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Science for all

This Special Report by Dr Ginny Barbour, commissioned by Sara Phillips, Senior Commissioning Editor, 360info Asia-Pacific was first published on 26 December 2022 on the 360info website

Roughly half of the world’s research publications are paywalled. : Michael Joiner, 360info CC BY 4.0

A big issue for publishing scientific research has been the cost. With the push for open access, new business models create new challenges for equitable access.

The public perception of science is of altruistic nerds methodically working towards solutions that benefit humanity: vaccines, renewable energy, self-driving cars. In reality, science is a business. And some of the major players are the global publishing houses that print details of experiments and their findings in scholarly journals. The future of these journals, as director of Open Access Australasia Virginia Barbour writes, is a “hot topic in science”, and one that begins a new chapter next month.

Scientists or their institutions must often pay high subscription fees to multiple journals to keep up with what’s happening in their field. In response to complaints about high and rising subscription fees, the publishing houses have brought in different forms of ‘open access’, or free-to-read journals. In order to pay for the cost of curating the journals, and vetting and editing the papers, the journals may charge an up-front fee to publish.

Prestigious journal Science explains that this “allow[s] their rigorous peer review shepherded by professional editors, careful editing, access to all relevant data, striking and informative visuals, and an engaging website. Importantly, we put substantial post-publication resources into preventing misinformation by informing accurate coverage of research through mainstream and social media.”

From January 1, Science will begin allowing authors to republish their papers on a university server for free. The shift comes hot on the heels of a new US government policy requiring taxpayer funded research to be freely available.

About 20 years after the internet first threatened to upset the scientific publishing world, it seems real change is coming. A plethora of different ways of sharing scientific findings are proliferating, from draft papers on ‘pre-print’ servers, to university-hosted repositories. As science faces global challenges, the need to quickly and equitably share information will only increase. The fledging publishing models being explored today may become the engine of world change in the near future.


Science publisher RELX (previously Reed-Elsevier) generated £7.244 billion in revenue in 2021.

Sci-hub is a website that ‘illegally’ republishes copyrighted material from scientific publishers in order to make it free to read.

Open access comes in different forms, including common ones named gold, green and diamond. Science describes 1 January 2023, “green OA-zero day”.


Quote attributable to Adrian Barnett, Queensland University of Technology
“Real improvements are what journals should aspire to …instead, we are lumped with the impact factor that is simple to measure, but measures nothing of value.”

Quote attributable to Reggie Raju, University of Cape Town
“The African publishing platform addresses the problems of up-front fees, rights retention and biases, both conscious and unconscious.”

Quote attributable to Nishant Chakravorty, IIT Kharagpur
“If India’s policy is successful, it will serve as a role model for other parts of the world and likely be replicated across the Global South.”