This week, Harvard School of Public Health's Associate Professor Winston Hide made a courageous move: he resigned from being the associate editor of the journal Genomics (an Elsevier journal). Why? Because he could no longer accept the inability of scientists in developing countries to access full articles stuck behind paywalls thrown up by publishers. A bold and remarkable step. He published the rationale for making this decision this week in the Guardian.
When reading this article one thing becomes clear very quickly. Dr. Hide's arguments match the mission of MalariaWorld - after all, we also strive to make scientific information on malaria widely available and at no cost. Read some of his statements (copied from his letter in the Guardian) below:
"Today I resigned from the editorial board of a well respected journal in my field – Genomics. No longer can I work for a system that provides solid profits for the publisher while effectively denying colleagues in developing countries access to research findings.
It has not been an easy decision. Some may feel that I'm grandstanding or making a futile gesture. And it may be a toxic career move. Scientists are expected to contribute to the community by reviewing papers and serving on editorial boards. But I cannot stand by any longer while access to scientific resources is restricted.
My work on biomedical research in developing countries has shown me that lack of access to current publications has a severe impact.
The vast majority of biomedical scientists in Africa attempt to perform globally competitive research without up-to-date access to the wealth of biomedical literature taken for granted at western institutions. In Africa, your university may have subscriptions to only a handful of scientific journals.
In reality, the modus operandi is "please can you send me a pdf". Alternatively some researchers spend part of their research grant to buy a subscription to the journal they need.
It seems unfair to edit and review articles from scientists who will likely never see their work in the actual journal in which it is published".
Clearly, Dr. Hide's moral and ethical values presided over the risks this may have for his career and future work. But then, are we seeing a leader here that stands up and says 'Enough is enough'? Will we remember Dr. Hide ten years from now when publishers will have come to understand that the world has changed and that open access is the only way forward?
The days for massive profits from scientific publishing may be counted. In the same way that Kodak saw its film industry disappear at the dawn of digital photography. In the same way that stamps started becoming rare when email surfaced...
I applaud Dr. Hide's move, and have to then look at myself. I am an editorial board member of Acta Tropica (another Elsevier journal). Therefore I have, this morning, sent an email to the editors of the journal, to inform them that I wish to resign from the Board...