What’s Open Access?

For non-academics who find themselves here, the term open access might not be meaningful. But it’s actually pretty important, and something you might care about. Academic papers that are published in journals (which is the goal for many scholars) are generally hard to access for people who are not in academia themselves. Universities pay publishers for access to the journals, and if you have an affiliation with a university, you have access to the journals that library has paid for. But if you don’t have an affiliation with a university or college then it can be hard to get the official published version of the paper. Often you can pay (a much too high) fee to get that paper, but most people (quite reasonably) don’t do that. So if you are in interested member of the public you often can only read the abstract and not the whole paper. (I’m not going to go into whether this is right – given that a great deal of research written about in all of the inaccessible papers was paid for by the public via tax dollars, many people feel strongly about it – a great deal has been written about this topic already and it’s quite easy to search for it on line.) Open access publishing is different. The author(s) pay the journal to have their paper published. Some open access journals are predatory, they are basically vanity presses that will publish anything for a fee. But not all are, some are about ensuring wider access to published work. In the latter kind papers are still subjected to peer review. Payment is made only after a paper meets scientific standards and gets accepted. Then there are also journals that normally are not open access, but which allow authors to pay to have their article published as an open access article. Why aren’t all articles published in open access venues? Well, there is a currency in journals. Some journals count more than others for things like tenure or promotion, and the most highly ranked journals tend not to be the newer upstart open access ones. And because it costs to publish there, it adds to the costs associated with the research, and a researcher may not have any funds left for that particular project by the time publication comes around. In any case, I am committed to getting at least some of the work coming out of my lab published as open access papers. I think that the public should have access to research. I can do this in part because I already have tenure, and so I am not as dependent on the standard merit structures. In any case, now you know what OA or open access means in reference to papers mentioned here. And more practically, it means that you should be able to click on the link embedded in the post and get the paper for yourself.

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