I became aware of a dramatic health story published recently in Science Translational Medicine though a write-up in the New York Times. The Times tries to balance their subscription access with a reputation of public service, granting articles with public interest a permanent archival URL.
Of course, I was reading in my institutional office and could go right to the article. But I spent a couple of minutes looking at the article page, still committed to the optimistic idea that the editors of Science Translational Medicine still knew when to choose the open access high road of giving a research article public access status, in particular because a proportion of the authorship, including the lead author Evan S. Snitkin, work in divisions of the National Institutes for Health(NIH). Instead, on settling into my blogging chair at home and lacking my institutional IP access, I hit what many members of the public, unaffiliated physicians, and independent researchers, are used to hitting:
The pay wall.
Science Translational Medicine is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science or AAAS. I must admit I had a wonderful time at the AAAS reception for librarians at the Medical Library Association 2012 Annual Meeting in Seattle last May, which featured four of my colleagues providing insight into how they are making a difference for scientific researchers in their institutions with an ability to discover, organize, and apply genomic information. These are the presentations that AAAS has made available:
Personalized Genomics, Personalized Medicine, and You
Carrie Iwema, Ph.D., MLS, Molecular Biology Health Sciences Library System,
University of Pittsburgh
Genomic Literacy: How Much is Enough? (And How Can the Library Help?)
Pamela Shaw, MSLIS, M.S., Galter Health Sciences Library, Northwestern University
Personalized Medicine is Not Just for People: Genomics in Companion and Food Animals
Kristine Alpi, MLS, MPH, AHIP, William Rand Kenan, Jr. Library of Veterinary Medicine,
North Carolina State University
A Role for Every Library in Support of Genomic Medicine
Kristi Holmes, Ph.D., Bernard Becker Medical Library, Washington University at St. Louis
I am so happy that AAAS decided that these presentations were worth giving away, but there was also an expectation from both my colleagues and the AAAS sales and marketing staff that work most closely with them that scientific information wants to be free, particularly genomic research that is heavily supported by NIH extramural funds and the NIH research lab expertise, to the tune of billions of dollars derived from tax revenue. The wealth of science published under commercial contract has to be balanced with opportunities for the tax-paying public to get access to quality research sooner.
I think there is precedent for some editorial intervention by Science Translational Medicine editorial staff to make certain significant articles immediately open access because of their clinical or public health importance. After all, the New England Journal of Medicine, in some ways comparable to Science and its sister journals for their commitment to publish knowledge before their competitors and maintain a profitable business model, has a recent tradition of releasing some articles immediately (Online First) and openly as a public health service. Online First is also a free taste that might lead to subscriptions.
Science Translational Medicine authors have a couple of post-publication avenues for releasing a version of their article for unimpeded access, and Science Translational Medicine allows posting of the accepted version of the paper to a funding body’s repository (such as PubMed Central) six months after publication, provided that a link to the final version is included.
None of these author options really makes up for the public deficit of a pay wall for salient and attention-grabbing public health translational research funded by taxpayers and conducted at federal facilities.