Open access and a suicide

You’ve all heard about it now, the tragic story of Aaron Swartz’s suicide last week. And I assume you’ve read many of the thought-provoking pieces that’s been written as well, such as:

Aaron Swartz

Photo: ragesoss, Flick, CC

You should also check out:

I never met Swartz and so many have already written smart and touching about his life and internet activism. However, I would like to pick up on the topic of open access to academic info.  Swartz faced federal hacking prosecution for allegedly downloading millions of academic documents from the JSTORE database via MIT’s guest network, using a laptop hidden in a networking closet.

For a brand new PhD candidate to me, it is almost shocking to see all the research I haven’t had access to for the past 10 years (since I finished my Master’s at Georgetown). Now as I’m back at the University, I can access all the goodies, but for the past few year, I haven’t been able to keep track of or get access to academic research on social media, online politics and activism, online media, etc, except if an academic friend has been so kind to share some articles with me. It is ridiculous how locked up and unavailable research is today, something Jill Walker Rettberg also has written about and I totally agree with her on this statement:

Open access to research publications is one of the most important research policy questions internationally today. We need to push nationally and internationally for governments and professional organisations to require open access publication, and perhaps national copyright law needs to be changed to ensure that publicly funded research is available to the public.

Jill is making all her publications available online, which is also the case for another academic friend of mine, Marika Lüders.

Photo: scribbletaylor, Flickr, CC

Photo: scribbletaylor, Flickr, CC

As a new PhD, I’m not that familiar with Open Access. But I’ve been interested in open data for years, especially from a journalistic viewpoint, so open academic access is logic in my ears. And I already know that it will become crucial for me in the years to come to push and fight for much more openness in academic publishing. As we can read on the Norwegian site for Open Access (my translation):

The purpose behind is to contribute to an effective system for open, academic communication in line with science’s basic foundation: To share scientific results as widely as possible. 

A commentator in the Guardian goes even further today:

Publishing behind paywalls is immoral.More than that, it’s oxymoronic: if it’s behind a paywall, it hasn’t been published.


As a scientist your job is to bring new knowledge into the world. Hiding it behind a journal’s paywall is unacceptable

What about you, do you have any opinions about Open Access?

UPDATE: If you have suggestions and advice for how to be an open access scholar, please do! Thanks Jill for your helpful blogpost, How to be an open access scholar

12 thoughts on “Open access and a suicide

  1. For those of you who want to dig into Open Access, this seems to be a useful book (thanks Terje Colbjørnsen for the tip):

    One of the quotes from the book:
    “Open access is made possible by the Internet and copyright-holder consent, and many authors, musicians, filmmakers, and other creators who depend on royalties are understandably unwilling to give their consent. But for 350 years, scholars have written peer-reviewed journal articles for impact, not for money, and are free to consent to open access without losing revenue.

  2. Thanks for the tip about the book! I’ve been thinking I want to read something longer and more thorough about the issue so I can make my arguments even stronger!!

    I’m just finishing a blog post about HOW to publish open access articles, coming soon 🙂

  3. Pingback: How to be an open access scholar | jill/txt

  4. It was only this Christmas I finally got around and actually published a list of my publications online with links to pre-publication drafts of papers that are behind paywalls or in antologies (working on it, more to come). My inspiration comes from Annette Markham (, Jill and other awesome people, who have been doing this for years.

    New PhD-students (and established academics): start publishing your work openly online, preferably also as html as well as pdf. If you have published in journals that are not open access, you are still able to make pre-publication drafts openly available, i.e. versions prior to the final, copy-edited and published version of the article.

    I guess, if we really want to make a difference, we should prefer to publish in open access journals. Should we also decline to review for those subscription-based academic journals?

  5. Pingback: Norwegian researchers on social media « Bente Kalsnes' blog

  6. Charles Snow, at the Penn State University, a respected academic and pioneer in the field of strategic management, and editor in highly respected journals (Journal of Organization Design and Strategic Management Journal) announced during a workshop he held in publishing in Oslo last year, that there is an ongoing shift towards open access publishing in the publishing industry. He believes it is just a matter of time before journals go open and accessible for everyone. Fingers crossed! I myself share my writings at, at slide share and I try to share my insights through blog posts and other media.

  7. Thanks for sharing your insights, folks, incredible useful! Special thanks to Jill who followed up with the blog post How to be an open access scholar

    To be aware about the contract you sign with journals and how you can alter is, is a very good point from Jill if you are publishing in closed journals:

    “publish in closed journals, but make sure they allow you to self-archive your paper. For some publishers this is automatic, for others you have to alter the contract, which usually isn’t a problem if you just ask – danah boyd confirmed this on the AoIR mailing list the other day, too.”

  8. So do things like Twitter activity now contribute as search engine optimisation?
    I was told they do after the Panda Google algorithm refresh
    Added to Reddit, they would find this useful!

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