Happy Open Access Day!
October 14, 2008 1 Comment
October 14th 2008 is Open Access Day, and there are many dozens of events happening around the world to promote awareness of Open Access. Although the movement is most prominent in scientific publishing right now, the concept – making content and knowledge freely accessible to everyone – is applicable in any discipline. If you aren’t familiar with Open Access or would like to learn more, check out the list of participants to see if there is an event happening near you.
(This post is part of the synchro-blogging event, meant to explode Open Access over the intarwebs today.)
Why Open Access matters, to me and to the world
The big question is: why Open Access? The reasons are many (see Neil and Deepak’s posts for other perspectives). For one, research is typically funded by the public and in these cases especially the results of that research should be accessible by the public. For another, it is getting too expensive even for prestigious universities to maintain site licenses with subscriber-pays publishers. And in these days of the instant, information-rich web, it just doesn’t make sense to restrict access for the vast majority of potential consumers who can probably easily go elsewhere for similar information.
But for me, a bigger question is: why not? And while there are some arguments against Open Access, they are, by and large, arguments against specific implementations of it (e.g. author-pays models) and not against the concept itself. The fact is that collaboration between scientists, the importance of communication between scientists and the lay public, and the responsibility of advancing basic research towards application are all growing. Open Access enhances each of these by making information available more quickly and in full. And as Open Access gains acceptance, it will open doors to other potential improvements, such as increased publication of negative results, increased access to research “as it happens” (see Open Notebook Science), and the implementation of standards for “the fully supported paper”, as described at Science in the Open:
The idea here is deceptively simple, and has been discussed elsewhere; simply that all the relevant supporting information for a paper (data, detailed methodology, software tools, parameters, database versions etc. as well as access to required materials at reasonable cost) should be available for any published paper. The challenge here lies in actually recording experiments in such a way that this information can be provided.
Essentially – and here is where the biggest significance is for me – Open Access is one important leg of a platform supporting “open science” (the others being Open Data and Open Source; perhaps Open Notebooks/Research), and I believe it should act as a natural integration point for all legs as well. The fact that this isn’t how things were done in the Past is rarely a valid reason not to change, especially if the circumstances are wildly different. Science and research needs to adapt to the changing needs and capabilities of people and technology. Right now, Open Access is the easiest and most logical place to start, and as we address the other aspects we will come back to it full circle.
Open Access: not an alternate reality anymore
Being relatively new to research, it’s difficult to remember a distinct point when I first became aware of Open Access; it was always just there. Well, that’s not quite true – I’m pretty sure I had no conscious awareness of Open Access as an undergraduate but as a graduate student it’s maintained a well-established ambience. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that my field of study is concerned with information and reliant on access to data, or the fact that a founder of one of the major Open Access publishers, PLoS, is faculty at my school. Either way, aside from the hard to escape pedestal of Cell/Nature/Science, there has never been any intimation that closed access publishing is inherently better than Open Access. I think that this will only be more true for more people as time goes on, as access to information becomes more important to more people, as Open Access becomes more established and the pedestal model breaks down.
Doing my part for Open Access
Over the last year or so, I’ve become increasingly conscious of all things Open, including Open Access. As a result of this, I’ve started blogging, both to help me reflect on my thoughts on these topics and hopefully to help others become aware of them. I am also organizing a workshop on Open Science with Cameron Neylon which will discuss issues and next steps concerning Open Access, Open Data, and open science in general.
In my own research, the few papers I’ve published have all been Open Access (PNAS, which makes all publications open after 6 months; Genome Biology, part of Biomed Central; and BMC Genomics, also Biomed Central). I commit here and now that all future papers on which I am an author and have an influence on decisions will also be Open Access (and will do my best to ensure that I will only be an author on Open Access papers).
What can others do?
If you’re not me (and that’s most of you), you can still do what I do. Insist on publishing in Open Access journals. Write about the topic, and other aspects of openness, if it interests you. Stay up to date on the progress of Open movements, attend talks or events, and maybe even organize or help out at one. If you mentor students, you can start a pyramid by promoting awareness with them. If you’re a student, you can help your advisor become more Open Access friendly.
Good places to learn about Open Access include Peter Suber’s Open Access overview (and frequent newsletters), the websites of Open Access publishers like PLoS and BioMed Central, the Open Access Day FriendFeed room, and blogs of Open Access advocates, such as Bora, Jon Eisen, Peter Murray-Rust, and Science Commons.