The concept of an open science community is not a novel idea by any means. The concept of transparency is a tenet of good science and is traditionally the model needed for the most rigorous theories. It would be very hard to create a coherent theory of physics if one cannot access all the recent journals concerning the topic.
At the University of Michigan, you probably have noticed that we have no troubles getting access to a plethora of academically peer reviewed articles. However, not every individual or even university has this luxury. That is because knowledge comes with a huge price tag. For example, in order to access the archives of the journal Neuroscience, an individual unaffiliated with any organization must pay $988. This high price tag exists because the price of conducting research and peer review is extremely high, and therefore the market for this information becomes small, but also definite. If you are a neuroscientist doing research, access to these journals is imperative.
However, people like David Dobbs are starting to consider the implications of creating an open and cost-free system for distributing papers. The crux of his argument is that the entire process of creating a journal (editing & review, publication & distribution, credit & reputation, and archiving) can all be split up from the current system, where it consists of a single publisher, and divides the tasks among a series of free services.
The possibilities of an open-standard for scientific research are plentiful. Imagine: a doctor is dealing with an unusual patient who presents a series of symptoms which aren’t commonly associated. That doctor then pulls up a couple of searches for the symptons and finds a list of every single journal about the topic, available for access free. Finding cures for diseases, trends for genetic disorders, and basic scientific knowledge would be made far easier and more affordable under an open standard.
A push for change from the previous schemes of scientific publishing has already begun: scientists have began to boycott the publishing giant Elsevier in an attempt to start this scientific spring. And though there will be several hurdles before the old system is redefined, enhanced, and made more affordable, I think we can all strive for more open standards.
By: Elton Li
(Photo by Dave Gray under a Creative Commons license)