Peer reviewed research remains inaccessible to many scholars, argues former CEO of Creative Commons

Working is some of the nation’s most rural regions, faculty at tribal and many Native-serving colleges often feel isolated from colleagues and far from the nation’s research centers.

In theory, the internet can help erase geographic barriers by making information accessible to all. That was part of Thomas Friedman’s argument when he famously effused in 2005 that the World Wide Web was making the world “flat.”

However, the Internet is actually widening the gap between the information rich and information poor, argues Joi Ito, former CEO of Creative Commons. Many of the nation’s most important and prestigious academic journals are now kept behind increasingly expensive paywalls, making information inaccessible to all but a few.

In a recently published essay in Wired, Ito argues that “some publishers charge so much for subscriptions to their academic journals that even the libraries of the world’s wealthiest universities such as Harvard are no longer able to afford the prices.” Although much of the research is federally funded, findings remain out of reach for the public and many scholars, especially those working in non-elite institutions.

Ito looks at various efforts to break down or climb over these paywalls. Initiatives range from the Kazakhstan-based Sci-Hub, which “provides free access to millions of otherwise inaccessible academic papers” (by skirting copyright laws), to the larger Open Access movement. OA publishers include the Public Library of Science, or PLOS, which makes papers available without a paywall by imposing article processing charges (APC’s) on institutions or authors, Ito writes.

But more is needed. Ito describes his work with MIT to develop what he calls “a new open knowledge ecosystem” that allows for “greater institutional and public ownership of that infrastructure.”

The full essay can be read here.