How does it work?
A team of researchers spends months (even years) getting funding and performing rigorous research, all of which culminates in a paper that is submitted to an academic publisher. The paper is then evaluated by peer reviewers, who are other researchers in the field. This is the main quality-assurance mechanism in scientific research. If accepted, the paper is published. Libraries then pay up to millions of dollars for journal subscriptions to access the research.
Academic publishing is an odd system — the authors are not paid for their writing, nor are the peer reviewers (they’re just more unpaid academics), and in some fields even the journal editors are unpaid. The authors sign away their intellectual property rights to publishers for free, and sometimes they must even pay the publishers. And yet scientific publications are some of the most expensive pieces of literature you can buy. It is such an odd system that those who fund and perform research must actually pay to read the research they create, while taxpayers have to pay to access publicly funded research.
So why is this a BIG problem?
1. Money is drained from science
Academic publishing is a 25-billion dollar a year industry, 10 billion of which are profited from journal sales at profit margins of up to 40%. Although there are many open access journals – those which are free to read – universities still spend millions to access research.
Academics, funders and universities are therefore involved in a system that sees billions generated from their collective work, all of which enters corporate pockets, and none of which is re-invested back into science. This is money that should be curing cancer, lifting people out of poverty, and solving climate change.
- Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation - $3.9 billion
- National Health & Medical Research Council - $590 million
- Australian Research Council - $610 million
- Research Councils UK - $3 billion
- The Wellcome Trust - $1.2 billion
Total: $9.3 billion
2. Innovation and scientific discovery are slowed down
Research underpins the technological innovations that will solve the world’s most important issues. Expensive paywalls are detrimental to innovation. They not only waste university funds, but also slow down future scientific discovery and put up barriers for those who need access to primary research in order to exercise their democratic rights. A wealthier research industry would accelerate innovation and attract talent to research.
3. People are denied access to knowledge – a fundamental human right
Fundamental knowledge is locked behind paywalls, such that only wealthy institutions can afford the exorbitant journal subscription fees demanded by publishers. This means people from poorer institutions and developing countries cannot access knowledge, diluting their potential to learn and innovate.
4. The cost of education increases
Currently, university libraries fork increasingly larger bills to access academic journals every year. The price hikes imposed by many journal publishers far exceed the rate of inflation, creating a financially unsustainable situation. Universities receive their funding from student fees, so more money spent on academic journals increases student fees and the cost of education.
How can you help?
Supporting MTAM signifies that you are passionate about making research openly available to everyone. You will join a global community that collaborates to increase open access and return publisher profits back to research.