Money and Security Questions Are Keeping Science Behind the Paywall | Motherboard
At the second annual global meeting of the Global Research Council in Berlin, a group of research-funding agencies called for increased public access to the studies they fund. In a seven-page action plan toward openness, the group of roughly 70 separate agencies offered guidelines for how different institutions might grant wider access. While the guidelines are fairly general, the paper puts the Global Research Council on one ideological side of a debate in the scientific community that sounds a lot like the debates dividing governments and media: namely, who should have access to what, and at what cost. There is a widespread notion that research, funded by the public through government grants, should find its way back to them. Even if the average person does not make a habit of lying down in bed and perusing the latest abstracts in Science, she may have still paid for it, if only in a very small part. However, the economic realities of scientific journals have historically dictated that people pay for the privilege of reading the latest research. Even if science is a collaborative practice, having people pay-to-play keeps the game rolling. As Helga Nowotny, the president of the European Research Council, told Nature, 'There’s a lot of uncertainty, and anxiety, and I think many people are looking for hybrid formulas' ... Beyond just the economics though, there are other considerations when it comes to offering access to the latest lab reports. In 2011, public safety and public access seemed to reach an impass. Dutch researchers managed to modify a naturally occurring strain of H5N1, also known as bird flu, greatly increasing its lethality. Starting with a form of the virus that rarely infected humans and almost never exhibited airborne transmission between them when it did, the researchers managed to craft a hypothetically catastrophic pathogen with only a handful of genetic manipulations. Biosecurity panels advised the US government to place restrictions on the publishing of the findings, fearing that the findings would end up in the hands of scientifically literate bad guys, intent on bioterrorism. The scientists cooperated, and the scientific community erupted in discourse. While some feared a man-made pandemic, others were of the opinion that sharing this study was part of its value. If scientists understand the transformation of not-so-scary viruses to pandemic-prone supergerms from the inside, they will be braced to respond when the mutations arise spontaneously in nature. Stated succinctly by Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 'The risk exists in nature already. Not doing the research is really putting us in danger.' In January 2013, a group of researchers published a letter in both Science and Nature, stating that, while the moratorium was being observed, there remained 'a public-health responsibility to resume this important work,' which the Dutch scientists and others promptly did. Since then, H5N1 research resumed, without much controversy and assuming researchers remember to take the necessary security precautions to keep the physical research from walking off, there probably shouldn’t be any ..."