Alice Bell wrote a provocative piece in Times Higher Education, ‘Wider open spaces’, where she calls for science communication to be MORE open, rather than just opening access to specialist journals. The open access ‘movement’ (for lack of a better term) has recently catapulted its call for scientific journals to be accessible to all to the UK national spotlight on the front page of The Guardian.
Alice wants more. More openness, more communication, in her own words:
I want more than a journal boycott. Academics must take time to translate their work and seek and build relationships with people other than their immediate colleagues. They should demand that their supervisors and funders take the time they spend on this seriously.
I tweeted this article today saying:
Hmm a bit harsh on scientists, but @alicebell makes some good points : for @timeshighered on open access hype: http://bit.ly/IPt7d1
@girlinterruptin with repect, if you think that I think you’re being over defensive, but apologies if my clumsy prose prompted that reaction.
Alice’s prose is not clumsy, she writes very well.
So am I being overly defensive? Perhaps, but what I would I be being overly defensive of?
I think Open Access is a good idea (as does Alice) but unlike Alice, I don’t think its PR puff, I think its a step in the right direction. It may just be the tip of the iceberg but its a tip. A tip is better than an iceberg under the water about to rip your boat in half. It’s also one of the few times I have seen such a mass of academic scientists unite on an issue. Scientists are people and like all groups of diverse people getting them to agree on anything is well nigh impossible.
I also think its a good idea to widen that discussion.
Do I need to communicate better? Undoubtably
Do I need to learn to write better? Unquestionably
Do I need to engage more? Of course
Do I ask people for help with these very things? Yes all of the time
If I am defensive of anything it is only that I am attempting to do these things. And I am not alone in this, I know a lot of scientists that are attempting to do these things. This is pretty evident from the large number of science blogs around (like here at Occam’s Typewriter).
Many of my colleagues, especially those like me in their early careers as a PI, care an awful lot about communication but often feel they don’t have the time to do this. After all you do have to produce science in order to communicate about it.
I did feel quite defensive when I read this:
I will get really excited only when science finally deals with the issues of social, cultural and economic exclusion rather than revelling in its elite status.
I don’t feel like I have any kind of ‘elite’ status and am much less revelling in it. I am trying to engage – as most people who are likely to read the THE or this blog or Alice’s blog probably are. I think the revellers are down at the pub and could care less about this whole debate.