Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Newspaper links to science articles

Someone finally asked the New York Times a question I've always wondered about. Where are the links to sources, especially scientific sources? (Thanks to William Walsh.) Here's the Q&A with NYTimes Science Editor Laura Chang.

Q. Science Times is a feature section I always look forward to reading. However, I wish that the stories contained detailed references to sources. It's frustrating to not be able to research topics further or confirm information, because the article is written with language like '...according to a study by XYZ Corp (or Funds for Global Goodness, or another source)...' forcing the reader to take the information on face value and only within the context of the article. (I realize the NYT is a newspaper and not a peer-review journal). Keep up the good work.  - Gene Makar

A. I, like several readers who asked similar questions, also wish our articles could include specific links to sources. We're working on it, but it's a more difficult goal than we imagined. It can be a tedious job to insert such references into articles, raising a basic question of best use of our reporters' time. That's for us to figure out. But there are also problems beyond our control, the main one being that many of the studies we report are available by subscription only.

Comment. "[M]any of the studies we report are available by subscription only." All too true. But it's a good idea to link to them anyway. Links will benefit some readers even if not all, just as citing a book discussed in a story will help some readers and not all. Non-OA publishers will cheer because links will increase their traffic and visibility. OA proponents will cheer because readers with access will learn what they want to learn and readers without access will learn about the access barriers obstructing the flow of knowledge. The NYTimes doesn't have to take sides in the OA debate in order to link to the works it discusses, any more than it has to take a position on book prices in order to cite a book missing from most public libraries. Today a link is an easy, expected, and valuable enhancement to a citation. We supply them for readers who are interested enough to click through, even when we know that most readers will not be that interested. We should do the same for readers who have access privileges, even though we know that most won't have access privileges. We even supply links for the time they are alive even though we know that after a time many or most will be dead. Links don't have to serve everyone to justify their existence. This part of the revolution is over and secure: five to ten years ago were were delighted when links were present and now we're annoyed when they're absent. Any newspaper that wants to provide ordinary service to online readers will provide links. That goes double for any newspaper that wants to help motivated readers follow through on a story and learn more.