Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Does Human Health Rely on Open Access (OA)?

In this week's New England Journal of Medicine, the article
Access to the Scientific Literature — A Difficult Balance
Dr. Martin Frank asks provocatively "How should we decide which public good is preferable?..." Open access to the best medical evidence, or promoting the research that advances medical knowledge? There is little point in having access to scientific literature, frankly, in the absence of care - suggests Frank.

Much of what Dr. Frank uses as a lightning rod in his debate of the pros and cons of open access in medicine comes from UBC's John Willinsky's book The Access Principle. The article raises good points about the economics, ethics and politics associated with access to medical evidence in an age when access to healthcare is itself a significant challenge.


Heather Morrison said...

Frank quotes an average cost of $3,000 to produce a peer-reviewed article. Please note that there are many good reasons to challenge the necessity of this figure, particularly for open access journals. The Wellcome Trust Report, "Costs and Business Models in Open Access Publishing" - reporting on thorough research examining all the elements of publishing - estimates the cost of first production of an OA article at $1,500 US for a high quality journal, and $750 US for a medium quality journal (note - this is STM; some areas of humanities and social sciences may have fewer expenses, e.g. if no special fonts for scientific characters are required. These figures are in line with many open access publishers using processing-fee models are actually charging. This is an important point, as the affordabilitly of open access hinges on the cost of production of an article. It is quite possible that traditional subscription-based publishers actually spend more per article. There are costs associated with print production (not just the printing, either - think about the special software and expertise to fit things on the printed page, an expensive piece of real estate. There are also costs involved with authentication, and technical support (all those issues when authentication fails!), as well as sales costs, which are incurred by subscription-based journals, but not open access journals.

Older journals, also, may not be making use of the latest technology, such as the free, open-source Open Journal Systems, which provide efficiencies that allow for significantly decreased costs on a per-article level that are completely consistent with the highest quality controls.

Heather Morrison said...

The link to the Wellcome Trust report can be found at: