Houghton and Sheehan on Economic Impact of Open Access


In July 2006 John Houghton and Peter Sheehan published a paper on The Economic Impact of Enhanced Access to Research Findings. Apparently they have built on this work in subsequent papers. The paper explains how the impact of access to information is factored into standard growth models for the economy. The authors posit two parameters (phi – representing the portion of research and development which ends up being useful – and epsilon – representing that knowledge may not be perfectly accessible). They then go on to identify the consequences of a change in these two factors as might occur from a transition to open access. On their analysis the rate of return on research and development increases by a percentage equal to the percentage increase in the efficiency and accessibility of the knowledge (ie in the parameters phi and epsilon). They state:

“… the results… imply that, if a move to open access has a significant beneficial impact on either or both the accessibility or efficiency of R&D, then the benefits of open access will be high also. Assuming, for example, that a move towards open access increased access and efficiency by 5% and that the social rate of return to GERD was 50%, then if there had been open access to all OECD research circa 2003 it would have increased the social returns to R&D by some USD 36 billion. These are recurring gains from the effect on one year’s R&D. Hence, assuming that the change is permanent, they can be converted to growth rate effects.”

The issue the paper does not address however is what the values of these parameters are in practice, and what how a move to open access will impact them. The put forward some hypotheticals in a country by country table.

They Really Mean Open Access+

However, the assumptions they have made is that the knowledge which is accessible may also be used. This is a stronger assumption than is made by some parts of the “open access” movement which impose differing degrees of purpose based and other restrictions – commentary example 1 example 2.

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