How Open Access Dream Leads Us Astray
Open data and open access media were subject of controversial debates in recent years. Definitely, providing scientific data openly will be beneficial to the advancement of science and technology, as many more researchers have chance to struggle with current challenges. However, the popular tool, i.e. open access journals, has dangerous side effects, which can significantly affected the entire scientific community. In this scheme, authors pay the publication cost to gain better visibility of their works; but over a decade of this experience, there was no better visibility and it just resulted in serious problems, which are imply ignored.
Page Charge: In the twentieth century, most of American non-profit societies used to charge authors to keep the subscription fee of journal low to be included in the membership due (there were always exceptions for authors who were unable to pay this charge). However, this strategy obsoleted in the competitive market. When other journals would publish papers free of charge, why authors should spend money on this matter. This is even worse for open access journals, as the motivation for paying page charges was the journal reputation; but open access journals are new. As happened, low-quality papers were published by open access journals. This can be judged from low impact factors of these journals in spite of openness.
Quality Matters: Publishers are business entities and need to make profit. In the classical scheme, they need to enhance their product quality to survive in the competitive market; here attracting more subscribers. For open access journals, enhancing quality means rejecting paying customers (i.e. authors). In action, most of publishers preferred today's revenue. Since it is quite difficult to attract high quality papers (due to the point quoted above), they focused on a different kind of customers. The growing tendency towards research universities has caused a pressure on faculty to get published. This kind of authors do not care about the visibility or quality of publishing medium, they just need to publish to secure their current positions.
Serving Unscientific Scientists: Over the history of publishing industry, publishers survived by focusing on quality. With authors who just want to get published, open access journals do not need to care about the market response, as their existence does not depend on subscribers. This is the reason for mushroom-like growth of open access journals during just a few years. Everyone knows but respectfully dares to admit that most of research papers published in the literature during the past year are low quality without scientific significance. The first factor in judging someone's scientific works is quantity. No wonder that universities are full of professors with officially convincing records, but lacking real contributions to their fields of expertise. Low quality journals are responsible for this breakdown, but traditional journals cannot survive with low quality. This is the role played by open access journals.
Losing Genuine: If popularizing the so-called article publishing charge, some authors with limited funds will refuse to publish. This means some works will have better visibility by sacrificing the death (not to be born) of others. Imagine, if it was the dominant scheme of publication during the past centuries, how many influential works would not be appeared in the literature due to authors' incapability of paying the article publishing charge.
In general, the idea of open access journals is brilliant and very useful to provide a golden opportunity for fast and quick distribution of scientific achievements not only within the professional community but also among a broad range of audience. This can be very effective by utilizing modern technology in the cyberspace, and may assist a better public understanding of science. However, this scheme will not work by putting all the burden on the shoulders of authors. Charging authors for publishing their works is nothing more than business for easy revenue.
As a matter of fact, the subject of open enterprise has been somehow misunderstood and misguided. On one hand, we have Research Work Act introduced in the United States House of Representatives, limiting the distribution of research finding and an unjustified excuse of addressing tax payer rights. On the other hand, open access journals abuses science for making money from the scientific community. None of these exaggerated views support scientific research and researchers. Like always, science is affected by politics and business. No one asks scientists what they need, but this does not mean that we must be silent!