Pay for access and open access journals

Pay for access and open access journals

Most scientific research is published in journals, which are pay for access. In other words, an individual or a library has to pay a substantial amount of money to get beyond the free, teaser abstracts. No fee. No see.

Now, paying for journal articles doesn’t sit right with many people. Why you ask? (After all, we pay for everything else.) To answer this question, I’m going to describe the research and publishing process.

First, let’s examine the process from a researcher’s perspective:

The researcher applies for a grant. After a grant review process, the researcher is either very happy or very sad. Let’s focus on the happy researcher, who received her grant. With the money from the grant, the happy researcher runs the proposed studies, writes up the studies in the form of an article, submits the article to a prestigious pay for access journal, and prays to the science gods the article is accepted for publication right away. Other researchers tear apart the article and research. This is known as the peer review process. The article gets rejected. So sad. The researcher resubmits the article to a less prestigious pay for access journal. It’s accepted! Whoopi! Then the researcher signs away copyright to the publisher and adds the newly published article to her list of publications. The list is very important.

Now, let’s focus on the research and publishing process from a financial perspective:

Usually, the government funds academic research, so the government uses your tax dollars to pay for the research that ends up packaged nicely in the form of an article. Then this article is submitted to a publisher. Other academics assess whether this article has enough scientific merit for publishing – free of charge. If the article is accepted for publication, the researcher receives no money for the publication but transfers copyright to the publisher; otherwise the article won’t be published. Finally, the publisher charges governments, universities, colleges, libraries, and you for access to this article.

I started this story with a question – why does paying for journal articles hit people the wrong way? As you can extrapolate from the story, publishers are making money on free content and free labour.  And the cherry on top of this cake is that the publishers take all copyright rights.

Luckily, there has been a backlash against this very accepted and very popular model of publishing academic research.

Open access publishing.

Articles in open access journals are free for your viewing pleasure!

How do these open access journals sustain themselves? There are basically two ways:

1)   The author pays for publishing the article. Sometimes the fee will be waived if the author cannot pay.

2)   Neither the author nor the reader pays for the article. The publisher uses alternative means to fund the enterprise. The alternatives include the following:

  1. Funding from universities, research centers, government agencies, etc.
  2. Funding from unconventional methods such as advertising, membership dues, etc.
  3. Heavy reliance on volunteers
  4. Some combination of the above

The open access model is an exciting alternative when publishing research. Unfortunately, some less-than-savory-individuals have exploited open access publishing. Jeffrey Beall compiled a list of predatory open access publishers, which are essentially for profit businesses with little concern for quality of research or information access. (Coincidentally, I just received an email from one of the publishers on Beall’s list encouraging me to submit a manuscript. Hahahahaha.)

Beall’s list is certainly very helpful, but note, Beall is not an open access enthusiast. He argues open access is “anti-corporatism” and has fostered “predatory publishers.” None of this is incorrect.

But shouldn’t people have free access to scientific research? After all, tax dollars support much of the research.

And aren’t some open access publications, like PLOS,  actually concerned with free-flow of information and high-quality research? Just because there are predatory open access publishers, doesn’t mean there aren’t open access publishers trying to do some good.

And shouldn’t ALL forms of predatory business practices be boycotted? The traditional pay for access publishing model is – to use Beall’s term – predatory. There is even a petition against one of the big publishers, Elsevier, because of its extremely aggressive practices. Researchers are mad from neuroscientists to mathematicians. And rightly so.

My policy on this blog is to highlight interesting psychology research related to the everyday, regardless of where the research is published, but I will not link to pay for access journals, and once I get my act together (fingers crossed it’ll be soon), I plan to highlight research from non-predatory open access journals each week. This way, you can read my interpretation of the research and the actual research without having to bleed money.



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This Book by Bob AuBuchon