Why Research Outputs Should Be Open Access | Lex Academic Blog

Open access publishing refers to the process of making research outputs, particularly journal articles, free to consult, download and, in some cases, reproduce. Whereas in traditional publishing, production costs are covered by reader subscriptions, open access publications are funded by authors or the public purse. Open access publishing is increasingly common and is often perceived as a more positive and inclusive way of disseminating academic research. Some examples of open access journals in the humanities and social sciences include Principia: An International Journal of Epistemology, New Classicists and The South Asianist (a full directory of open access journals can be found on the DOAJ website). In addition, some funding schemes, such as Wellcome and UK Research and Innovation, cover costs associated with open access publishing, while others stipulate that any research outputs generated from funding must be published on open access platforms. Why open access, then? In this post, we explore types of open access publishing and the benefits of this model.

Various models have been developed to encourage open access publishing. The gold route grants free, life-long and worldwide access to articles in online journals. Some journals are entirely open access, while others, called hybrid journals, contain a blend of open and pay-to-access articles. In the gold model, publication costs are covered by article processing charges, which are paid by authors or institutions. In what is known as diamond open access, these charges are subsidised by a scholarly society. Articles published via the green route appear in traditional subscription journals and, after an embargo period determined by the publisher, in a free-to-access repository. This has the advantage of making article processing charges unnecessary, but in fast-evolving fields research findings may go out of date during the embargo period.

The most obvious benefit of open access, then, is that it reduces costs and bureaucracy for libraries, academics and students. Beyond this somewhat crude economic argument, however, the real value of open access is the sharing of knowledge with wider society. Indeed, as the Berlin Declaration on Open Access (2003) aptly puts it, the ‘mission of disseminating knowledge is only half complete if the information is not made widely and readily available to society’. Eliminating subscriptions makes research accessible to everyone, as opposed to only those who can afford it. This in turn enables policymakers and practitioners in all sectors to apply research findings, and authors to benefit from higher citation counts and greater, more easily demonstrable impact. Moreover, academic authors do not lose out financially because, unlike writers of fiction, they do not rely on sales for income, since they are paid by institutions. By democratising, rather than commercialising, access to knowledge, open access contributes to improving the scientific and cultural literacy of the whole of society. Open access is particularly important in parts of the world where institutions have fewer resources to pay for (often very expensive) journal subscriptions. Making publications available for free therefore plays a vital role in increasing not only the number but also the diversity of readers. This has the potential to enrich knowledge and debate, given that research outputs are interpreted differently in different contexts.

Another advantage of open access concerns the issue of copyright. In traditional publishing, copyright belongs to the publisher, who can charge for, or refuse to allow, work to be republished. Many open access platforms, however, permit authors to retain copyright, which allows them to republish (parts of) their work in subsequent publications. This model is more compatible than traditional publishing with the evolving nature of research. Thinking evolves, ideas change, and researchers may wish to extend or revisit previous publications. Open access facilitates this process.

In the sciences, open access is an integral part of the broader open science movement. Scientific publisher PLOS argues that ‘Open Access returns us to the values of science: to help advance and improve society’. The term ‘open humanities’ is perhaps less well known, despite the existence of organisations such as the Open Humanities Press, the Open Library of Humanities and Open Book Publishers. But if we assume that the humanities have a vital role to play in advancing and improving society (at Lex Academic, that is our belief!), the need for open humanities is surely paramount.