Research Remix

August 17, 2011

OA doesn’t cost jobs: it creates them. And saves lives.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Heather Piwowar @ 4:44 pm

I was contacted today by someone evaluating the NIH Public Access policy.  In his introductory email he discussed the context for the analysis, including the “claim by proprietary scientific and technical publishers that they have been damaged by the policy and that extending it to other government funded research would cause a considerable loss of jobs—a powerful claim in the current economic and political environment.”

Thinking about this claim has made me so mad I have to blog it out.  (To be 100% clear:  I’m not angry at the person who contacted me, I’m mad at the claim).


Posting papers in PubMed Central is going to cost jobs, eh?  I guess subscriptions could go down if people are willing to wait 12 months to read cutting edge research, then publishers might lose money and lay people off.  Not of course the authors or the peer reviewers, since they aren’t paid, but the editorial staff and copyeditors and news writers and graphic designers and system admins….  Ok, I don’t want those people let go, it is true.  How many jobs do we think will be lost this way?  Are we REALLY SURE their contribution to the direct advancement of science can’t be saved some other way, through some other publishing model?

Let me tell you about all the jobs we lose, or fail to have created, since we don’t have Open Access (a step beyond Public Access) to our research articles.

  1. the jobs of people who might do text mining of research studies to IMPROVE SCIENTIFIC PROGRESS
  2. the jobs of people who might build tools on top of all scientific research articles to improve discovery and thereby IMPROVE SCIENTIFIC PROGRESS
  3. the jobs of the people who might mine datasets TO IMPROVE SCIENTIFIC PROGRESS but they can’t, since the data aren’t deposited anywhere, because our way of rewarding authors who archive data is broken, in part because we don’t have access to article text and reference lists and systems that record usage statistics

I will admit that in the current system we gain job openings that we might lose under OA — jobs opened up when people die because our scientific progress isn’t fast enough to save their lives.  Just in case we want to include that in the calculation.

Publishers complaining about jobs?  Find a different publishing system.  One that helps not hinders efficient and effective research progress.


You know that whole bioinformatics industry?  It would still be in the dark ages if people hadn’t made their data open.  There is every reason to believe that opening up the scientific literature will spark the same revolution.  In jobs, and in lives.  Count what matters.

Edited to acknowledge greater respect for jobs in the publication industry.


  1. Hi, Heather. Interestingly, I read two very good articles in the April issue of Against the Grain

    (and I pay for my subscription and am willing to do for good content–which shows that if you have a good product people will pay for it–if only the sci-tech publishers understood that and didn’t spend so much trying to kill Open Access). Alas, I can provide you only with the titles:

    Technical Editing: Practice and Prospects – p. 26
    by Joseph C. Fineman — Will copyeditors exist when they can no longer be paid from proceeds?

    Copyediting’s Role in an Open-Access World – p. 30
    by Sanford G. Thatcher — Is “good enough” good enough?

    Comment by Hope Leman — August 17, 2011 @ 4:58 pm

    • Thanks for these links, Hope. I’ll add a very important point made to me offline: “the more Open Access there is (such as ebooks), the more opportunities there will be for copy editors to be hired by increasing numbers of authors and institutions starting their own journals.”

      Comment by Heather Piwowar — August 17, 2011 @ 5:43 pm

  2. Great post!

    Comment by propelled — August 17, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

  3. Needless to say, my argument is all handwaving. Alas I don’t have time to do analysis in this area. I sure hope others are making this case quantitatively. ASAP.

    Comment by Heather Piwowar — August 17, 2011 @ 8:47 pm

  4. The limit to “save existing jobs” argument would have us all still employed as hunters and gatherers. Imagine the gatherers’ dismay when farming was invented and the hunters’ when ranching was invented.

    I’m sure the telephone didn’t do much for those operating telegraph machines. And the computer didn’t do much for the rooms of accountants operating adding machines. I can’t even begin to enumerate the number of jobs the internet has made redundant. Those working at printing presses can’t be happy. Trains and cars put stagecoaches out of business. Robots put aseembly line workers out of business.

    On the other hand, I’m all for retraining programs. Let’s train the traditional publishers to do something more useful with their lives than charging for proprietary access to articles donated and edited for free. We just don’t need them any more as computer science journals like JMLR have so clearly demonstrated.

    Comment by Bob Carpenter — August 18, 2011 @ 7:48 am

  5. […] Jobs Card makes me furious because *if* scholarship can be done better it *should* be done better, full stop.  But with the […]

    Pingback by Threat of job loss as motivation for Research Works Act: real or fear-mongering? « Research Remix — January 7, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

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