Open Access is an important step on the way towards open science
This post is meant as a contribution to Open Access Day (OA day) which strives to raise awareness - amongst researchers, research funders, academic publishers, students, politicians and the public - of the importance of Open Access (to literature containing peer-reviewed results of scientific investigations, that is) for our global society.
One way to do this is to have people like you blog in synchronization, i.e. on four questions during OA day. To give you some inspiration on the topic, you may wish to take a look at the first such synch-blogging entry, which came from Neil Saunders, based at the University of Queensland, Australia.
I will follow Neil's formatting to address the four questions:
- Why does Open Access matter to you?
- How did you first become aware of it?
- Why should scientific and medical research be an open-access resource for the world?
- What do you do to support Open Access, and what can others do?
OA, for me, marks a turning point within the scientific cycle, i.e. the iterative process which leads (if sufficiently funded) from a research question or idea to a hypothesis or new method that can be tested and, ultimately, to the results of those tests which then have to be communicated. This communication step is crucial, as it adds to our global knowledge foundation (often described, following Newton, as "the shoulders of giants") for new research questions or ideas that may eventually lead to things like "innovation", "insight" and "progress". If innovators-to-be, however, do not have access to the findings of their forebears (which may indeed be contemporaries), they will have to spend a lot of their time and resources by (re)inventing some aspects of the giants' shoulders before starting to work on their innovations in the first place. Open Access is a movement to lift those access barriers, and it is not only useful to researchers but it can also, for instance, help patients and their relatives to gather first-hand expert information on their specific health conditions, and it can help to inform public debates about research data with scientific implications. The full power of Open Access, however, can only be harvested if all other steps within the scientific cycle (including, e.g., notebook keeping) also become increasingly open, a goal with multiple names (of which Open Science is my favourite). This would not only reduce the considerable time lag between the obtainment of some results and their application in other circumstances but also foster the development of new citation metrics that would allow to more adequately evaluate the research accomplishments of young scientists.
I had been aware of the barriers since I started reading scientific papers in the mid-1990s, as I rarely had access to much of the literature cited therein, no matter what library I went to (and I went to more than a dozen regularly at that time). I got a glimpse of a possible solution when checking out the freely available content at BioMed Central on a weekly basis some years later but this again did not cover much of my core areas of interest (Evolutionary Biophysics), nor did arxiv.org that I had discovered around the same time. So it took the Budapest Open Access Initiative to make me aware of the progress that had already been achieved or was underway by 2001, and I signed it shortly after starting to work on my PhD thesis.
Knowledge grows when shared. And what else is the goal of research if not growing knowledge on a global scale? Besides, I find it non-sustainable to use the limited resources that we have to constantly re-invent the wheel for reasons external to the research process.
As an author, I strive to publish OA (i.e. gold) but independent of whether this is possible or not, I self-archive my papers (i.e. green OA). I am neither a journal editor nor part of a publishing house but I occasionally use my blog to cover OA and related topics, particularly Open Education, and Open Science as a whole, and I link to others who do this more intensively. Finally, I am playing around with platforms and technologies that may facilitate the transition to a more open scientific cycle, keeping a special eye on what these upcoming changes might mean to young scientists, e.g. in terms of theses and online lectures rather than papers. Others can, of course, familiarize themselves with the issue of effectively (in both time and resources) communicating (peer-reviewed) research results via the channels that are technically possible, they can experiment with the tools at hand to communicate their thoughts, and they can educate even more others about these matters in more traditional ways. In fact, I think they should.