Ryan F. Michigan

Science Paywalls

A letter in favor of removing science paywalls

Dear Mr. President,

As you probably know, science is a crucial part of society. Billions of tax dollars are going into research every year. As a result, technology has become much better, and human knowledge of how the world works has increased. It should be of great concern, then, that the results of many government-sponsored studies are being kept behind a paywall for private profit. Although there are a few legitimate arguments for paywalls, the benefits of open science outweigh the small pros of paywalls.

One of the biggest benefits of open science is increased innovation. Alex Mayyasi, a writer at priceonomics.com, says that science paywalls cause “a slowdown in the rate at which scientific discoveries are made.” Everyone should be granted free access to government-sponsored research to help with their ideas. If important discoveries had been put behind a paywall or patented, we would not have much of the technology we have today. For example, if the internet had been patented, or penicillin, the world would be very different. We would not be so connected by the Internet, or have many kinds of important medicine. Imagine that research is done on a chemical that is the key to the cure to cancer. All the research is published in a journal, and hidden behind a paywall. Because it is published in a journal with paywalls, many researchers who could potentially use the chemical to cure cancer wouldn’t have access to the data necessary. A medicine that could save millions of lives would never be created. In order to continue improving upon the technology we have, and develop new inventions, science paywalls should be removed.

Open science also allows scientists to work together more easily. Advocates of open science claim that scientists are currently not taking full advantage of the collaboration and communication the Internet can bring. By using open science on the internet, scientists can instantly have other scientists critique their work and use that work to develop their own ideas that they’ve been working on. Instead, scientists need to wait for scientific journals to be published to see the research and data of other scientists.

Finally, government-sponsored research should not be used for private profit. The government has a responsibility to use US tax dollars for the good of the American people. However, sponsoring research that is eventually put behind a paywall for private profit goes against that. Research paid for by taxpayers should be available at no cost to them.

Opponents of open science worry about the lack of quality control in open access journals. These fears are legitimate. John Bohannon, a science journalist at Harvard University, managed to publish several extremely flawed articles in open-access journals to prove that they didn’t have enough quality control. The degree to which these published articles were flawed is incredible. Bohannon says, “Any reviewer with more than a high-school knowledge of chemistry and the ability to understand a basic data plot should have spotted the paper's shortcomings immediately. Its experiments are so hopelessly flawed that the results are meaningless.” The author of the article didn’t exist, nor did the institute for which the “author” claimed he worked. While open-access journals currently have very poor quality control, the problem could be fixed in the future. Journals could hire qualified editors and reviewers to make sure all of their content is valid. Even college-level volunteers could authenticate articles in free science publications. Although quality problems do exist in open-access journals, those problems could be solved fairly easily.

Another problem many people have with open science is the cost. Jess Brewer, a professor at the University of British Columbia, explains, “If the publisher doesn't charge the reader, they charge the authors.” Brewer claims that the journal would charge him thousands of dollars to publish his article without a paywall. However, there are ways to fund open-access journals. Advertisements are a fairly easy way to fund it. Multiple prominent websites have run purely on advertisements for years. Private donations could also be a way to fund a journal. Wikipedia has lasted over 15 years, using on only private donations. Another potential solution to the financial problem is through government regulations. The government could very easily require scientists who receive government grants to publish in government-approved and sponsored free science publications. While worries about the financial viability of open-access journals exist, there are multiple ways to fund free science publications.

As of now, most scientific research and data is stuck behind paywalls. This should be of serious concern to anyone who wants the United States and humanity to continue advancing. If this research continues to be utilized for private profit, and remains unavailable to the general public, the progress of science and technology will be significantly impeded. I hope you, Mr. President, understand the seriousness and consequences of such an outcome. 

Avondale High School

AP Lang

Rick Kreinbring's 2016-17 AP Language and Composition students

All letters from this group →