Nature and the BBC get it right

Nature Publishing has an initiative to help get the latest newsworthy research into the hands of the public.
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I don’t generally like to criticise non-AoB journals here. It’s a waste of effort and there’s an obvious conflict of interest. But there is one thing that’s quite common that annoys me.

A journal will put out a press release because they have a story they think the public must know about. They emphasise how major this story is. Then, when you try to read it, you hit a paywall and they ask for $35 plus VAT.

It doesn’t help build trust with people. When I started working with AoB I said we should put out occasional press releases. I was then ready to argue that, if we put out a press release on Eurekalert, we should also make the paper free access. One of the best things that happened is that Pat Heslop-Harrison, the editor, suggested this independently.*

The result is that sometimes I’ll look at blogging an interesting paper that had a press release, then see it’s not free access and not bother. I want people to be able to read the paper for themselves and then tell me if I’ve misunderstood it and got it all wrong.

It’s easy to say that press-released papers should be accessible. However, if your business model is a subscription site there’s an obvious cost for each paper you make public. So Nature’s content sharing initiative seemed like a good idea. There are links from certain sites and people that can give you read-only access to a paper. I have to admit though, I can’t remember seeing it actually work until now.

Trees and agriculture.
Trees and agriculture. Photo: Liz West / Flickr.

There’s a story on the BBC Trees can help UK farming cut emissions, says study by Mark Kinver, with an embedded link to the original paper. The BBC have been improving how they link back to the source of their stories, and this one has a link to a read-only version of the PDF for the original paper, The potential for land sparing to offset greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. Again, it’s easy to say this is how science journalism should work, but it seems to be beyond a lot of outlets.

It’s also good to see that Nature are planning to continue to provide these links after a year long trial. It’s an alternative to other ways of getting papers.

*The other good bit of news was finding that issues of Annals of Botany become free access a year after print publication, so you can access the January 2015 Annals of Botany for free now – and AoB PLANTS is open access.


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