I made a big decision this week. It will likely have little impact on the world as a whole, but the principle, if followed by all who publish scientific articles, would change the landscape of academia forever. I’ve decided to publish open-access where at all possible going forward.

Julia Belluz wrote an article back at the start of 2015 on vox.com. In it she addresses the issues of the academic publishing model, and I have to agree with a large proportion of her writing. This quote summarises the absurdity of the current model perfectly

Taxpayers fund a lot of the science that gets done, academics (many of whom are also funded by public money) peer review it for free, and then journals charge users (again, many of whom paid for the science in the first place!) ludicrous sums of money to view the finished product.

Why does this happen? Authors are held ransom to the “citation”. As an author, realistically the subscription model of the journal you are submitting to doesn’t matter…what matters is getting the paper published and getting the citation. The journal publishing model, like the record and CD sales model of the music industry, has been too slow to adapt to changing technologies. I recently tried to access an article that I was interested in reading as background to a paramedicine study I’m proposing. I could buy 24 hours access to the article, but it would cost me $30.00! These prices hark back to the days of re-printing an article, and posting or couriering it to a reader. Instant digital delivery of a PDF does not cost $30.00. My various institutional accesses did not include this article, and thus I was unable to access it.

So why have I made this decision? I want my publications to be read by those who they will (hopefully) impact – paramedics. Historically a vocationally trained group, our research literacy and access skills are only now developing in earnest, and many paramedics still face barriers to accessing research findings that can and do influence their education and clinical practice. I commend Shane Knox for publishing his recent publications regarding continuous professional competency in Ireland in open-access journals. I had a conversation with another paramedic heavily involved in research recently who’s institution focuses primarily on citations in top-tier medical journals. Many of these aren’t open access. Many of the research findings  published in these journals will be inaccessible to those who they actually impact, making “impact factor” a bit of a misnomer in my humble opinion.

So expect to see my articles in future only appearing (ideally) in true open-access journals (free to publish, free to read). I will also consider publishing in non-open access journals where the option to make my articles open-access is reasonable and justifiable. Will this impact my career? Likely yes. Publication in journals is often used as a surrogate for value of work undertaken, and thus publication in top-tier journals, which are largely not open-access, is equated (oftentimes wrongly) with top-tier work. Irrespective of how valuable the published contribution actually is to the profession, where it found its eventual home is often the deciding factor of its perceived “value”. Saying that, I have seen some awful articles published in top-tier journals, so the exact value is questionable.

I will ensure to make a working draft, pre-publication draft, proof or published copy (as permitted under the publisher’s licence) available on my ResearchGate profile and here for all to download freely. My RG profile is available at researchgate.alanbatt.net.

From a paramedicine perspective, the newly launched British Paramedic Journal will be open-access only to members of the College of Paramedics. This is a missed opportunity in my opinion to share some of the high-quality research being conducted and published by our UK colleagues. As a reminder to paramedics, there are two true open-access journals available to publish and read research findings in, namely the Australasian Journal of Paramedicine and the Irish Journal of Paramedicine. It is also good for paramedics to note that important research findings can be communicated to top-tier journals through letters to the editor, the majority of which make letters free and open-access. This allows for findings to be targeted at the relevant audiences.

I should add, this decision doesn’t include my consultancy work, where the institution that I’m performing the research with may wish to target publication in high-ranking journals that are not open-access. This is obviously out of my control, but I do try to highlight the benefits of open-access publication to these institutions also, and have had some success to date.

To find out more about open-access, visit http://openaccessweek.org/

Conflict of interest: I am editor of the open-access journal Irish Journal of Paramedicine and a firm believer in open access education and research.