Gold access, the destroyer of worlds (1 of 3)

August 9, 2012

Salvatore Babones makes some important points in his heartfelt polemic against pay-to-publish open-access journals ("High-maintenance model", Opinions, 26 July), acknowledging that only the elite minority of well-funded researchers stand to benefit from the ludicrously high charges routinely imposed by most online journals for open-access electronic publication.

However, Babones' implication that only the humanities and social sciences will lose out badly to well-funded Big Science ignores the fact that this fate is equally likely to befall Small Science. The majority of scientists are not receiving, and will not receive, sufficient funding to squander on lavish publication costs. As currently practised, open access preferentially penalises the most productive researchers and, even more crucially, punishes the silent majority - not only the many employed professionals lacking major grants, but also retired and non-professional researchers.

How ironic that the argument most commonly deployed by the government to advocate open access is egalitarianism - the supposed desire of taxpayers to gain free and immediate access to the technical outputs of academics. The price for imposing this over-hyped egalitarianism outside academia will be even more extreme elitism within it.

Small wonder that increasing attention is being paid to the alternative "membership" model of open access pioneered by PeerJ, which requires only a single, affordable, lifelong fee per author ("The $99 question: could this be the future of open-access publishing?", News, 14 June). This novel concept offers a far better approximation of genuinely egalitarian publishing, benefiting not only most potential readers but also most potential authors.

Richard Bateman, Independent scientist, Surrey

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