19 February 2016

Steampunk open access

Consider a world much like our own. Scientists do research, and publish their findings in academic journals, made of paper and ink and glue and leather.

Except... that the concept of open access took hold in the early days of academic publishing. Authors paid article processing fees to pay for printing costs. The resulting print journals and books were sent to libraries and to archive free of charge. People who wanted copies merely had to ask.

This system continues until the late twentieth century, when the Internet becomes readily available to researchers and the public alike. Now, all those centuries of research (still freely available, mind you) are in an antiquated, inconvenient format. People want get digital copies of research papers that interest them.

Who would put in all the hours of work to digitize those open access articles? Who would pay the costs? Who would create the websites? Who would assign the DOIs?

There used to be a complaint that younger scientists’ reference lists rarely went back before the 1990s because papers weren’t online. Imagine how much worse the problem would be in the steampunk open access scenario.

In our world, a lot of the world’s scientific back catalog got digitized by those bad guys, commercial publishers.

It is short-sighted to think that electronic text, and particular PDFs, are the final form of academic communication. When the next transition of formats occurs, how will open access papers make the jump?

Photo by Don Shall on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

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