21/10/2014 07:09 BST | Updated 20/12/2014 05:59 GMT

New App Widens Access to Research

A brief history of digital publishing has dramatically changed the way we consume media, crippling legacy institutions while making way for a new breed of innovators. The negligible costs of distribution have inspired a creativity and dynamism that is perhaps one of the greatest celebrations of the web, which turned 25 this year. Though most media houses have already adjusted for their survival, academic publishing has moved at a glacial pace, maintaining prohibitively high download fees in today's age of access.


It is this problem that Queen's Belfast medical student David Carroll and Right to Research Coalition assistant director Joe McArthur are trying to solve. Launched today under the umbrella of the Open Access Button, Carroll and McArthur have headed up the development of a suite of apps designed to help researchers, patients and the general public get access to academic material.

Both in their early 20's, Carroll and McArthur recognise the irony in pricing access to publicly funded articles at $30 or more. Funds that were meant to widen advancements in science, culture and the economy are delivered at a cost that significantly prevents and diminishes their usefulness. What's even most surprising is that publishers spend large amounts of money and time around preventing access.

The Open Access Button is installed as an extension in your web browser, to be clicked when you find a piece of paywalled research. Once a user clicks the button, apps run in the background to first try and locate an alternative free copy. If nothing is returned, apps add the article to the user's wishlist and automatically contacts the author to request a copy. Users are able to share why they need to view a particular article, creating a neat interactive map of other people who are conducting similar research around the world.

The new apps build upon a successful beta released in November 2013. With limited marketing, McArthur and Carroll saw over 5,000 people request access to articles, accounting for nearly 10,000 instances when testers were denied access to research. Since November, the apps have been built out on mobile in collaboration with a volunteer team of students and young researchers from around the world.

The launch of the new app coincides with International Open Access Week, an event that welcomes academic research which allows for free, immediate access to peer-reviewed research, as well as full right to reuse studies. The new app will be showcased at the event's kick-off at the World Bank headquarters in Washington D.C. and is expected to reach more than one million people on social media through a Thunderclap campaign and #buttonlaunch.

Gaining the support of the wider, established academic community shall be a crucial for the Open Access Button. Though McArthur and Carroll acknowledge the Open Access Button is only part of the solution, its role in encouraging and organising the community through succinct tech is tangible. 2013 Nobel Laureate in Medicine or Psychology Professor Randy Schekman is behind the project and its collaborative potential commenting, "Tools like the Open Access Button can help catalyse change and create a world where science has more impact, is more efficient and importantly available to everyone."

The Open Access Button's launch shall be livestreamed from London at 1800 BST. Access via this link: