If you’re wondering why it’s been so quiet around here recently …
I’ve been working on a new site, which I and two colleagues will be maintaining, and which I think is potentially the most important thing I’ve ever done. It’s called Who Needs Access? You Need Access!, and you can read it at http://whoneedsaccess.org/
We have a problem: the majority of the research that our governments fund is not available to most people. A series of historical accidents has left us in a position where only a small proportion of government-funded research is published in open-access journals that allow anyone to read the papers. Instead, most research is freely donated to locked up journals that charge readers $30 or more to read each article.
Unsurprisingly, the publishers that are the beneficiaries of this government largesse are keen to maintain the status quo — hence iniquitous legislation like the Research Works Act that seeks to maintain paywalls around government-funded research for the benefit of publishing corporations.
One of the more patronising and specious lines of argument lines of argument that publishing special-interests have used is that research papers are too complicated for ordinary people to understand — that so long as academics at universities can read papers (through their institutions’ expensive, though not directly visible to them, subscriptions) there is “no access problem”.
But there is. Public access to scientific research makes all our lives better: even people who don’t want to read research themselves want their doctors, their elected representatives and their kids’ teachers to have access.
That’s what the new site is about. It’s short, specific stories about real people who need access to the research that their taxes have paid for. Cancer patients, translators, palaeo-artists, parents of sick children, public education groups — even the very academics who the publishers admit need access, and who it turns out don’t have the access they need.
So I strongly urge you to get over to whoneedsaccess.org and see for yourself what free access to research is doing for ordinary people — and how artificial barriers to access are harming us all. Tell your friends. Pass it on. This is important.
The other, and related, reason that my writing here has been sparse recently is that I’ve been writing a series of pieces for various newspapers and magazines. You are welcome to read them: I hope they kindle in you the same outrage that I feel as I write about these issues.
- Peers, review your actions (Times Higher Education)
- Academic publishers have become the enemies of science (The Guardian)
- The future of academic publishing (The Independent)
- The parable of the farmers and the Teleporting Duplicator (The Guardian)
- It’s not academic: how publishers are squelching science communication (Discover Magazine)
- [To be announced] (The Telegraph)
These are pretty exhausting to do, so I’m not sure that I’ll keep at it. But they do reach a very different audience from my usual one, so they are probably worth pursuing.