Research Quality’s Scandals April 2014

Research Quality Scandal

(From George White’s Scandals of 1935)

Here we are again with the “Research Quality’s Scandals of 2014“. Those of you awake out there might notice that George White performed his “scandals” or reviews on an annual basis, you will note that on my blog there is ample evidence to write about “research scandals” much more frequently.

Why today?

Well I was anticipating a nice morning writing an abstract for a forthcoming conference (Open Ed 14). As usual, once I started to delve into the literature, practically none of it was accessible at all. Maybe this was a typically bad day, but not really. This experience was after more or less two hours of research and finding numerous interesting papers, and then not being able to openly access a single one of them. Rather ironically the subject was “open learning”.

This really is so bad, but why?

There are many people who dedicate their life to education. Ha. I wouldn’t be sitting here on a Bank Holiday corresponding with students and doing research if I wasn’t one of them. Few of us actually have time to conduct good quality research, and even fewer have the luxury of any funding these days to support their research.

So I find this so deeply annoying because research is so sparse and so precious, particularly anything of good quality, and when you do find it you cannot access it! I do not want to pay $39 and my institution doesn’t subscribe to much of it. Come on, a paper from 1970 surely could be released into the public domain now couldn’t it? Apart from the immorality of it all, that tax payer and public money has funded the work and the livelihoods of the researchers, and then it becomes a commodity to sell on.

And what if you don’t pay for it?

Publication bias is huge – not just from the predominance of publishers and authors only writing about “positive” results, but increasingly these days, people will only write about what they can access for free. So all that stuff hidden behind paywalls is excluded from the discussions and thinking.

Ultimately we are wasting time and re-inventing the wheel, and we are always blaming ourselves for this! I think it is criminal to not learn from previous knowledge. I really do want to know what Roger Lewis wrote about open learning (“What is open learning“?) because there were discussions in the 1970’s about distance learning and the advent of open learning that are important for today’s online learners. This was one of many papers that I found this morning, and I can’t read any of them.

Will the future look brighter?

Well policy is moving slowly in support of open access but that isn’t going to help the back catalogue of papers that are closed off to those that don’t have the money to buy them.

In a recent presentation I talked about changes to the UK research assessment exercise and funding body specifications toward open access.

As for my imminent future, it will be muddy and beer-shaped as I ditch the work and walk across the fields to the pub. 🙂