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.