Monday, 13 October 2008

Why I am an OA Advocate

Why does Open Access matter to me?

I became involved in patient advocacy in September 2001 just under two years after I lost my brother to a fatal, rare neurodegenerative disease. During the early years of this work, I commenced the process of studying peer reviewed scientific, technical and medical (STM) research.

This namely involved paper copies of Toll Access (TA) articles passed to the support group I was involved with by highly regarded UK researchers in the field. Whilst 'we' were able to share such STM research (with family members of the organisation) by post using "fair use", I knew that Copyright restricted me from sharing any such material with a wider audience - the organisations website.

Despite this restriction, simply by placing as much information online in an open manner wherever possible, in the space of year, traffic had increased by over 4000%. As such, even before I knew what Open Access was, it was abundantly clear that being open was the main key to outreaching.

When did I become aware of Open Access?

That would have been mid 2006. Up until the day in question, I had a pretty simple system in place to obtain PDF's of TA manuscripts from authors.

On the day in question, I noted from the Abstract of the Manuscript that I was looking for, there was a link to the full article. Yay.

PLoS Pathogens
was the first OA Journal that I came across.

Not only could I access the Manuscript I was looking for, but the real eye opener was that I was able to access the entire Journal online for free!

As I said in this recent interview:-

One of my main eternal frustrations remains not being able to share my extensive library of papers due to Draconian copyright restrictions. Creative Commons is a dream come true..... Indeed, I'm wearing one of my PLoS t-shirts right now =) Prof Lawrence Lessig, you remain a STAR !!

Why should scientific and medical research be an open-access resource for the world?

To me, it makes so little sense in this day and age to carry out and share STM research in a closed environment as was done for centuries before the advent of OA.

May I quote in part, Associate Professor Bevin P. Engelward, the winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine from this 2007 PLoS Biology article:-

...In an age rife with the potential for infectious pandemics, bioterrorism, and toxic environmental calamity, and at a time when we need new ways to cure terrible illnesses, public access is our society's compelling answer to accelerating the best science possible. This advance is much needed, both by researchers working in academic settings and in the private sector. Indeed, we should demand no less. We invite our fellow scientists to join in the demand for open access to biomedical literature.

Science, progress, societal benefits from that is a pretty concise focus.

Indeed, here's a shot of Peter Murray-Rust and McDawg discussing their forthcoming OA related Manuscript in London, August 2008.

(Image c/o Joe Dunckley's sciblog Flickr stream)

What do you do to support Open Access, and what can others do?

Simple. Spread the word.

My most blogged about post to date is precisely about this.

The blogosphere is an astonishingly great place to share and discover information. I've blogged fairly extensively about OA since I started blogging late 2007.


The musician in me cannot omit something poignant on this post. As such, here's McDawg's favourite mix of Peter Gabriel's Shock The Monkey arising as a result of this competition.

Peter Gabriel fully supports initiatives such as Creative Commons, The Open Society Institute, Students For Free Culture etc.

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