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Access to Research is a Student Right
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Open Access as a Healthcare Investment

Published Dec 8, 2011, 1:01pm

“There is no wealth like knowledge. No poverty like ignorance.” - Ali ibn Abu Talib

In the ever-changing 21st century, the World is, sometimes painfully, becoming aware of the truth behind those words. Information has nowadays become a new kind of currency, and knowledge is basically the only true investment. 

The global information (r)evolution has slowly been building up on the foundations of perhaps the single most important invention in the history of the human race – the Internet. Most of what now defines the 21st century (and even the so called anthropocene) would not have been possible without it. Our civilization has become global, and information has become easily accessible to anyone with access to a connected computer and enough curiosity to use a search engine. And on those wings scientific progress has brought us further then we could have dreamed of less than a lifetime ago!

But how accessible is this “wealth” really? Most of us are aware that sitting with our laptops in our lap, holding a smartphone or the newest tablet we actually belong to the lucky ones! We belong to the part of the global population that not only has easy access to the Internet, but also the skill to use it!

And of those lucky few, how many of us are involved with research and science? How many of us really do have the ability (permission) to access the research articles we need?

Perhaps you are lucky, and the university you studied at had full access to research journals and up-to-date research data. And you were probably not aware of any related costs. In which case – wow!

But if you are reading this, you have probably come across articles you cannot open, data you cannot reach, and information you cannot access. Most probably it was both new as well as interesting. Most probably, it would have helped you with your research and made your results more relevant. And most probably you were surprised by the fact that you did not have access to it and wished it was open to the public...

So what is the root of the problem?

It’s of a financial sort... To put it simply, the price of scientific and scholarly journal subscriptions is rapidly rising – now, some even cost more then 20,000 euros a year!  Faced with the challenge of declining budgets and increasing subscription prices, universities are forced to cancel access to valuable resources.  The result is that students, professors, and the rest of the scientific and scholarly community are routinely left without access to significant portions of the scholarly record! This harms the education of students and inhibits scientific progress unnecessarily.

The funniest thing is that much of this very research has been done in public universities funded by public money! So, if the public paid for the research, why are we denied access to the results?

One could argue that the full extent of human knowledge belongs to society as a whole and that free access to information should be a basic human right. As such, open access to research should be an indisputable right, especially when the public funds it!  But it’s not only a matter of rights, it’s also a matter of investment and responsibility!

“A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle.” - Khalil Gibran 

Now, we all know that if not used, knowledge is useless. So why not share it and let it be used? After all, only once used does knowledge become an active investment!

Coming from a medical background, I know that information often means the difference between the progression of a disease or full recovery, even to the extent of life and death.

As a student, I am taught to search for the optimal solution for each and every specific case. As a future doctor, I am trained to understand and conduct research, using not only scientific methods but also the most up-to-date medical literature. And the world of medicine is changing rapidly! Without proper access to research, without comparison and meta-analysis, how can we expect to base our decisions on evidence? How can we expect to be competent doctors?

To make good judgments we, as doctors, have to have access to up-to-date medical information. And research articles are the foundation of it!

Believing in this and upholding the highest humanitarian values, EMSA has recently changed its Statutes and added the following sentence to its Principles: “The Association will apply the principle of free access to information in its activities and shall also support open access initiatives.”

By doing so, EMSA has become one of a growing number of non-governmental organizations that acknowledge open access – the idea that peer-reviewed research should be made freely available on the Internet with full reuse rights immediately upon publication – is fundamental to our activities. We trust that by doing so we have made a good investment in the future of not only science, but also healthcare. 

We are therefore proud to become a member of the Right to Research Coalition family and are certain that together we will: “Be the change we want to see in the World.” – Mahatma Ghandi

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