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Posted on July 21, 2015 at 3:07 AM

More and more journals are moving to an open access (OA)
platform. OA journals are great because they defer the costs of publication and
editorial management onto the researcher and not on readers of journals. There
are many advantages to the OA movement. For starters, individual or
institutional subscription to expensive journals is not required and OA
articles are readily sought, downloaded and cited. There are also advantages to
the researchers (authors) of publications, including the potential for greater
access, higher citation, and wider circulation. For these and other reasons,
many journals are jumping on the OA bandwagon. However, OA is not for everyone
because it relies on authors to pay anywhere from several hundred to several
thousand dollars. This can be limiting to certain individuals or even fields of
researchers. Take bioethics for instance. Bioethicists use conceptual research
methods making normative arguments, and they also use various empirical, social
science research methods. Most bioethicists do not obtain large research grants
that can cover the high costs to publish in OA journals. Bioethicists can perform
research without external grant support although having funds certainly helps
with empirical research. Moreover, younger investigators who likely have little
to no money from grants are at a disadvantage. Usually in biomedical science,
there is a culture of grant writing, intra-institutional collaboration for
junior scholars to team up with senior investigators who have funds, and support
for junior scholars including start-up funds or seed money. Yet start-up and
seed money are less common for bioethics researchers beginning their own
research programs. The argument I wish to make is that OA and its movement are
more geared towards the biomedical sciences where there is a culture and
requirement to obtain external grant support and funding, and where research.
Obtaining funds for research is certainly not commonplace for bioethics. I am
not trying to say that all biomedical scientists have it easier to publish in
OA journals; but I just think bioethics, and likely other humanities fields are
at a bit of a disadvantage. Without some form of financial support, either from
the bioethics department, institution, or external grant funding, bioethicists
are at a disadvantage and publish cannot publish in OA journals. And
transferring copyright to an OA journal is generally not an option because the
philosophy of OA journals is to make articles free for readers and not retain

I think there are different ways to remedy this issue.
The first is that Chairs of bioethics programs need to realize that bioethics,
especially those that do empirical bioethics research using social science
methods, need to have start-up funds, and need to establish a better mentoring
system to help junior scholars begin their grants-based programs of research.
Second, OA journals need to be more flexible with publication costs. Charging
over $3,000 for publication is a bit over the top considering online journals do
not have printing costs, little copy editing costs, and managing editors do not
necessarily spend too much time managing articles. As editor of an OA bioethics
journal that is completely run by students and charges nothing to authors for
publication, there is certainly a way to make it cheaper. But the OA journals I
am speaking of are for-profit. OA journals should drastically reduce (or even
drop) the cost of publication for bioethicists and others who have no external
support. Currently, OA journals make exceptions for researchers in developing
or under developed countries. Yet most bioethicists do not have much of a slush
fund for research and using what little money they might receive for conference
travel or modest research costs can be better spent than on an OA publication.
Third, institutions should step up and pay for institutional subscriptions
which offers researchers within the institutions reduced rates for OA

OA publishers, departmental chairs, and institutions need
to be mindful of the OA movement and in order to be competitive in research
they should help researchers publish in OA journals. The publication of good
science and scholarship should not be limited to only those who can afford it.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI’s online graduate programs, please visit our website.

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