A lot has been written about open access in the last week, and although the circumstances of the publicity are heart wrenching, I'm glad that the movement is receiving the attention it deserves. Though the justification for open access science has already been eloquently covered by many others, my nascent blog is as good a place as any to enumerate my reasons for supporting OA.
Because most science is publicly funded, it only makes sense that results be made available to the public. Even projects that receive private funding benefit from state and federal dollars if the research is conducted at a public institution. How unfortunate that science writers, non-academic researchers, and the interested public all contributed their tax dollars and might benefit from access to published findings, yet currently lack privileges. As a researcher in training, I dislike the idea of all my hard work being hidden away from those who need it.
Even those who are in academic research can't always get what they need. Although most educational institutions subscribe to a variety of academic journals, some are always missing. Virginia Tech, for example, does not subscribe to online access to the New England Journal of Medicine. Epidemiologists on campus despair. It's usually possible to order articles through the library, but you have to know exactly which article you want, and it takes some time for the request to be fulfilled. Given that you can't know how useful an article will be without having read it, most don't bother with the hassle.
Which brings me to the most important reason of all: science is done incrementally, with each research effort drawing from and building on the work that came before it. It becomes that much more difficult to make the next step forward without access to the research corpus. Scientific progress cannot progress at an optimal pace if foundational work is behind a paywall.
"Send me your data - PDF is fine," said no one ever
The public health paradox ("When public health works, it's invisible")
Let's make data a civic right
Scholarly impact of open access journals
Six months later, disease detectives still battling fungal meningitis outbreak