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Still Around

The open-access movement has been around for a decade or so, but Vox writes that traditional academic publishers remain "firmly in place."

In the traditional approach, Vox's Julia Belluz notes that taxpayers fund much of the research, academics review manuscripts for free, and journals then charge readers to access the papers. In the US, Belluz says that universities and government groups wind up spending $10 billion a year for journal access. "That's ten billion dollars to buy back content we have often already paid for in the first place," she says.

Despite recent efforts to move toward an open access model of academic publishing — a number of funders, including the National Institutes of Health, require that its researchers make their results freely available within a certain timeframe — the traditional model persists. The University of California, Berkeley's Michael Eisen, a co-founder of the open-access Public Library of Science, tells Belluz that's mainly because researchers strive to publish in prestigious, high-impact journals — like Science, Nature, and the New England Journal of Medicine — that are not open access.

"The currency of academic careers is journals, papers," Eisen tells Belluz. "As an author, you don't [care] about the business model of the journal. The exchange you make with the journal is: 'I'm going to give you this paper, as long as you give me back what I want, which is a citation in your journal.'"

For any lasting changes to be made, Belluz says it will likely have to come from the US government as it spends the most on science. "[I]f [it] enacted a rule that research [it] paid for had to be immediately available to the public, scientists would need to turn to open-access journals and traditional journals would need to change their predatory ways," she says.