This week the Guardian had a long article on what it describes as the ‘Academic Spring’, referring to the recent movements among academics and scientists in favor of open access and questioning the policies of commercial academic publishers. It does not say anything new, but provides an interesting overview of the ins and outs of the debate. Here’s a revealing bit:
It is easy for most research scientists to remain oblivious to the high cost of journal subscriptions, because they are not usually the ones having to negotiate with publishers, says Sir Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust.
As an active researcher, he had easy access to all the papers he wanted and only became aware of the costs involved, he says, when he arrived at the trust and tried to read a paper that had been produced as a result of a research grant from the charity, only to be faced with an article charge of £25. "Not surprisingly, I felt somewhat resentful about it," he says.
This is clearly very relevant. Ultimately, commercial academic publishers are also exploiting those who pay for the research to be undertaken in the first place (governments, non-governmental research funders etc.), and generally at different stages. For example, since 2007 I’ve been on research grants funded by the Dutch government, which means that everything I do as an academic, including writing papers and reviewing other people’s papers, is paid by the Dutch tax-payer. Now, the irony is that, once the product is ready, the government has to pay for it again in the form of library subscriptions for the very journals it has ‘paid for’ via my work. ‘Odd’ does not begin to describe it…