Off the cuff: Starting a revolution

Winston Hide, associate professor of bioinformatics and computational biology

Fall 2012 ]

In May 2012, you resigned from the editorial board of Genomics, protesting the exorbitant subscription fees that scientific journals charge. Researchers and institutions in poor nations often cannot afford to pay and are effectively shut out of new science. You called for a system of open-access scientific publications. What’s been the fallout since your resignation?

“For one thing, I was ranked in the top thousand tweets in Twitter for a couple of days, based upon this announcement. Why did it go viral? Because my resignation got to the basic issue: Why must scientists, by virtue of the fact that they were born in the wrong place, be excluded from doing science the way that colleagues in the West do it? Why must they put out their hats and beg by email to get PDFs from authors? They will never be able to compete intellectually if they are artificially excluded.

I didn’t resign with a marketing strategy or a political agenda in mind. I resigned because my heart told me this practice was wrong. The only way we’re going to change the system is through the people who supply the publishers: the researchers who submit papers, the reviewers, the journal editors. We also need to say to governments in the West, which are funding access to these journals: You are perpetuating the scientific divide between rich and not-rich nations.

Over the next year, you’re going to see more defections like mine. The more we talk about this to the cognoscenti who want to listen, the better. Scientists need to stop being ashamed of our relationship with the journals and start making a change.”

Madeline Drexler