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Sharing ‘Collective Human Knowledge’: The Benefits of Open Access Publication

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Sharing ‘Collective Human Knowledge’: The Benefits of Open Access Publication

26 October 2021 | by Katherine Bosworth and Jonathan Steffen

The year 2020 was a major milestone in the evolution of the open access (OA) publishing model. According to Dimensions, it was the first year in which OA publishing outperformed subscription-based publishing. Globally, more papers were published in OA format than in subscription format.

If open access is still perceived by many as the new kid on the block, it’s a kid that’s certainly growing up fast. However, for all the relative novelty of the OA publishing model, the ideas that underpin it can be traced as far back as the European Middle Ages.

As its name suggests, open access publishing aims to make scientific research open for anyone to access. The word ‘access’ comes from the Latin ‘accessus’, meaning ‘approach, admittance, attack’1. ‘Science’, meanwhile, comes from the Latin ’scientia’, meaning ‘knowledge, understanding, expert knowledge’2.

The Online Etymology Dictionary traces the first use of both ‘access’3 and ‘science’4 in the English language to the 14th century. Towards the end of the 14th century, ‘science’ came to acquire the meaning of ‘collective human knowledge (especially that gained by systematic observation, experiment and reasoning)’. It is interesting to note that the University of Basel was founded in 1460; Basel is the city where MDPI came into existence in 1996, and the company is still headquartered there.

A new, old communication revolution

Open access publishing unlocks research that would otherwise be costly and restricted, making concepts, quotations and data free of charge for everyone around the world. Facilitated by the Internet, OA publishing draws on the potential of this game-changing technology to stimulate a revolution in the sharing of scientific information.

The university movement of the Middle Ages drew, in a similar way, on the most influential transformational technology of its day—printing, which was pioneered by the German goldsmith and inventor Johannes Gutenberg in the years 1440 to 1450.

Although open access publishing may seem new, the ideals that inspire it have a strong history in the humanism of the late Middle Ages.

Benefits for the scientific community

Going back to the early 21st century, however, what are the benefits of Open Access? If so many scientists are opting for it as their preferred route to publication, why are they doing so? If open access still seems novel to some, what is the scientific philosophy on which it was founded?

The OA publishing model is data-driven. It makes use of digital advances, enabling scientific insights to be published faster than they would be with traditional publishing models. OA publishers like MDPI are ‘user publishers’, rooted in the scientific community that they serve, and their journals offer a global portal for the sharing of science and ideas.

There are six reasons why an increasing number of researchers are choosing open access publication for their work.

1. More citations and a greater impact

Free-to-read work is more likely to be read by a greater number of people. In a global online research environment, where academics have a huge amount of choice when it comes to which papers to cite, a free and easily accessible paper has an advantage over others that are hidden behind a paywall. As more researchers will be reading work published via open access, it is more likely to be cited and therefore have a longer legacy, as the ideas that it communicates will continue to be incorporated into future research.

2. Opportunity to reach a much wider audience

As access to published papers is free of charge, researchers from different fields, and also from developing countries, are able to read papers that might otherwise have been unavailable to them. This increases their potential reach.

3. Author awareness and future prospects

Having a research paper in the public sphere also increases the profile of the author, as their work is potentially visible to all. Not only will the paper be seen by more people; it is more likely to be seen by the right people. This includes potential collaborators and future employers.

4. Advance scientific innovation

The ability for anyone to access new research easily and for free means that open access can stimulate rapid advances in scientific innovation. Work published via OA is therefore more likely to make a swift and timely contribution to scientific breakthroughs. This is vital in times when the speed of scientific progress is key—for example, during a major public health crisis.

5. Retention of copyright

Most traditional publication models require copyright to be transferred from the author to the publisher. By contrast, open access papers are usually published under the Creative Commons licence. This means that authors can retain copyright while allowing others to share and use their work.

6. Community publication

Another benefit of open access is the feeling of community that comes from research findings being so accessible. Other academics are able to freely consult and use work published via OA, encouraging discussion of the research findings and giving them a place within the thinking of the wider scientific community.

A trusted and valuable publishing platform

MDPI’s open access model delivers recognised value to the global scientific community. Our authors find it convenient and easy to use. We offer a fast publication service, and all the research that we publish is available online for free, with no waiting period. This makes the process of getting research out there easy and efficient.

MDPI was founded to make new scientific research more widely and quickly available to the global scientific community. Our growth is driven by the open access model, and we have always been funded by our excellent authors.

Our goal is to offer a trusted and valued publishing platform for the global scientific community as a whole. Our dedication to customer service, our stringent peer review process and our efficient company systems allow us to maintain our strong growth rate without compromising on quality.

For more information about the process, please see our Instructions for Authors.

1 Oxford Latin Desk Dictionary, 1994. Revised edition, 2005.
2 Ibid.
3 access | Search Online Etymology Dictionary ( (Accessed 15 September 2021.)
4 science | Search Online Etymology Dictionary ( (Accessed 15 September 2021.)

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