Open Access and Laziness

Open access is a hot topic of conversation in the academic world. The key issues in conflict are the ideas of academic and scientific progress vs. high quality publications. Many of those in favor of open access such as Michael Eisen’s opinion editorial proclaim the necessity to share information as soon as it is gained so that progress can be quickly attained in all fields. Websites such as FoldIt have taken on this idea of using crowd-sourcing via the internet to solve complex problems that are seemingly unsolvable. For example, some internet gamers were able to solve a problem in just 3 weeks that had been studied by researchers for 10 years with no luck. However, the converse side of the discussion is the need for high quality publications. One such method of examining the quality of someone’s work is through peer review; scholars well-versed in the field read the paper to verify the scientific merit of the work. This takes time, as more than one scientist typically reviews the paper and it may not be at the top of his or her to do list. Eisen’s reaction to this problem is that peer reviewing should be minimized and peer reviewing should be completed after publishing rather than before. This would take a considerable chunk of time out of the process, getting the information to the public much more quickly. In theory, it’s a great idea. I do think open access is a good thing…but there are still some kinks to work out.

We also spent a good portion of our class last night discussing plagiarism. While sometimes it can be intentional and malicious, we also discussed how many times plagiarism occurs simply because people are lazy. They’re trying to do their work quickly and don’t take the time to make sure everything is done correctly – such as using their own words rather than copying someone else’s words. How does this laziness come into play with open access? I would venture a guess that even in cases that the general public has the knowledge to fully understand, they will not take the time to examine the validity of studies as they are published. One example of this is the debate over the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine that was hypothesized to cause autism. While recent research has shown no link between the two, it’s still a raging debate (just look at my Facebook news feed). People first heard that the vaccine could be dangerous, and they are not budging from that perspective even though there is credible evidence that shows that their position on the topic may need to be revisited. For me, this suggests the tendency of people to make initial impressions and stick with them even when they are outdated or proven wrong. If the academic world posts information for the general public to see, I really hope there is some type of check system in place to ensure the credibility of the work.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think open access is a good thing, but I don’t think publishing before reviewing is always the best approach. Perhaps we should take a look at the review process and work on ways to streamline that. Regardless, as long as people are lazy in their work, there’s a chance that sub-par papers will get submitted for publication…and as long as people are lazy in their information gathering, they may not do the research to examine quality on their own. There has to be some kind of happy medium to quickly disseminate high quality information to the public.

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