Changing the game in the search for open access

For the past few months, like chickens on eggs we have been sitting on what we think is a game changing idea. We’ve been sitting on it because despite trying as two student activists, we just haven’t found the help we need to make it a reality. So to preface what you’re about to read — we need your help.

It almost goes without saying that the current model of scientific publishing needs a rethink. Every day, academics, students and the public are denied access to the vital research they both need and paid for. Open Access is a solution to this problem; Open Access is the practice of providing unrestricted access via the Internet to peer-reviewed scholarly journal articles. If Open Access is new to you, we’d recommend you watch this video on Open Access before continuing on. You only need look to PLOS’ award program, or the story of Jack Andraka, the 16 year old who used Open Access papers to invent a diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer to understand the positive impact of open access to research.

Despite the potential of Open Access to speed innovation, save lives and empower all, we’ve got a long way to go until it’s the norm. In fact, in some respects we’re actually moving away from a more open world. You only need to look at decisions made by Research Council-UK, to see this. Research Council-UK is one of the largest funders of public research with a budget of £3 billion and they have recently withdrawn three policies that once made their open access policy exemplary.

If we want to bring about a more open community we’ll need more tools, more information and more engagement around the issue. That’s where our idea comes in. Imagine a browser-based tool which allowed you to track every time someone was denied access to a paper? Better yet, imagine if that tool told gave you basic information about where in the world they were or their profession and why they were looking. Integrating this into one place would create a real time, worldwide, interactive picture of the problem. The integration of social media would allow us to make this problem visible to the world. Lastly, imagine if the tool actually helped the person gain access to the paper they’d been denied access to in the first place. Incentivising use and opening the barriers to knowledge combined can make this really powerful.

That’s what we’re imagining. We’re calling it the Open Access button. Every paywall met is an isolated incident; it’s time we capture those individual moments of injustice and frustration to turn them into positive change. We’ve figured out how all this and more can be done — If you’re a programmer, we’d love your help creating a basic prototype to prove this is a viable idea. After that our dreams include a having a slick website to provide a home for the button and an accompanying campaign. If you have anything you feel that can help us and you want to help create change to move towards a more open world join us by contacting

Authors: Joseph McArthur and David Carroll.

Bio: David and Joe are full time health advocates who do their degrees and jobs in their spare time. They can be found in the twitterverse at @Mcarthur_Joe and @davidecarroll

This blog was originally posted on having been written for PLOS