Bringing Research Out of its Shell

22 05 2010

Gulliver 2.0 enjoying my sunny back garden

“Bringing research out of its shell” – that’s the motto of Gulliver, the open access turtle, mascot of open access science publisher BioMed Central. Today, one of 0ver 2000 Gulliver 2.0 clones arrived on my doorstep, thanks to a prize draw that BioMed Central are running whereby if you befriend Gulliver on Facebook, you too could be the proud owner of your very own Open Access turtle! The fact that I used to work for BioMed Central and still freelance for them *probably* didn’t give me any advantage…

What is open access all about? Well, if you’ve ever tried to read a scientific paper, you’ll probably have experienced the frustration of hitting a “paywall”. While the abstract (summary) of any scientific paper is usually free, if you want to delve deeper into the article and gain a deeper understanding of the research, you usually have to pay for it. This can be in the form of a one-off fee (which is often somewhere around the $35 USD mark, but can be cheaper or more expensive depending on the cred of the journal), or as a subscription fee that allows you to access all papers within a journal for an annual payment. If you’re a student or researcher then great, your university or institution will usually have a subscription to the most popular science publishers, meaning that there is no cost to you, the user. However, institutional subscriptions come at a cost of hundreds or even thousands of pounds per year – money that could be better spent elsewhere. And what if your institution doesn’t have subscriptional access to a journal that you need? Or if like me, you’re an individual writer, journalist or someone who is just interested in the latest scientific research? Tough luck – you have to pay.

Me and Gulliver 2.0 in his new home

So, coming back to “what is open access?”…BioMed Central, and a number of other publishers, have turned the traditional model of science publishing on its head. Rather than allowing researchers to publish their work for a very minimal cost or even for free and then asking the people who want to read their research to pay for it, open access works the other way around. Researchers pay a fee to have their work published (although it still has to pass through peer-review to make it into the journal), and users can access the work – the full text of the work – for free.

Why would a scientist pay to have their work published if they can get it published freely or cheaper elsewhere? Simple. Because making research open access increases the audience who have access to your work. It means that people in non-subscribing institutions, those who are too poor to pay for subscriptions, or those who are simply put off by the fees, can read the research, build on it, cite it, use it and tell their friends. A wider audience potentially means more exposure, more media coverage, greater popularity, and crucially, more funding for further work to drive science forward.

To read more about open access, Gulliver himself has his own blog on WordPress (gulliverturtle.wordpress.com), or if you’re turtley too serious to be educated by a soft fluffy turtle, the official BMC Blog is here: BMC Blog. Cowabunga!

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