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Online Science: Open Access,The Penny University and Nautilus

11 May

There is no doubt that with the advancement and proliferation of the internet world wide, that the public dissemination of scientific research is at an all time high.  Yet there are still significant challenges and issues in accessing academic research if you are not linked with an academic institution.  Perhaps the most prominent is the frustrating ‘pay wall’ feature of online journals (and now some newspapers such as The Times).  The theory of a newspaper pay wall is that you give loyal customers access to the latest edition, articles and archives, but also keep customers buying the print copy at the same time.  In a market where the profits of publishing paper content are plummeting, market leaders are stretching in new directions, which typically include massively expanding digital content, and employing not just journalists but bloggers, students and members of the public to provide online content.  Revenue is largely gained by advertisements in print media (around 70-80% typically), but many newspapers are struggling to find matching revenue incomes in the digital age.

At this point you might rightly ask where does science, specifically archaeology or anthropology, come into this?

Arguably academic journals are regularly accessed by employed academics and students enrolled in academic institutions.  Journals charge access, via the University, to view the content and research articles within their package.  However there has been a long and substantial argument over open access to peer-reviewed research, with the Research Council UK recently declaring that from last month (April 2013) all peer-reviewed articles reporting work funded by UK research councils must be free to all (full article, including terms and conditions, can be read here).  A recent Spoilheap column in the British Archaeology magazine (2013: 66) opines that ‘those forced  to cadge, nick and mostly fail to read new research, it promises to transform their attempts to keep up- and in the process, revolutionise research and public understanding’.  However Spoilheap makes an important note, stating that ‘wrongly managed, open access could close doors’, as many archaeological organisation’s journals or articles (think regional or specialist societies) are written with the help of capital raised from membership fees.  However if the articles or journals are made available for free, then there is less of an incentive for a person to join a society, and thus make future capital available for peer-reviewed articles from that society.

The individual, as well as the organisation, also has the power to act to enable that their research is read, critiqued and studied.  Many researchers have joined the thriving and bustling Academia community website.  This site has a current potential pool of 3.2 million researchers, many of who use the site to network with individuals with the same research interests.  Most importantly the vast majority of users also upload their research and articles, which are freely available to the public.  Personally I have used this rich article resource when I have not been able to access an article via a journal due to a pay wall.

There are no easy solutions as to how to implement open access and to ease the spread of peer-reviewed research.  It is, however, a time for many organisations to think ahead.

There is, of course, another side to this story.  Namely the rise and rise of freely available information on blogs (such as this).  This is an exciting, vibrant and informative field in which many blogs take unique approaches to spreading research, raising issues, and building collaborative links.  Kristina Killgrove has, in a recent blog post over at her site Powered By Osteons, critiqued a recent article by de Koning (2013: 394-397) on anthropological outreach by blogging.  Kristina raises a particularly important point on the target audience of anthropology blogs, rightly disagreeing with de Koning over his view that the anthropology audience is mostly academic (almost an online feedback loop of researchers, if you will).  (For a more information on the challenges of communication to the public in anthropology I recommend reading Sabloff 1998).  Personally speaking I agree wholeheartedly with Kristina.  The very reason I set this blog up, and continue to write, is inform a general audience of the issues and realities in human osteology and archaeology.

As stated above this is an exciting time in online science and anthropology, and I wanted to share a few sites with you that contain informative and well researched posts.  They also highlight the diverse and changing nature of online content, as blogs often provide content in imaginative and stimulating ways.

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Time for a chat (via The Penny University).

The Penny University‘ is one such new website.  The brain child of Alison Atkin, a current PhD student in forensic and archaeological science at the University of Sheffield, the site is based on the idea of old ‘penny universities’, or coffee houses, in England in the 18th century, where individuals of any standing could come and discuss the latest discoveries in science and debate the findings; in essence an alternative form of academic learning.  On Alison’s site a wide range of researchers will be interviewed (both written and spoken) on their PhD projects, current jobs  or future projects, and will include a wide range of disciplines, from biology to literature.  In particular the site interviews people who are asking the questions ‘that we ask everyday (and sometimes questions we never thought to ask)’.

So far there have been two interviews, with the first featuring University of East Anglia researcher Matthew Fenech investigating why obese people are at such a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.  The second sees University of Sheffield PhD candidate Linzi Harvey discussing her work investigating dental health in archaeological skeletal populations, and how it might reflect systemic health overall in populations.  Alison has received funding for the site from ‘I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here‘, specifically from the 2012 Wellcome Trust event  ‘In The Zone‘, which highlights the collaborative importance of integrating researchers.  If you are interested in featuring as a researcher and are actively involved in academia  then ‘The Penny University’ wants to speak to you, so drop Alison a message here.  ALison also runs her own rather interesting blog entitled ‘Deathsplanation‘ detailing her PhD research and other topics related ot human osteology,  death and archaeology; it is well worth a look!

Nautilus‘ is a new enterprising online science magazine, where every month a new topic that mixes science, culture and philosophy is chosen, and every Thursday a new chapter to that month’s magazine is added.  It is a lovely format, eloquently designed with engaging illustrations and written for a general audience; it also allows for a wide range of researchers to contribute to the format, and challenges the boundaries of science journalism by including reviews of games, technology and fictional pieces.  The first issue is entitled ‘What Makes You Special: The Puzzle of Human Uniqueness’, with chapter one entitled Less Than You Think’, chapter two ‘More than you Imagine’ and chapter three ‘Beyond Measure’.   Particularly enticing is the Frans de Waal interview on Cosmopolitan Ape, which delves into the researchers thoughts and feelings on primates.   ‘Nautilus’ has received funding from a John Templeton Grant.

What are you thoughts on open access?  Would it credibly damage the academic publishing industry, or should more academic journals implement open access articles?

Bibliography:

Killgrove, K. 2013. Is Blogging Really the Future of Public Anthropology? Powered By Osteons. Online 07/05/2013.

de Koning, M. 2013. Hello World! Challenges for blogging as anthropological outreachJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 19 (2): 394-397.

Sabloff, J. 1998. Distinguished Lecture in Archaeology: Communication and the Future of American ArchaeologyAmerican Anthropologist. 100 (4): 869-875.

Spoilheap. 2013. British Archaeology. 130: 66.

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