Behind the Open Access Button is a team of international student volunteers. Get to know them on Team Button Tuesdays! This week we have a special edition on Thursday, since we announced our crowdfunding campaign for Button 2.0 on Tuesday. This week we have Natalie, one of our Secretaries; and Martin, our Technology Assistant.
Natalie Catherwood, Secretary
Hi there, I’m Natalie, one of the secretaries for the Open Access Button. As an undergraduate, paywalls frustrated me and so the concept of papers that were free to read- Open Access- was really appealing. Although I’ll admit my initial interest in Open Access was selfish, the more I thought about it, the bigger I realised the problem was.
I began to realise that I was actually one of the lucky ones as I was at a world class university which had subscriptions to most of the articles I needed. I had friends at other universities that couldn’t access the articles I shared with them online and I was appalled to learn about the disparity in the number of journal subscriptions between minority and majority world universities.
Lack of access to knowledge is a form of inequality and unlike other resources, such as food and water, distributing knowledge to resolve the inequality is easy because the internet has made it possible to share everything without cost. Furthermore, making knowledge freely available gives people the power to learn, discover and invent.
As a medical student I believe that putting a price on information which can improve a person’s quality of life, such as a new drug discovery or evidence that one drug is better than another, is unethical. Medicine is supposed to be evidence based but when research is locked up behind paywalls, patients can suffer.
I joined the Open Access Button because I believe that the best way to bring attention to the knowledge inequality is to show that I am not alone and for the thousands of people who have hit the Button so far, there are millions more whose frustrations go unheard. Since joining the team I’ve been amazed at the progress the Button has made and I’m excited for the launch of Button 2.0 later this year.
Martin Bentley, Technology Assistant
A couple of years ago, after spending some time on twitter and following a bunch of sciencey types, I noticed some of them (particularly @protohedgehog and @rmounce) nattering on about a thing called “open access”. I looked further into this, and was struck with the thought “But this is obviously the right way to do things”. Except that it is not the way that it is done. The modern culture of information is one based on openness: the internet is generally free with information. If you want to know about something, it will be there, somewhere.
Information in scholarly literature is there, but not always available. This is unfortunate, as someone who has had a lifelong fascination with accumulating knowledge (the field is not too important). How is one to achieve one’s goal of knowing a little about as much as possible if one can not read as much as possible? More importantly, once I had a look at what was behind these paywalls, I realised that it was pretty important stuff in many cases: medical details, conservation ecology, climate change developments, novel techniques for construction….
All of this was being locked away behind paywalls from the very people who needed access: everyone. Having to pay $35 to read about some of this material is not only excessive, but in many cases not possible for people.
As the problems facing people become more well-understood, the solutions to these problems must be made available to the people who will benefit in an effective manner. The interconnectedness of the internet allows for this to be achieved at relatively low cost. Publishing scholarly research with the goal of disseminating it only to a select few who can pay for it is something I firmly believe is morally wrong.
When I came across the Open Access Button, I decided that this was something worth trying out. When I saw that they were looking for volunteers, I decided that this was a case where I could make a difference to someone by helping.
I have gotten involved in the Open Access Button because I feel that it is a potentially powerful tool to make people aware of how bad this problem is. Over 6750 paywalls have been recorded worldwide using the Button since November 2013. However these are only a tiny part of the problem, since only a tiny fraction are being recorded. 6750 paywalls in six months are 6750 cases of people who have been unable to do their jobs, help a client, inform themselves about something new. And it is, quite frankly, over 6750 cases too many.