Sunday, January 14, 2007

Gold, Green Roads to OA Soil Science Research

Green Road, Point Reyes, CA

You invest your limited time in reading this and similar science themed blogs to inform yourself. You pursue links that promises to ground you in a new understanding. All too often your admirable efforts are frustrated by links to restricted fee-for-access login pages.

What purpose does it serve to so restrict knowledge that was funded in the public interest? A growing number of open access vehicles for publication and peer review indicate that restricted access is a waning model for funding and disseminating scientific knowledge. OA models are working for chemistry, physics and internal medicine. They will work well for the other sciences.

A recurring theme of advocacy on this blog is open access (OA) to soil science research articles. While I believe strongly that all soil scientists should support their professional soils organizations financially, I believe as strongly that all published soil science research should be freely accessible on the web. Those that can best capitalize on soil science are least able to afford fee-based access. The readers of this blog need OA soil science sources. I am committed to delivering these up to you in the several forms available: gold road and green road.

Advocates of OA differentiate between a "gold road" and a "green road" to success. The gold road is when journals move from restricted access to open access. Without fanfare, the SSSAJ has stepped out onto the gold road. SSSAJ articles now convert to unrestricted access after an 18 month embargo. As a member of SSSA, with a paid subscription to SSSAJ since 1976, my regard for and commitment to SSSAJ has risen to new heights on this quiet action.

SSSAJ's most recent un-embargoed articles are in Vol. 69, Iss. 4.

The green road to OA is where authors self-publish research in open access venues. Especially significant to this is self-archiving. Because it is a seamless extension of accepted pre-web-era practice, OA self-archiving does not interfere with copyright and publication by scientific journals. Because of this acceptance and the unassailable viability of OA self-archiving, resistance is futile:

Open Access (OA) means free access for all would-be users webwide to all articles published in all peer-reviewed research journals across all scholarly and scientific disciplines. 100% OA is optimal for research, researchers, their institutions, and their funders because it maximizes research access and usage. It is also 100% feasible: authors just need to deposit ("self-archive") their articles on their own institutional websites. Hence 100% OA is inevitable. Yet the few keystrokes needed to reach it have been paralyzed for a decade by a seemingly endless series of phobias (about everything from piracy and plagiarism to posterity and priorities), each easily shown to be groundless, yet persistent and recurring. The cure for this "Zeno's Paralysis" is for researchers' institutions and funders to mandate the keystrokes, just as they already mandate publishing, and for the very same reason: to maximize research usage, impact and progress. 95% of researchers have said they would comply with a self-archiving mandate; 93% of journals have already given self-archiving their blessing.

I have linked to self-archived sources in several posts. Philippe Baveye passed along his Whither Goes Soil Science..., which I archived with PB's permission on the site. It's a revealing article, and gets linked frequently.'s copy of the Nature article on Terra Preta (pdf) appears to be based on a similar self-archiving arrangement. Links to self-archived articles were provided in the post on invasive earthworms. In this last case the counter-intuitive conclusion of the research, that the need to prevent the spread of invasive earthworm calls for state legislative action, likely gave the authors critical incentive to make their work more widely accessible to lawmakers and the affected public.

My position is that if a source I here use is restricted access, I won't frustrate you by linking to it. And if I can't link to it, I won't rely on it to explain the positions I take.

I am curious if anybody else reading this blog has thoughts on OA, and especially as it relates to soil science. Your comments are strongly encouraged.

Special thanks to Peter Suber, for his Open Acess News Blog, the best place to monitor the ever strengthening pulse of OA, and the source of my exposure to Zeno's Paralysis.

Photo source: Road through the green
Originally uploaded by chartno3.

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