An Overview of Open Access Publishing in Palaeontology
Science has a long-standing custom of publishing research in scholarly journals for the primary purpose of reaching their fellow researchers. As such, these articles are ridden with jargon and complex ideas without a general audience in mind. What’s more is most of these articles are locked behind paywalls often only privileged members of the academic community has access to shrouding science in mystery.
Today’s world has many needs for science, where this inaccessibility poses a serious problem. Not only does this prevent research from providing commonsense solutions to everyday obstacles for environment and society, but it widens the gap between public engagement with science in general.
Recently there has been a push towards supporting open access in academic publishing. You may have heard in the news earlier in 2019 the University of California broke ties with Elsevier, one of the world’s largest scholarly journal publishers. This was just one of many examples of the academic community pushing for free and open access of their research findings.
A recent article in PE delved into the status of open access for the field of palaeontology specifically. Dr. Jon Tennant, article author, states precisely why open access is essential to research:
“Fundamentally, research works best when it is free to share, access, and re-use. Strangely, despite this being so clear, this is for the most part not the case. The vast majority of scholarly research, often produced using public funds, is privatised by commercial companies, and out of the researchers’ control. This is not an effective way to communicate research.”
Human nature does not accept change easily and as a result research accessibility has been slow to change. The older science community is set in their ways where traditionally, landing a publication in a ‘big name’ journal has accelerated many a research career. To help ease out of this familiar cycle a plan has been developed called ‘Plan S’.
Jon describes Plan S as “a funder-led initiative to help overcome much of the inertia or resistance towards open access. In the last 25 years, only about 25% of global scientific knowledge is open access. If you believe that science is good for society, for humans, for the economy, then clearly this is not a good look.”
Palaeontologia Electronica (PE) is a member of this minority, being the longest running open-access, peer-reviewed electronic journal specific to palaeontology.
“I would like to see journals like PE being the future of open access publishing. It is led by the community, it does not rip scholars off, it does not have incredibly harmful business ethics and practices like some other publishers, and it is free for readers” comments Jon.
Jon wrote a recent book chapter featuring PE highlighting how it is among the top of all palaeontology journals in its commitment to open access and free cost to both authors and readers. (available here: https://paleorxiv.org/wzfpb).
“Now, with Plan S, I think journals like PE need more support than ever” says Jon.
Achieving open access and reaching a larger audience is a step in the right direction, but how do we connect research to where it can be most useful?
“Open access is just one step from helping to make research more user-friendly, or accessible, but this does not mean the research becomes automatically useful. Researchers and communicators still have a lot of work to do to leverage this knowledge and make it more accessible for wider audiences to maximise its effectiveness” shares Jon.
There have been several tools developed in recent years to help close this ‘research-implementation gap’ in making complex science more palatable to public audiences. Get The Research (https://gettheresearch.org/) is one such tool Jon acclaims and I recommend you check it out too!
Often researchers aren’t trained properly in how to communicate their science to broader audiences outside the scientific community, which also limits the application of their research. Changing a deep-rooted way of thinking about science is crucial in order to get this information where it can impact society and be accepted by the general public.
Better interdisciplinary training of the next generation of scientists where “knowledge and communication skills are taught and learned as a community makes science empowering” says Jon.
Although there is a way still to go, it is exciting to see shifts towards bridging the gap between science and society.
Jon sums it up perfectly: “Open access is a way to level the playing field, and allow anyone – not just scientists – to reap the benefits of research, and use it to learn, explore, and grow our society. You cannot build upon research that you do not have access to.”
You can access the full article here!