Student initiative, Right to Research Coalition, aims to make research information affordable

In an effort to increase access and affordability of published research, alumnus Nick Shockey created the Right to Research Coalition.

Currently, academics do research with funding from organizations or universities. The research then undergoes peer review, which is also done by academics. Publishers take this research, edit and format it and sell it back to institutions for as much as $20,000 per year. In light of high expenses,  institutions such as Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are among many canceling subscriptions.

According to many market researchers, articles have been commercialized in a way it was not intended to be. Similarly, each article is a monopoly, so publishers can control demand and then inflate the price.

However, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) has been working to make this information accessible to the general public.

According to Shockey he did three years of research after watching a CNN international segment on MIT’s OpenCourseWare. It is an online initiative that makes all of MIT’s courseware available to everyone. It was then that Shockey had the idea that Trinity should start something like MIT’s program.

“It was important, valuable content for anyone who wanted to use it,” Shockey said.

While still an undergraduate, Shockey talked to students at Trinity, as well as Greek organizations to get petition signatures, which gained nearly 300 signatures. He then met university librarian Diane Graves, who was on the SPARC steering committee at the time.

“SPARC was trying to think, “˜How could we engage students in this conversation?’ So I quickly ran over what the issues were with Nick, and it was like you could see the light bulb go on,” Diane Graves said.

“At that time, there was not much student involvement in that movement at all,” Shockey said.

Since Right to Research was created, Shockey has traveled all over the world working with various undergraduate and graduate groups to inform them on this issue.

“Why would we ever not want bright people in any part of the world to have equal or open access to scholarly information? Why would we want to make that difficult for them?,” Graves said.

For example, if a researcher is attempting to look into the biological elements of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Right to Research and Open Access  would want as much scholarly information as possible to be accessible to that individual.

“It’s very hard to anticipate all of the potential benefits and uses people will have or can have when they have access to information””not just that they can get through a library, but the access they really need in that moment,” said Michael Hughes, instruction librarian and  assistant professor.

In addition, Trinity was the first small liberal arts institution to incorporate an Open Access policy.

“Honestly, I think the most important message I would give is just the tremendous impact students can have on this issue,” Shockey said.

According to Hughes, this issue is one that should be engaging to undergraduates, as information  freedom is a pressing issue affecting students at Trinity and among campuses across the nation.

“I don’t think this issue should be as remote to undergraduates as it might be because information and equality is real. There are plenty of materials today that Trinity students can’t access,” Hughes said.

For students who are frustrated by the lack of research available, there is an Open Access Button which is currently being turned into a mobile application. It has been in the development for the past 18 months and will now be available for students to press when they are unable to access an article.

“The Open Access Button helps connect you with the research you need and makes a change in the system of publishing, which helps this problem be a thing of the past,” said Joseph McArthur, one of the creators of the button.

According to Graves, the current model is one that must go and does not hace a place within today’s society.

“We simply have an unsustainable model for acquiring information in the scholarly world, and it needs to change,” Graves said.

Although it will not happen in the immediate future, according to Graves, Open Access is something that is not only beneficial to research, but a right.

“The people it affects the most are the people who are paying the system. Students who are paying tuition may still not be able to get to things that they need because there  is this huge, sort of, closed economy out there that only the [wealthy can afford],” Graves said.