I was wondering when something like this would happen. A microbiologist at the University of British Columbia has started ScienceLeaks – a place to collect links to peer-reviewed science papers that have been “liberated” from behind journal pay-walls.

I’ve long thought that the scientific literature should be free to everyone to access. Science needs to move to a new publishing model in which this is possible.

I’m a little concerned at what something like this might do to peer review in the short term – mostly because I’m not prescient and can’t foresee all the factors involved and how they will play out. Journals currently charge for access to papers because they need that money to support the infrastructure to arrange the traditional anonymous peer review system for every paper that gets submitted. Take that revenue away, and something else needs to happen.

It may be possible for science to survive by people posting papers to free sites and having anyone (or any accredited user) post reviews of it, voting them up and down. But this could easily lead to favouritism or downright chaos, neither of which is desirable for science publication.

However, I think science needs to move to a free availability model, and soon. The number of scientifically literate and interested people who want to see what our researchers are doing is growing, and hiding the best science behind pay-walls makes it look like there’s something to hide, breeding conspiracy theories and anti-science. My main criticism of this ScienceLeaks site is that it looks too small and doesn’t go far enough. I think it won’t be long before we see a science leaking site on a massive scale, aiming to publish every science paper free of charge. The revolution is coming. I hope the journals are thinking about this and have a plan for it, otherwise they’re going to be caught with their pants down and science could suffer an upheaval before things settle down into a new paradigm.

One Response to “ScienceLeaks”

  1. Tom West says:

    I can see two ways round this… either journals agree to make papers freely avilabel after a given time (say 1-5 years). Or, academics have to pay to get their paper published. Personally, whenever I’ve wanted mathematics papers to which I would have to pay to access, I email the author directly. Gnerally that works, unless they are dead/retired.

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