EGU Blogs

open access

“Open access wins all of the arguments all of the time.”

One is rather inspired. OpenCon 2014 was a wonderful time bringing together the best minds in early career research and the ‘world of open’ to discuss how we make access to knowledge, data, and educational resources better for everyone. It wasn’t so much an event*, as a milestone. Here’s the story of its success.

I don’t want to run through the basics of each aspect of open access, data, and education. Let me instead tell you instead about how we just marked a revolutionary point in making the fundamental right to research a reality. When I use the word ‘publishers’ through this post, I’m talking primarily about legacy ones – those who operate on a paywall-based model and publicly declare themselves to be enemies of progressing research (I’m not going to name names, we all know who they are – PeerJ is clearly safe). This does not include many learned societies, which I think are an invaluable component of academic communities and are a completely separate discussion we need to have.

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Every time you publish behind a paywall, a kitten dies.

“Every day, people are denied access to something they have a right to.”

That’s the opening line from a new appeal from students Joe McArthur and David Carroll. Open Access describes a form of publication of research where articles are made instantly available for free, and with unlimited reusability rights, as long as the source is attributed. There are many pseudo-open access ‘definitions’ out there from publishers to obfuscate its use, but this is the only real, least restrictive one.

There has been a global open access movement over the last 10-15 years, which has accelerated so rapidly in the last year or two that many research funders and institutions, as well as government bodies, have developed open access policies. However, despite this progress, large commercial publishers like Wiley, Taylor and Francis, and Elsevier are still the most profitable industry in the world (with margins even higher than Apple), the majority of their profits coming from obscene charges for pdfs and library subscriptions for research articles and journals.

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The future of scientific publishing

Last night, the Society of Spanish Researchers in the UK, SRUK, hosted an event discussing the past, present and future of scientific publishing (event details). One thing that was nice about this discussion, compared to previous ones I’ve attended in London, was the number of practising academics in the room. Often, academics are excluded from the discussions about scholarly publishing, which is a bit odd when you know, they’re the ones who actually need the services that publishers etc. provide.

Anyway, what did we all discuss?

Three great and varied speakers formed our menu tonight. For starters, we had Cameron Neylon, ex-scientista, and now the Advocacy Director for the megajournal PLOS. The main course consisted of Eva Amsen, also an ex-scientist, current epic science communicator and Outreach Manager for F1000Research. Dessert was the experimental Prof. Juan Aréchega, Professor of Cellular Biology at the University of Basque County, Spain, and Editor for the International Journal of Developmental Biology (note: not a predatory journal). I’ll try and summarise some of their key points.

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I need your clothes, your boots, and your copyright.

1456588_10151852838033299_832432892_nJames Lewis is a PhD student at Imperial College London in the field of Planetary Geochemistry. When not blowing up gas cylinders, or hunting for jarosite, he can be found wandering the streets of London as an amateur photographer. James also suffers from Thesisitis, a common condition among third-year PhD students. He can be found on Twitter as @jmtlewis.

When I was applying for PhD projects two and a half years ago I found it slightly frustrating that no one could give me a definitive description of what a PhD is like.  There was no single answer as to what the challenges would be or the timescale at which practical work and writing up would play out or what was expected of me. Now that I’ve just become a third year student I’ve come to realise that there’s a reason for this. A PhD project has so many variables: the nature of your supervisor; the department; lab work; field work; modelling, and so on. New postgraduate research students can’t be given a rigid road map for their entire project because generally in the space of a few weeks or months things will change so much that the original plans will be almost meaningless. If you’re just starting out with your project don’t let this scare you but embrace the fluidity of academic research. While it’s important not to stray too far from your core project aims some of the most interesting and publishable work comes about when people explore why something didn’t work or following up an unanswered question identified through reviewing the literature.

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