Reducing cost of science

Academic publications like “Nature” and “Science” are probably the most valuable resource a research scientist can have. Unfortunately, these publications require expensive subscriptions.

When Gregor Mendel’s brilliant studies on the genetics of pea plants were lost for over 20 years after his death, it was due to the logistical limitations of the 19th century.

Losing Mendel’s work meant the study of genetics had been frozen in time for decades. Yet, despite the technological ability to share information all over the world, the scientific community restricts information on research, this time, for economic reasons.

Some publications such as “BioMed Central” have already adopted an open-source model, in which access to articles is free. Individual scientists have begun self-publishing their work online. This is a move that all scientific publications must make.

I conducted small-time research in biotechnology, and the current subscription model for publications is designed to restrict the spread of knowledge, not accelerate it.

Arguments against free models are valid. Subscription based models provide higher quality peer-review and the profits ensure the authors are compensated for their work.

However, subsidizing these publications with public funds to counter-act these shortcomings is a better alternative to the current system that slows the progress and increases the costs of research.

Restricting access to research forces sciences to reinvent the wheel — and that costs money. It is not uncommon for required chemicals to cost hundreds of dollars per milliliter. Scientists, often anxious over funding, preoccupy themselves with dollar signs, instead of vital research. The money saved by transferring to a free open-access model for sharing research is invaluable to a scientific community already struggling for funding.

Or perhaps we can go a step further and eliminate the current system of publication all together. The technology exists for information to be shared easily and openly, so it begs the question: Why are we still using the same paper-subscription system that has existed for centuries?

Science is about progress and about using technological advancements to make more personal and societal advancements. It seems that the scientific community itself is in need of an ideological breakthrough.

The current model is nothing more than a time and money pit, and it is absolutely ripe for change.

Do we have to lose and rediscover the work of another Mendel to learn the lesson that scientists should have the best possible access to published research? I sincerely hope not.

 

Reach the columnist at jacob.evans@asu.edu. Follow the columnist @jacobevansSP.