Why Reporting Science News is Hard

The paywall — some scientific journals require membership, or one-time payment, to access to some articles — is arguably the biggest obstacle for reporting the latest discoveries from the scientific community.

I’m really lucky that I am employed at an academic institution that pays astounding annual fees for access to many scientific journals. This means that I can freely access and stay up-to-date on a lot of cutting edge research, across many fields of science. When my university doesn’t pay for a particular journal, the dreaded payment window pops up. You can pay a one-time fee to access an article for one day, typically for a minimum of $30. This can add up quite fast when looking for in-depth information to report, and is unrealistic for many science journalists.

The dreaded paywall in science publishing

What does this mean for science journalism and public knowledge of science discovery? Often times, news reports are guided by universities that decide to release a press release for a publication. This heavily biases science journalism, meaning that the public are getting a sort of institutionally-curated selection of science news, instead of having open access to all of the studies that are being published.

Some governments are starting to require that research conducted using public money (like a grant from the National Science Foundation) must be published in open access format, meaning that anyone can read the article without charge. Ever. Unfortunately, some governments also impose an embargo period where the article can be restricted to subscribers only, sometimes for a period of up to one year after publication. With more than 2 million science articles published each year, this is hardly sufficient to keep up-to-date on the latest discoveries and emerging trends in science.

A call to action. Public opinion has a strong voice in public science policy. Contact your legislator and tell them how important it is to have open access to science research. If you have friends or family in science, encourage them to write about their own and others’ research to a wider audience that may not have access to their publications.

Originally published at www.sciencedailydose.com on June 23, 2016.

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