One of the things I can’t stand about non-open access publishers is that federally-funded scientific results (federally subsidized in multiple ways) are locked behind a publisher’s for-profit firewall. Given the high prices of journals and universities’ need to cut expenditures, library budgets are getting slashed.
So what’s a scientist to do? Have a colleague whose institution has a subscription send her the pdf of the article.
Needless to say, this upsets the non-open access publishers greatly. UR STEALIN TEH SCIENTISMZ!! Over at Ars Technica, John Timmer makes a good analogy to reprints that some of us old timers (who remember such things) will appreciate:
There is, however, an alternate way of viewing this that the author doesn’t discuss: at least some medical professionals are apparently unable to obtain the publications they feel are needed for their training or practice; given their job responsibilities, it seems unethical to withhold these materials.
In addition, it’s worth noting that, although this sort of informal sharing would be obviated if all research was open access, it has a very different history from the formal open access movement. For many years, it was traditional for anyone publishing a paper to order a stack of what were termed “reprints”–essentially the journal article without the rest of the journal’s contents–from the publisher, in order to share with colleagues or anyone who was interested, but did not have access to the journal. With the advent of digital publishing, this sort of service shifted to the emailing of PDFs–in a lot of ways, the file sharing seen here could be viewed as the next logical step in this publication sharing process.
If publishers were smart, they would hire a really smart IT person, and figure out how to give authors permission to post, send around, or otherwise distribute a certain number of pdf licenses.
Non-open access publishers would still bother me: it’s not their fucking science, it’s the country’s (even if many of our fellow citizens have no interest in it). But this might slow down the move to open access, which would seem to be in the publishers’ interest.