Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Open Access Day

Today is Open Access Day, a day designed to increase awareness of the concepts of Open Access publishing. One of the core beliefs behind Open Access publishing is the importance of rapidly disseminating scientific findings which are freely available to others around the world.

One of the most important things that I learned in my graduate program is to, "Question the Dogma." (paraphrasing my adviser Dr. Randall Harris) In scientific circles, it can be difficult to get others to take you seriously, let alone get published, if your ideas are not in line with what we current believe to be "truth." Open Access journals allow a free exchange of ideas, even those that depart from mainstream thought. The idea that little living organisms ("germs") can cause illness seemed like a radical departure 100 years ago. Now, my sons learned it in 3rd grade science.

Open Access publishing also appeals to my sense of justice. Much of the scientific "discovery" occurs as we build on what others have done and is a fruit of the economic investment that we have made in our educational system, prior research, and the infrastructure of research institutions. I always thought there was something odd about the idea of "owning" books, just as there is something strange about the concept of individual ownership of ideas.

As I was writing up the findings from my dissertation, one of my committee members suggested that I look at an Open Access journal for publication. When he said this, I realized that the idea of Open Access publishing has the potential to transform the way we write and report findings from our research. It can give is freedom to educate and debate with a wider circle of scholars.

There are a host of high-quality journals in the basic sciences and biomedical research that publish under the Open Access framework. A good way to celebrate Open Access Day (BioMedCentral, Public Library of Science and PubMedCentral) would be to take a few minutes and browse around some of the Open Access journals and explore some new scientific ideas that our societal investment in scholarly inquiry has produced. A couple of articles related to my work are: Gordon & Lowy (2008), Walker, Peto, O'Connor, Crook & Wyllie (2007), Larson, Quiros & Lin, 2007 or Beggs, Shepherd & Ker (2008).

Check back in a few months, I may have a link to an Open Access article of my own!

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