The right to know

In the comments we often see about author-pays vs reader-pays, one parameter is regularly absent: The ability to access science. As demonstrated by the MMR scare or the climate-gate in the UK, the general population sometimes needs to get access to primary scientific literature. And it cannot. With the generalisation of the 23andMe and similar companies, biological research invaded the life of any citizen. When one obtains one’s SNP analysis and is told that one has an accrued risk of x % of getting a disease, the first reflex is to “google” the disease and search for scientific information (at least this is what I’d do,and what I do each time I, or someone close to me, faces a health issue). At best one can get the abstracts of papers. That generally only reports a biased view of the story (or even the opposite of the paper. I have examples of that, including one where the authors changed a conclusion following peer-review but forgot to change the abstract. For years the paper was quoted for the wrong conclusion in the abstract. That says a lot about citations in life sciences by the way …). And finally, this week I reviewed job applications, and was not able to access many of the applicant papers.This certainly did not help the applicants.

But most importantly, the citizen already paid for this research. They should not pay again to access the results. That publishers want to sale nice journals with added values like layout, news and views etc. is all fine. But trying to forbid the deposition of the manuscript, the raw product of the researchers’ activity, in an open repository – like they do with the  Research Work Act – is criminal. It is purely a robbery of the citizen. Note that Nature Publishing Group is very different from let’s say the AAAS and Elsevier in that respect. Authors retain their copyright and can do whatever they want with their own production. Of course all that is not true Open Access Publication.

Update on February 28 Elsevier withdrawn their support to the RWA. However, in the withdrawal statement, they re-state clearly that they will continue the fight and still support the idea behind the act, i.e. the interdiction of mandatory deposition of manuscripts in open repositories.