I Feel Like Oliver Twist

You’re probably wondering about the title of this blog, and I promise you’ll get it by the time you finish reading this post. If you finish reading this post, because with Twitter and Insta why would people bother with entire paragraphs? In no way would I call my situation poor, or pitiable. I’m a student in a nice college, learning medicine and for the most, livin’ the dream. Excluding a few hiccups like the one that I’m about to write about.

First of all, I don’t always write about dragons, dystopian stories, or unicorns jumping over moonbeams. Recently I haven’t had much time for that glorious stuff. I write serious stuff too, and that doesn’t mean I’m going the John Grisham or Robin Cook, route. I mean non-fiction. Well, at least I’m trying to.

I like research. I like the idea of research. I like reading about the amazing things that people have discovered through it. It’s not civilization, buildings, clothing, or the ability to text and eat at the same time that separates us from the animals. It’s our desire for knowledge. It’s our desire to discover new things, even if it contradicts what we believed in the past.

Getting to the point, students in general don’t have money to burn. We spend enough on tuition, books, food, and phone bills that there is little left for anything else. But that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to do research, right?

I agree, that for the average person, research papers aren’t something you read for fun. It’s much easier to pick up a novel, because the words are easier and everything is tied up in a neat little bow at the end.

But think about this. It’s not the fact that we want to read research papers, but that we have a right to have access to them. Public-funding is what powers research, over 130 billion dollars per year in the US, and about 4.5 billion pounds in the UK. That is taxpayer money.

Most articles that we have to pay for are written by authors that sometimes have to pay to include their articles in the journals, sometimes upwards $2,000. The authors get paid from public-funding, not by the journal.

Most of the articles that we have to pay for come from “peer-reviewed” journals. Peer-reviewed simply means that two qualified individuals review the article and check for authenticity, quality of the article, etc. These peers are also not paid by the journals. They review the articles for free. The journal is not losing any money here.

Then come the universities, who subscribe to these journals. Instead of offering subscriptions for individual journals, the academic publishers offer an all or nothing sort of deal. Either the universities pay exorbitant fees for subscription to a large number of journals (some of which they do not want), in order to access the journals they require, or they get nothing. It’s estimated that universities in the US have spend millions of dollars each on printed versions of journals every year, most of which will just gather dust on library shelves.

Academic publishers are receiving money from authors, and from subscribers. Yes, students are getting access to articles that they need. Not all students, some students.

Here’s the down-low. If you are not a student in a university, and you want to learn things…. Tough luck. You have the option of emailing authors directly and asking them for copies, trying your luck and seeing if they allow non-students to hold library cards at your nearby university library, or just try to find professors or students that will help you out.

So, who would be faced with that kind of situation? Students whose universities cannot pay the subscription fees of academic publishers. Laymen who want to learn. Professionals done with their schooling (although some universities offer journal access to their alumni).

Academic papers cost up to fifty dollars (US). That’s right, fifty dollars for one article. I could easily buy a great non-fiction book on the topic or five paperback novels for that price.

The thing is, I look for an article. I read the abstract, and ‘boom’ – this article requires you to pay through your nose to download the PDF. The reason why I feel like Oliver Twist in this scenario is because when I read that abstract, I feel like Oliver asking for more soup. A perfectly valid request, with a very high price. Perhaps that’s a bit dramatic, but when it’s two o’clock in the morning and you think you’ve found the perfect reference… only to find it’s not open-access. Yeah, it hurts like no extra soup.

I haven’t covered even a fraction of the things I wanted to say. The truth is, there are people that can say it better than me and have said it in a much better way. The following are some of the things that have been going on:

The Atlantic’s Article

This is the amazing Tim Gowers, a Professor of Mathematics from Cambridge, and his amazingly written blog post:

Tim Gowers and Elseview

 

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