6 thoughts on “Scientific knowledge, and the “pay to play” culture”

  1. Do you think the RNA Biology initiative (asking scientists to post a Wikipedia summary of their work as well, which I would hope would have links to the full reports) will start a trend that resolve this issue?


    Now that you mention it though, I seem to recall having no trouble accessing Master’s and PhD theses in my field (English Lit) on microfiche – at no charge – via even public libraries in Canada in the 80s (and certainly I could get them at no charge on microfiche from my university library). Recently I was confronted with a fee for downloading a PDF of Jason Gorss’s thesis, and balked at paying it. Since there’s rarely any sort of immediate commercial application for any of this stuff, why *do* you think it’s becoming more difficult to access rather than less?

  2. The current state of affairs is driven by the publishers. Their revenue comes from selling journals and papers – essentially selling scientific knowledge. And the tougher the publications market gets, the more loath they are to adapt, rather than dig in.

    But I think that over time the information will “leak out” in new ways. The RNA biology initiative is a good example (although “summaries” need to be quite detailed to be useful). The Nanotechnology Environment, Health and Safety Research Virtual Journal run by the folks at the International Council On Nanotechnology also has aspirations to summarize work in a publicly accessible form ( http://icon.rice.edu/virtualjournal.cfm )


  3. Thanks McDawg. Interesting to see Peter Suber’s article was posted four years ago – wonder how much things have improved since then.

  4. Hi Andrew.

    You may want to view this video about dissemination of scholarly research:


    It was lunchtime presentation given by Gregg Gordon, president and CEO of the Social Science Research Network entitled, “Critical Mass is Critical, Building Authority in a Changing World.”

    I agree with you about the existing lack of access to scholarly publications, particularly in the “hard science” fields (excuse my use of that term.) I do not see that trend in the Social Sciences and Humanities, as a matter of fact, I do believe that academics in those fields seem to be more “open” to “open access” and researcher in the Social Science disciplines do not tend to have the same culture that prevents many scientists in the bio, medical, etc, fields from wanting to share their research before being published in a peer reviewed journal. Do you believe that this trend will eventually change in the “hard sciences”, if only out of necessity?

    Stacy Righini

  5. As you can imagine the poverty stricken non-profit like myself has an even tougher time. We rely entirely on cadging them off people like you or tracking down the author, which is in itself time wasting for all of us. How ‘civil society’ actors are supposed to engage in a responsible and constructive way without access to these is beyond me.

    Having said that, to be fair, I can understand and make sense of very few scientific papers. Neither can I do what I would like MATTER to do which is put them in context with others in the field, relate them to comparable or non-related fields to make connections and correlations which make sense for the public and other stakeholders. So even if I had access to them all, I don’t think (a) I have time to read them, (b) I have the brains to read them and (c) have the capacity to synthesise and make sense of them in any meaningful way for stakeholders.

    We rely on people like you, Prof Richard Jones and others to do that Andrew! In addition we get that information from blogs, not other august, and equally incomprehensible social science papers which is where much of this useful analysis ends up. I like Ruth’s idea of the summaries, that would be a real help.

    The only thing is my husband works in the pension investment department of Reed Elsevier, so unless they and other publications manage to reinvent themselves it looks like our personal pension is on shaky ground!!

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