Open access (31) Incremental progress and radical questions

5 August, 2019

I have read this discussion of open access with great interest, hoping that it would result in more clarity on the future of access to scientific information. However, this discussion of philosophies and business models continues to exist in the same academic system with the same incentive structures. The solution is not just about bringing the younger academics into the process of organizing and administrating journals. It is (I hope) about a more fundamental shift.

I would like to ask some radical questions:

Why should we have journals at all?

Why should prestige be linked to number of publications?

Could prestige instead be linked to peer reviews or comments/interactions with others in the scientific community?

Why do scientific ideas need to be shared in the form of papers?

HIFA stands for Health Information for ALL. Its focus is everyone. It is a lofty goal, but it's something to truly aim for, not an incremental step. I urge us to imagine something just as monumental for the free exchange of ideas in scientific publishing.

Instead of journals, there could be topics online under which people publish their work. The administration of the websites and moderation of the discussion forums could be done by committees that rotate every few years, and are nominated by their peers. Science that is poorly done will be eviscerated by critiques. Anyone can pose a question, but only people with certain qualifications or recognition within that field can critique a scientific assertion. As online translation software improves, users will be able to automatically translate each paper and comment.

This is all an example of what this could look like. Of course it can be improved. The point is that we should start thinking about the ideal free exchange of ideas rather than incremental improvements on an outdated system.

Thank you,


HIFA profile: Amelia Plant is the Portfolio & Impact Manager at Preston-Werner Ventures, a San Francisco-based foundation looking to create scalable impact at the intersection of climate change and social justice. Amelia specializes in sexual reproductive health and rights, focusing on family planning information & access. She is currently based in Cairo, Egypt. She is a member of the HIFA working group on Family Planning and the HIFA wg on Community Health Workers.