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The Globalization and Discontents of Open Access Support

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Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: P-40 Warhawk, SR-71 Blackbird, Naval Aircraft Factory N3N seaplane, Space Shuttle Enterprise, May 24, 2011 | © Courtesy of Chris Devers.

Despite its progressing adoption, the underlying support models of Open Access remain liable to disruption via budget cuts and steering by corporation-defined initiatives.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.

Despite the associations of Open Access with a public good, in mass media the democratization of the access to knowledge that it brings is vaunted in disconnection from the underlying business models that can made it possible in the first place. The abandonment of the subscription-based model that has long defined the strategies of large publishers will, however, increase the dependence of the scientific community on the government largess. For universities, the transition to Open Access will translate not only into the re-allocation of their funds from journal subscriptions to article processing charges (APCs), with an uncertain effect on their budgeting, bur also into the potential instability of the eventual business model, especially for scientific fields heavily dependent on the research output publication subventions that government-funded bodies provide.

While the number of academic publications in Open Access have recently crossed the number of 60 million, according to the Bielefeld Academic Search Engine, Open Access advocates, e.g., Peter Suber who has been among the masterminds of the Budapest Open Access Initiative, admit that the limitations of Open Access as a model lie in its dependence on financial incentives that external funders and universities have to provide, if the subscription-based business models are to be exchanged for their Open Access counterparts. While universities increasingly mandate the deposition of scientific output into institutional repositories, which de facto lays a foundation for Open Access in science, the universality of the recognition that Open Access is to become a standard for scholarly publications is far from achieved, however.

The trickle-down effect of the budget cuts reportedly planned to the United States National Institute of Health will likely conclude in the curtailment of the funding for Open Access initiatives of the National Library of Medicine, such as the PubMed Central institutional repository, which will have grave implications for scientists working in health-related fields, as their access to new knowledge will be reduced internationally. Open Access initiatives and policies by smaller research funding bodies are likely to fail to offset the effect of these cuts, as their budgets are limited and can entail conditions imposed on their spending.

Whereas corporate-funded initiatives, such as Open Academic Search collaboration between Microsoft, Google and Baidu, may come to the rescue of Open Access, this support is, nevertheless, likely to be tied to their business priorities, such as improving their existing products, e.g., search engines. Likewise, private charitable funders, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are not likely to resolve the sustainability and fragility problems of Open Access business models, as they mandate Open Access for research they support, rather than seek to replace other Open Access initiatives.

By Pablo Markin

Featured Image Credits: Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: P-40 Warhawk, SR-71 Blackbird, Naval Aircraft Factory N3N seaplane, Space Shuttle Enterprise, May 24, 2011 | © Courtesy of Chris Devers.

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