On any subject, I usually learn a lot by reading Wikipedia. Therefore I was surprised to find that I had not done so on the subject of open access (link goes to Wikipedia).
I understand from this recent reading that the subject is still debated on more than one ground. Peer review seems to be one of the issues which in my eyes are muddying the waters.
Muddying the waters? Yes. The primary objective of scientific research is Knowledge. Such Knowledge in my eyes belongs to all of humanity. Suppose one would trademark the Pythagoras theorem? It would be like patenting the production of oxygen from photosynthesis.
However, there are always people who will translate any fundamental issue into money and status. Oh no, Open Access!!! But then anyone can publish anything, how to maintain scientific rigeur, how to finance the costs of peer review, and of the publisher’s business?
Fact is that publishing scientific articles is lucrative. Elsevier is one of the most profitable businesses around. From Wikipedia:
In 2010, Elsevier reported a profit margin of 36% on revenues of $3.2 billion. Elsevier accounts for 28% of the revenues of the Reed Elsevier group (₤1.5b of 5.4 billions in 2006). In operating profits, it represents a bigger fraction of 44% (₤395 of 880 millions). Adjusted operating profits rose by 10% from 2005 to 2006.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why some people oppose Open Access, now does it? Or do you really believe that with this type of money involved, all people will have altruistic considerations as their prime motivation?
So to me it is not surprising that any related issue such as peer review will be turned into an obstacle for Open Access. It is a surprisingly common cliché that people in power/status positions will cling on to the status quo using any miserable excuse they can think of. This is perhaps the single most important reason why societal change is so slow.
However, apart from status, the subject of peer review is closely related to the subject of quality also. I might find the energy to write something on that subject on this blog also (I wrote about quality already quite extensively on my art blog).