JoVE Talks Information Access at the NIH

It’s been six months since we partnered with HINARI to bring JoVE to countries in the developing world, and what better way to celebrate this partnership that with a presentation to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Global Health Interest Group.

In the last year, the conflict between authors and academic publishers has heated up significantly. For the most part, authors want the academic literature to be more freely available, and publishers want to maintain their profit margins. To help explain the issues and understand JoVE‘s take on all of this, Dr. Jameela Khan invited Dr. Claire Standen and myself down to the NIH this past Monday to speak with the group.

In January of 2011, an editorial in The Lancet did a beautiful job of explaining its controversy with its own publisher. Several publishers, including Elsevier, which publishes The Lancet journals withdrew their journals from HINARI programs in certain countries, including Bangladesh and Kenya. The editors were upset, arguing that ‘any country designated as “low human development” by the UN justifies a clear and unambiguous commitment by all publishers to full and free access to research through HINARI.”

Elsevier restored access of its journals to Bangladesh, and assured the editors at The Lancet that they would be consulted in all future HINARI access negotiations.

Still, information access for all researchers has remained a contentious issue. As the editors in The Lancet editorial began: “Lack of access to knowledge is the main limitation to human development.” Dr. Timothy Gowers, for one, has had enough of academic publishers controlling the knowledge researchers provide.

His main complaint is that since the majority of the work that goes into producing an academic article is done for free by academics, and because we no longer need information to be published in print to access it, he believes that the publishers are no longer adding value. This is for the most part true— all the publishers who have refused to innovate since the first academic journal was published in the 1600s are not adding much value.

Dr. Standen did a beautiful job of explaining how we at JoVE are working to change that. Rather than simply publishing text, the she and the other editors, as well as the video production team at JoVE work hard to translate scientific research into a video other scientists can learn from. So is the answer to this problem to abolish the academic publishers, or, should we be demanding more for them?

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