Two articles released in the last week tell a compelling story when read in tandem.
First, this article in the Washington Post about the speed with which scientists are confronting the coronavirus is chockfull of reasons to love open access to research: Scientists are unraveling the Chinese coronavirus with unprecedented speed and openness. Just check out the lede:
Just 10 days after a pneumonia-like illness was first reported among people who visited a seafood market in Wuhan, China, scientists released the genetic sequence of the coronavirus that sickened them. That precious bit of data, freely available to any researcher who wanted to study it, unleashed a massive collaborative effort to understand the mysterious new pathogen that has been rapidly spreading in China and beyond.
The genome was posted on a Friday night on an open-access repository for genetic information. By Saturday morning, Andrew Mesecar, a professor of cancer structural biology at Purdue University, had redirected his laboratory to start analyzing the DNA sequence
And then this passage, comparing the bad old days before open access pre-print servers, when scientists working on SARS had to rely on the 18th Century system of scholarly publishing:
When SARS began to spread, the tools scientists needed were much less mature, including the basic infrastructure for sharing results rapidly so anyone could build on them. It wasn’t until 2013 that bioRxiv, a preprint server to share scientific papers, was created so scientists would have an easy way to widely share results before they had gone through the process of being vetted and accepted by scientific journals — a process that can take many months.
“This is one of the first times we’re getting to see an outbreak of a new virus and have the scientific community sharing their data almost in real time, rather than have to go through classic route of going through the journals,” said Michael Letko, a postdoctoral fellow at Rocky Mountain Laboratories.
Thankfully, research suggests that bioRxiv is already gaining traction among biomedical researchers. We can see how fast, free access to cutting edge research information is speeding progress in the fight against the coronavirus. Perhaps before long, pre-prints and open data will speed discovery across the whole scientific endeavor.
That’s the vision in the second article I wanted to share today: Conflict between Open Access and Open Science: APCs are a key part of the problem, preprints are a key part of the solution. In it, leaders at the Center for Open Science (including UVA psychology prof. Brian Nosek) explain how pre-prints can help mitigate the harms of traditional publishing and also the harms associated with certain forms of open access itself, notably the APC model and the (overhyped, IMO) challenge of predatory publishers.
Together, these articles paint a vivid picture of a part of the open access landscape that is already making a major difference in the world, and that seems poised to do more in coming years, with the proper support from the community.