Open Access and Glacial Melting

Interesting to see the news stories 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.



About Bill Hubbard
Bill Hubbard is the Director of the Centre for Research Communications (CRC), incorporating the work of SHERPA. Bill has a background in Higher Education and IT; in particular in work aiming to embed IT into university functions and working practices. Previous work has looked at the use of Expert Systems in supporting decision making, designing information systems for managing research funding and a number of years working with the introduction of multimedia into university teaching. Bill's commercial experience includes three years as a project manager in virtual reality applications for communications, installations and broadcast, specialising in virtual heritage environments. Before this he worked as a senior lecturer at De Montfort University, Leicester, leading a BA degree course in Multimedia Design and has been an honorary lecturer in the School of Computing Sciences at the University of East Anglia. Bill speaks widely on open access and related issues - repository network development, institutional integration, cultural change, IPR and Open Access policy development. He is also involved in archaeological and heritage applications of new media and sits on the Channel 4 Award jury for new media archaeology.

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