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Biomedical research challenge: paywalled journals and lack of access to the public

Biomedical research is an all-encompassing field of science that works to prevent and treat illnesses. All aspects of the research are crucial, from the process of writing grants to conducting the research itself to getting the results out in the public domain. A significant challenge that biomedical research faces is its lack of access to the public. 

Too many scientific papers are buried deep within paywalled journals, making them difficult and expensive to access. Journals can charge as little as $30 for a single paper to as much as $20,000 for a yearly subscription. 

While those working in prestigious universities may be lucky enough to have their institutions pay the journal fees, others do not have the same privilege. In fact, even at top universities in countries like Iran, Ph.D. candidates were noted to spend up to $1,000/week to access the papers they needed for their course of study.  

Essentially, in our increasingly technological age, scientific journals are trying to reap the same profits as the print era by hiking up prices, making it harder and harder for the public– and even some scientists– to get access to the knowledge that they need. 

The scientific community has recognized this issue and begun to propose solutions. 

Some have encouraged researchers to publish in open-access journals. The issue with this approach, however, is that career advancement often relies on publishing in prestigious journals, such as Science and Nature, which have paywalls. Furthermore, journals can never truly be free, considering the costs of the editorial staff, website management, and more. In fact, open-access journals currently charge the scientists themselves a fee to publish, which can burden those already struggling with funding. 

Considering these factors, some have suggested eradicating for-profit publishers and moving towards nonprofit models, perhaps run by scholars themselves. The idea is that, with no middleman publisher, anyone can access the papers free of charge because membership fees paid by scholars would cover the costs required to run a journal.

Even more radically, some have proposed to entirely abolish the peer-reviewed journal system and publish everything online as soon as it’s complete. Those who support this approach believe that it streamlines research by eliminating the arduous formatting, reviewing, rewriting, and reformatting process that goes into publishing. Additionally, in theory, scientists can help support one another and learn from each other’s mistakes by posting research in real-time.

Despite key differences between each solution proposal, the common theme to recognize is that allowing the public open access to research is not only significant to the purpose of research itself but also benefits scientists. Currently, research is and continues to become increasingly difficult to share. In order to reach a place in the scientific community where open access is the norm, this needs to change.


Saathvika Diviti ’25

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