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Open Access, Analytically

December 6, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 49

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I ’d like to try and put the “open access” to journals debate on a more analytical footing. I think everyone agrees that journals provide value and that we don’t want a system where all authors can post whatever they want to a searchable website. Journals provide value in selecting for veracity and interest (peer review), in production, and in distribution and archiving.

The question is, who pays for this value? In the current system, it is the consumer. In open access, it is typically the author. Among U.S. academic researchers, supporters of open access are largely (though not entirely) those for whom the substantial open-access publication charges are a minor issue (such as those with NIH support who pay a large fraction of senior investigator salaries from their grants). Not surprisingly, open access is more problematic for faculty with more limited financial resources.

As an aside, I wonder why open access is such an issue for government-supported scientific research but not for other government-generated documents. Why is LexisNexis allowed to charge for access to judges’ rulings and other public documents?

Jim Mayer
Kenmore, Wash.


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