A key in a lock.

Should All Scientific Papers Be Open Access?

Compiled by Jackie Powder

I am in favor of open access. I argue in an editorial in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases that the advantage to authors is huge and the advantage of instant free access to the user of the scientific literature is even greater. There are challenges, such as covering the cost in middle-income countries where institutions are not used to covering publication costs, and this is a discussion that must be had in these countries. There are concerns about too many papers being accepted; however this can be monitored by looking at the number of downloads, citations and impact factor.


Eskild Petersen, MD, DMSc, MBA, professor in Tropical Medicine and Parasitology, Aarhus University Hospital, Denmark, is editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, which announced in March that it is now open access.

There is a strong case for all scientific research to be open access, and certainly that which is funded from the public purse. In fact many funding bodies—including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the WHO—are now mandating it. Traditional subscription publishers have had a rude awakening. Yet switching to an open access (i.e., funder pays) model is not straightforward. Take a high-impact journal like The Lancet, which rejects 95% of the material it receives and employs a full-time staff of more than 50. Currently, The Lancet is a hybrid journal—i.e., a subscription journal with the option to pay $5,000 for open access for the funding bodies that mandate it. If it were to switch to a wholly open access model without subscription or reprint revenue, it would have to charge a much, much higher figure in order to merely break even. In the zeal for open everything, it’s good to remember that a high-quality, sustainable solution doesn’t come for free.


Zoë Mullan is editor of The Lancet Global Health, an open-access journal.

Yes to open access! The public and the scholarly community deserve to enjoy the benefits of their investment in science, which can only happen when research work is open for complete and immediate access to all who wish read, print and redistribute the scientific literature. Commercial or not-for-profit publishers could recoup legitimate expenses in the form of page charges or subscription fees for special features such as news reporting, but the public has paid for the primary research, and they must have access to it without delay and unfettered by a commercial firewall. 


Randy Schekman, PhD, 2013 Nobel laureate, Howard Hughes investigator, and professor of Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, is editor-in-chief of eLife, a nonprofit, researcher-driven initiative. 

Personally, I think it is great to have as much content be open access as possible; however, there are financial realities to be considered. Most journals allow authors to make their article open access for a fee, in addition to page charges. Journals that have only open access articles charge that fee to all authors. On the plus side, making everything open access allows distribution of content to those who may otherwise not be able to afford it. On the other hand, it puts a burden on the authors, particularly junior ones, who have to pay fees of US$1,500 or higher. For this reason, I don’t think all journals will become exclusively open access soon. 


Moyses Szklo, MD, MPH, DrPH, is editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Epidemiology, and professor in Epidemiology at the Bloomberg School.

I very much support the values embodied by the open access movement, and believe we have a duty to create true open access to the best published research through trusted outlets. However, the current models all have their shortcomings. To realize the goals of open access, platforms must (1) assure quality through expert editing and peer review, and (2) avoid shifting costs of traditional forms of publishing from subscribers to authors or their institutions. These goals will be elusive until new models are created by and for the academic communities that thrive on the free and open exchange of high-quality information and ideas.


Jeffrey Kahn, PhD, MPH ’88, Robert Henry Levi and Ryda Hecht Levi Professor of Bioethics and Public Policy, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics; and professor in Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School.