Our guest: Mark Johnson, the marketing director at PLOS – the Public Library of Science.
The forward progress of science depends on talented people all over the world following the evidence wherever it leads, but nearly as important is the ability of those people to keep tabs on what everyone else is doing. If all those brilliant scientists are going to avoid duplicating someone else’s efforts or actually attempt to build off one another’s work, they’re going to need to stay in close touch.
Besides conferences and water cooler chats, the main venue for all that back-and-forth chatter is is the scientific journal, and here we find a publishing business model that would make Tom Sawyer blush. Scientists, often research professors who draw paychecks on state government treasuries, pay various publication fees to the journal, which in turn arranges for an elaborate peer review process that other scientists, often likewise publically-funded, perform for free. Written science product in hand, the journals hit print and sell it back to those public institutions – usually university libraries – often for thousands of dollars per subscription. And if your library doesn’t have a subscription, not to worry: You too can get online and personally shell out for reports detailing the work you already paid to have done.
But a growing movement called open access publishing is trying to bring some sanity to the process of scientific communication. The model works like this: Authors pay one relatively modest fee to the journal, which organizes a peer review. If a paper passes muster, it gets published online for everyone to see, sans paywall.
Removing the crazy expensive gatekeepers of scientific communication so we can all read about what we’ve probably paid for. It’s today’s idea so crazy it just might work.
MANY THANKS TO: David Knutson, of PLOS, for arranging the interview.
This week’s classified ad:
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