All Scientific Papers Should Be Free; Here’s Why They’re Not

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If science drops in a field but no other researchers are around to hear it, does it further the academic area of study? Howdy researchers, Trace here for DNews. Science is a process, it’s a way of thinking about the world around us. Most of these scientific processes are thought through and then published in a journal, but to read them you have to pay! Shouldn’t all this scientific knowledge be FREE!? Firstly, science is mostly paid for by grants from governments, non-profits, foundations, universities, corporations or others with deep pockets. We did a video about it. But, even though the science was paid for, that’s just the first half of the equation… the other half is the scientific journal. The first journals were published over 350 years ago as a way to organize new scientific knowledge, and that continues today. According to the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers, 2.5 million new scientific papers are published each year in over 28,000 different journals.

A new paper is published every 20 seconds. (and you thought we’d run out of stuff for DNews 😉). Researchers need others to read their paper so it can affect their field. So, they freely send their treasured manuscripts to journals for peer review and publication. When a manuscript comes in, specialists select and send the best manuscripts to volunteer experts in the field who are “carefully selected based on… expertise, research area, and lack of bias” for peer review. After that, the papers are copy-edited, compiled into an issue of the journal, physically printed and then shipped and/or published online! They’re, like, the nerdiest magazines in the world. All this costs money… According to a study in PLOS One this whole process can cost 20 to 40 dollars per page, depending on how many papers the journal receives and how many they have to reject. Someone has to pay for that, and there are three ways this can happen: authors can submit for free and readers/subscribers pay (called the traditional model), or authors pay and readers get it for free (called open-access), or both authors and readers pay!English-language journals alone were worth $10 billion dollars in 2013! I know what you’re thinking, just put them on the internet! Save on shipping, like newspapers and magazines! Well, even though publishers don’t have to print and ship big books of papers anymore, they often still do.

And, even if the journals were only online, servers and bandwidth need to be paid for, and that ain’t cheap. Publishing requires dollah bills, y’all and someone has to pay, and everyone gets their money differently… For example: the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) publishes the Science journals, and the Public Library of Science publishes PLoS One among others; both are nonprofits. But, while PLOS uses an open-access (free to you) model, Triple-A-S publishes six journals: five with a traditional model (you pay) and one open-access. Plus, there are for-profit journals like Macmillan Publishers, who own the journal Nature (and a mix of traditional and open access options). And the giant Reed Elsevier (now called RELX) publishes over 2000 journals some of which are open-access and some are traditional! So, though some are non-profits, they don’t always give it to YOU for free, and those that do still can charge researchers up to 2900 dollars to publish! While others make money off scientific research which makes some people feel icky.

The whole thing is confusing. Asking “what is worse: for-profits charging universities or readers for access, or open-access charging authors?” Shrug. The debate rages. Many scientists argue as the peer review is provided for free by the scientific community, and the papers are provided for free by the scientific community; access to the papers should. be. free. The EU agrees, ordering any publically-funded papers to be made free by 2020; pushing toward open access to science! In the US, where many of the papers originate, some scientists are calling for boycotts on for-profit publishing. In the end, there was a time when practitioners needed a physical reference to the latest scientific achievements. In the days before the internet, getting a journal in the mail must have been both exciting and illuminating, but now, thanks to digital publishing… this whole pay-for-science model is wont to change… People WANT the knowledge to be free, but no one knows how to do it.

As y’all know, more research is always needed, but should that research be behind a paywall? Let us know down in the comments, make sure you subscribe so you get more DNews everyday. You can also come find us on Twitter, @seeker. But for more how much science actually costs, watch this video..

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