In this letter to Nature, Raghavendra Gadagkar argues that the open access model — that typically means “pay to publish, but read for free” — is doing more harm to research in the developing world than the traditional “publish for free, but pay to read” model.

The reasoning is, that having to pay to publish means that publications are not a result of the quality of ones research, but just as much a result of ones funding, and in developing countries there is less funding.

This is, of course, a valid point, but to conclude from this that the open access model — even if it means you have to pay to publish — is doing more harm than good is, well, just nuts!

First of all, many top journal charges you both for publishing and for reading the articles. With open access, at least, you can read for free.

Secondly, even if the publishing charges are much higher than the reading charge, you only pay when you have a result worth publishing. I don’t know about you, but I personally read a lot more papers than I publish, and most papers I read are never cited in my own work, because they turn out not to be relevant for my own work.

Gadagkar ends his letter with:

A ‘publish for free, read for free’ model may one day prove to be viable. Meanwhile, if I have to choose between the two evils, I prefer the ‘publish for free and pay to read’ model over the ‘pay to publish and read for free’ one. Because if I must choose between publishing or reading, I would choose to publish. Who would not?

Of course we all prefer to publish our own papers, but you cannot, and should not, publish worthwhile research if you are not familiar with the work of other researchers and have read the literature. You cannot choose publishing over reading!

I’m not saying there isn’t a problem with publication charges, but I strongly disagree with the claim that it is worse than the charge for access to papers (and I remind you, once more, that in many cases you get both of the two evils…)

Author: Thomas Mailund

My name is Thomas Mailund and I am a research associate professor at the Bioinformatics Research Center, Uni Aarhus. Before this I did a postdoc at the Dept of Statistics, Uni Oxford, and got my PhD from the Dept of Computer Science, Uni Aarhus.

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