Research provides the foundation of modern society. Research leads to breakthroughs, and communicating the results of research is what allows us to turn breakthroughs into better lives—to provide new treatments for disease, to implement solutions for challenges like global warming, and to build entire industries around what were once just ideas.
However, our current system for communicating research is using a centuries old model that needs to be updated to take advantage of 21st century technology:
- Governments provide much of the funding for research and public institutions employ a large portion of Europe’s researchers.
- Researchers largely publish their findings without the expectation of compensation. They hand their work over to publishers often without payment, in the interest of advancing human knowledge.
- Through the process of peer review, researchers review each other’s work for free.
- Once published, those that contributed to the research (from taxpayers to the institutions that supported the research itself) have to pay again to access the findings through library subscriptions. Though research is produced as a public good, it isn’t available to the public who paid for it.
Our current system for communicating research uses a print-based model in the digital age. Even though research is largely produced with public money by researchers who share it freely, the results are not available to those in need and are hidden behind technical, legal, and financial barriers. These artificial barriers are maintained by legacy publishers and restrict access to a small fraction of users, locking out most of the world’s population and preventing the use of new research techniques.
This fundamental mismatch between what is possible with digital technology—an open system for communicating research results in which anyone, anywhere can contribute—and our outdated publishing system has led to the call for Open Access.