12 February 2008

Ideas that spread and research publishing

The rationale for this website was directly inspired by this TED talk by Seth Godin. Early in the talk, Seth presents a simple mantra:

Ideas that spread, win.

I created Marmorkrebs.org to spread an idea: Marmorkrebs are an exciting and fascinating organism for research.

The jury is still out on whether I will win.

But as I've been compiling all the abstracts to research articles, I've noticed that all of them are protected by journal publishers in one way or another. Some are more liberal than others. The Journal of Experimental Biology, for instance, makes everything available to everyone for free after one year.

I support intellectual property rights. For that reason, I only post abstracts of research papers here. I have no intention of archiving research papers that publishers normally protect behind passwords and subscriptions. If those articles are freely and publicly available, that would be another matter; I would archive those. But currently, none are.

It's important to ask what the benefits of limiting information are. For instance, publishing in journals that have a strong reputation can help to establish the credibility of information. Plus, given that many researchers read more abstracts of papers than entire papers, it may not matter if the main text of a research paper is password protected online if the abstract summarizing the most important points can be read freely. There are many books that I know a lot about -- even though I have never read them! -- because I've read so many reviews of them.

It's also encouraging that some journals, which normally protect their research papers and charge fees to get them, are starting to offer authors a choice to allow their papers to be open access. For a fee, naturally.

Issues like this are why you can find a Creative Commons license on this page. I wanted to state specifically that people are free to spread the ideas contained in this blog, provided people follow the scholarly practice of attribution.

These issues of intellectual property are key to scientific communities, particularly young ones like this little Marmorkrebs community. I hope that next time someone has a Marmorkrebs paper to publish, they think about how well they are spreading their ideas.

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