A discussion on Open Access, and its importance, in recognition of International Open Access Week.
Whenever we need to research a subject, we no longer reach for a set of encyclopaedias, or head to our local library to pore through the periodicals and reference books stocked there. Instead, via the Internet, we access a wealth of information – more than most of us can conceive – and covering an incredibly broad range of subjects.
However, there is still a considerable amount of information that is not readily available online, such as scholarly/academic research. This is where the principle of “Open Access” comes in. Generally, “Open Access” speaks to
…the free, immediate, online access to the results of scholarly research, and the right to use and re-use those results as you need…
(Source: International Open Access Week)
International Open Access Week is being celebrated this week, 20—26 October 2014, during which time awareness of and advocacy for Open Access worldwide is intensified. This year’s theme is “Generation Open”, to highlight
…the importance of students and early career researchers embracing open access, and exploring how changes in scholarly publishing affect academics and researchers at different stages of their careers.
(Source: Electronic Frontier Foundation)
The importance of Open Access
For many of us academic and advanced research appears very far removed from our everyday lives. Further, most perceive the topics to be somewhat highfaluting: the Average Joe is unlikely to understand them and perhaps more importantly, unlikely to appreciate the findings and potential impact.
In addition to breaking down the barriers to scholarly research, another anticipated consequence of Open Access is that it will transform the way research and scientific inquiry is conducted. With research not remaining in the domain of a select few, there will be a need to make it more easily assimilated by the wider populace.
Further and as a matter of principle, measures to increase the global knowledge base, and make it more accessible to everyone ought to be embraced and encouraged. We all benefit from it. Moreover, the Internet has been, and can continue to be, a medium through which the playing field is leveled, information access is democratised, and opportunities for innovation and development are opened up.
From a Caribbean perspective, much research is done in our region, but frequently, the findings, the theses, etc., reside outside of the region. We may not know about this research, but more importantly, in the absence of Open Access, neither can we access it, without paying exorbitant prices, nor can we use it to benefit ourselves and our situation.
Now, while it might appear permissible that should a person get access to academic papers or scholarly articles, it would be okay for them be posted online, i.e. made publicly available, that is not the case. Persons have been prosecuted severely for this action. Two well-known cases are
- Diego Gomez, a Colombian student who is facing a 4—8 year prison sentence for sharing an academic paper online (Source: Electronic Frontier Foundation), and
- Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide instead of face up to 35 years in prison in the United States for sharing academic journal articles (Source: Time).
In some ways, scholarly research appears to be one of the last bastions of information for which there are still stringent protectionist measures. Based on global trends towards greater openness and collaboration, along with facilitating individual empowerment and resourcefulness, what might be perceived as a classist approach to information can no longer be supported.
Image credit: International Open Access Week