Tuesday, March 24

I Want My Info Free and Easy

In these times we have come to expect a certain level of open sharing of information - making it that much more frustrating when something you want is not shared openly.

As a college student, I am constantly doing research for one paper or another. Databases for scholarly journal articles (e.g. CAB abstracts, Web of Science) are great for starting a search, but although the full text is available for some, for many articles (more than half in my experience) it is not. This means you must actually go to the library, find the hard copy, and either photocopy or borrow it - what a pain.

Those of you who predate the internet are probably overwhelmed with sympathy, but the professors at MIT understand. Check it out (from Wired Science):

Scientific publishing might have just reached a tipping point, thanks to a new open access policy at MIT.

Following a more limited open-access mandate at Harvard, the legendary school's faculty voted last week to make all of their papers available for free on the web, the first university-wide policy of its sort.

Hal Abelson, who spearheaded the effort, said that these agreements went beyond providing a repository for papers, they changed the power dynamics between scientific publishers and researchers.

"What's important here is that it's giving the university a formal role in how publications happen," Abelson said. "Some of the faculty said, 'You're calling this an open-access resolution but actually the way to think of it is as a collective bargaining agreement.'"

Many scientists and researchers have pushed for open access policies, but publishers have been reluctant to give up control of the informational resources they have. Big companies like Wiley John & Sons, The Macmillan Publishers' Nature Publishing Group, and Reed Elsevier argue that they provide valuable and expensive peer-review, and that there's no way to ensure quality without the subscription fees that they charge libraries and universities.

But open access advocates say the current scientific publishing paradigm is broken because publishers control the scientific record, not academics.

"Who actually should be controlling the scholarly record?" Abelson asked. "Universities have a mission that has something to do with producing and disseminating knowledge. These publishers, whatever their good intentions may be, have a mission to make money for their stockholders. The system is a little out of whack."

That's a major reason that Congress approved an open access policy for National Institutes of Health-funded research. Under the NIH public access policy, papers are made public twelve months after publication.

The scientific publishing system, which developed long before the internet, doesn't allow for scientific information to be accessed freely like most web content is. This creates data silos within individual publisher's journals and prevents the sharing and data mining of scientific information, open access advocates argue. Read more...

The government is another great source for publicly available information - if you can find it. Luckily, government data should soon be easier to access as well (with your help):

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