Good news for fans of the scientific method: the largest and most influential university system on the planet will be giving out its research for free. After 6-year-long fight with the for-profit academic publishing industry, the University of California Senate approved open access standards for research on all 10 campuses.
The policy is major win for those who want to see academic research made public, rather than behind the pricy paywalls of big publishers. Last year, Harvard Library penned a memo urging the university’s 2,100 faculty to boycott for-profit academic research databases and instead submit articles to lower-cost open access journals.
Universities pay millions for access to their colleague’s research, with subscriptions costs up to $40,000 for a single journal. Publishing, too, can cost many times more for more prestigious closed-access journals. Nature reports that it can cost $5,000 to publish in the biology journal, Cell Reports, but only $1,350 for the most popular open-access journal PLoS ONE. “It’s still ludicrous how much it costs to publish research,” said molecular biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, Michael Eisen.
The open access movement has friends in high-places. Recently, in response to a WeThePeople petition, the White House pledged a whopping $100 million to promote open access and to require all federally-funded research to be free of charge.
There are issues with open access; it costs money to curate high-quality peer-review and market the research. Many academic papers take years to write, and its a risky proposition to leave it in the hands of an experimental publisher.
But, speaking as a writer who likes to include academic research in my articles, open access could not come soon enough. Media outlets get inundated with research findings, but often can’t get access to the articles to report on them critically. Open access may not be perfect, but it is the future. The more people use it, the better the journals will become. And, ultimately, there will be little need for closed access at all.