Twitter is a great resource for scientific inspiration, because the awesome scientists that regularly tweet share a lot of interesting articles, blog posts, and great content. One particular humorous piece was the link to the overly honest science methods pictures over at distractify.com, especially the one about pay-walls.

Awesome picture from http://news.distractify.com/geek/science/scientists-get-honest-about-their-methods
Awesome picture from http://news.distractify.com/geek/science/scientists-get-honest-about-their-methods

As hilarious as the image is, it draws attention to several important issues in research. First, is the excessive attention paid to indices such as Impact Factor, or citation-based indices. How often are highly cited articles cited without being read simply because they’re locked behind pay-walls? Why should the merits of a researcher judged primarily on their publications in highly cited, pay-walled journals? Let’s not even touch on how tweeting may impact the perceived respectability of a scientist by his or her peers.

If getting people to read the research article is of genuine interest, then open-access takes the cake. Citations may serve as a proxy for the number of people who read an article and found it valuable, if they actually had access to read the article. Otherwise, it’s just another number.

The Research Information Network (RIN) conducted an analysis of the articles published in Nature Communications and found that OA articles are cited more than subscription articles and attracted three times as many views as those only available to subscribers. More about this study here, see the report here or the full data set here because it’s open access, SO YOU CAN!

Of course, these issues may not be as important as getting and keeping a job. Unless academic institutions consider other metrics in their hiring practices, less established researchers may face considerable pressures against publishing in OA journals.

As one keen PhD candidate put it,

    “Scientists applying for funding and positions are judged not only according to the quality of their work, but also where it is published. Having a single paper published in any of these high-profile journals can have a transformative effect on a career. If publication requires flashy work in fashionable fields then, so the argument goes, this offers the most reliable path to funding and permanent positions.”

View his insightful post about early career researchers.

And more recently, Erin McKiernan, an early career researcher, posted a compelling call for researchers to stand up for and publish in OA journals.

    At any stage of your career, you have the right to stand up for what you believe in. If you believe in openness, stand up for it. Access to information is a human right, but it is often treated as a privilege. This has to change. And it will take all of us to make it happen.

See the rest of her post here

If these were not reasons enough, then consider the public good. How can grant-funded researchers expect the public to fund science (ie- grants), and not be able to see the results of their investments? One woman went to extreme lengths in order to gain access to research articles about the her children’s genetic disease.

    “We spent hours copying articles from bound journals. But fees gate the research libraries of private medical schools. These fees became too costly for us to manage, and we needed to gain access to the material without paying for entry into the library each time. We learned that by volunteering at a hospital associated with a research library, we could enter the library for free. After several months of this, policies changed and we resorted to masking our outdated volunteer badge and following a legitimate student (who would distract the guard) into the library.”

Read Sherry Terry’s article here.

Or the story about the woman who deciphered her own genetic mutation. Who started by searching for biomedical papers on her disease, and then having to “scratched around in Google until she found uploaded PDFs of the articles she wanted.”

Convinced? Check out the list of journals to avoid like the plague.

And if you’re really dedicated, and work on a gene, join the Su lab’s efforts in expanding the publicly available knowledge base on human genes: Gene Wiki.

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2 thoughts on “Neat Science Thursday – Open Access is Awesome

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