February 15, 2012

The Open Access Irony Awards: Naming and shaming them

Ask me about open access by mollyaliOpen Access (OA) publishing aims to make the results of scientific research available to the widest possible audience. Scientific papers that are published in Open Access journals are freely available for crucial data mining and for anyone or anything to read, wherever they may be.

In the last ten years, the Open Access movement has made huge progress in allowing:

“any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers.”

But there is still a long way to go yet, as much of the world’s scientific knowledge remains locked up behind publisher’s paywalls, unavailable for re-use by text-mining software and inaccessible to the public, who often funded the research through taxation.

Openly ironic?

ironicIronically, some of the papers that are inaccessible discuss or even champion the very Open Access movement itself. Sometimes the lack of access is deliberate, other times accidental – but the consequences are serious. Whether deliberate or accidental, restricted access to public scientific knowledge is slowing scientific progress [1]. Sometimes the best way to make a serious point is to have a laugh and joke about it. This is what the Open Access Irony Awards do, by gathering all the offenders in one place, we can laugh and make a serious point at the same time by naming and shaming the papers in question.

To get the ball rolling, here is are some examples:

  • The Lancet owned by Evilseviersorry I mean Elsevier, recently  published a paper on “the case for open data” [2] (please login to access article). Login?! Not very open…
  • Serial offender and über-journal Science has an article by Elias Zerhouni on the NIH public access policy [3] (Subscribe/Join AAAS to View Full Text), another on “making data maximally available” [4] (Subscribe/Join AAAS to View Full Text) and another on a high profile advocate of open science [5] (Buy Access to This Article to View Full Text) Irony of ironies.
  • From Nature Publishing Group comes a fascinating paper about harnessing the wisdom of the crowds to predict protein structures [6]. Not only have members of the tax-paying public funded this work, they actually did some of the work too! But unfortunately they have to pay to see the paper describing their results. Ironic? Also, another published in Nature Medicine proclaims the “delay in sharing research data is costing lives” [1] (instant access only $32!)
  • From the British Medical Journal (BMJ) comes the worrying news of dodgy American laws that will lock up valuable scientific data behind paywalls [7] (please subscribe or pay below). Ironic? *
  • The “green” road to Open Access publishing involves authors uploading their manuscript to self-archive the data in some kind of  public repository. But there are many social, political and technical barriers to this, and they have been well documented [8]. You could find out about them in this paper [8], but it appears that the author hasn’t self-archived the paper or taken the “gold” road and pulished in an Open Access journal. Ironic?
  • Last, but not least, it would be interesting to know what commercial publishers make of all this text-mining magic in Science [9], but we would have to pay $24 to find out. Ironic?

These are just a small selection from amongst many. If you would like to nominate a paper for an Open Access Irony Award, simply post it to the group on Citeulike or group on Mendeley. Please feel free to start your own group elsewhere if you’re not on Citeulike or Mendeley. The name of this award probably originated from an idea Jonathan Eisen, picked up by Joe Dunckley and Matthew Cockerill at BioMed Central (see tweet below). So thanks to them for the inspiration.

For added ironic amusement, take a screenshot of the offending article and post it to the Flickr group. Sometimes the shame is too much, and articles are retrospectively made open access so a screenshot will preserve the irony.

Join us in poking fun at the crazy business of academic publishing, while making a serious point about the lack of Open Access to scientific data.


  1. Sommer, Josh (2010). The delay in sharing research data is costing lives Nature Medicine, 16 (7), 744-744 DOI: 10.1038/nm0710-744
  2. Boulton, G., Rawlins, M., Vallance, P., & Walport, M. (2011). Science as a public enterprise: the case for open data The Lancet, 377 (9778), 1633-1635 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60647-8
  3. Zerhouni, Elias (2004). Information Access: NIH Public Access Policy Science, 306 (5703), 1895-1895 DOI: 10.1126/science.1106929
  4. Hanson, B., Sugden, A., & Alberts, B. (2011). Making Data Maximally Available Science, 331 (6018), 649-649 DOI: 10.1126/science.1203354
  5. Kaiser, Jocelyn (2012). Profile of Stephen Friend at Sage Bionetworks: The Visionary Science, 335 (6069), 651-653 DOI: 10.1126/science.335.6069.651
  6. Cooper, S., Khatib, F., Treuille, A., Barbero, J., Lee, J., Beenen, M., Leaver-Fay, A., Baker, D., Popović, Z., & players, F. (2010). Predicting protein structures with a multiplayer online game Nature, 466 (7307), 756-760 DOI: 10.1038/nature09304
  7. Epstein, Keith (2012). Scientists are urged to oppose new US legislation that will put studies behind a pay wall BMJ, 344 (jan17 3) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e452
  8. Kim, Jihyun (2010). Faculty self-archiving: Motivations and barriers Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology DOI: 10.1002/asi.21336
  9. Smit, Eefke, & Van Der Graaf, M. (2012). Journal article mining: the scholarly publishers’ perspective Learned Publishing, 25 (1), 35-46 DOI: 10.1087/20120106

[CC licensed picture "ask me about open access" by mollyali.]

* Please note, some research articles in BMJ are available by Open Access, but news articles like [7] are not. Thanks to Trish Groves at BMJ for bringing this to my attention after this blog post was published. Also, some “articles” here are in a grey area for open access, particularly “journalistic” stuff like news, editorials and correspondence, as pointed out by Becky Furlong. See tweets below…

April 8, 2010

Embracing Open Science

Open Push (Oklahoma, Manchester)There’s an interesting article [1] by Chelsea Wald in Science magazine published today, about Open Science including Open Source Code, Open Notebook Science, Open Data and Open Access Publishing.

It interviews some of the advocates and sceptics of a more open approach to doing Science, including:

It’s well worth a read, despite being a bit US-centric, and looks like it’s freely available via Open Access Publishing [2] too.

[Update: There is some follow-up commentary on the original article here and here]


  1. Chelsea Wald (2010). Scientists Embrace Openness Science (2010-04-09) DOI: 10.1126/science.caredit.a1000036
  2. Declan Butler (2010). US seeks to make science free for all Nature, 464 (7290), 822-823 DOI: 10.1038/464822a

September 12, 2008

Blogging Professors: Big Boffins with Blogs

Jeffrey Bates by Julian CashI’ve been hunting all over the interweb looking for Professors that have blogs. While it would be a good thing if there were more, (see the science blogging challenge 2008), there are surprising amount of big boffins that already blog. I should say that by big, I mean (full) professor. By boffin I mean a person practicing science including biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, engineering and hell, even computer “science” and the “dismal science” of economics too. By blog I mean, a web-log or a lab-log which is personal, frequently updated (with web feed) and allows comments. Here is my collection of big boffins with blogs, with a little help from friendfeed.com [1]. It is ordered alphabetically by surname and I hope it gives a flavour of some of the bloggers out there on the Web. If you know any more, please let me know. (more…)

July 3, 2008

The Tree of Life

I’m not much of an evolutionary biologist, but Jonathan Eisen asked for help and I can’t resist. So, in the name of Science, here is some deserved Google Juice for various Trees of Life on the Web.

There, I’ve done my bit for Science, now it’s your turn. Spread the ❤ link love ❤, and since we will soon be celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, why not marvel at the coral / shrub / lungs of life too?

(CC-licensed Tree of Life picture by Phitar)

October 19, 2007

The Webolution Will Be Televised

The American poet and songwriter Gil Scott-Heron once famously remarked that The Revolution Will Not Be Televised [1]. Science has undergone its own quiet revolution since the invention of the Web back in 1990. This has slowly but surely changed scientific communication, not just a Revolution but a “Webolution” [2] if you like. The recent addition of television to the Web means that, to paraphrase Gil, the Webolution will be televised. You can now watch some of the webolution in science, thanks the likes of JOVE (The Journal Of Visualised Experiments), SciVee.TV, Google Video and YouTube. What are these sites like and is their scientific and technical content any good?


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