Due to the novel coronavirus pandemic which has spread to the UK, The University of Southampton has shutdown normal campus-based activities for the time being and after Easter we will be using digital teaching solutions. At times like these we need to reassess our priorities and adapt to the environment we now find ourselves in. Something that has become apparent to me, as I observe the world rapidly changing/adapting around me is that activities promoted by the open research and research data teams in the Library Research Engagement Group are more important than they have been before.

Unpaywalled Coronavirus
CC-BY Steven Vidovic 2020

The University of Southampton has been advocating the removal of research from behind academic journals publishers’ paywalls for decades. We all have our reasons and perspective on why our research should be more openly available, and no one argument is any more valid than the other, but recently Publishers have come across a new argument and responded. In the wake of the novel coronavirus, named COVID-19, many publishers have dropped their paywalls for content related to the outbreak. On the face of it, this is very progressive and philanthropic. Clearly, this move does make those publications more relevant and attractive to authors, which will in turn generate copy that can be charged for. However, let’s not be too cynical – the motivations are likely to be humanitarian. Full disclosure: I worked in publishing once upon a time and would have advocated on humanitarian grounds and I know many wonderful ex-colleagues would too.

But there is an elephant in the room…

The Publishers have dropped the paywall to ensure Researchers can rapidly read and respond to vital cutting-edge research in the peer-reviewed scholarly literature. *This* response to *that* problem is a tacit acceptance by the Publishers that their business model of encouraging authors to sign over copyright or an exclusive right to publish (unless they pay an inflated article processing charge (APC)) and locking research behind a paywall puts up barriers to rapid, interdisciplinary and international scientific progress.

There are other diseases and problems in the World (e.g. meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals) that need addressing and there are even things that could hugely improve our lives that haven’t even been thought of yet. Mixtures of blue skies thinking and serendipity have been responsible for massive leaps forward in human technology. The UK government have just announced additional funds for blue skies research, it’s now our responsibility to increase serendipity by removing research from behind the paywall.

The next time you go to publish, think about how you are going to remove content from behind the paywall. For more information on the repository (green) and publisher (gold) routes, see the Library Website.

This article mainly focusses in on academic journals publishers, but as an aside, books publishers have also been making COVID-19 related eBooks free to read.


Live feed of news articles and research on COVD-19 https://www.scitrus.com/special/novel%20coronavirus%20outbreak/


A list of Publishers and Journals making COVID-19 articles free to view, taken from Public Health England Knowledge & Library Services (20/03/20)

Reflections on Open Research during a Global Pandemic

Post navigation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *