Running Commentary

This month's cover story looks at the issue of access to scientific research. This topic is, of course, very relevant to APA. As one of the world's largest psychology publishers, APA plays a central role in the dissemination of psychological knowledge through its many print and electronic products. We have, for example, 44 peer-reviewed journals, nine abstract periodicals, two electronic database products, a book-publishing program and a Web site.

As highlighted in this Monitor issue, some individuals and groups are proposing to change the scientific publishing model such that scientists and the public could have quick and free access to scientific findings supported by taxpayer dollars. Alternative publishing models to meet these objectives have been proposed, and some new "free" products have been created in the last few months (see page 46).

APA's electronic resources

The issue of public access to the scientific literature is not a new one, and, in the past 15 years, APA has been creating a number of tools and new products to meet this need. The products help increase members' and the public's access both to the articles we publish and to the larger scientific literature.

PsycINFO Direct, for example, allows anyone to search the abstracts for 24 hours at a nominal rate, and PsycARTICLES Direct allows anyone who wants a specific article we publish to get it for a nominal charge.

It's also worth noting that nearly 3 million people have access to the psychological literature through APA's flagship electronic abstracts product, PsycINFO, primarily via site licenses to academic and public libraries, as well as individual member access. Also, our relatively new full-text product, PsycARTICLES, allows users access to the full text of articles dating back to 1988. We are working on providing full text to every article back to Vol. 1, No. 1, on all of our titles.

APA was also an early user of the World Wide Web and over the last decade has built a huge Web site that is a critical information resource for psychologists and the public. Our site, www.apa.org, is accessed more than a million times a day and is a particularly important source of free information about psychology and behavioral science for the public because it distills the psychological literature and applies it to daily life.

Proposing open access

Without question, the dissemination of new research knowledge is critically important to the discipline and a central role for the association. At the heart of the issue is what economic model will support the continuing robust dissemination of the research and access to it for the broadest audience. Our Publications and Communications Board and our publisher, Gary VandenBos, PhD, have grappled with this issue for a number of years. As they point out, it is important in this debate to make a distinction between free access and open access.

We believe free access, while a laudable goal, is economically unfeasible and would therefore lead to less access to the literature as publishers fail to cover their costs and therefore stop publishing. A better solution is open or low-cost access that provides the public with access to the literature but still allows nonprofit publishers like APA to recoup their costs.

At the recently completed U.N. World Summit on the Information Society, in Geneva, it was common to hear phrases such as "easy and affordable" and "quick and reasonably priced" when describing initiatives that developed countries should undertake in making scientific information available to the less well-developed countries of the world. This is consistent with the approach that APA has been supporting for some time.

The central question is how can we best serve the end-user of the research literature? To answer that question, we must first recognize that there are many end-users, all with very different needs. The needs vary depending on whether the end-user is a researcher who is reading within his or her specialty area, a researcher studying outside his or her specialty area, a psychology graduate or undergraduate student, a university library, a policy-maker or an interested member of the general public.

One product does not fit all; a variety of information products are necessary. The best economic model for any scholarly publisher is a model that allows the publisher to cover expenses, put some dollars back into new product research and development, and doesn't create a have and have-nots system among authors who can afford to publish and those who cannot.

We believe we have found the model with an ease-of-access formula that keeps costs as low as possible while also allowing APA to continue to support psychological science and its dissemination.