This not only limits individuals from accessing scientific literature but has driven the prices so high that many prestigious university libraries are concerned about their ability to keep them in stock. In 2012, Harvard University published a memorandum on their concerns about journal publishers’ prices. This is the seat of privilege arguing: “We write to communicate an untenable situation facing the Harvard Library. Many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive.”

In addition to this, the limitations placed on copying and re-use not only limit an article’s readership from accessing and using material but also limits the authors from sharing or re-using the material they themselves created. In December 2013, the major science publisher Elsevier began threatening academics posting their own papers online with legal action (article in Wired).

All hope is not lost! Open access is the way to change this. Please watch the talented Jorge Cham of PhD Comics explain open access in this illustrated video: Open Access Explained! By PHD Comics