Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Open Access: A Social Justice Approach

In the present system of publication of research articles, most of the publishers charge some money from the users to access research papers. While it is understandable that publishers need money to print a paper copy of any journal article and make it available to the users, charging users to access online copies of journal articles is unjustified. Publishers do not have to pay any money to those involved in the process of publishing. Researchers conduct research using research funds which come from the government or private funding agencies. Peer-review of journals before publishing is done by academics as part of their “service” to the discipline. In such a case, asking people to pay to access online copies of research articles is unreasonable. And to add to it, the price to access journals has increased exponentially over the past three decades. Such a system of publication promotes and reinforces the exclusionary tendency of the academia and is ethically unfair.

By asking students and researchers to pay to access the research work done by other researchers, the current system of publication restricts those who cannot afford to pay to access research papers from learning about the research work being done by researchers. This reinforces the exclusionary tendency of the academy and promotes elitism. In such a system, people who have sufficient amount of money can pay to access the latest research and build on it. However, people who cannot do have such an access due to monetary constraints are not even aware of the research being done by researchers. As a result, they are systematically excluded from accessing and contributing to the research being done in a particular field.

Besides being accessible to limited number of people, this system of publication is ethically unfair to the general public. A lot of research is funded by the government in the form of research grants. This money comes from the taxpayers. Asking the public to pay again to access the research work which was done with taxpayers’ money (in other words, their money) is asking them to pay twice for the same thing.

In order to make research more accessible to people, the academy should move toward “open access.” As the name suggests, open access refers to the unrestricted access of journal papers and their unrestricted use to advance research and Scholarship. In a system of open access, researchers will upload their work on an online database and this database will be made available to anyone who wants to access and build on the research done by other people. This system will be more inclusive of people who cannot afford to purchase research papers and hence are denied access to the latest research being done in any field.

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