Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Sunday, September 21, 2008

NYT science reporter calls for OA

Amy Harmon is a science reporter for the New York Times. In answering a recent set of questions from readers, she mentions OA. (Thanks to Jonathan Eisen.) Excerpt:
Q. I teach literacy courses, including a course in science literacy, at Adirondack Community College (SUNY). A question: What do you see as the greatest limit on or obstacle to the development of science literacy among those who are not scientists themselves ...?

A. I’m no expert on this subject, but I can give you my personal perspective. Many of the stories I’ve written in the last two years have required me to learn about aspects of science so that I could understand, and hopefully explain to readers, the impact it is having on people’s lives. A lot of scientists I asked were generous with their time. Others were not. But it strikes me as a problem that there is no incentive, or imperative, for scientists — who are largely financed with taxpayer dollars — to explain their work to the general public. Sure, scientists talk to the press when they have a new paper in a scientific journal that they want to publicize. Like anyone else, they like to have their name in the paper. But there is no systematic way for non-scientists to communicate with scientists, and I think both sides suffer for that. I think it would be great if there was some kind of “public service” requirement built into the grants that the public supports to facilitate this kind of communication.

Of course, the one way scientists do, theoretically, communicate with the public is by publishing their results. Since these papers are written for other scientists, they can be hard to understand. But even for people game to wade through them, they are often hard to obtain. The two leading scientific journals, Science and Nature, and many others, require people to pay for access to papers whose authors have been financed by taxpayers. “Open access” publishers like the Public Library of Science do not, so it would be nice to see scientists choosing — or being required — to publish in journals that are open to the public. ...