The concept of Open Access is simple but revolutionary: Anyone with Internet access can immediately read any article published. With the majority of research done at the University of Florida being paid for by tax dollars, why should the tax payers have to pay again in subscription fees for access to their results?

Dr. Isabel Silver, head of Academic and Scholarly outreach at the UF, believes open access is the future of scholarly publishing.

“Traditional publishing is an unsustainable economic model,” she said. “The public pays for the research, and then the researcher turns around and gives it to private sector proprietary journal publishers that the public has to pay to read.”

Making information freely and readily available is at the heart of UF’s new Open-Access Publishing Fund Pilot Project (UFOAP). The project is providing up to $3,000 a year per author to publish in open access journals in the hope that more will adopt this system.

“The public wins by having access to the information and the authors win because they want more people to read their work,” Silver said. “The only potential losers are the pay-for-subscription journals.”

And they have a lot to lose. Currently, UF has an $11 million budget for acquisitions with $9 million of that going to electronic resources, which include pay-for-access traditional journals.

“They have a chokehold on publishing and they’re getting big profits through their monopolies,” Silver said.

UF has no plans of phasing out their subscriptions to these costly journals anytime soon. It’s still part of the prevailing mentality that scholars should strive to get their work in big-name journals like Nature and Science. This is how they can charge upwards of $50,000 for a yearly subscription. Nature’s journal package alone costs UF $100,000 annually.

This is changing rapidly. There’s been a rise over the past decade in authors publishing their work in open access journals, which now represent roughly 20% of all publications in the US.

Under the premise of “publish or perish,” scientists must publish their research or risk having a harder time finding future funding. However, not all journals are equal. The most widely-used source to determine the quality of a journal is its “impact factor” which calculates how often a journal is cited as a source. Authors that choose to publish in OA journals are cited more often then those in traditional ones.

Open access has the added benefit of allowing access to smaller institutions and poorer counties who cannot afford the fees of traditional journals. Medical patients and science enthusiasts also see the benefit as they are able to read the latest research without having to rely on the often erroneous and sensationalized news from the media.

A recent grant from UFOAP went to help publish an article about the environmental toxicology of Queen Conch in the Caribbean Sea. This is a very niche subject that very few people in a handful of small countries are interested in. By publishing in PLoS ONE, an open access journal, the information became available to everyone who holds a vested interest in these sea snails or the health of the Caribbean Sea.

“If this wasn’t published in open access it would have been the powers that be that would have controlled the information on a species in these people’s own waters,” Silver said.

There is something profound about having access to information. The information on the current state of Queen Conchs may seem trivial, but it is vital to the creation of a compressive public policy that includes their well being. Without access to this information, any environmental policy on the Caribbean Sea will either be faulty or would have to come from the outside of these countries where it is available.

The last and most important step of the scientific method is communication. Without an open interchange of ideas, research would stagnate. Open access increases this interchange, but it also redefines who this information is meant for.

Public knowledge of science has gone down as the rise of anti-science has increased.  Will this help the general public grasp these scientific concepts? No one can be certain, but opening up the gates to scientific knowledge is the first step.