Science reporting: paywalls, journals put price on science research

There’s an unspoken pact scientists make with the public. In the same way that doctors and police are held by law and by honour to tell the truth and protect, a scientist is entrusted with performing research with integrity and transparency. The research is carried out, the process painstakingly recorded in laboratory books. The results are scrutinised by peers, often repeatedly, until the work is published in a journal, where readers trust that the work is done accurately and without disguise.

Publications are the key to science: they are a public acknowledgement and record of what has been done and how it can be repeated by other scientists. This ability to replicate is the key to truth and integrity: if the results can be replicated, they are valid. A new fact, a new discovery, has been made.

Given the importance of validation and publication, you would think access to this vital, new information would be relatively easy. Scientists ought to be shouting their discoveries from the rooftops. And they are? — ?but they’re also often paying to publish their own work behind a paywall.

In practice, the information in peer-reviewed publications is not freely available to the public. It’s not even freely available to other scientists. Journals have been around for hundreds of years but in the last quarter of the 20th century, academic publishing increased exponentially. The costs used to come from the physical processes of typesetting, printing and binding but access is now primarily electronic. Our largest databases are now closing in on 50 million articles and a library like that isn’t just a wealth of knowledge? — it’s a wealthy profit source, too — via redwolf.newsvine.com

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