Earlier this month I published my first academic article in Geology Today. (Wooooo!) Which subsequently sent me into a new drive for publishing my masters research.
And is also why I have decided to write this blog post.
When I published my article in Geology Today, a Wiley journal, I was criticised over Twitter by someone saying:
“OHHHH the IRONY – “public” behind paywall !!!”
My article was entitled: ‘A call for increased public engagement in geology higher education’, which – although it may sound like it – is not actually about increasing public engagement with geology higher education, but actually within. I think that increasing the amount of science communication training and skills of geology students through adaptations within the curriculum will actually increase student learning, transferable skills and at the same time enable them to become more effective researchers who can communicate their research well. The article is aimed at geology lecturers in higher education, and tailored to provide advice and options. Which I believe is very different from writing an article about engaging the public with geology and putting it behind a paywall.
Of course, the person who made the comment wouldn’t know because they couldn’t access the article…but this was clearly stated in the abstract (which is accessible), which I am therefore assuming they didn’t read.
After me stating this however they responded with:
“Agreed, but a bt nitpicking is on place, in 21th century communication science should include public”
Yes, and my article is encouraging this from a standpoint of within academia encouraging greater engagement at the early stages of scientific development in education. Please, if you are going to have an opinion on an article – read it first. Even if that means waiting for it to get onto the author’s website for free. (And it’s 21st not th.)
So OK, I will now confess: I didn’t even look to check if Geology Today was open access or not because when the editor of a really good international journal asks you to write a feature article for them you just do it. Especially if you want to get your foot in the door and get noticed for the work you are doing as an early career researcher/scientist.
I think it important to note here that I genuinely am for openly accessible scientific data (especially that which has been publicly funded) and for the improvement and opening up of the peer review process (but I also see problems with opening peer review up to the scientific masses – ensuring someone actually does it, quality insurance and so on). But at the same time it won’t always solve what I am personally interested in – better dissemination of science to the ‘public’. I think we will still need excellent science communicators to do this.
Which is why I was then compelled to write this blog post. If you are an early career researcher and are dying to get your first publication out to make you employable, then would you turn this down just to be open access (OA)? I wouldn’t, and didn’t. Maybe others would choose differently, but unfortunately I didn’t and I am still proud of being able to write Robb (2013) on my CV (and anywhere else I can get away with it, ahem).
There has been some recent discussion that those who continue to publish behind paywalls are immoral, and at the time I disagreed with this statement and I do even more now. If you decide to boycott non OA journals then this will produce a stifling effect on academic research, which is surely the opposite of what we want. We are already seeing the big publishers changing their tunes to OA, with Wiley even announcing they are doing so on Wednesday.
So now I am asking myself the question: am I immoral? Honestly, I don’t think so. Nevertheless, I am in a dilemma about where to publish my masters thesis – do I send it to a higher impact journal that is tailored to the community of researchers I want it to reach most and put it behind a paywall and enhance my own visibility and CV at the same time, or do I do the ‘morally right’ thing and publish OA at the risk of it never reaching the people who it will influence most (and where might I get the money if I have to pay to process it?)? (For information, my masters research is about conservation of geological collections in museums, and will benefit most by being read by conservators and museum curators of lots of heritage collections.) I’m not sure what to do, but I hope to draw on some wisdom of others including my supervisors and peers for this decision.
And for your further enjoyment (or not, as the case may be) have a look at my article!