Field of Science

Making research open-access

The US Office of Science & Technology policy is continuing to receive comments on the future of its open-access policy. The comments have been overwhelmingly in favor of making research papers available for free electronically, which many suggesting they be available immediately on publication (or even upon acceptance, which is as much as a year or two before publication). The comment that was most on-point, from my perspective, was one person who wondered what purpose publishers even serve beyond copy-editing, given that all the work is done volunteers (and, come to think of it, I helped with the copy-editing of my last paper myself).

Some comments go even farther, suggesting that all data should be made public immediately. I'm not sure about that idea. Preparing data so that it is easy for others to understand is by no means easy. When I go back to look at data I collected a few years ago, it often takes me hours to interpret it, and I remember what the study was about. In fact, the basic purpose of a paper is to take data and make them easy to understand. Finally, while there are rare cases where I wish I had access to somebody's original data, for most studies I can't even imagine what value having the original data would have.

Certainly, there are cases in which having the raw data would be valuable. But is the value worth the cost of preparing all data from all studies for the public? Maybe in fields in which the data are easier to publish it is. In psychology, I'm not sure.

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