In going over the content for Week 3, I was completely shocked to learn that the money that goes into getting over paywalls is not, in fact, used to fund research. I always thought that accessing articles is so expensive because these precious dollars would be going into paying researchers and buying equipment. The mini-lecture titled “The Cost of Knowledge” provided an excellent background on the topic of information privilege in higher education, but I felt prompted to dig deeper into where this money is ending up. I stumbled across an article titled “Open Access: The True Cost of Science Publishing” that answered many of my questions. In case you are interested in it but don’t have time to read it in its entirety yourself, here are some of the main points that stood out most for me:
- Subscription publishers aren’t being very transparent about their finances. Though publishing companies are profiting from a variety of sources including libraries, advertisers, commercial subscribers, and author charges, many “declined to reveal prices or costs when interviewed for this article”. Even those companies that do try to break down costs per publication vary widely in their price estimates.
- Much of what we’re paying for with subscriptions to expensive publications is a perceived sense of prestige and selectivity. This article explains that pricier non open-access (OA) journals tend to be correlated with higher rates of rejection of submitted articles. However, this is not the case with OA journals: “ in the open-access world, the higher-charging journals don’t reliably command the greatest citation-based influence”. This takes away from the argument that using money as a means to filter out less influential articles is effective.
- The switch to open-access is largely in the hands of researchers and research funders. Libraries and institutions who use academic journals don’t get as much of a say in what becomes freely available as much as the people who decide what to do with their own research. They have “every economic incentive to submit their papers to high-prestige subscription journals”, so it will have to take a concerted effort to hasten the growth of OA publications.
There is definitely more work to be done in increasing the financial transparency of for-profit publication companies. It is absurd that so much money in academia is lost to what is essentially a middleman of information. Those same funds from universities could be being used to fund more research, lower tuition costs, and increase scholarships, so it is of utmost importance that the costs associated with accessing academic journals be lowered or removed.
Van Noorden, Richard. “Open access: The true cost of science publishing.” Nature News 495.7442 (2013): 426.