Feb 11, 2013

Why science doesn’t belong to everyone (yet)

Publications are the key to science -- but it's an expensive exercise. And it puts a price on research that the public can't afford to pay, argue science writers Upulie Divisekera and Adam G Dunn.

There’s an unspoken pact scientists make with the public. In the same way that doctors and police are held by law and by honour to tell the truth and protect, a scientist is entrusted with performing research with integrity and transparency. The research is carried out, the process painstakingly recorded in laboratory books. The results are scrutinised by peers, often repeatedly, until the work is published in a journal, where readers trust that the work is done accurately and without disguise.

Publications are the key to science: they are a public acknowledgement and record of what has been done and how it can be repeated by other scientists. This ability to replicate is the key to truth and integrity: if the results can be replicated, they are valid. A new fact, a new discovery, has been made.

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20 thoughts on “Why science doesn’t belong to everyone (yet)

  1. Andybob

    A similar thing happened in the legal world with law reports. They were expensive to subscribe to, required a large library to house but it was necessary to have access to them to properly practice law.

    Law reports survive for prestige reasons also. Some pretence of greater accuracy is made, but it . The bailee and austlii online projects mean collections of law reports are no longer necessary for the practice of law.

    The Law reports may eventually be replaced by collections of links to cases regarded as significant by editorial committees – a blog.

    If public money is spent on research, as it is spent on judgments, then that research should be publicly available. The funding body should insist on a licence to publish the research as a condition of the grant. Journals will then become largely a collection of links – a blog.

  2. Andybob

    I meant to say: “Some pretence of greater accuracy is made, but text is provided electronically by judges to online reports so the scope for error is quite small”.

    In my case, small but significant !

  3. klewso

    Hear about the tabloid journalist that wandered into a laboratory – but couldn’t find a cubicle?

  4. quinch

    What happened with the boycott of Elsevier some academics were calling for last year?

  5. jmendelssohn

    One of the reasons why the scandal of restricted access (over priced) academic journals has been allowed to run so long is that universities, where the hierarchy wants to measure every output, can use a simple formula to assess the quality of an article in a restricted access peer-reviewed journal. There is no easy fail safe formula to measure the impact of open source research.
    Academics need the metrics to move up the promotion food chain.

  6. Pat

    Well done Upulie and Adam. If original research and indeed new discoveries are available to only the privileged few, the iron law of oligarchy applies yet again. Only those privileged few can benefit. Aaron Swartz’ suicide is symptomatic of the extremes those privileged few will go to to protect their status. The days of their sipping free publicly-funded nectar are over.

    Tear down the paywalls and make the information available. After all, it’s ours!

  7. Gavin Moodie

    The Elsevier boycott remains active on the web site called ‘The cost of knowledge’. Elsevier has moderated its position and behaviour, but not changed it radically.

    All Australian universities have a digital repository in which many research papers are posted which are available for down load. The ‘List of Australian university research repositories’ is on the CAIRSS web site.

    Most overseas universities active in research have a digital repository but often it is just as easy to donload paper’s from author’s personal or departmental web site.

  8. Scott

    So let’s see; creating a quality journal, editing it, promoting it, organizing peer review, indexing it for search, hosting it on decent infrastructure with high availability and making it available for thousands of users around the world, as well as printing and distributing the hard copy, isn’t worth anything?
    This stuff doesn’t just happen. Surely the company deserves to get some return on their investment.

  9. Andybob

    @ Scott. My Crikey subscription seems a fair price for what we get. It would buy approximately two papers from Elsevier. Scientists often pay the costs of publication. I would pay something for the services you describe, but not the current extortionate prices.

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