Thursday, April 14, 2016

Open Access to Health Care Research: Good Intention, Bad Idea? Thoughts from an Industry Insider

Readers interested in the $25 billion economics of peer-reviewed published research may have seen this article posted in the March 30 issue of The Wall Street Journal. Author Richard Aslin argues that the discoveries from federally supported medical research shouldn't be hidden behind the paywalls or subscription fees of scientific publishers. 

As the volume and scope of funded research has grown, says Dr. Aslin, libraries, medical schools and hospitals are paying more and more for access to study results that are ultimately the property of the U.S. taxpayer. He argues for versions of an "open access" model, in which the authors - and not the taxpayer - ultimately bear the cost of getting their findings into the public domain.
The Population Health Blog contacted a colleague in the medical-scientific publishing industry and asked her for her reaction.  Here's her reply:
Interesting, but frustratingly one-sided.  It leaves out the critical point that someone has to pay for a CRUCIAL service that the publisher is providing - peer-review, editorial expertise, and career-making reputations for authors after the published results appear in a trustworthy, sound, and respected journal.
This is also fueled by complaints from researchers who have benefited for decades from federal subsidies (most notably student loans) who have suddenly found their inner-Reagan and cry foul when the system doesn't suit their needs.
Without the publishing industry to ensure that the science those taxpayers paid for is sound, we'd probably all be drinking Gatorade to cure Alzheimer's, because the incentives would ultimately award sponsorship to the highest bidder. Research misconduct would likely be rampant.

To me this argument sounds like being angry that you pay taxes that the government puts towards highways and then you still have to buy a car from a reputable manufacturer.
Lots of medical journals are Open Access and the publishing industry supports it. But we're also not just slapping it on the internet. Researchers are welcome to do that with their own work, free of charge. And I wish them luck with that. I'm sure they'll need it.

Coda: The PHB - who has authored approximately 50 peer-reviewed publications - tongue-in-cheek offers another potential upside to the status quo: because the ability of mainsteam news media to truthfully and objectively report research findings is highly questionable, lack of open access offers added consumer protections from spin, bias and innumeracy.  If you think it's bad now..... 

But seriously, it's also not unusual for authors to share a copy of manuscript to individual colleagues who, in the interest of advancing scientific knowledge, request it.

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