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Open access

TedViagraResized.jpgCertain propositions are inherently difficult to counter. Appeals to the market, for example, were particularly hard to counter in the 1980s, and the associated concept of ‘customer choice’ was then applied willy nilly where it has since been recognised as completely inappropriate. It is hard to argue against the democratic principle, even though a majority in favour is no guarantee of anything at all, except possibly the lowest common denominator of understanding.

Is Open Access Publishing one of these? Its very name makes it almost unseemly to oppose. Who would champion the restriction of information? Not I. It is the Government’s view that the results of research for which it has paid should be available to the taxpayers who funded it. It is equally hard to argue against that, though elsewhere, paying for things does not automatically entitle me to access them. Taxpayers fund many things that remain unavailable to them, or even unadvertised to them – for reasons that are sometimes bad, but sometimes conceivably very good.

It is at this point that for me the argument becomes a little confusing. Research paid for by the Government should be published, if it is worthwhile, and therefore made available – so far, so good. But publishing is not an activity free of investment or labour, or in itself worthless. Rain may fall gently from heaven, but to make it safe and accessible to me in my house, I expect to pay.

True, costs are falling with the advent of online publishing. True, much research publishing is highly lucrative to publishers; good research is in demand. True, some publishers are making profits off the back of research paid for by the public, often using some volunteer labour from the very academics who perform it, but who by the process of peer review, give the results dignity. Their validation renders the published results ‘scientific’.

However in going after commercial profiteers, and in so doing further forcing the pace of publishing reform at a time when nobody is really sure if revenue streams will hold up at all, is this process not in danger of confusing baby and bathwater? Learned society publishers plough their surpluses back into fostering new and better science through meetings and research sponsorship. We do not line shareholders’ pockets. Our shareholders are - scientists themselves.

Is it now more than ever timely to issue an appeal to scientists to show a little solidarity with their learned societies and publish with them?



@TedNield @geoscientistmag