Free Our Data: the blog

A Guardian Technology campaign for free public access to data about the UK and its citizens


Free access to science speeds its use; would the same happen with government data?

Though we haven’t made much reference to the issue here (previously), there is a huge debate going on in the scientific world about paid vs open access to scientific publications, and particularly papers. In a press release at Eurekalert, a European scientific resource for journalists and the public (OK, often they’re the same), a new release finds that

Free access to science speeds its use: “A longitudinal bibliometric analysis of citations to papers published in the PNAS between June 8, 2004 and December 20, 2004 reveals that the open-access articles were more immediately recognized and cited by peers.”

Now, in some ways this isn’t surprising. Articles that are immediately available to anyone with an internet connection anywhere in the world are more likely to be picked up and referenced than something which is either in print form only, or which can only be accessed through a paid-for website (or both). I know from my own experience that searching a site like PubMed can be very frustrating: you find lots of links to papers, but then run into the ground because the full text – which you want – is behind a paywall.

What relevance though does this have to the Free Our Data campaign? First, it’s certainly interesting that data which is freely available gets more widely used – even in a community as prolific about linking and referencing as science. That seems to us to bolster the argument in favour of making the data collected by government agencies available to citizens and businesses in the UK at no cost.

Secondly, we think the argument is more easily won in the Free Our Data case. Scientific publishers aren’t taxpayer-supported; the argument about where the revenue stream in a “free scientific publication” world is becomes complicated. Much simpler in the Freed Data world: the taxpayer supports the collection of the data; taxpayers then get to use the data, which creates more business, which generates more taxes, in a virtuous circle.

And we’re still waiting for the Treasury or someone to explain to use what the marginal social cost of raising funds actually means.

(Via EurekAlert! – Breaking News.)

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