16 November 2007

Open access science publishing lands a big one:

Bora at Blog Around the Clock is strutting like a peacock today, and quite right too. He works as online community manager for the science journal PLoS ONE and the journal had just seen the publication of a paper announcing a new and exciting dinosaur find.

It's an herbivore, and it has some new questions to ask of our understanding of big veggie dinosaurs: not least of which is how the hell can a critter that big have a skeleton so delicate?

But here's the exciting thing, the paper by Sereno, Witmer, Wilson, Whitlock, Maga, Ida and Rowe is available for you and I to look at, free. I don't have to have an expensive, exclusive subscription to a journal to read about their work. This matters, because the world increasingly relies on science and we can't have its practices and practitioners arrogating to themselves the trappings of alchemists or gospel writers. Science is a rational, not a gnostic practice: hiding literature in subscription only journals keeps the rest of us out, and makes itself a priesthood and a discipline accessible only to those who have special access and cash.

Some science reporting in the MSM is good, pop science mags are an informative but costly habit but they mediate the work done by scientists. Oftimes that is very necessary, but sometimes it's good to plunge your mind into the raw stuff of science.

Here's a glass of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon to PLoS ONE, Sereno et al and their decision to reveal Nigersaurus taqueti in an open access journal. I don't work as a professional scientist, but I'm a scientifically literate cheerleader from the sidelines (and I'm not the only one), and it's fantastic for me to be able to read this stuff: some of it is above my pay grade, but with a bit of reading around I can understand it all, and even without understanding every word I can relish the work. The more science is freely available the more interested minds might be able understand what science does and what science means.

Finest kind work by all concerned. And the point of all of this to the Beagle Project? We aim to make as much of our education work, our film clips, lecture-lets, blogs from the boat, photos freely available so that students and teachers the world over who can's sail with us can benefit. Our aspiration is to extend the same Open Access ethic to our grown up academic research too.

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