OPINION: Research should be available to all

Forking over money to companies that don’t benefit the authors undermines research



While WSU does offer access to many research papers, the issue is how much they have to pay for them.

JACOB HERSH, Evergreen columnist

Research is meant to be shared. For multi-billion-dollar corporations to lock scientific, sociological and historical knowledge behind a paywall, and demand as much as $50 to $100 for the rights to read a research paper, written by a hard working graduate student, is not only unfair, it’s immoral. More than half of all research papers are owned and published by the “Big Five” companies of academic publishing. Think about that: 5 companies own more than 50 percent of all graduate research conducted worldwide.

WSU’s graduate students and professors are hard at work right now researching veterinary science, engineering, business, political science and a whole host of other topics. Some of them will even publish papers on their findings. Some of that research will probably go on to change the world, but not if we allow this current, bastardized system of corporate governance to keep us from viewing their research.

It’s also worth pointing out that the writers of these papers — graduate students and college researchers — see little to no profits from getting their research published. The fees go to the publishers exclusively.

“Personally, I don’t think that someone should have to pay for it [research paper] unless at least some of that money is going to the grad student that wrote it,” said Jeff Smart, a sophomore communication and technology major.

Some people, however, are already working on ways to reverse the trend of monopolized research papers. Alexandra Elbakyan, a Russian college student, has developed pirating software, intended to allow would-be readers the chance to bypass the fees to read the paper. She’s been taken to court over this, by the same “Big Five” companies that monopolize research worldwide.

I’ve spoken out in this paper before about copyright law, corporate monopolization and Big Tech infringing on our rights more and more. However, this essentially crystallizes the debate, and is indicative of how far multi-national corporations will go to ensure that they have as much stake in any field as possible. In fact, one of the original founders of the scientific publishing scam, Robert Maxwell, called his scheme a “perpetual financing machine.” If I were to write a parody of corporate governance, even I would think “all scientific research is owned by five companies, and the guy behind it all flat out acknowledges that it’s a con” would be too far out, even in a satire. But here we are.

“Placing a price on knowledge especially when no money goes to the researcher is strictly against the interest of any scientific progress,” said Erin Zosia Gordon, a freshman psychology major. “I see no reason other than the greed of the companies to place paywalls.”

In a world where Amazon owns our shopping habits, Google owns our search history and Facebook owns our social interactions, allowing large-scale corporate entities to lay claim to that one thing that makes us uniquely human — science and research — is a step too far.

It’s not only a moral issue, it’s a pragmatic one. When we stick scientific research behind a $50 paywall, we restrict the people that can read it to those who can afford it. In the Internet, a system where information is supposed to be free and open, keeping scientifically interested people away is profoundly antithetical to the point of egalitarian research, and it’s completely against the point of research itself, which is to inform and educate, not serve as a cash cow for companies.

“Paywalls surrounding research hinders the ability for smaller universities, students and other scientists to have access to information critical to their research and education,” Gordon said.

Finally, considering that a significant amount of research is done at state-funded universities, such as WSU, companies selling the research back to the public is like buying the same product twice. If tax dollars finance the research, the general public should not have to pay to read it. It’s an elaborate scam, but one that’s been making a significant amount of money for these “Big Five.”

Scientific research should not be some flood of money for a group of investors. It should be conducted by smart, dedicated researchers, intent on making the world a better, more knowledgeable place. When we lock research behind paywalls, not only do we detract from the original intent of the study, but we hide knowledge from each other, all in the name of money. Make scientific research free and open, and watch how we, as a society, grow and learn from each other.