President Donald Trump is considering making some academic research articles free and open to everyone, a move that would disrupt an industry that takes in billions of dollars every year.
Western Washington University associate professor Mark W. Neff wrote a lengthy piece on the topic that was published in the Issues in Science and Technology journal. On Monday, Slate republished an excerpt from the article that discusses Trump's rumored idea, which would allow everyone to see articles about scientific research that is funded with federal money without having to pay for them.
After mentioning the pushback from the academic journal industry, Neff said colleges and universities cheered the proposal.
"Within two days of the industry letter [condemning the idea], a coalition representing 210 academic and research libraries wrote an open letter to the White House supporting changing federal policy in exactly the way the executive order is rumored to do," Neff wrote. "Indeed, there have long been calls for opening access to research results. This is an area where U.S. lags behind Europe in policy and Latin America in development of open access journals and databases."
A few publishers control the majority of the academic research publishing space, according to Neff. One such publisher, the RELX Group, recorded $3.3 billion in revenue in 2018. Roughly three-quarters of that came from subscriptions, which for academic institutions can cost millions of dollars per year.
That cost, Neff wrote, increases by as much as 15% every year because of high demand.
"It is not surprising, then, that publication industry players would oppose Trump's rumored executive action to make research results immediately and freely available upon publication," Neff wrote. "In their response letter, publishers lament, in part, that the proposal would 'nationalize the valuable American intellectual property that [they] produce and force [them] to give it away to the rest of the world for free.'
"What they fail to mention is that currently academics publishing in most journals are themselves required to give their intellectual property to the publishers—and sometimes must pay publication fees for the right to do so. The research is then hidden from prospective users who cannot pay the asking price for access."
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