This is an open letter to Gordon Nelson, President of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents (CSSP). I delivered this letter to Dr. Nelson by email on September 18, 2014.
Dear Dr. Nelson,
I am writing in response to your interview on The Scholarly Kitchen blog, published August 25, 2014. As a scientist and member of scientific societies, including one with representation in CSSP, I am concerned about your answers to questions regarding public access to research. For example:
Q: Do you see any better alternatives to solving the public access challenge?
A: Frankly, I am unclear what the public access challenge is. Who does not have access? I am not at a large university. I have always been able to get papers I needed over the years.
Who does not have access? Citizens whose tax dollars pay for research do not have access. Patients who want to research their own medical conditions do not have access. Educators who would like to incorporate the latest scientific discoveries into their curricula do not have access. Scientists at institutions who cannot afford journal subscriptions do not have access.
I am one of those scientists. Over the last three years, working in Puerto Rico and now Mexico, I have struggled to get access to the literature I need to do my research. Perhaps more frustrating than that is watching my students struggle because they lack access, too. I have written about my experiences with a lack of access and the need for open access.
However, you do not have to take my word on the gravity of the problem. If you would like to read personal stories from other people who do not have access and how this affects them, please visit whoneedsaccess.org. If you would like to see data on when and where people are being denied access, please visit openaccessbutton.org – more than 9,000 paywalls registered all over the world in less than one year of operation.
The public access challenge is real, and it will take all of us to find sustainable solutions. I encourage you, in your capacity as President of CSSP, to publicly acknowledge the seriousness of this challenge and to support public access initiatives, such as the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act. Scientific societies and science as a whole can only benefit from increasing worldwide access to information.
I will be publishing this letter openly on my blog, and ask that you allow any response you might give to also be published openly. Thank you for your time and consideration.