Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Royal Society: scientists should communicate with the public, but not with OA

The Royal Society has published a new report, Science and the Public Interest, specifically on dissemination issues. The subtitle is, Communicating the results of new scientific research to the public. Excerpt:
[R]esearchers need to think deliberately about whether and how to communicate their results to the public and that, in this, a prime consideration should be how the public interest is best served....Using the UK Freedom of Information Act (2002) as a guide, the public interest is served where the communication of research results would: [1] further the publicís understanding of, and participation in, the debate of issues of the day; [2] facilitate accountability and transparency of researchers, their funders and their employers; [3] allow individuals to understand how the results of research affect their lives and, in some cases, assist individuals in making informed decisions in light of the results; and [4] bring to light information affecting public well-being and safety....[E]very effort should be made to ensure that high quality research of public interest is communicated to the public and that the importance of doing so is widely understood in the research community.

Also see the press release (May 11, 2006).

Comment. It's sad that this report doesn't even mention open access. We know that the RS leadership largely opposed the draft OA policy from the RCUK. It wrote two critical comments on it (July 2005, November 2005) without consulting its own members, who had to act outside the organization to show their support for OA. By contrast, the new report is more oblivious to OA than opposed. In the report, the RS distinguishes scientific results that the public ought to hear from other results of lower priority. It doesn't quite take the paternalizing stance that access to some results will harm lay readers, but it does caution that "great care is needed when results are communicated to the public, for instance via the media alongside a conference presentation, before they have been subjected to independent review." But even for the subset of refereed results that the RS thinks the public ought to hear, it doesn't consider OA. It doesn't even bother to argue against it, as if bringing it up, especially in this context, would make its merits unmistakable. The RS is taking a very old-school approach to public education that not only overlooks the greatest tool for public dissemination in the history of publishing, but also the habits of most modern readers who care to hear about new scientific results.