Open Access Research

Just read the Discover article by Mike Taylor “It’s Not Academic: How Publishers are Squelching Science Communication”. Mike really tied everything together that I have been thinking and hearing lately (especially at #UWsmfs), so I thought I would add my small piece.

Here is a short summary of the article from my point of view. The article discusses the current state of academic publishing: “a horrible mess”. There is some hidden and not so hidden hostility between scientists and publishers/editors. The internet has opened up a new avenue for science communication, and has allowed some to bypass the issue of traditional publication through a journal in favor of publishers like PLoS that were started by researchers and publishes open access journals. Publishers are making paywalls to prevent access and make money by requiring subscriptions to their journals.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think publishers are all bad. I am in favor of something similar to PLoS that still has a review process to make sure that your research is supported by actual data etc. and allows for open access. I am about to submit my first paper and this sounds pretty awesome. Valid research gets published and anyone with a computer can read it? Awesome! I wonder though if readers will think less of open access research in favor of “accredited” research published by traditional publishers in journals. I hope this attitude will start to change as more and more of us publish in open access journals.

When I first thought about open access, I thought every Joe Shmo would be putting their PDFs onto the internet and we would have to wade through to find the good stuff (Mike has a post related to this here, in an email convo with Liz Smith, Director of Global Internal Communications at Elsevier). This seems to be somewhat true, but as we learned in elementary school when I first started using the interwebs for research, dont believe everything you read! As good scientist, I think we are able to weed out the valid and important research from the conspiracy theories etc. But is the general public?

This gets me to my next topic which is the main reason why I think open access is a great idea. As I mentioned in my Science Communication post, it is our duty, as scientists using tax payer money to do our research, to show the public what we are doing with their money. As Christie Wilcox  talked about at the UW Science Communication workshop, there are two “walls” preventing our research from getting out there- first a paywall (required subscription to read journal articles etc) and then a jargon wall. Sounds like open access is a great way to bypass the paywall and get straight to the public.

It also allows your research to get out there faster. Research is constantly moving, but I think publication is lagging far behind. What is published today could have been finished months if not years ago. I know a lot of people who are either still working on manuscripts that were submitted years ago and are being passed back and forth between author and publisher, or still havent gotten around to writing up their research or finishing writing it for submission. Think of how much more cutting edge our research could be if we knew what research was happening sooner.

So why don’t we all submit our research to PLoS? I am interested to hear other opinions on this. Make sure to check out Mike Taylor’s original article and his blog (links above).


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