Last October I wrote an article about Aaron Swartz, the internet activist committed to ending the academic paywall system and making research accessible to everyone. In light of Swartz’s tragic suicide, my article has gone viral. An excerpt:
For attempting to make scholarship accessible to people who cannot afford it, Swartz is facing a $1 million fine and up to 35 years in prison. The severity of the charges shocked activists fighting for open access publication. But it shocked academics too, for different reasons.
“Can you imagine if JSTOR was public?” one of my friends in academia wondered. “That means someone might actually read my article.”
Academic publishing is structured on exclusivity. Originally, this exclusivity had to do with competition within journals. Acceptance rates at top journals are low, in some disciplines under 5 per cent, and publishing in prestigious venues was once an indication of one’s value as a scholar.
Today, it all but ensures that your writing will go unread.
As a scholar of Central Asia, a region already obscure to the public, I’m grateful the open access debate is getting more attention. Sean Guillory of Sean’s Russia Blog has done a great series of posts on why open access publishing is essential for those of us studying the Eurasian region. I’m planning to write more on this subject in the future.