Profit > Humanity?

This is a bit of a weird post because, in one sense, I’m actually criticising a journal publisher for making articles open access but, the bigger point, is that it is for a limited time and reveals a very troubling mindset. First, let’s talk about what sparked this. Scientific publisher Springer Nature is currently holding its Change the World event. It’s chosen about 180 of the best scientific articles it published in 2016 and is making them available for free. That’s great! But… at the end of this month, those articles will no longer be free unless they were originally published as open access articles.

I am using Change the World as an example but what I’m going to say here applies to all scientists that promise to improve people’s lives then publish behind a paywall. Springer Nature is framing its event as being a huge benefit to the world. I trust science, I’m sure that what is in those papers really can make a difference to the world. But lets just assume we really believe it when they say:

With Springer Nature’s vast library of research, we recognize that world-changing articles may be out there, just waiting for the right combination of minds to make a critical connection.

And:

With this initiative, we not only want to support authors who are tackling today’s global challenges to facilitate real change, we also hope to promote a sense of community among our publishing partners and customers, and show that we can make a difference – one article at a time.

The words they write and the videos they put up they emphasise that these articles are ones which should have the potential to change the world for the better. If you glance at some of the articles available you will see them address climate change, tuberculosis, drug-resistant bacteria, violence against women and more. So yes, it’s great that they are making these free now but why take them away? The problems have not been solved!

Springer Nature is a massive publishing company with huge resources. They publish more journals than the articles they’ve released here! Some of them, like the BMC journals are open access but most aren’t. In 2013, Springer, before merging with others like the Nature Publishing Group, was making a 34% profit. More than double the profit margin of BMW and only just less than Apple. They can afford to make 180 articles available for free.

Springer Nature, it’s great that you want to change the world but the problems you were concerned about will not be solved by the end of July. If you truly believe that your selected articles have the potential to change the world and help millions of people then don’t remove them at the end of the month. You say that we are all in the same boat, that we all live in the same world and have an interest in preserving it. Why is that important now but not next month? What is it that will tip the balance from humanity to profit with the turning of a calender’s page? Do the right thing and make these articles freely available permanently.

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