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Free or not to be free!

scientific research and government funding
Scientific Research is publicly funded. Image credit: Global Genes
Like any other task funded by the government, scientific research, too, is conducted from the tax payers money. Similar to actors who look forward to working with the big banners of the production fraternity, scientists too are attracted by the big banners of the publication fraternity and often submit their work for publication with these journals. Once this work is accepted for publication, all information is locked behind high security doors on web servers and opens up, if and only if, you agree to the pay to view this information. Although, a common man does not come across such gateways in their day-to-day lives, many students of science often do and the more or less standard price to view one research paper for 24 hours is $ 40.  The obvious question that arises is, if I am fueling the research, why should I have to pay to view it?

The answer is very simple. It is because the publication houses saw an opportunity to make money and exploited it. Universities across the world spend heavily around the year to subscribe to these famous journals so that their students can stay up to date with the latest findings of their field. What is indeed ironic is that universities pay for content that is created for and by them. What might sound hilarious now, is that the publication houses get university professors to edit and analyse these papers for absolutely no fee. So, how does the publication house get away with such trickery? 

assortment of science publications
Image credit: 

Two reasons, 'Reputation' & 'Lack of opposition'.

Over the years, these publication houses have attracted the most happening stories of the scientific world and published them. This has given them the reputation of a 24 hour news channel that is usually first in bringing to you the 'breaking news'. Thus, if you did not subscribe to them, you were choosing to switch off that TV and stay unaware of the recent happenings in the field.

The other factor was the lack of a platform for researchers across the world to raise a voice against these pricey practices of the publication world big-shots. Researchers around the world were either too busy minding their own business or too careless to notice how the tables had changed and their own content had become a means of expenditure.

Just to give you an idea of how much money is involved, the following is a quote for subscription fee for one journal from Nature Publishing Group:

For this fee, one person will get access to 12 printed issues (which cannot be copied, reprinted etc etc without permission) of the journal in the calendar year. The costs increase dramatically, as soon as multiple users, come into the picture and then increase further as you subscribe to multiple journals, each covering a specialized area of science. Well, one might say, that the cost should decrease if the purchase is made in bulk. Probably, it does and is also significant. But, Elsevier, another publishing house, forces you to buy your journal subscription in a bundle that they think is appropriate. Either ways, universities, shell millions to gain to access to content that it either created, edited or reviewed by them.  Shouldn't this information be made freely available then? This, is exactly why researchers all over the scientific world are pushing for Open Access Journals, that allow for information to be available freely to one and all.(Alternatively, sites like Sci-Hub are fighting publication houses like Elsevier to keep information free, albeit illegally)

Here is a quick snapshot of the Evolution of Open Access over the years, thanks to

While publishing in such journals turns out to be expensive for the authors, we can at least rest assured that the information will remain free for all. Realizing the change in mentality of the contributors, a fair number of Open Access Journals have been launched in recent times. Guess, this is another nail in the coffin of the Research Works Act. (something we will write about later). But for now, do you think that research findings should be available freely? Shouldn't the common have access to all information? If we press for Right to Information, then why are research findings controlled by private publishing houses?


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