Scholarly communication

21/06/2004

Free information works. In the sense that Open Access Journals, scientific journals which can be accessed at no cost, thereby guaranteeing free access to everyone, are at the same time able to guarantee the same quality as –or even better than- that of traditional journals, which can only be read by those willing to pay a price, be it the cover price or a subscription.

21/06/2004

The problem of accessing data is as old as science itself. Complete popularisation of scientific data (of a theoretical model), and even more so of the methods and materials used during an experimental process and of the empirical data amassed, has always been considered an essential part of the process of authentication, duplication and filing of scientific knowledge. It is also true, however, that this theory has always been a complex riddle with no simple solution. Strangely enough, in today's era of instant communication, the challenge of information access seems to be facing new, daunting obstacles, some of which have the same name and characteristics they had 100 or 300 years ago, but which have been intensified by new dimensions and unexpected corollaries. Others have a new core, an example being, the problem related to disclosure, which implies the (more or less) complete popularisation of the data, procedures, and tools used during research. This is a subject which, although ancient in form, has recently taken on new, far-reaching implications. The scientific community now has to face a problem which originated, first, with the sequencing of the human genome and, later, with that of certain types of rice; a problem which could redefine certain aspects of the epistemological practice and nature of science.

21/03/2004

On September 15, 2001, a joint editorial simultaneously published in thirteen medical journals, pointed an accusing finger at the increasing pressures coming from the pharmaceutical industry. During past decades, a key role in trial design and conduct was played by independent clinical investigators working in academic medical centres. They were also able to vouchsafe the quality of their research, which might not, however, be the case in the future.

21/03/2004

There is a substantial divergence between the standards of integrity associated with "good science" and the problems imposed by the conflict of interest on research, specially in the biomedical field. There are at least as many ways in which information may be altered and the production of new scientific knowledge may be affected as there are links that can be established between researchers, private companies, and editors and staff of the specialized press. The pressures resulting from this high number of connections can affect all stages of research, from trial design to data analysis, from result publishing and dissemination to who will be the author of the articles.

21/12/2003

Science was born when knowledge was no longer kept secret and became public. Its development is inextricably tied to the possibility that researchers continue to share the results of their discoveries as easily as possible. These are the points on which the concept of access to scientific information is based and on which the scientific community has founded its model of communication. However, there are currently numerous obstacles, mostly economic, preventing researchers from being real actors in the creation, control and verification process of scientific knowledge. Despite the technologies made available by the Internet, free access to scientific information continues to be limited by the cost of magazines and the opposition by the publishers. Hence, scientists have promoted an increasing number of initiatives with a view to re-confirming the principles of open access.

21/12/2003

A ghost is wandering around the web: it is called open access, a proposal to modify the circulation system of scientific information which has landed on the sacred soil of scientific literature. The circulation system of scientific magazines has recently started faltering, not because this instrument is no longer a guarantee of quality, but rather for economic reasons. In countries such as Great Britain, as shown in the following chart, the past twenty years have seen a dramatic increase in subscription fees, exceeding by far the prices of other publishing products and the average inflation rate. The same trend applies to the United States.

21/12/2003

Some recent events have brought to the attention of the general public the issue of free access to scientific information. On many occasions basic scientific information has been said to be constantly available to scientists. In truth, a group of scientists (those who live in the developing countries) have long remained on the fringes of the international research community and in part still are, mainly because of the existing difficulties in accessing scientific publications. However, this fact has never been as blatant as it was with the Human Genome Project. Indeed, the project saw an attempt to conceal and privatize the results of advanced basic research. On that occasion, the fear of a private exploitation of scientific results became a real threat.

21/12/2003

In the midst of a debate on access to information, the World Health Organization and the FAO have decided to develop a strategy to guarantee the right of poor countries to have free access to scientific publications. This right is often denied, mainly because of high subscription costs. For this reason, universities and research centres in southern countries must forego buying magazines, which are a valuable instrument for updating, and exchanging information on research and scientific issues. This choice has been made in an historical period when the industrialized world is marked by a knowledge-based economy.

21/12/2003

To appreciate what a huge difference there is between the author of a peerreviewed journal article and just about any other kind of author we need only remind ourselves why universities have their "publish or perish" policy: aside from imparting existing knowledge to students through teaching, the work of a university scholar or scientist is devoted to creating new knowledge for other scholars and scientists to use, apply, and build upon, for the benefit of us all. Creating new knowledge is called "research", and its active use and application are called "research impact". Researchers are encouraged, indeed required, to publish their findings because that is the only way to make their research accessible to and usable by other researchers. It is the only way for research to generate further research. Not publishing it means no access to it by other researchers, and no access means no impact ­ in which case the research may as well not have done in the first place.

21/09/2003

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