Open Access in Science and Medicine

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Photo credits. Late night essays were made worse by the chance that my institution wouldn’t have access to an important reference.

“Check Access”.
For 4 years, this blue button has irritated me beyond belief. Writing a patient case report or research essay at 4am was never fun, and to make it worse, I was constantly at war with all the journals that would not give me or the University access to their cutting-edge research articles.

A key, running theme in my posts has been the revolutionary change in education that has been brought about by digital means, for example medical education through video podcasts (see Topic 1). During school, KhanAcademy provided me with a wealth of knowledge that helped me through my A Levels. For this reason, I decided I would also help others by making my notes freely accessible (see Physics notes).

Free-to-use resources have been treasured by many others like me. They dramatically bring down the cost of education and promote self-study. However, there is a significant issue concerning Higher Education and open access resources, as I alluded to previously. Important and innovative research is restricted for public, free-for-all use. Richard wrote about the educational “Digital Divide” in developing countries, which is only made worse by the sky-rocketing prices of journals. Wiley explains open access and why they support it as publishers:

The value of open access reaches far beyond personal gain. Jack Andraka, scientist and boy wonder, made use of open access to develop an early-detection diagnostic tool for some of the most lethal cancers known. He explains that:

“Having open access to scientific journals is important because then an important financial barrier to knowledge would be removed.”

Imagine if nearly all online content was retained behind paywalls (as predicted would be the case by 2016)?

Is it ethical to put a price on ground-breaking discoveries, such as a cure for cancer or prevention of Alzheimer’s disease? 

Support for open access (OA) is rising.

As a medical student, I am both a “consumer” and “producer” of research output; we conduct an extensive research project in the MMedSc course.The Australian Open Access Strategy group has explained the clear advantages from both “consumer” and “producer” perspectives. I have summarised both sides to the argument for OA, from a “producers” perspective in my SlideShare below.

Perhaps now we must make an effort to overcome these disadvantages to the content producer, so that we can all benefit from open access, as discussed in this report.

References:

David Wiley, Cable Green, Louis Soares, 2012. Dramatically bringing down the cost of education with OER. Educause, Center for American Progress. [Accessed 5th May 2016]

Video: Understanding Open Access. Wiley 2014.

Lia Steakley, 2013. Teen cancer researcher Jack Andraka discusses open access in science, stagnation in medicine. SCOPE, Standford Medicine. [Accessed 5th May 2016]

Stephen Lepitak, 2013. 90% of online content to be held behind paywalls in three years media company survey suggests. The Drum. [Accessed 5th May 2016]

David Jakabek, 2015. Open Access, and why it matters to medical students. Australian Open Access Strategy Group. [Accessed 5th May 2016]

Anon. What is Open Access? Australian Open Access Strategy Group. [Accessed 5th May 2016]

Peter Suber, 2013. Open access: six myths to put to rest. The Guardian. [Accessed 6th May 2016]

Adam Geib, 2013. Advantages and Disadvantages of Open Access. EdanzEditing. [Accessed 6th May 2016]

Video: Tragedy of the Commons or the Problem with Open Access. This Place, 2015.

Dame Janet Finch, 2012. Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications. Finch Group report. [Accessed 6th May 2016]

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8 comments

  1. Hi Shriya. I agree with your point about the ‘double-effect’ of the digital divide and the rising cost of journal access impacting most on poorer countries. This negatively impacts on medical research in these countries – places where fatal infectious diseases such as TB are common. This really highlights the flaws with paywalls and the potential benefits of open access (OA).

    You noted that OA would prevent publishers from being properly reimbursed for the substantial role they play but due to the rising costs of journals as you rightly point out, publishers such as Elsevier are making record profits.
    This article (https://medium.com/@jasonschmitt/can-t-disrupt-this-elsevier-and-the-25-2-billion-dollar-a-year-academic-publishing-business-aa3b9618d40a#.i4o7rawwg) highlights the huge profits made by Elsevier, beyond the costs incurred for publishing: $25.2 billion annual revenue, with a higher profit percentage than Apple, Inc. Although I can’t foresee companies such as Elsevier becoming OA, I don’t see how they can justify raising prices with profits like this! I don’t agree that it’s ethical to put a price on a cure for a certain disease, by charging for research as subscription journals do. However, huge profits have always been made on healthcare – drug companies often charge extortionate sums for breakthrough drugs for fatal diseases. Therefore, although I support OA and it is growing I don’t believe it can surpass paywall content.

    1. Hi Richard, thanks for your comment! I see your point. As Elsevier have such a big profit margin they would not have any problems however it is the the smaller publishers who are not as well known that will be affected, such as the ones that are more likely to publish research from university students such as you or I.
      After reading a few blogs I have come to agree with this. Perhaps rather than making everything completely free in OA, models could ensure the prices of article or journal subcriptions be substantially lowered so that smaller, independent people as well as those in less developed countries would more likely be able to access them? $30 per article is a hefty price to pay when you might not even use such an article!
      Shriya

  2. Hi Shriya, a brilliant post this week. I particularly like the fact you’ve tailored your open access discussion to the science and medicine fields – something, as a marketing student, I have absolutely no connection too but which made it all the more interesting to read! Firstly, well done to you for posting your own content online purely out of want to help others – I know first-hand how useful KhanAcademy has been in getting me through maths! Have you thought about the risk of plagiarism as a disadvantage to content producers of providing open access content? An article by UCL (http://www.rsp.ac.uk/documents/etheses-briefing-papers/Plagiarism.pdf) highlights that although there is a risk of plagiarism, it is not actually as common place as many people assume. Obviously of high importance for any industry, but especially the science and medicine being that, if you found the cure for cancer, would you want someone else to claim the work as their own? For this reason, I think you’ll find this article about plagiarism and what is done to prevent really relevant and engaging: http://www.rsp.ac.uk/documents/etheses-briefing-papers/Plagiarism.pdf so have a read!

    1. Hi Becca, thanks for your comment! Thanks for bringing that to light, that’s definitely something that I’ve thought a lot about with my notes, and when I made the decision to upload them I didn’t think I would be credited much for them at all! However, it’s an entirely different issue when what’s being plagiarized is in the form of research/theses. I think a lot more work and effort goes into that. OA would make it easier for people to plagiarise work, and I’m glad you mentioned that it’s not that common. Other than the work that could be done to prevent plagiarism, do you agree that there is much to be done before we can all accept OA of all research work?

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