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Journals, open access and blogging

February 6, 2012

There have been some interesting articles in the press recently about publishing and science. Here is an article in The Economist about journal access: The price of information. I’m sure I am not alone in thinking how inane it is for the government and private foundations to pour billions of dollars into research and then have it published in journals that the public does not have access to. It bothered me less when I was at MIT where I could still get access to just about any journal on- or off-campus. But still off-campus access required some extra work of logging into the MIT library, searching for the journal and then searching for the paper.  A lot more work than simply clicking on a PubMed link. Here in Greece I can only get access while I am in the lab and even than my institution doesn’t have as broad of a subscription as we had at MIT. We have a way around this but it is mildly time consuming and more often than not I just settle with reading the abstract. Obviously the publishers have to make a profit and have done a great job at getting everything on-line. But how much profit is acceptable. I remember when Ben Lewin sold Cell to Elsavier and he pocketed what seemed to be money than I thought he deserved. Yes, Cell is a great journal and we all dream of getting Cell papers but it is the hard work and creativity of scientists that makes the journal great. I may upset every editor out there but let’s be honest, the hard part is the science. As The Economist article says, Cell needs us more than we need Cell. I don’t know where or how this revolution starts but I do know it ends with open online access and an end to printed journals. Nothing else makes sense. Our goal is for our science to have an impact and firewalls work against that goal. One interesting caveat is that the bigger more powerful institutions have better subscriptions and off-campus support, thus it is less of an issue to scientists at them. Thus, the issue does not adversely affect a lot of science’s more powerful players. Fortunately, scientists tend to be a liberal group and many still feel the need for open access even if it does not help them much personally.

Another issue is the value of blogging and other fast paced internet-based methods of communicating our research. Apparently, the pseudo-scientific field of economics converted from traditional publications to blogs a long time ago and hasn’t looked back ( Here (Cracking Open the Scientific Process) is an interesting article from the New York Times about potential future directions in what they call ‘open science’ in communicating scientific research. ‘Open science’ basically encompasses any type of instant on-line publication such as blogging, forums, instant publication sites and social networking. I think scientists have been embarrassingly slow in adopting new faster methods of communication. And even myself, I don’t post a single piece of biological data. I have only posted about methodology. Ideally I would have tabs at the top of my blog to each of my projects and post data from them as it comes in. And ideally, publishing in ‘open science’ space would be taken as seriously in terms of getting jobs and promotions as traditional publishing. That being said there is an important place for traditional publication in science. ‘Open science’ will not (at least any time soon) replace it. As flawed as the peer review system is, it more or less works. A method of post-publishing review in say a Wikipedia style would improve things. Traditional publishing is also a great way to catalog our knowledge in an organized fashion. Where would we be without NCBI and PubMed. Google is a mess. Thus as scientists I think we should encourage and acknowledge rapid paced ‘open science’ publication. The key word here is acknowledge, i.e. the first person to discover something is the first to share it with the world whether it be on a blog or in a traditional journal.


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One Comment
  1. Andrija permalink

    Nice thoughts! Thanks for your contemplation!
    I have had several nice experiences of directly emailing the first or last author(often his secretary) and getting a pdf directly by email. Once even one doctor misunderstood me and sent me a hardcopy in mail. (Thanks Richard!). Having some journals more “closed” produces contacts, networks, and appreciation for interest in other peoples research.
    Open access, open science – I am definitely in that throng!

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