Monday, January 31, 2011

Open Access Soil Science

Soil chemistry text: $200
Soil biology text: $150
A rip-off soil ecology text: $50
Four conference proceedings: $440
Being able to find any of these in my local libraries: 0

Searching for freely available scientific information is almost the same as searching for a Unicorn. It is elusive, rare, and possibly doesn't exist at all.

But do not fear; Web 2.0 and the OpenScience revolution is here! What is that? Well, it is free information for all! Yep, that is right: science that is available to anyone, usually through the internet. This may be through Blogs, Twitter, Media (magazines etc), free Journal articles or even Wikis. It allows anyone in the world to access cutting edge research, learn and implement science.

I am a strong believer in Open Access: free information for all. Only when we share and collaborate can we really learn more, advance science and open up capacity building and development in all countries. Using soil science as a case study, I am going to discuss places we can find Open Access  and how it has worked, then where we can find Open Access within soil science, what I can see being done in the immediate future and some ideas that we can all take on board

Where has Open Access (Source) worked?
Open Source has revolutionized the software world: that is freely available software and access to its code. I want you to think about your own computer. Do you use Firefox? Thunderbird? VLC? FreeMind? Open Office? All of these are freely available and many have had their code contributed by a number of software engineers. These engineers believe that software should be freely available to anyone and that anyone can also modify and access that code.

What have been the benefits to this?
* Collaboration, sharing of ideas, problem solving means a better product. 
* New software is available to anyone
* Open source means the ability to tailor to individual needs
* There is fair and equal access to the product, meaning that there is no imbalance of power of its use or gain from its use.
* They have been able to make software freely available but still maintain a profitable business model

This sounds pretty good, doesn't it?!? How does it benefit science? And where do we see this in Soil Science?

What are some of the benefits I see of moving to Open Access Science? 
* Open and freely accessible information by all
* Improved collaboration and thinking means more breakthroughs and more rigorous science
* Increased ability for people to put research into practice. For example, land managers and farmers accessing the latest research on erosion control.
* Equal power in science - learning and information is not just limited the person who first thought about it or to those with money.
* Science moves forward from the publication-funding-paradigm to a broader approach to recognizing science, including demonstrating ability to collaborate, think and create useful work.
* Science is still peer-reviewed, but also becomes more transparent reducing current problems in publishing and research of critical-criticism, bullying, personal opinion and personality

Open Access in Soil Science

Traditional Communication
Our traditional source of information sharing is through Journals. There are two 100% only Open Access peer-reviewed journals that I have been able to find: Air, Water and Soil Research and Applied and Environmental Soil Science. These journals charge their authors a fee for publication and make all articles freely available to anyone that wants to read them. There are other  Open Access journal options with more 'distinguished' and well ranked journals. The catch is that the authors have to pay USD2500+ (AUD 3000 for Australian Journal of Soil Research, $850+ for some others) to have their journal article freely available to anyone. This sort of money is nearly impossible for a PhD student to spend (myself included). They are more likely to spend what little research funding they have on lab work or conferences.

Currently there is little uptake of the Open Access option for the major well-known and ranked Journals. Browsing the latest issue of Biology and Fertility of Soils I saw no Open Access articles; and in AJSR there was one on biochar in Japan. A news article  on the European Study of Open Access Publishing—the SOAP project has shown two reasons for this dilemma: Cost and availability of high-quality open access Journals.  However, the study also demonstrated that 89% of responding scientists believed Open Access was important for their research. 

Crossing my fingers that uptake, popularity and climbing-ranking of the new journals in combination with benefits of Open Access will eventually drive more people to consider the options.

Web 2.0 and Social Networking
In terms of non-traditional science communication, there is also a boom of soil scientists on Twitter and Blogs. Last time I counted, I was friends with about 15-20 active soil scientists on Twitter. All of us share interesting new soil research, land management tips, and even publishing and academic help. I currently have 140 followers reading my posts about all sorts of issues and new science I care about. In terms of collaboration, I have also chatted and swapped thoughts with a Soil Science of America Journal editor, a College Professor, and a Consulting Soil Scientist. All open, transparent and positive.

Blogs are becoming a more personal way to communicate science. I recently read an article about the importance of bringing the human-element back into science as a way to gain trust and interest from non-scientists. Not only that, blogs allow for interesting and creative forms of communication to grab the attention of an auidence. There are currently 12 soil science blogs online (in English, including myself) each with different themes and aims in terms of its communication. All these bloggers know each other, their work and talk to each other over the internet. Again, blogs have fostered collaboration, and open transparent and positive scientific relationships. Soon you will see two new bloggers to Soilduck as part of collaboration and blog-swapping :D

Moving forward with Open Access in Soil Science: An example of a method wiki?
Wikipedia is essentially Open Access information, contributed to by many people of varying backgrounds. We could take this example further and make a Soil Science Methods Wiki.

The Peer-Review Wiki Idea:
* Anyone can contribute tho a Wiki provided they have a Profile (who they are, external links, papers written etc).
* All methods must be referenced or attributed to personally. For example, referencing a book chapter for an exact method or a personal experience (and why) for a particular alteration to the method or more exact description of 'how-to'.
* All methods can be updated, changed and added on by other scientists, but this will be open and transparent - peoples profiles and names will be attributed to changes. These changes must have justifications (referenced or personal experience) and the user can access the previous text.
* People are invited to give detailed and specific steps with particular available lab gear.

More ideas on how to make this open and robust? Bring it on!

Interested in Open Access science and want to get involved? 
It is as easy as contributing to a blog, hoping on Twitter, choosing to make your Journal article Open Access or adding to a Wiki!

For more information on Open Access, check out some of these pages:
What Corporate Projects should learn from Open Source
Open Source Strategies
Experimenting with Open Access Publishing Model: RSC 
Open Access Journal List
Research Cycle Research - useful blog on Open Science/Access

Please let me know if you are interested in contributing to a Soil Science Methods wiki or as an author on! :D

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Keen to collaborate?

You a Soil Scientist?
Environmental Scientist?
Young or new in the field?
Like to teach and educate?
Like writing and sharing knowledge?
Like working in a team and sharing ideas?
Interested in blogging?

I am looking for people to join Soilduck!

Perhaps you want to blog? You can write about anything within the broad lines of soil science, land management, rehabilitation, restoration and life as a scientist.

Or maybe you are interested in Open Access and Wiki's?

All blogs will be reviewed by one of the authors prior to publication online.  Attributions will be solely to the author of the article.

Get in touch if you are interested!