Cracking Open Science
By Thomas Lin
Science Times, January 17, 2012
Edited by Andy Ross
For centuries, scientific research was done in private, then submitted to
science and medical journals to be reviewed by peers and published for the
benefit of other researchers and the public at large. But the system is
hidebound, expensive and elitist. Peer review can take months, journal
subscriptions can be prohibitively costly, and a handful of gatekeepers
limit the flow of information.
Open-access archives and journals like
arXiv and the Public Library of Science (PLoS) have sprung up in recent
years. On the collaborative blog MathOverflow, mathematicians earn
reputation points for contributing to solutions. And a social networking
site called ResearchGate is growing fast.
Started in 2008 and based
in Berlin, ResearchGate was shaped with feedback from scientists. Its
membership is now more than 1.3 million and it has attracted millions of
dollars in venture capital. A year ago, ResearchGate had 12 employees. Now
it has 70 and is hiring. It features a self-archiving repository that houses
now 350,000 papers and offers search over 40 million abstracts and papers
from other science databases.
The established journals say they
provide a critical service that does not come cheap. Science executive
publisher Alan Leshner: "I would love for it to be free but we have to cover
the costs." Similarly, Nature employs a large editorial staff to manage the
peer-review process and to select and polish papers for publication.
The journal publisher Elsevier has drawn criticism for supporting the
Research Works Act, introduced in Congress last month, which seeks to
protect publishers' rights by restricting access to research papers and
data. Elsevier director of universal access Alicia Wise says "professional
curation and preservation of data is, like professional publishing, neither
easy nor inexpensive."
MIT quantum computing theorist Scott Aaronson
refuses to conduct peer review for or submit papers to commercial journals:
"I got tired of giving free labor to these very rich for-profit companies."
He is now an active member of online science communities like MathOverflow.
Former Facebook VP of product management Matt Cohler now represents
Benchmark Capital on the ResearchGate board. He sees a vast untapped market
in online science.
AR Time to update science publishing. The
established journal publishers need to listen to their golden geese.