Combining a trend from the free software world and a reaction to increasing subscription costs, the last decade saw the emergence of the “Open Access” movement in the scientific litterature. Instead of transfering all your rights (and copyrights) to an editor that will sell your work to other scientists, you can choose to publish your work in Open Access journals. In this case, you retain your rights (and copyrights) on the article you wrote. Moreover, your work is freely available to other scientists (at least in electronic format) while still being of some quality since the reviewing process is still there. As an article writer, you only risk to be cited more often (since your article is freely available). As an article reader, you only risk to gain more knowledge (since more and more interesting articles are published with various Open Access publishers like BioMed Central, the Public Library of Science, etc.).
Now, I recently discovered Science Commons, a kind of extension of Creative Commons for sciences. Most Open Acces publishers chose one of the Creative Commons licences for the articles and additional material they offer. I’ve not yet read everything on their website. But this initiative seems to be a nice “enhancement” of giving access to the scientific litterature since they go a step further by focusing also on material licensing and the accessibility to raw data.
Of course, one of their projects deals with publishing scientific litterature. For me, this project can bring a bit more “independent” discussion in the field (by “indenpendent”, I mean that they don’t seem related to any publisher although they promote Open Access, of course). What’s more interesting is their two other projects because they can bring some fresh air and new ideas in their respective fields.
Science Commons second project deals with licencing material (hardware). It will explore standard licensing models to facilitate wider access to scientific materials. Without material, we cannot do science (it’s not Philosophy, working on ideas, concepts, etc.). Sometimes, material is so specific that it’s not sold by any big pharmacological / biotech companies but only produced on demand by another lab, in another corner of the earth. For the moment, nearly every material transfer between two labs is associated with a specific transfer agreement. Some standardisation will allow scientists to focus on their work rather than on legal and administrative annoyances while still giving rights and credits to the right group / people.
Finally, the third Science Commons project explores ways to assure broad access to scientific data. If you are lucky to publish your findings, maybe someone will find other effects or give you hints to find other relevant facts by simply looking at your raw data. This will allow a quickly evolving science and, for example, it will avoid the unneccessary use of many more laboratory animals, just to reproduce an experiment and trying to find other or more effects than those already published. Now if your experiments did not worked, for any reasons, publishing those unsuccessfull results will also prevent other people from performing the same unnecessary experiments. In biological sciences, it’s often difficult to publish a paper on, e.g., the fact that iron has no effect on a some metabolism. But I think it’s worth publishing data from this experiment since it can give clues on other substance effects on some biochemical pathways.
I know this post is rather biological sciences oriented (I am sorry, it’s my field ; and I didn’t even wrote about the NeuroCommons project, part the Science Commons Data project). I suggest you to have a look at the Sciences Commons website and to see by yourself how it can help your science field.