As a student I enjoy fairly complete access to a huge variety and mass of globally important academic publications, publications which host important topics to science, be it Climate Change, Stem Cells, GM crops or any other of the diverse and fascinating areas modern science encompasses.
If someone outside of the Academic or Government sectors wishes to access these papers, (which are publishing studies partly performed via publically funded money) they need to either pay for access of an article, which for a small amount of text is frankly a complete rip off, for example in Nature, where articles rarely top four pages the cost of an article in this weeks (25th of Jan) Natures comes to $32 (£20) while Science charges a less painful $15 (9.50), although the journal is only available for 24hrs. Science Direct, which publishes the Goliath of Elseliver Publishing, charges $37.50 (£23) an article (although does make heavily cited articles free, which seems very responsible of them), other papers within geological societies aren’t much better, individual access to a paper in Geology costs $25 (£18), while in Proceedings of Geolsoc of London is $30 (£19).
Interested parties could purchase their own subscriptions, although these too are expensive:
Nature charges a personal subscription of: £135 + tax
Science charges a subscription of $234 (£148)
These are two of the most prestigious, important and accepted journals on earth, gathering what is widely accepted and often publically funded research and charging the public £20 for research papers. So where can the public get up to the minute (well month) scientific data? Answer: Encyclopaedias, websites and with more politically, socially and economically stories can be presented in the media.
Now imagine you’re an editor for a newspaper, you want to report a story published in Nature, firstly assuming your paper doesn’t have a subscription you need to pay £20 to read it, then you may want to see what else if out there, shelling out from £9.50 a time to increase your knowledge – for a balanced article (academically) the journalist may need to spend a substantial amount of money, which for a cash strapped paper running a small story simply is not viable. Nor is it viable for a member of the public, educated or not, to pay frankly obscene amounts of money to access papers to learn more about information they may not fully comprehend when relying on fully partially digested and processed information; potentially that has been subject to journalistic or editorial ‘reinterpretation’ or spun to form ‘sensationist’ news. Once a story starts rolling and papers being sold the consideration of how valid a source might be can get lost (See Daily Mail)
A variety of sites do offer free ‘news’ from these papers, such as http://www.sciencedaily.com/ and public media. Although these sites are subjected to the whim of editors and journalists they do allow glimpses through for the public to digest.
So can we blame journalists for not covering science as we’d like it? I’ll think about it