'WikiGate' and the Future of Open Access

Posted by Jonathan Bailey on Oct 23, 2015 2:12:19 PM

Recently, scientific publisher Elsevier announced that it had donated some 45 free ScienceDirect accounts to “top Wikipedia editors” to enable them to access content from their journals for the purpose of inclusion and citation in Wikipedia.

However, though Elsevier operates open access journals, many of the journals included in ScienceDirect are not. That means that, when other users seek to follow up on those citations in Wikipedia, they will be prompted to pay for access to the articles.

The partnership with Elsevier was through The Wikipedia Library project, an effort by Wikipedia to arrange partnerships with publishers to provide editors access to journals they might not otherwise have. According to the project, this is intended to help editors have access to reliable sources for the purpose of improving articles.

But despite the support of the Wikipedia Organization for the project, some involved with the open access movement have expressed strong concerns. That includes Michael Eisen, one of the founders of the open access movement, who felt that making it easy for Wikipedians to link to paywalled sources would only encourage the practice and discourage open access.

However, those who work at Wikipedia seem to largely support the project, saying it’s a powerful tool for opening access to scientific knowledge. As Wikimedian Martin Poulter said, “Wikipedia aims to be an open-access summary of reliable knowledge—not a summary of open-access knowledge.”

Still, the dispute points to an an ongoing challenge for the open access movement, namely that it must continue to coexist and work with non-open access content, sometimes even within the same publisher.

We talked previously about how the open access movement is much akin to the open source software movement. But much like open source software has had to learn to coexist with closed source applications, so too must open access research.

For open source software, this has meant a great deal of separation, finding where the lines are drawn between two applications as to determine what is closed and what is open. With research, however, this doesn’t work. Research works best when it can be compared and contrasted with other work.

This means that open access has to find a way to collaborate with closed access and vice versa. This is where efforts like with Wikipedia Library project come into play, bridging the gap between the two models.

That’s because, no matter which model one may prefer, the other is not going away any time soon. Both open access and traditional publishing are likely to be around for the foreseeable future and that’s because both models provide advantages and disadvantages.

Simply put, neither model is right for every publication or every paper.

This is why most large publishers offer a slew of alternatives around open access, providing traditional journals, hybrid journals and a variety of open-access styles.

As controversial as efforts such as the Wikipedia LIbrary project may be, as long as there are multiple ways to publish, there will need to be ways to bridge the gap between them and that will require a cooperative effort from both sides, the kinds of efforts the Wikipedia LIbrary project seeks to foster.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today, and do not reflect the opinions of iThenticate.