Open Sesame, All Access but Starting Where?

Recently I was able to attend Virginia Tech’s Open Access Week’s Keynote address by Brian Nosek.  Nosek had some interesting ideas.  First though, we should look at the current meaning of open access.  Open, to view, read, digest and have access to research results in their final, most polished form.  This research can be from the most independent historian to the leading genetic scientists.  Many journals are seen as targets for publishing research.  You can hear grad students lustfully mention their goals of getting published in ScienceNature, PLOS, and many others.  To have access to these journals and others in the past required individual membership in research organizations or very costly personal subscriptions.  At many research universities, libraries will pay millions of dollars to ensure that their students and faculty have access to articles in these journals.  The idea is that researchers can access what has been done, and use that information as a starting point for their own research.  This could be the basic understanding of some concept or a more controversial finding that an author may seek to reproduce.  Either way, access has historically been limited by money, and as such, knowledge, to an extent, has been limited by money. Now the game is changing.  Journals are beginning to open the doors of their libraries and archives for some level of open access.  Now, anyone can walk into a public library, go online and read much of the seminal work that has been published in Nature (http://www.digitaljournal.com/science/science-journal-nature-opens-up-its-archives/article/419391).  They could not download, print, or copy the article, but they could technically access it for free.  This is a big change.  Could this could make knowledge and information considerably more accessible to everyone. Other journals have adopted an open access format that allows for full access.  In the field of Entomology (the study of insects) the Journal of Integrated Pest Management began as open access.  No original research is to be published there.  Instead, authors take care in explaining and redocumenting the work of others to establish an understanding of what researchers may view as background understanding for their research.  With that, any reader can go to this journal and type in “Brown Marmorated Stink Bug”, which they might because this invasive species has been invading houses and their are some crazy stories about it origin.  After locating the profile article, the reader can tweet a link, download the article, print it off and take it home for free.  This means that instead of having to trust what has been accepted by wikipedia, anyone can see what is known about this organism that has recently thrust itself into their lives.  Rather than perpetuating rumors that some University brought them to the US to do some rediculous task, growers, extension agents, teachers, anyone can see what is really known.  This is but one of the ways to grant access to the public. Brian Nosek has a different idea.  One that starts on an entirely different end of the research process.  Many journals are dedicated to publishing original research in a context that will provide the maximum impact for those findings.  Nosek describes this peer reviewed process as presenting only the best, most exciting, results in their polished form to be reviewed and then published.  Nosek and his colleagues propose to involve the review of peers in the initial stages of this process.  Authors can sign up to have an article fast tracked when it is only a question with well developed methods and materials.  Then, a group of peers that can provide useful insight can review and comment on the methodology in hopes that it will benefit the scientific process. The article will then proceed as the research does and because of the open access end of it, the data will become public as well.  This access goes well beyond knowledge as polished and synthesized by experts in a field who have spent decades being trained to think and research one specific way.  With access to raw data, in the context of the research methodology with which it was published, anyone can analyze it.  This could be the opening of pandora’s box, or it could be the way that impromptu collaborations begin in the information age.  Access is changing, and maybe because of that, the way we do science can too.

Leave a Reply