During the past decade, the massive worldwide conversion of learning content from print and other older media on to digital networks has created gatekeepers who limit access to their digital content or require online users to pay for it.
A variety of gatekeepers have made a third choice:
October 30 , 2006
Bee Genes Pry Open Nature
The authors, led by G.E. Robinson, of the Insect Molecular Biology report on the sequencing of the bee genome —published as open content as was Nature's article on the topic—begin their report with these lines from Jonathan Swift:
Sweetness and light have not characterized the tensions within science communities over open publication. There are many stress factors in the matter including the value of peer review and the protection of research toward possible patents. Another assumed factor is profits for publishers. For whatever reasons, for Nature magazine stories are rare of open education resources. The annual subscription rates for Nature and its (by informal count) nearly one hundred publications for specific sciences are in the $100s.
But there are valuable exceptions in Nature's publication pattern. The honeybee gene story is one of them. The October 26, 2006 cover article of the prestigious Nature magazine was about the completion of the bee sequencing. Online, Nature.com used the honeybee genome to create a WEB FOCUS, which has joined similar Nature.com sections that are free to use and kept online permanently.
The Nature Honeybee Genome WEB FOCUS is a superb weblet connecting the latest and most respected information on the topic. The sections are: Video, Current Research, Podcast, Links, and Archive. Almost everything listed can be used by an online visitor without subscribing to Nature—but not everything.
It seems logical that Nature benefits in maintaining its prestige by allowing free access to a few of its broadly interesting subjects now and then. Probably some paid subscriptions are stimulated by the open content. Nevertheless, for someone coming to Nature.com purely for the purpose of studying, the experience quickly becomes frustrating without a paid subscription. Because of the networked nature of any website, during a visit to Nature.com one click leads to another. It is not long in Nature.com before a click leads not to the subject the visitor has been enticed by, but to an Access page that asks whether the visitor wants to buy the article for $30 or subscribe to Nature.
PRYING NATURE OPEN
While scientists use techniques like sequencing genomes to pry open the secrets of natural life, Nature.com gives visitors a way to pry into the subject matter kept closed by the publication. As an example, in the issue of Nature published one week before one containing the free honeybee-focused material, there was a closed article on "Reconstructing the early evolution of Fungi using a six-gene phylogeny." The brief open abstract in Nature included a list of the article's many contributors, not in alphabetical order. By googling the first (presumably lead) author in the list, Timothy Y. James, a Duke University scientist, a list of webpages about his work with fungi pops up. Following these links that go directly to the scientist's work openly published online leads through science in action in the same subject as the Nature article kept closed.
The most recent and authentic science is increasingly available online from the locations where the science itself is being done—from the scientists doing the work. The inherent connectivity of the open web medium may well be closing the door on profitable proprietary publishing.