Topic 5: Summary

Open access to online materials for all- utopian dream or unstoppable force?

The topic of open access to information has sparked much interest with my peers and I, and there was much debate about what content should be freely available online and what shouldn’t.

open-access-lock

In this digital age, consumers have plenty of free resources to choose from but I don’t believe publishers should be pressured into providing content at no cost. We need to realise that if we want quality content, whether on the Internet, in our cinemas or on our TVs, we have to support the people who produce the content we enjoy. Some business models suit open access, some support limited and others should be pay-walled. Fundamentally we discovered that whether or not content should be open access depends on its nature and its provider.

We all agreed, however, that open access to education should be freely available. The chancellor of Cambridge University described the current academic publishing process as a broken system and, after researching this topic, I must say I agree.  If our taxes are funding research, we should have the right to access it freely. A report published by the UK Wellcome Trust (2004) argued that “the benefits of research are derived principally from access to research results”, and therefore that “society as a whole is made worse off if access to scientific research is restricted”.  Open access will encourage data sharing and collaboration, which could save both time and money.

I do not know what the answer is, but ultimately I think that a Reddit style system that is peer reviewed would work. The rating system could take into account the credibility of the reviewer, based on their academic profile (highly rated academics would have more influence).

None of this, however, can reach its maximum potential until the Internet becomes accessible at affordable prices worldwide.  Open access to education and information could most benefit those in underdeveloped countries. Farmers in rural china could learn how to get a better yield from their crops, school children in Nigeria could gain access to a first class education and medical diagnosis.  Thus, it is vital that governments focus on making this a reality and not just an ideal.

  1. Costs and business models in scientific research publishing, Wellcome Trust (2004)http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/en/images/costs_business_7955.pdf
  2. Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University speaks out on Elsevier and Open Access, Sal Robinson (2014) http://www.mhpbooks.com/vice-chancellor-of-cambridge-university-speaks-out-on-elsevier-and-open-access/