|1. First Edition
|09 May 2012
|2. Minor changes
|15 June 2015
|Blog, Science Communication
This is a blog article, which expresses informal views.
Several stakeholders in the issue of scientific publication have spoken on the issue of access to scientific publication, the most reasonable collection of articles being from The Guardian . Such articles point out the current barriers to publication, and speak out against the companies who make seemingly excessive revenues from their publishing services.
Politicians and entrepreneurs thrive on change. Those who are motivated by monetary gain will be eager to exploit a change for profit, while presenting their actions as an 'enabling service'. Indeed, enabling is the key issue, because an open Internet and Web should already have enabled unrestricted access to information, and yet this has somehow not yet happened.
The ideal of 'access to science' is that we reinvent the publication pipeline so that all unnecessary charges are waived, and access is opened to those with interest, rather than exclusively to those with disposable funding. We must be careful to ensure that all paths in the chain of publication are free from pay walls, in a reform process that removes the monetary profit from the publication chain, while ensuring that no artificial barriers erected during the reform. Clearly we do not want to change from paying at the point of consumption, to paying at the point of article submission, because that disadvantages the unfunded contributor, while inviting more profiteering and deliberate inefficiency (and the exploitative entrepreneurs will find a way of only part-reforming, such that there is a pay wall at both ends of the chain).
We shouldn't forget that there are real costs associated with publication: research, authoring, approval, editing, hosting, content delivery, and research (it's a cycle!) all have costs. But can we make those cost disappear, by efficiency, subsidy, or community-minded service? For each stage of the publishing process, there are costs to be met. Looking at each of these stages, can their respective supply chains be persuaded to exclude the profit from their sales costs, to aid 'access to science'? If so, then the monetary excuses associated with material costs and overheads will significantly diminish, to reaveal the human time cost of operations. Further, can the monetary value of this 'time cost' also be readily reduced through a cultural shift?
For example, if it became the accepted cultural norm for institutions to set aside time and opportunity for academics to perform peer review and editing, then with the help of other volunteers, the middle of the chain becomes inexpensive. Research institutions then become indirect investors in their mission rather than requiring traceable costing: a move that might only be acceptable to fundholders if they appreciate the value of investing in the new ecosystem.
To add another complication to the argument, we should take care to avoid power struggles within any group that might exist.
Thinking more widely, do societies worldwide need to be aware of instances when goods and services are being used directly for education, and be legislated to reduce their profits accordingly? Is it possible for industry to function in this way (for example to sustain R&D costs)? Is it always necessary for profit to be maximised for education-related goods and services? Can relevant companies and institutions subsist solely on the fruits of technological applications that are sold outside the scientific ecosystem?
Is it possible to sufficiently reform 'access to science' when we are culturally motivated for monetary profit at the expense of scientific advancement?