Much of research in economics is funded directly or indirectly by public funds, so it stands to reason that the public should be able to access it. The public being other economists, political or economic decision makers, and the public at large. Unfortunately, there are roadblocks in considering or accessing this research. One recent impediment is a new tendency by decision makers to look less at advice from experts and the literature they have contributed to. A longer standing one is that a significant amount of research is gated behind paywalls. In this post, we want to illustrate how RePEc can help overcome these issues by giving a chance to everyone to read up on the economic literature
Accessing the literature
In many cases, freely accessible pre-prints are available as an alternative to the pay-walled articles. These working papers may not be the latest version, but they already give a very good idea of the final, published version. And many are in fact more complete than the journal articles, which have often been cut for space constraints. We have also noticed that the more an article is cites, the more likely it is available as a working paper.
On RePEc sites, we provide links between articles and their working paper versions (as long as at least one author is registered, has claimed all versions as theirs, and the titles are sufficiently similar. Misses can be rectified with this form). Users have clearly recognized this, as working papers are downloaded seven times more frequently, even after controlling for the notification services below.
Working papers have another advantage: they are available much earlier than their published articles. This is why RePEc has emphasized working papers in its notification services. Most notably, NEP allows users to subscribe to alerts about new working papers in almost 100 fields thorough email, RSS feeds or Twitter. This is, as everything on RePEc, free and accessible to everyone. Other useful tools, which also include other types of publications, are MyIDEAS and the ‘date modified’ option at EconPapers search.
Finding the right literature
With over two million works indexed, the amount of material available in RePEc may be overwhelming, especially to non-specialists. Both EconPapers and IDEAS try to make it easier by making the RePEc bibliographic database accessible in different ways: search, browsing, keywords, JEL classification, links to references, citations and author profiles. We are working on tutorials that should make it easier for the unexperienced user to unleash the full potential of the sites.
In addition, there is the RePEc Biblio, in which editors curate lists of the most relevant papers in their field. At the time of this writing, 115 topics are covered, and the site is expanding. This site should become helpful to get introduced in a topic and quickly find answers, even for non-specialists. As the site is organized as a tree with increasingly narrow topics, concrete answers for interested users will eventually be available.
You can help, too!
You can help by making more research easily accessible. There are two main ways: first, by making the working papers from your institution available on RePEc, following these instructions. Second, if the first option is not working out, upload your working papers at MPRA.
You can also contribute to the RePEc Biblio by taking care of topics in your area of expertise, either by assembling lists of relevant literature or by asking others to do so for sub-topics.
YES!! The copyrights systems are a mess – they appear to no longer serve the incentive function they were originally designed to serve. As you said often the public funds the production of knowledge, then “paywalled” publishers appropriate (in fact expropriate) produced knowledge, which leaves deprived both original creators of knowledge and society at large. Loss or costly access to the literature is a kind of inefficiency that makes everyone worse-off without making anyone else better off. There is a need to re-socialize at least publicly financed research.