A spate of recent articles in the Guardian have drawn attention to lots of reasons why open access to research publications is reasonable, beneficial and even inevitable. But two recent letters columns in the Guardian, headlined “Information that we want to be free” and “Better models for open access”, have perpetuated some long-running misconceptions about open access that need to be addressed.
It’s not surprising that for-profit, barrier-based publishers are fighting to stem the tide, by misinformation if necessary, but researchers and the general public need not be taken in.
Richard Mollet, chief executive of the Publishers Association, claims that “publishers shoulder the administrative burden of filtering three million submissions to 20,000 journals.” They do not: researchers, donating their time, do this. Publishers’ role in the peer-review process is two steps removed from the coalface: they do not pay peer reviewers, nor in most cases do they pay the editors who handle the reviews, but only the administrative layer above the editors. Publishers and their representatives consistently perpetuate the idea that they provide peer review. We must recognise this claim for the landgrab that it is.
Dr Robert Parker, chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry (which is itself a barrier-based publisher, though a not-for-profit one) points out that, “Open access does not mean free, as many readers may have assumed, with many costs involved including managing systems and content.” Of course management and infrastructure can’t be provided at zero cost – no one has claimed it can – but the important point is that open access is much more cost-efficient.
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