No taxation without (open access) publication

Guardian “Bad Science” columnist Ben Goldacre is jubilant that the UK government does policy-on-blogger/columnist-command. So here’s another command: oblige researchers who use my tax money or yours to publish in journals that you and I can read. Not after a year, but right away. I don’t mean only research that is funded directly by the government. I mean partnerships between industry and academia, since you and I pay academics. I mean research which recruits people from NHS clinics or hospitals, because we pay for those too. Obviously, I mean anything that includes even an ounce of DfID funding — overseas research funded directly or through bodies that we contribute to such as the Global Fund.

The US is doing it, though in a half-hearted, after-a-year sort of way, and not when it works with overseas governments. The Wellcome Trust and the Gates Foundation are doing it (I think, the Gates website is singularly uninformative about publication policy, but they are pouring plenty of money into promoting open access publishing.) Those two foundations are the largest funders of research on those pesky diseases that affect poor people in poor countries, people who don’t have health insurance and don’t buy expensive drugs from Big Pharma. Even the faculty of Harvard is doing it. But DfID’s public consultation on a new research strategy doesn’t even mention open access publishing. The citadel of hyper-expensive medical journals will soon tumble. The UK can push harder to make that happen faster.

In fact, since the government is making policy to bloggers’ commands, let’s go further. I’d say that all data that I pay for ought to be available to me, whether or not it has been “published”. That would mean that when we pay for Pakistan or China to stick needles into prostitutes to see what they’re infected with, I could get the results. Let’s face it, most scientists are crap at actually telling their research subjects what they have found, let alone making sure that anything is done about it. If we all had easier access to research results, communities might at least be able to find out what the science is saying about them, and figure out how to help themselves.

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This post was published on 07/03/08 in Science.

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