New policy: don’t share coverage of academic research unless the research is open access

I’ve identified a little gap in my support of open access publishing that I hope to remedy with this new practice. When I encounter a news article about a new study or paper, the first thing I do is look for the underlying paper. (It’s a good idea anyway, given the standard complaints about science journalism.) If the underlying paper is not available for at least public access, I’m not going to talk about it. As my friend Tom put it, “It’s not published until it’s open access. I’ll talk about it once it’s published.

I don’t know how much of an effect this can have, but I know that it stems from a real problem. Academics don’t choose to publish in traditional, closed access journals because they offer any better deal; rather, it’s a career booster. A publication in a “top” journal comes with prestige, which is major currency to researchers trying to make a name. As a result, in Harvard Library’s memo encouraging open access, for example, the Faculty Advisory Council cites a need to “move prestige” to open access publications.

The hope, with my new policy, is that academics who want more members of the public to read about their results might choose a publication option that people haven’t pledged not to share, and maybe journalists will know that covering closed access papers results in less social engagement. It’s a long shot, but it’s something I can do.

So here goes. You want a story about how shark embryos can detect predators from inside the womb? You got it. The underlying research is in PLoS One. But that story about how many animals cats kill a year? Sorry, that one’s locked up.

Published by Parker Higgins

I'm the Director of Special Projects at the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and previously led copyright activism at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I live and work in Brooklyn, New York. more »

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  1. I like it. I’ve been thinking about emailing professors who are cited in newspaper articles asking them to put their pieces on their website or in a repository if possible, perhaps with a link to the original journal’s copyright policy. (From what I’ve seen, a lot of the more ‘prestigious’ ones allow for self archiving.) Then maybe take this a step further and email the journalist asking them to link to the PDF. It’s green and not gold OA, but it’s something.

  2. By open access, do you strictly mean OA journals, or would posting PDFs on websites or count? As an early career researcher, I am especially vulnerable until so get tenure, and this drives some of my publishing practices (see a recent post on Dynamic Ecology that senior researchers aren’t reading OA journals, and there’s still a culture of scorn). So while I love towards openness, I still have to balance that with a balance of pragmatism and realism. The reality is that to do science at all, I need to be thinking about my tenure committee at this stage. In the meantime, all my data are OA, I post PDFs on my website and blog, and I use Figshare for talk and poster PDFs. I worry a little that until the culture has shifted, early career folks may get thrown under a buses the crowd most likely to go OA but most vulnerable.

  3. This seems like a great form of protest by boycot. The question is how closely linked press release based news stories affect journals’ key metrics. If you could tie this directly to their impact factor, that would be amazing. I can see this being very popular.

  4. Adi mentioned this distinction in an earlier comment, between so-called “green” and “gold” OA. Personally, if I can find the PDF (posted legitimately by the author) I’d feel comfortable sharing the article. I didn’t get into that here because I think different people can have different opinions on the matter.

    A related point is between research that’s available for public access and research that’s specifically licensed for reuse. In order of preference, I’d like to see a freely-licensed article over a strictly free-of-charge article, but obviously they’re both better than a paywalled article. Still, if a researcher is self=archiving PDFs somewhere, that’s good enough for me for now.

  5. I think what you describe is the optimal approach in the mean time for early career researchers, Jacquelyn. I’ve been told multiple times recently by my peers that to only commit to publishing in OA journals would be career suicide (unless it was within a ‘higher prestige’ journal using the hybrid OA option and APC fees from my university). Actually, I think what you’re doing should be the default setting for all researchers of any stage. It makes the important things open, without any putative career-based compromises.

    By data being OA, do you mean similarly uploaded to FigShare? The ideal solution (imo) would be a science-wide repository such as the arXiv with rigorous compliance, so that all research articles would be fully open, combined with making data accessible through repositories like FigShare. Only problem is, it’s no-ones job to make this happen atm!

    Incidentally, considered becoming a FigShare advidor?

  6. Well, I disagree with your approach here, Jeffrey. I do think that universal access to both transportation and healthcare are important. The comparison goes off the rails a bit, though, when you get into reproduction, because both of your examples have marginal costs that journal articles don’t.

    I agree that insofar as the public has funded these things then we shouldn’t tolerate private companies charging large fees (and collecting large profits) selling access back to that same public.

  7. I’m a supporter of open access (OA), and follow developments related to it. I also attempt to follow the literature related to cancer stem cells (CSCs). I post tweets about both these topics at: I have to deal with three challenges. The first is: which news items about OA do not merit further distribution? The second is: which openly-accessible articles about CSCs do not merit further attention? The third is: which articles about CSCs that are not OA do merit further attention?

    From the perspective of someone interested in research on CSCs, I’ve come to this conclusion: Until a majority of first-rate articles about CSCs are OA (not so at present), I think that restricting attention only to OA articles about CSCs would not be appropriate. However, as an OA advocate, I’m not entirely comfortable with this conclusion. A dilemma.

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