On open access – practical issues

Upulie Divisekera, prolific tweeter and all-around awesome scientist, wanted to write a thing about open access and was nice enough to ask me for some help. The result, which you can find on Crikey and read for free, captures the costs of publishing and the avenues through which journal publishers make obscene operating profits.

Long story short, it’s because the publishers have convinced academics to give them all their work for free, as well as do the quality assurance tasks. Then they charge the same communities of academics to access them, or they actually charge authors to give them their work for free in the first place. And through all of that, the costs of publishing have probably decreased because everything is online now, instead of in actual printed books that sit in libraries gathering dust. When we think about it like that, it doesn’t make the academics seem very smart. And it’s kind of true. I’ll explain why…

In case you didn’t catch the link to the article, which proved to be quite popular, then here it is.
Why science doesn’t belong to everyone (yet)

After the cost of knowledge became a thing, more and more of mainstream academia started to think about the open access movement and started to jump on the golden bandwagon. Essentially, open access just shifts the costs of publishing from the library to the scientist, but the money comes from the public either way, so I personally don’t see how this sort of shake-up will have a direct effect on the actual cost of knowledge.

There’s a simpler approach that should be considered the responsibility of every research academic considering the submission of a piece of research. And that is to check the self-archiving rules for each journal. It turns out that most of the decent journals to which we might consider submitting work allow researchers to upload pre-prints (yellow) or post-prints (blue/green) already (some after a delay), and most of them will publish your work for free. The journals that don’t give researchers the ability to self-archive are a small enough proportion that they are easily avoided without having to sacrifice readership, impact (and yes, your choice of journal does matter) and good old-fashioned prestige.

And then just let Google work its magic.

Soon enough, your pdf is available as one of “All X versions” on Google Scholar, and will be linked directly to your institutions’ (or your own) webpages. And if you are looking for an article of mine that is “behind a paywall”, google it first before you start bitching about it on the internet because the post-print version is available at the click of a button.

So why aren’t people doing it properly already?

Because it’s not new. It’s not a buzz word. Blue and green coloured-things might not as desirable as gold. But it is important. And if you’re a researcher, you owe it to the public to know it and get it right, on time, every time.

Of exceptional importance – connecting patients to research

For quite some time, I’ve been very interested in the disconnect between the research being undertaken and the questions that people (especially patients and doctors) need answered. There is a huge disconnect between the two.

The NEJM has published a short piece on a very well-funded institute, The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), which will use about $500 million each year to provide the evidence that is most important to patients. Their basic aim is to help people make informed healthcare decisions. Even more interesting to me is that the institute plans to “deploy the full arsenal”, which includes not only clinical trials, but also analysis of registries and other databases, as well as data syntheses (read: meta-analysis and review).

A lot can be done with $500 million, to improve some of the major causes of morbidity in the US, which will then have a direct impact on the rest of the world. Let’s hope the opportunity isn’t squandered.

A competitive network theory of species diversity

That the most probable outcome is the coexistence of a large number of species. What more do you need to know? As in systems of culture, laws, ethnicity, species and probably many others, complexity is either maintained or increased over time. What I would like to know is: “what size perturbation is required to break the equilibrium and return this system to a homogeneous (or at least distinctly different) state.” Isn’t it also well-established that state evolution in complex systems is driven by perturbation more so than the slow drift of competition?

A competitive network theory of species diversity

International collaboration tends to yield higher impact

International collaboration increases (via Research sans frontières : Nature News). This reminds me of some recent work looking at the effect of international collaboration on the prestige of publications – international collaboration tends to yield higher impact papers in higher impact journals.

Measuring only skin deep conflicts of interest won’t help

Conflicts of Interest in Cardiovascular Clinical Practice Guidelines

In the most recent issue of Archives, a group of US researchers have analysed the cardiovascular clinical practice guidelines on which clinicians rely to make informed decisions about how best to treat patients. Conflicts of interest are contentious in this area because they are known to influence how evidence is reported in a number of interesting ways.

The authors find that conflicts of interest were not as large a problem as many might imagine them to be. My argument here is that 56% of the authors of the clinical practice guidelines may be supported partially (or more) by pharmaceutical companies but they are still writing guidelines based on evidence that may be more dependent on big pharma, from clinical trials that may be funded and designed by big pharma, and with the concerted effort of a 900 billion dollar industry helping them reinforce the need for more pills.