Time to Reform Academic Publishing
A DISCUSSION OFPublic Access to Advance Equity
In “Public Access to Advance Equity” (Issues, Fall 2022), Alondra Nelson, Christopher Marcum, and Jedidah Isler touch on the many reasons why open access to federal research is critical and highlight some of the challenges to come. We wholeheartedly agree with their sentiment—“A research ecosystem where everyone can participate and contribute their skills and expertise must be built”—and we applaud both the Biden administration and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), where the authors work, in their commitment to make federally funded research open to the public.
In particular, as graduate, professional, and medical students, we have been shaped by the relics of an inequitable publishing model that was created before the age of the internet. Our everyday work—from designing and running experiments to diagnosing and treating patients—relies on the results of taxpayer-funded research. Having these resources freely available will help to accelerate innovation and level the playing field for smaller and less well-funded research groups and institutions. With this goal of creating an equitable research ecosystem in mind, we want to highlight the importance of creating one that is equitable in whole.
In the same way that open access to reading publications is important to keep the public and institutions informed, open access to publishing is equally important, as it allows institutions to make their work known. With free access to federally funded research, this effect will be even greater. It is critical that access to publishing is open to promote learning from the public knowledge as well as contributing to it.
But today, the incentives for institutions do not align with goals of equity, and change will be necessary to help support a more equitable system. Nor do incentives within institutions always align with these goals. This is especially true for early-career researchers, who might struggle to comply with new open-access guidelines if they need to pay a high article publishing fee to make their research open in a journal that is valued by their institutions’ promotion and tenure guidelines.
To these ends, it is imperative that the process for communicating research results to the public and other researchers does not shift from a “pay-to-read” model to a “pay-to-publish” model. That is, we should not use taxpayer dollars to pay publishers to make research available, nor should we simply pass these costs on to researchers. This approach would be unsustainable long-term and would go against the equity goals of the new OSTP policy. Instead, we hope that funders, professional societies, and institutions will come along with us in imagining and supporting innovative ways for communicating science that are more equitable and better for research.
As the research community works to implement the new OSTP policy intended to make scientific results publicly accessible, it will be critical for the next generation of researchers that the federally funded research system be made open in a way that is equitable and inclusive of those early in their careers.
President, National Association of Graduate-Professional Students
National President, American Medical Student Association