Does Government-forced Open-access Help Science?

As scientists along with government officials in the House and Senate work to pass bills that force government-funded research to be freely accessible, one question pops to mind: Will peer review–the principal standard in scientific research–work with open-access?

With current subscription based journals, the publication process involves an editor, who is paid, a number of reviewers, who are not paid, and a boat-load of people formatting, producing and distributing the content–all paid. With open-access format, how do publications get reviewed or formatted or distributed? At the very least someone needs to coordinate reviewers maintain a website.

Will the government finance current publishers or will government-funded research go strictly in government-funded journals? Since most research is funded by government grants–judging from the funding sources listed at the end of academic papers–the later would force many publishers out of business. The specificity of smaller journals would be lost, and all research may get lumped together–though I suppose they’d separate fields like physics and psychology. Publishers, of course, are calling the open-access bills “unnecessary and a waste of federal resources.”

And who would keep track of citations? Right now, there is an intricate bookkeeping system keeping track of citations for each author–for a fun dick-measuring game of who has the most citations–and an overall “impact factor” of the journal–another game to see which journal is most cited. Though I call these games, keeping track of citations is important. It (kind of) shows which scientists and journals publish meaningful work.

While I like the idea of open-access–in a romantic sense–I’m not sure it is compatible with the current structure of scientific publication. If these bills pass, a dramatic overhaul of the entire system will have to occur. If–or when–that happens, we must preserve the peer review process even if all else is lost.

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8 thoughts on “Does Government-forced Open-access Help Science?

  1. While this is all very important, I think the big problem with this push is what the government and politicians will use this information for. With politicians railing against evolution, stem cells, and climate change it is inevitable that they will use this information for further their ideas and agendas. Not to mention how a lack of understanding the results will lead to out rage, cutting budgets, and anger over time spent and a lack of desired results… these are current hurdles between the scientific communities and the rest of the world…. Will open access make it better or worse?

    • That’s a good point that I hadn’t even thought of. It’s taken years for me to learn how to accurately interpret scientific papers. I can only imagine what someone with a non-science background would think.

  2. A couple of days ago I was commenting the news on reddit. The 1 year embargo is something extremely stupid and it’s not going to help science in any way.
    1)The scientist want to read the paper now, not it one year, we are working on the cutting edge of science.
    2)The general audience doesn’t really care about reading your paper, they want to know what it is about.
    3) Probably we will end up in paying more…. not less

    I agree with you, a romantic idea of open access is great, but this way of doing it it’s meaningless.

    here the full discussion: http://www.reddit.com/r/PhilosophyofScience/comments/191of5/in_a_longawaited_leap_forward_for_open_access_the/

  3. But it strikes me as a cowardly attitude: “people might misinterpret scientific articles so let’s keep them closed”.

    • Maybe it will increase the standard of science writing to where the communicators know how to read technical papers.

    • I’m sorry if my post gave this impression. My point is for outreaching the broad audience is to explain the papers and why we are doing some specific research. Simply throwing our paper to their face is not going to work. I’m sometimes struggling for understanding some papers that are in my field… I cannot imagine someone that have basic knowledge of chemistry reading a chemistry research paper.

      As kind of experiment with an open access paper, I wrote a blog post explaining that paper (http://www.vsaggiomo.com/webpage/paper-explained-using-thermodynamically-controlled-networks-to-assess-molecular-similarity/) and got more access in 24h than the paper itself in 7days…
      This is what I mean by outreach.

      • If we do open access, I think that fundamentally we will have to include a new section in our publications: Simple English explanation including the reason for doing the experiment, the basic gist of the experiment, and the implications of the research for the future. Sure, these are things often touched on in the body of the paper, but a Simple English section would promote the outreach and transparency the public/scientists might want.

      • I completely agree. Not only would that benefit the non-layman who wants to read the paper, but it would help the scientist to better explain their results. Then they can’t rely on jargon to cover up something they don’t understand!

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