Open Access

So here I am… sat here in Bay 7, Level 3 of building 32. It’s a fairly warm Wednesday afternoon and unfortunately i’m wearing a black t-shirt (black absorbs heat). I’m trawling through the feed of tweets, when I come across one from @OA_Button

Intrigued by the notion of an “Open Access Button” I click on the link to see what its about.

The idea is that everyday people are being denied access to research papers/documents that could help their research, by “Paywalls” – meaning they have to actually pay to see that paper that could be so helpful.

Without wanting to sound like I am trivialising other fields of research, you can hopefully recognise that this is not very helpful in, for example, medical research, where scientists are looking for cures to the most deadly and unpleasant illnesses that exist on the planet. That one paper that they are being denied access without payment could well hold the key to what they are looking for, and access to it could save time, money, and ultimately, lives.

Now you may ask “Well if it’s that important, why don’t they just buy it?!”

If the research is being funded privately, then yes, that is a legit question that deserves an answer… but more often than not the research is funded through either government or the charitable sector. In these cases the answer to that question is less clear cut. The answer is that there probably isn’t the funds to “just buy it”. Even if there are the funds, those funds are not bottomless. At which point a decision has to be made as to which papers deserve the funding to buy. In other words, which medical problems deserve the extra money? This is a very politically sensitive question which is a very tough decision for anyone to make. How do you logically justify spending more money on one condition rather than another, without personal feelings coming into it?

The answer to that from most of the publicly funded research community is simple: you don’t put anyone into that situation.  Therefore taking it back to the original point, you don’t buy your way past paywalls unless you can do it sensibly within your funding budget.

Anyway… I digress.

So if people stumble upon these blasted paywalls, they have two choices (assuming they can’t buy their way through):

  1. Shrug their shoulders, and look for a way of finding the information that they need for themselves (or procrastinate – hitting a wall like this can diminish work motivation).
  2. Realise how rubbish and unhelpful the system is and do something about it (and then procrastinate…).

This is where the Open Access Button comes in and is saving the day (or trying to, at least). When a person decides that the system is rubbish and unhelpful and ultimately decides that something needs to change, then they can press the button that would be installed on their browser. This gives them the ability to put that paywall “on the map” so to speak. There is a record of them having tried to access that specific paper, and being denied access on account of being asked for money that doesn’t exist for that purpose.

You may say “That’s wonderful, but how exactly does that help anyone?”.

Here’s the best part. Over time, this “map” will build up with all of these academics being denied access. So far over 8,300 paywalls have been reported to have been hit. It’s building up momentum and eventually the issue will get enough coverage and attention to bring about major change. It’s a perfect example of what I like to call a “legacy campaign” – where people take action on something knowing that it won’t necessarily help them in the short term, but eventually it will help people in a similar position to them.

The team that run this are multi-disciplinary and multi-national. Each member has academic experience and so knows the frustrations of hitting one of these paywalls. I can thoroughly recommend reading about each of them and also the members of the steering group. It is quite obvious that they are all very passionate about this cause and all have relevant experience to help this along.

On a final note, through a link on “In the news” on their website I came across a tumblr account: “WT*inResearch” (please forgive the suggested expletive in the name, but neither the University or I can be held responsible for the content of external websites). It is a submission based blog where people have found papers that are about Open Access, that are not… yep you guessed it… Open Access – oh the irony! Some of them are hilarious!!!!

Anyway, happy surfing!

AH – @WheelsOnFire92

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *