I’m not an expert on types of publishing and I approach the subject as an author and reader of scientific articles. 1
Others with more expertise have tackled various aspects of OA. Daniel Mietchen won the science3point0 blogging contest with his post about problems created by OA. There are several arguments (or myths) about Open Access publishing and BioMed Central responds to 11 of them here. It seems to be written in 2004 but 5+ years later is still relevant.
One of the questions that often comes up is how to pay for OA journals. Sandeep Gautam described 3 option in his OA 2010 post: ad-based, freemium, and voluntary. An interesting note from Heather Morrison discusses the profit of one publishing company, Elsevier, and how they could fund all science articles at a cost of $1,383 per article.
There have been several papers that show Open Access can boost your citations! A recent paper compared citations from authors who choose OA for perceived benefits and those that are mandated to publish in OA journals to remove selection bias and OA papers still have more citations. The argument in the paper that people put higher quality research in OA because of perceived benefits confused me because I thought one of the reasons given to maintain paywalls is for the gatekeeper role = how else would we know what is important?
I teach and run science outreach programs so the biggest advantage to me is the timely access to new science. Yes, most academic institutions have access to pay journals – but what about the up and coming science whiz or the PostDoc who is between appointments? When I was working outside academia, I couldn’t access my own papers online. (The copyright of papers belonging to the journal and not the author really bothers me but I’ll save that rant for anther time.)
One of the reasons often given for Open Access is to allow more people to read science and not rely on the experts. This may lead to a better appreciation of how science works. This could have tremendous impact when it came to funding and other policy decisions – but it means that people have to be able to understand the papers!
Because I’m often working with people new to a field (non-expert or uninitiated), I would like to add another aspect to Open Access scientific articles. I know, they have enough challenges without adding more stuff but if I ran the world, I would include:
a true non-expert (regular person) explanation of the paper’s main result
Now, I don’t mean the impact of the paper or we would constantly be reading about how scientists are going to make significant strides in cancer, climate change, world peace, etc. I mean the bare bones of what was done in the paper. I’ve tried to do an example with one of my papers here. One of the issues is to determine how much background knowledge is known. My threshold was basic high school biology. Note: this role is often taken up by science bloggers who deconstruct interesting papers.
Why is this important to me? Well, I’m a non-expert in a lot of things and having a paragraph to explain the main concept of a physics paper would really encourage me to delve into a new topic. Plus, I would like to think that people may carry this plain language into the full paper but I may be fully dreaming now.
How would I do it? I’d add a non-expert reviewer to the peer review process. Someone trained in science but from outside the field who can say: does this paper make sense? Do they do what they set out to do?
Does this make sense? Am I trying to dumb down science? I don’t think so – but then I think only when you understand something, can you explain it without jargon.
Silly anecdote about jargon. 2
Note: I know that I’ve missed all the celebrations for the 2010 Open Access celebrations but maybe we can talk about things and I’ll be ready in future years.
- Basically, it is information that is free of charge and free of most copyright restrictions so it can be distributed widely. As stated at PLOS, OA gives ideas to the widest audience without restriction. Peter Suber has a nice brief overview and I’ll try to describe his main points:
- Articles can still be peer-reviewed so the widely available part isn’t just info plastered willy nilly.
- Scientists aren’t paid for their articles so they can consent to Open Access without loss of income – and many of the copyright arguments for music or literature don’t apply.
- Free is from the reader perspective. It does not describe a magical place where the production of articles is free. Now, journals don’t pay authors and often don’t pay reviewers and editors so again, these voluntary efforts can continue the peer review process.
- I’m in genetics, a field with its own special words and conventions so I understand that sometimes jargon is useful. One of my first writing jobs was creating lay person summaries of research for a funding website. I was cruising along until I hit a social science project – I couldn’t understand what they were trying to tell me. Everything made perfect sense to the authors and their usual readers but I was lost. Each word made sense individually but I wasn’t getting the larger concepts. At that moment, I understood the frustration of reading scientific research for the average person. I learned the jargon over some time so I didn’t even notice all the new conventions – but a new field smacks you in the face with everything that you don’t know. ↩