I can see a role for Oprah, Richard and Judy when it comes to open access scientific publishing

It would seem we are one step closer to ‘open access scientific publishing.’  How big or small that step will be, we do not know yet.

Yesterday we saw a classic bit of Ministerial sounding out of the community on one or two emerging ideas, when the Science Minister, David Willetts, spoke to the Publishers Association .  If the ideas had been very radical I suspect Government would have gone that other classic route of getting someone else to float them.

The voices of academia have so far been dominant in the reaction to the speech. So one of my reasons for posting it here is in the hope of giving it a little further reach, to encourage my colleagues in patient and public involvement to give the potential changes in scientific publishing the serious consideration they deserve.  Opportunities lie with the way the wind is blowing.

Four things occurred to me when I read the speech this afternoon.

First, the Pubishers Association’s offer of putting journals into public libraries just seems a bit of a cheap trick.  After all, unless I am wrong, many public libraries are closing aren’t they?

Second, I still don’t think that academia or indeed Government quite ‘get’ the web or social media.  All this talk of ‘harnessing’ it reminds me of the days when PR people used to try and convince everyone that they could ‘control’ the media.  Isn’t the whole point about it – the thing that makes it exciting – is that no one gets it and that the person in the street is evolving it just as much as a corporate might aspire too.

Third, I’m still not convinced that those proposing the solutions are quite living the ‘public interest’ dream in the way that they would like us to think.  Most of the benefits as they see them, are articulated in terms of data-mining, further academic research etc.  Although some elements such as this hold promise:

To enable greater public access to Research Council-funded research information and simplify networking between researchers and SMEs, the Councils are now investing £2 million in the development of a UK “Gateway to Research” portal. Set to open next year, the gateway will enable users to establish who has received funding and for what research. It will provide direct links to actual research outputs such as data sets and publications. They are already working to ensure information is presented in a readily reusable form, using common formats and open standards. I am delighted that Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia will be advising us on these common standards and helping to make sure that the new government-funded portal for accessing research really promotes collaboration.

Fourth, while I understand the Minister’s skittishness over ‘Trip Advisor,’ the fact is that as science begins to operate in an ‘open access’ environment it is going to have to live with this sort of scrutiny and opinion.  Indeed, with the sudden explosion in what is available – not unlike the Bank of England printing more money, the need for good public engagement to help translate and interpret it, is going to be greater than ever.  How we make that happen is the next big question.

Indeed, would it really be that harmful to science and society, to have Oprah or Richard and Judy picking their best research paper of the week?  Or people going onto the ‘Petri Dish’ website to comment on the research that resonated with them most?  Perhaps even click the ‘Like’ button.




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