As horrific as Gomez’ case is, it reminds us that the debate over the public’s access to scientific data and research is a complex one.
Few would disagree that science needs to be shared with the public more effectively, and institutions who can afford to pay the unbelievably high subscription costs for access to academic journals need to open up their treasure chests of papers to institutions that aren’t able to, particularly when it comes to medical research.
There is, however, a role for publishers, and simply doing away with their editorial services and the (albeit flawed) peer-reviewed system would be reckless. This problem requires evolution, not revolution.
Currently, journals that are open access – meaning anyone can see their contents – often require extortionate one-time fees in order for academics to make them open access in the first place. These fees could often be spent on more researchers and students, and often the prestige of paywalled journals like Science and Nature prevail.
There’s also an argument about what papers to make open access and why. Unless you’re scientifically literate, the public could read through academic papers and interpret them incorrectly – a dangerous path to walk down when it comes to health research.
In any case, there’s a middle ground out there somewhere, and hopefully academia manages to find it. In the meantime, threatening a researcher with jail time is not a good move – not in the slightest.
The case has echoes of that of 26-year-old computer programmer Aaron Swartz, who back in 2011 logged in to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) servers and downloaded thousands of academic papers from publisher JSTOR, hoping to make them freely available on the Web.
He was arrested, and was told he would face a 35-year-long prison sentence on federal data-theft charges. Faced with this awful future, and struggling with long-term depression, he hanged himself.
[H/T: STAT News]