I recently read an article that highlighted a pirating service for academic journals–meaning that it provides free access to research papers. I am a few years behind in following general science but, apparently, subscription costs have been going through the roof. As medical students, our institutions generally provide access to these resources, so it’s something we rarely think about. According to the article, Harvard stated that the costs had become unsustainable, and even recommended its faculty to publish in services without paywalls. Interestingly enough, a study examined the service and determined that it access to 68.9% of all scholarly articles. That’s impressive.
At the outset, it brings up an ethical question. Should academic research be freely available? After all, a decent amount of research is funded by the government, which is ultimately funded by taxpayers. Shouldn’t we have access to them? I think that freely available research may also have a direct impact on the stress researchers feel to publish positive results. This problem has been written about constantly, and perhaps having free research services would decrease this burden. One of my biggest issues with academic research, in general, is this emphasis on finding the “positive” result and searching for that p<0.05. Negative results are, in my opinion extremely important. Sometimes understanding what something is not can be invaluable. Additionally, as a side note, the p value actually doesn’t mean what we’re always taught: the probability that these results were by chance alone.
Finally, I think that freely available research would ultimately empower the public. Those who wanted to truly understand their conditions, their medications and their treatment regimens would be able to!