To Make Open Access Work, We Need To Do More Than Liberate Journal Articles

Dan Cohen | Wired | January 15, 2013

In the days since the tragedy of Aaron Swartz’s suicide, many academics have been posting open-access PDFs of their research. It’s an act of solidarity with Swartz’s crusade to liberate (in most cases publicly funded) knowledge for all to read.

While this has been a noteworthy gesture, the problem of open access isn’t just about the ethics of freeing and sharing scholarly information. It’s as much — if not more — about the psychology and incentives around scholarly publishing. We need to think these issues through much more deeply to make open access widespread.

When the phrase academia is best known for is “publish or perish,” it should come as no surprise that like most human beings, professors are highly attentive to the incentives for validation and advancement. Unfortunately, those incentives often involve publishing in gated journals, which trade scarcity for the subscriptions that sustain them (and provide outsized profits for some commercial publishers). For this reason, open access has not been a high priority for many academics...