Improving access to scientific studies

Image available from wiley-asia blog.

Image available from wiley-asia blog.

People want to hear about or have access to the latest scientific research for a variety of reasons. It is interesting. It can improve lives and lifestyles. It can help patients or families decide the best option to take when they or their loved one gets sick. So, how can we improve access to scientific studies?

I have always worked for organizations that had ready access to the scientific literature. Most biomedical journals were accessible through the library. This, obviously, made it easy to find what I needed. If you don’t work at such organizations, there are other options. You can buy subscriptions to scientific journals. This quickly becomes expensive. As more and more specialty journals are published, this expense continues to grow. Journals have help to solve this problem by offering limited access to individual articles by “renting” access for 6 to 48 hours or by buying a single article.

Another approach to increasing access to scientific articles is the publication of open access journals like the PLoS journals or Science Advances. These open access journals use an alternative business model where authors pay a higher fee for the evaluation and review of their submitted piece. Once a manuscript is accepted, it is published online and available for everyone to read at any time. Access to these papers remains open, always. Traditional journals review the article for free, but charge page fees when a manuscript is accepted and access to these articles is through subscriptions. Some of these journals are making it easier to access the scientific literature by charging the author a fee that allows them to elect to make it open access for everyone. Not every journal provides this option.

I agree with increasing access to the scientific literature. The latest scientific results should be available to the general public. But how good is it if the papers that are available are written in such complex terms that you can’t understand it even if you are able to download the PDF? It is appropriate that the studies are complex and written in technical terms. These articles are written for colleagues and is one of the few ways for scientists to talk to each other about their work. These studies are translated into other media (newspapers, online blogs, posts, etc…). Most times studies are far more nuanced and contain important findings than what is generally summarized in these general media pieces. It is frustrating to hear only part of the story and not be able to read the study to understand what the results really were. It can skew the actual results because only part of the story is provided.

This opens up a huge opportunity for scientists. Scientists can help translate these findings accurately and succinctly to improve the quality of information that is available to the public. Increasing the access to the scientific literature will reduce the misinformation that is spread around online and taken as fact. It will improve the public health as people are able to make more informed choices based on the evidence provided in the scientific literature. It will raise the credibility of scientists and the work that is done.

Isn’t that what we all want? Does anyone want to try to solve this problem?

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