Access All Areas: how can Wikimedia contribute to increasing Open Access publishing?

Image by Danny Kingsley & Sarah Brown, CC BY 4.0
Image by Danny Kingsley & Sarah Brown, CC BY 4.0

It’s a normal part of an academic’s duties to be asked to peer-review papers for academic journals, something they do as part of their salaried position at a university. Equally, publishers rarely even pay the academic who writes the article, as Hugh Gusterson explains:

‘I get paid nothing directly for the most difficult, time-consuming writing I do: peer-reviewed academic articles. In fact a journal that owned the copyright to one of my articles made me pay $400 for permission to reprint my own writing in a book of my essays.’

Academic journals used to not make much money, but in recent years have been taken over by for-profit companies like Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley-Blackwell. These companies now make very good profits, as they are in a position to charge a lot for access to their content. Erik Engstrom of Elsevier is the third highest paid chief exec in the FTSE100. He earned £16.18m last year.

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A recent review of the benefits of Open Access publishing found ‘several key trends… including a broad citation advantage for researchers who publish openly, as well as additional benefits to the non-academic dissemination of their work.’ The researchers also found that ‘The societal impact of Open Access is strong, in particular for advancing citizen science initiatives, and leveling the playing field for researchers in developing countries.’

So Open Access publishing exists within an Open ecosystem of which Wikimedia is a large part. It supports better knowledge sharing which can help improve Wikipedia and its sister projects by giving readers access to the research used to write Wiki content. There are a number of new initiatives to put pressure on commercial publishers to make more content Open Access, like the Open Access Button, which allows you to search to see if a paper behind a paywall exists for free elsewhere, and to contact the author directly if not. The Directory of Open Access Journals helps academics make informed choices about the journals they submit to, and Wikimedians track down sources. As of writing it catalogues over 9,000 open access journals.

Within Wikimedia there is also the Wikipedia Library, where you can sign up to get access to some journals and databases that are behind paywalls. There are a number of requirements for you to be able to get access. Elsevier, for example, allows Wikipedians access to its Science Direct database as long as you have a track record of editing and are ‘active in content generation, research, or verification work’.

One of our partner institutions, the Wellcome Trust, has also recently announced that it will embrace Open Access and publish its own open academic journal. According to Ars Technica,

Wellcome Open Research will exclusively feature the research of people funded by the organization, and it will provide open access for anyone to view it—no subscription required. The journal will also have distinctive twists on what constitutes something worth publishing, as well as the peer review process.’

University College London is also launching its own open access journal to publish enhanced digital editions, scholarly monographs and ‘Books as Open Culture Content’. UCL Press launched last year as the UK’s first open access university publisher. Lara Speicher, publishing manager of UCL Press, says that its new online platform ‘demonstrates UCL’s commitment to broadening access to research via open access and digital innovation, and [will] allow for the publication of non-traditional research outputs that are not suited to a traditional monograph format.’’

In the field of scientific publishing, there have been a number of positive developments, with the EU science chief proposing that all research it funds will be free to access by 2020. A UK government study recommended the same in 2012, saying that although it would have short term costs, “In the longer term, the future lies with open access publishing”, which the government should embrace for its obvious benefits. In the UK, the Research Excellence Framework which influences the allocation of £1.7 billion funding for universities now stipulates that research submitted to the REF must be open access.

Challenges to open access publishing remain, as it seems that Elsevier are attempting to buy up OA publications. In May, they announced that they planned to take over the open access archive, Social Science Research Network (SSRN), which now makes them one of the biggest open access publishers. Unfortunately, the signs are not good that Elsevier intends to get with the Open Access programme, as they have started removing content from SSRN, including papers released under a CC license.

One question for the Wikimedia community is how we can systematically use the knowledge made available in open access journals to improve the quality and reliability of Wikimedia projects. There is a WikiProject Open Access page where you can join in the discussion with other Wikimedians and contribute to improving Open Access resources on Wikimedia projects.

We would like to hear any ideas you might have for how Wikimedia UK should engage with open access publishers to use their research to improve content across our projects. Would you like to help run an editathon, or are there any groups doing work on open access publishing we should develop partnerships with? Get in touch and let us know.