Opinion:- Manning the barricades

02 May 2012

Mass uprisings and a call to arms in the name of democracy and freedom are usually confined to overthrowing unjust dictatorships. Across the globe there have been a series of ‘revolutionary Springs’ and this zeal seems to have spread to an unlikely group :-- academic researchers and scientists. As of April 2012, 10,700 researchers have joined a boycott of Elsevier (the biggest publisher of online and academic journals).  Is there accusations of slave labour? A whiff of unethical  animal experiments? Lack of an appropriate Olympic compensation bonus?

The main issue seems to be regarding Open access ie the right to have free access to published research. At first glance, the issue seems trivial. How else would publishing companies re-coup the cost of printing, ink and distribution. Delving deeper, Elsevier made a profit of £768 million on an annual turn-over of £2.1 billion in 2011. So clearly they have not been affected by the global economic downturn.

This is not a surprise as publishing companies have an operating model that is much admired in the financial world. Much of the research that gets published is funded by charities, drug companies, governments and Universities. They are peer-reviewed by editors who operate on a voluntary basis. Once published in a journal the same charities, drug companies, governments and universities (that funded the research initially), then have to pay hefty fees for access to the journal that contains their published work?!  It is this paradox at the heart of research publishing that needs untangling.

“Tyranny and Unjust!” you cry...... well its ‘TO THE BARRICADES’- (http://thecostofknowledge.com/) or

You could just purchase Elsevier stocks [trading as ENL on the Nasdaq index] however access to journals is not part of the annual dividends.

Age and Ageing belongs to the Oxford group of journals and in recognition of the Academic Spring is presently part of the optional open access group [ie authors may chose to pay for open access publication in order to make their article freely available to all].  What’s your opinion?