The Evolution of Open Access

What has been the evolution of open access, and where do you think we are heading? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world..

There have been a few central phases in the history of open access:

  • The invention of arXiv. arXiv is a website that mathematicians and theoretical physicists use to share papers. arXiv was launched in 1991, and it now has 1.2m pre-prints on it.
  • The invention of the open access publishing business model. This publishing model shifted the costs of publishing from the reader to the author. The author pays a fee to have their article published, and, as a result, there is no paywall around the paper. This publishing model was invented in the early 2000s by BioMedCentral and PloS.
  • The invention of academic social networks. Academics created profile pages on sites like, ResearchGate, Mendeley, and uploaded to the internet a few tens of millions of papers via these profile pages.
  • Government and funding agency mandates. Anyone now taking money from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has to publish their articles in open access journals. Anyone taking money from the UK government has to ensure that there is an open access copy of the paper online immediately available on publication. As of 2008, the US government required that any paper that was funded by the NIH had to be open access within 12 months of publication.

My views on the future of open access are:

  • In the next few years, we will get to a point where all new articles being published are available for free immediately, and the majority of all articles ever written will be freely available online.
  • We then need to start thinking about other things that limit access to articles. Language barriers are one. It seems to me that every paper should be available in every language in the world. Jargon is another. It seems to me that papers should come in different forms: one for a hyper-specialized audience; one for a slightly more general academic audience, and one for the public, which would more of a journalistic narration of the findings.
  • It's also critical that we figure out a reward model whereby academics are rewarded for publishing data-sets and code. I think we need to invent a new peer review system in order to provide the relevant kind of reward. The current peer review system doesn't reward the sharing of data-sets, and much of an academic's advancement through their career is determined by peer feedback in one form or another.
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