I am a scientist by training. I believe that science holds out great promise for a better future. I believe all research dedicated to making the world a safer, healthier and more equitable place for us all to live is important. I therefore also believe that the public should be encouraged to get acquainted with the latest findings by researchers in science and the humanities. This is particularly important just now when the very nature of the scientific method and its relationship to public policy is under sustained attack as never before over the science of climate change.

When I read a newspaper article about the latest scientific findings in a field of interest I often want to get behind the headlines and read the actual research paper to read for myself what it’s all about. So I found myself recently reading about the findings of a major enquiry into the future of land use in the UK – the Foresight project.

I wanted to read the Evidence Reviews and noted the link to the Science Direct website where i found that I had to pay $39.95 for each of the 34 reviews – that’s around £1000 for the lot! I was taken aback and contacted the officials involved. They helpfully pointed out that I could actually download the papers directly from their wesbite. That was good to know but it was not immediately obvious as the paying link came before the free link. Anyway, it reminded me again of the concerns I’ve had for a long time that the public are denied access to publicly funded research. The House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology looked at this whole issue in 2003-04 and their report is excellent. But nothing’s been done as far as I can see to implement its conclusions.

A day after my frustrations over the Foresight reports, the media was reporting new research from the Met Office showing that the evidence that humans are responsible for climate change is stronger now than it was two years ago. In the current fevered atmosphere of public debate on this topic, this is quite a claim to make. Again, I wanted to read for myself the actual report. So I went to the Met Office website and read about it  I followed the link to the report and found myself at Wiley Interscience and having to register and pay for the report. So I contacted the Met Office press people who apologised and said they were tying to get a link to work directly but meantime I had to register with Wiley to get it. I did this but found I still had to pay. That was on 8th March. Tonight (12 March), I went back to the same site and, lo and behold, I didn’t have to pay and the pdf downloaded fine. Thank you Met Office for your swift action. Here is the report.

Finally, another piece of work caught my attention – a report on upland land use. I followed the link and got a 4 page summary at the end of which I found another link to the project website and another link to the full report Future of the Uplands and we’re back at Science Direct and $39.95 for the paper!

I am currently writing book on land issues and am finding access to hundreds of academic articles that I want to consult blocked by academic publishers who want £20 a copy. This is outrageous. How is the public to be informed about important issues such as climate change if it has to pay for the privilege? Most of this research has been paid for out of public money. It should be available to all under a simple Creative Commons licence. Will this be an issue in the forthcoming General Election? Don’t hold your breath.

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