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As a relative newbie in academia, I understand that there is a rather controversial debate raging about the benefits and negatives of Open Access policies. Is it possible to summarize some of the arguments for and against Open Access?

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    Have you read all the posts in here about open access? If not then perhaps you should. – Solar Mike Dec 22 '19 at 20:21
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    What OA policies? There are lots of them. – darij grinberg Dec 23 '19 at 14:22
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    Not sure why this post was closed. Seems to be getting a lot of interest from the community. Typical SE. – Shinobii Dec 23 '19 at 21:11
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    The answers here all address gold open access, but not green open access.. – David Ketcheson Dec 27 '19 at 2:54
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    @DavidKetcheson What do you think should be different in my answer? My belief is that it addressed green OA as well, as part of the search for a stable business model. – jakebeal Dec 30 '19 at 15:00
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While there's a great deal of complexity in the arguments, the primary arguments basically boil down to a very simple core of inclusion vs. cost.

For open access: Science should be available to all people, including the large number of people who don't have the personal or institutional resources to pay lots of money to buy access to articles.

Against open access: editing and publishing quality materials requires significant resources, and these have to be paid for somehow. If readers don't pay, then somebody else has to (often, but not always the authors or article), and it's not clear if these alternatives will end up making a bigger barrier for low-resource scientists. Moreover, a stable business model hasn't yet been established, and in the meantime lots of scammers have been attracted, who are putting out piles of trash and giving open access a bad name.

There's a lot more here, as noted in the comments, but this is a pretty concise starting point for understanding the arguments for and against.

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    I suppose you mean the copy-editing part of editing, since the content editing is typically performed by experienced scientists without compensation. Regarding copy-editing, many researchers experience the copy-editing services of professional publishers as adding little value while introducing additional costs: with readily available article templates, it's easy for scientists to submit a decent-looking article. And then, it happens frequently that in the copy-editing phase some changes are performed that diminish the article's quality, making additional communication and fixing necessary. – lighthouse keeper Dec 22 '19 at 21:05
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    @lighthousekeeper I think you have an overly optimistic view: in my experience, many scientists aren't able to prepare decently formatted papers, and I certainly struggled to review some horribly formatted ones which, luckily, were then retypeset by a professional copy editor into a good journal format. – Massimo Ortolano Dec 22 '19 at 22:12
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    @lighthousekeeper This site has frequently a too narrow viewpoint due to the prevalence of users from mathematics and computer science where, for instance, LaTeX is fairly widespread (but you can also produce badly formatted papers with it). But like it or not, the world is much more varied, and you can even find researchers (I have examples from acquaintances in the humanities) who have issues in writing emails, guess how they format their papers. – Massimo Ortolano Dec 22 '19 at 22:27
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    @lighthousekeeper Back when I was in academic publishing, I remember one author sending me a book manuscript, typeset using LaTeX (and our style files too!). The author literally expected us to send the manuscript directly to the printer - he even said printing a book is as simple as pressing Ctrl + P. Even neglecting all the other stuff we do (like prepare a book cover), I pointed out a page where TeX had put the figure on one page and the caption on the next. Thankfully he let us get on with the standard process afterwards. – Allure Dec 22 '19 at 22:43
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    @lighthousekeeper Even when most content work is done by volunteer labor (which is field dependent), there is still higher-level quality assurance and curation work that is done by publishers. For example, despite all criticism, Springer, Elsevier, and ACM do have quality control processes that actually do matter. Somebody has to pay for these. And volunteer labor isn't actually free, it's just a business model that makes the cost more indirect. – jakebeal Dec 23 '19 at 15:53
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Nature article on this very topic.

Pros:

  • Proponents of a move to open access argue that this will benefit science and society in general. A report published last April by the UK Wellcome Trust assumes that "the benefits of research are derived principally from access to research results", and therefore that "society as a whole is made worse off if access to scientific research results is restricted".

    • Counterargument:

      But even where research is publicly-funded, taxes are generally not paid so that taxpayers can access research results, but rather so that society can benefit from the results of that research ... Publishers claim that 90% of potential readers can access 90% of all available content through national or research libraries, and while this may not be as easy as accessing an article online directly it is certainly possible ... Funding for scientific research also comes from a variety of sources – in some countries such as Australia and New Zealand around 80% of R&D funding comes from the public purse, while in Japan and Switzerland only about 10% is government-funded. It is therefore not necessarily the case that taxpayers fund most scientific research.

Cons:

  • Another criticism of open access is that payment for publication could create conflicts of interest and have a negative impact on the perceived neutrality of peer review, as there would be a financial incentive for journals to publish more articles. The importance of the role of peer review does not diminish under an Open Access model, and structures need to be in place to ensure that peer reviewers are not unduly influenced by the needs of their publishers.

    • Counterargument

      In some ways though this argument can apply as much to the current subscription-based system as publishers often justify price increases on the grounds of an increase in the number of journal articles published. This suggests that there are financial advantages for both Open Access and subscription-based publishers in publishing more articles.

All these quotes are from the first section. The later sections of that article delves into more things which are in my opinion quite interesting, such as the argument that open access depresses profits (I'm not convinced it does, but the author apparently is), and depressing profits means less development of information services (such as Scopus and Web of Science) as well as information databases (such as Cell Signaling Gateway). The two points above are, however, by far the most commonly cited arguments for and against open access.

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  • These arguments are specifically about gold open access. But it's pretty hard to argue against green open access. – David Ketcheson Dec 27 '19 at 2:55

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