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“I do not mind if you think slowly. But I do object when you publish more quickly than you think.”*…

 

open access

 

Each year, governments around the world pour vast sums of public money into scientific research — as much as $156 billion in the United States alone. Scientists then use that funding to further human understanding of the world, and occasionally to make compelling discoveries about everything from whale brains to dwarf stars to the genetic underpinnings of deadly cancers. But often, this research — despite being subsidized with taxpayer money — ends up being published in exclusive journals that sit behind steep paywalls with three- and four-figure subscription fees, accessible to only a tiny fraction of the public.

The power of these scientific publishers — with names even lay readers might recognize: Springer Nature, Taylor & Francis, Elsevier, among a handful of others — is substantial. According to one estimate, just four corporations now publish close to 50 percent of scientific papers. Together, they control the copyright to much of the world’s scientific literature, charging billions of dollars each year for access to that body of knowledge — and securing hefty profits in the process.

Critics have argued for decades that this system is wasteful, and that the public should have access to the scientific literature that its tax dollars support. Scientists, scholars, and public institutions, they say — and not the private sector — should control access to this trove of knowledge. “The commercial interests of publishers trying to promote their brand should not be what determines what kind of scientific discipline becomes well-funded and well populated,” said Michael Eisen, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley and a vocal supporter of the alternative model of research distribution, broadly referred to as “open-access” publishing, which has long aimed to harness the internet to make research more widely available — at little to no cost. The current system, he said, gives a handful of publishers “a disproportionate power to shape the way that science is done.”

The ensuing decades have been, in certain respects, a triumph for supporters of open access. Research funders in the United States and Europe adopted policies to make more of the research they fund accessible to the public. Several open-access organizations now operate thriving journals, and pirating tools like Sci-Hub have made it easier than ever to sneak around publishers’ paywalls.

Meanwhile, a group of Europe’s largest scientific backers — including the funding agencies of France, Britain, and the European Union as a whole — will soon require all research they underwrite to be openly accessible to everyone. That scheme, called Plan S, may be the most ambitious government-sponsored open-access effort yet — though federal officials in the U.S. are considering a policy that would require immediate open-access publishing for all federally-funded research as well, potentially revolutionizing the publishing industry. “Open Access Is Going Mainstream,” The Chronicle of Higher Education announced in a headline last year.

These successes, though, have also revealed divisions within the open-access community over two now-familiar questions: Who should run the publishing houses? And who should pay for the whole system? Instead of an open-access commons run by scholars in the public interest, the new open-access revolution increasingly looks like it will depend on the same big commercial publishers, who, rather than charging subscription prices to readers, are now flipping the model and charging researchers a fee to publish their work. The result is a kind of commercial open-access — a model very different than what many open-access activists envisioned…

As it stands, all trends point to an open-access future. The question now is what kind of open-access model it will be — and what that future may mean for the way new science gets evaluated, published, and shared. “We don’t know why we should accept that open access is a market,” said Dominique Babini, the open-access adviser to the Latin American Council of Social Sciences and a prominent critic of commercial open-access models. “If knowledge is a human right, why can’t we manage it as a commons, in collaborative ways managed by the academic community, not by for-profit initiatives?”

Peer review, editorial prep: how should we manage–and pay for– the quality control that makes scientific discourse most effective? “A Revolution in Science Publishing, or Business as Usual?

(Coronavirus has led to an explosion of scientific publication… and it has amplified the debate over open access and how to accomplish it.)

* Wolfgang Pauli

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As we share and share alike, we might send healing birthday greetings to Hattie Elizabeth Alexander; she was born on this date in 1901.  A pediatrician, microbiologist, and educator, she won international acclaim for developing a serum to combat influenzal meningitis, a common childhood disease that is nearly always fatal to infants and young children, virtually eliminating the mortality rate.

When the advent of antibiotics made the antiserum obsolete, she quickly mastered their use against all the bacterial meningitides.  Late in her career–the 1950s and 60s–she became a pioneer in microbial genetics.  She pioneered the study of bacterial mutation and resistance to antibiotics, and in 1964, she became one of the first women to head a national medical association as president of the American Pediatric Society.

Over her career she published over 70 papers.

Hattie Alexander source

 

 

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