Has the time come for freely available academic journals?

In light of posts on Open Courses, I thought this article on academic journals being gated - and the need to change this - warranted posting. I originally read the piece over at the Aidnography blog.

I'm sure we must have all been there: you need access to a paper, but you've forgotten your Athens password, or your institution doesn't subscribe to that particular journal. Apart from this 'first world problem', the more important issue is that in theory, academic research is carried out in order to influence practice. However, you don't need me to tell you that the reality in the development and humanitarian sector can be completely different. Academic research tends to - with I'm sure a few exceptions - remain just that: in the realm of academia. If research is to do what it is meant to then, and actually change the way we do things in the field, is it time we moved towards openly available journals?
At a time of various Open Source learning opportunities online, is the concept of gated papers, and therefore knowledge hoarding a little dated and contradictory in light of advocacy for free education?

Would be great to hear your thoughts - get posting in the comments box below.

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  1. Andrew on LinkedIn:

    Publically funded research that we then have to peer review in our own time that becomes the commercial property of the journal publishers....there's definitely an issue here, and excellent debate, blogs and resources on

  2. Jane on LinkedIn:

    Whatever is produced has some costs involved, even if it is on the
    internet. Not everyone wants to use the internet for journals. I know that personally I am more likely to skim over something on the internet whereas paper copy will get more detailed reading. I like to read over meals and do not like to be on the computer when eating. I know also that one association magazine for which I did a stint as editor is now wholly on the internet - I did some hard copy and actually introduced internet copy. I have not seen a copy of it since it has gone internet only.

    So question: if all journals become free, who is going to pay for their writing and editing?

    1. It's really interesting to hear your comments Jane, as I automatically think of journals as online as I'm happy to read them in this way. Your question is a good one on who will pay, and I don't think I have an answer. I started the discussion because of the article I read and also in light of boycotting of Elsevier. Linked to your question however, I am aware of completely volunteer-run journals - admittedly newly established - but it seems the drive is there in some fields for this to happen.

  3. Susana on LinkedIn:

    This is a very interesting discussion, since i ve been worrying about this as well, waiting for it to happen. I wonder how can we attain high standards and offer the service for free. I would love to participate in a group that tries to attain this, since I think there is a lot of people not affiliated with universities who need access to good quality knowledge and journals are too expensive for that. So, usually, what people end up doing is relying on other sources of less quality and they become the "true" for being more read.

    I am looking for actually to things: one is free access and another one is access for visual people. Currently journals are made for analytic people and the content is too difficuylt to access by people that less academic skills, usually the "doers", who cant sit still. But they would gain a lot if the knowledge where accessible for them in other ways (suchs as heavier on visuals and images instead of words). Actually, all main projects now publish their papers in journals to be validated but then they have their own webpage with more visually and accessible material of their research.

    Couldnt a journal be both visual and free and be recognized around the world for its quality? Can we start doing something like this?

  4. Suma on LinkedIn:

    Interesting topic! I suggested to a few of my friends that we start our own journals for free. Ironically those expensive journals do not disseminate knowledge even if they are worthy enough... because of the cost .. I would rather use what is available online. Perhaps when we do journals for free and make it visual as Susana suggested, maybe even for a very minimal fee.. knowledge can be disseminated to a wider audience and thus give less scope for expensive journals for a wider audience. There are many educators and academicians who are willing to network for this purpose and its all up to our own efforts to get united for this purpose. After all, what is the purpose of education and the knowledge we develop unless it is used for improving the societies we are living in..
    The question of editing and proof reading arises.. this can be solved if our network is strong and professionals are willing to do it for a better cause. How else can we beat a system that is driven to money making only?

  5. Allegra on LinkedIn:

    The issue as I see it is that many academic journals are so expensive ($10,000 +) that libraries have a hard time affording them. This is especially true of medical journals. That seems excessive

  6. @Jane: the journals are newly established.

    @Susana: It's so true that those not affiliated with universities also require access to quality journals. Those of us who are fortunate enough to gain access via universities begin - I think - to take it for granted. The concept of visually stimulating journals had not actually entered my thoughts, but now you mention it, I'm wondering why I didn't think about it! As I mentioned to Jane earlier in the discussion, I am aware of newly established volunteer-led journals who are aiming towards the quality that we speak of. Of course this requires time and commitment as well as people remaining interested in receiving the finished product. Given the closed access to most journals, I think the international community as a whole can be somewhat sceptical of newly established ventures, particularly when online...

    @Suma: Really great that you and your friends are committed enough to start your own! I think stories like yours show that there is definitely demand out there. You're right about most journals not actually disseminating knowledge given their cost. Ironic, and should make those in the research field step back and wonder if the purpose behind their work is being fulfilled. I couldn't agree more with your comment on what the point is if the knowledge is not used for improving our societies - it's been something I've been contemplating a lot lately.

    @Allegra: Really interesting to hear the costs involved. You're right, it is excessive and I'm sure if other journals can manage at lower costs then so can others? Surely money does not necessarily equal quality? At the end of the day, researchers submit to journals viewed as the top players, however if the free (or low-cost), online journals became the top players then perhaps we could change this.

  7. Susana on LinkedIn:

    That is a good question... what do journals do with the money?! are they for profit? The only thing I can think of is the conferences... do journals become "known" and "top players" through their conferences? actually... people pay for conferences as well... dont they? What are the mechanisms journals do to become attractive? Does anyone know? And what are the costs?