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Monday, March 21, 2005

Very, Very Good News 

Last week, something happened in the world of science that may well catalyze some of the most significant changes in the way research happens since the advent of peer review. I was too busy at work, but am totally appalled that others also seem to have missed it.

In an essay in the open journal, PLoS: Biology, a senior member of the Wellcome Trust, Robert Terry, announced that all research funded by the Trust (one of the world's largest funding sources), will be required to make their publications freely available on a website analogous to the NLM's PubMed Central.

This is HUGE. Regulars here have noticed how I often link to abstracts (or worse yet, press releases) instead of original articles; this is because these days you have to pay very steep subscription fees to access almost all scientific journals. Even when I have access to things from my own or work subscriptions, I know most other people don't...if this kind of open access becomes more common (and, eventually, the standard), that will change. More importantly though, the entire nature of scientific research will change: not only will it open doors for amateurs and interested, non-professional parties to learn about new discoveries, it will also allow researchers to spend scarce funds on other things, and, most intriguingly, allow for more real-time publication of findings, and quicker turnaround in follow-up.

There will be downsides too: more research will get published, and we'll have to spend more time weeding through things we don't want. Unscrupulous researchers will find ways to peddle their wares in the new system just as they have in the old (the lag time, before that happens, however, could prove interesting). Overall, I am extremely pleased with this result, and hope others soon follow suit.

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