Open Access and Glacial Melting

Interesting to see the news stories (and here)  on the discredited claim by the IPCC that the Himalayan glaciers could melt within 35 years. I think that the basis of Open Access has a lot to say about such incidents as the glacier-melt story. Open Access has a clear message of transparency and accessibility and even though this might be a well-known message for ourselves, I think it is always worth relating to stories such as this and making repeatedly in public fora.

In other words, open access brings traceability to materials – if all research material, including (at least published) grey literature were to be made open access as a matter of course, then tracing back references would be a matter of simple mouse clicks. In the case of the Himalayan glacier-melt, 1 or 2 mouse clicks away:
**   IPCC claims glacier-melt and gives reference of 2005 report by conservation group WWF. This reference is to an open access report and so –
**   2005 WWF report quotes an interview in 1999 by Indian glaciologist Syed Hasnain. Either it mentions the interview in which case, the track is ended as a non-peer-reviewed source – or the interview itself was published in which case
**   And the researcher has the source and can make their judgement as to its validity.

And of course, if materials were referenced and openly accessible so that they could be checked at this speed, anyone writing or editing a report would be able to recheck all of their sources before any report was ever published, rather than like at present, for example, relying on notes taken from some interlibrary loan 2 years before, relying on a contributor to have checked their sources, or seeing that the source is a WWF Report and assuming that the sources they used would be peer-reviewed.

If reports and articles could have their references checked in this way by the sceptical scientific process, it could be argued that a subscription based service would also serve – at least for those wealthy enough to have access to the world literature and dismissing the others.  But a comprehensive Open Access system makes it available for everyone: references could be checked by journalists, concerned members of the public, students, and others, as well as all academic researchers.

Open Access transparency should act to reassure the public that the decisions and actions taken on their behalf are based on a secure footing. If scientists and politicians are truly concerned about a loss of trust in the scientific process by the public, then Open Access is one way to reclaim that trust.

Bill Hubbard 

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About Bill Hubbard

Bill Hubbard is Head of the Centre for Research Communications (CRC) at the University of Nottingham and the JISC Research Communications Strategist. Bill directs the CRC's work in a range of open access and research communication initiatives and services and leads the CRC Team. The CRC is the home for the established SHERPA Partnership and its activities; the SHERPA Services RoMEO, JULIET, OpenDOAR ; and a portfolio of project work. As the JISC Research Communications Strategist Bill is involved in the development of the strategic work of JISC in supporting and leading national developments in research and scholarly communications.