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Open Access to Research Fuels Innovation, Solutions

June 15, 2020
Priya Nanjappa
The foundation is committed to removing paywalls, making funded research more accessible

Great ideas can come from anywhere – but their power to spark innovation grows when they are shared as widely as possible.

At the Walton Family Foundation, we are committed to ensuring that people have access to the latest research, regardless of academic qualification or ability to pay. One of the ways we demonstrate that commitment is by providing resources to cover open access publishing fees to ensure the findings in research funded by the foundation’s Environment program are freely available to all.

Unfortunately, access to new knowledge that can inform and inspire groundbreaking ideas and innovations is significantly restricted when most research is published in journals that are largely inaccessible to most of the world.

The foundation’s Environment Program is removing paywall restrictions that limit access to articles in peer-reviewed journals.

More than 60% of peer-reviewed publications in biology and over 70% of publications in the social sciences are behind paywalls.

The cost of accessing them can be as high as $40 per article. We want to change this dynamic.

In addition to working with researchers to help them share their findings through more mainstream publications, the foundation’s Environment Program is also removing paywall restrictions that limit access to articles in peer-reviewed journals. This includes studies on tools to assess socio-economic changes as a result of fisheries management, the effectiveness of fisheries management on improving stock status, and on best practices to manage the impact of trawl fishing, to name a few.

This approach to open access seeks to balance the competing demands that academic researchers often face between publishing in journals to advance their career and sharing their findings in open access journals that may have less of a prestigious reputation.

We want to encourage young researchers and authors of color to publish open access by removing the barrier of cost.

Young researchers and people of color are particularly under-represented in open-access publishing, citing cost as the major factor, which isn’t surprising given publishing fees that can range from $1,000 to $4,000 per article. We want to encourage these authors to publish open access by removing the barrier of cost.

The foundation recently collaborated with Conservation Science Partners to work with grantees and journals to remove past publications from paywalls and ensure future publications are open access. We are joined in this push for greater access to the latest research by a number of other foundations, including the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Gates Foundation.

To be sure, there is more work to be done.

The scientific publishing industry is facing challenges in its business model as prominent researchers start their own open access journals, major university library systems opt out amid skyrocketing subscription costs, and hackers provide back-door access to published work.

Funding for research largely comes from government grants. Many European governments have already taken a strong stand on open access and the United States government is considering changes to its policy, which currently requires taxpayer-funded research to be freely available online within 12 months of publication.

These changes are moving the field in the right direction. In order to solve our most difficult social and environmental challenges, we will need a diverse and expansive community that has access to the latest research and innovative ideas.

Opening access to research is one small, but we believe critical step towards accomplishing that goal.

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