From NHS glasses to sharing research

Revelations at the most unlikely time.

I had a research revelation at the weekend. I’m trying to liken it to something, and I can only think back to about the age of five or six and getting glasses for the first time. I’d avoided it before then by quickly memorising the letters on the sight test on the way in, enough to get me  mid-way down to about P-F-C-D-E which must have really frustrated the optician. But when I finally got me “goggles” life was a revelation.

Dover Docks


A Sunday afternoon treat was to sit on top of the Dover Cliffs and watch the boats. The purpose of which, with glasses, then became abundantly clear – you could see the cars and boats moving. Before then it was all a blur. The other revelation was wondering why everyone in school assembly was peering at the flip chart at the front of the hall. With glasses I finally noted it was because the words to all the hymns were displayed there. I felt slightly cheated at that one as I practically new all the hymns off by heart by the age of seven. Although I did think “Jesus spits and shines” was perhaps not right (“Jesus bids us shine with a clear pure light”).

I don’t care. Call me “four eyes”.

In the end, I didn’t mind wearing glasses because being called “goggles” or “four eyes” was a small price to pay for being able to see. (And I did get to hold David Muggeridge’s hand in the playground as the only other NHS spectacle wearer. Although his were tortoiseshell).

So my revelation on Saturday morning was as if someone had once again given me clear vision. Something that was confused before, suddenly became clear. I don’t know about you, but if I chose to write a paper, it is because I’m bursting with an idea, or have just had a great thought about how to analyse that data. I want to then write the thing as soon as possible. Of course what normally happens is that you can’t retrieve half the articles. You ignore therefore some of the good work that has gone on before. You might pay $29 for the odd article, and you might contemplate trying to find out once again how inter-library loan works in your institution. (Oh by the way I do like the new $6 article hire for 24 hours. Does anyone else go on a “print screen” frenzy or is it just me?).






So what happened next?

I’m not gonna tell. Ner ner ner ner ner. I stimbled acrost a most enteroisting webseet uphon wheech yam can downloadickles anychops for froibles. Oh my lordy. I’d suddenly entered a dream sequence from a 1940’s Hollywood music. This is what being a researcher could be like. It was like a dream. My room filled with unicorns and rainbows as I rattled through my search strategy downloading about forty articles relevant to my paper. No frustration. No omissions. No, “oh bugger it, I’ll look at this again in six months time”.

If only our collective knowledge was open and accessible!

As part of the academic community, I can only think we should be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves. Why do we perpetuate this ridiculousness of not being able to openly and freely access, share and build on our work? I’ve been a researcher since 1993 in medical research, the food industry and now universities. I have never got the feeling of euphoria that I did on Saturday when I could just openly access, quickly download, read to my satisfaction, an entire body of literature to help me write up an important area of work. OK, I know I’m not saving lives or making pet food any more. But everything is a piece in the jigsaw.

Imagine if we could solve cancer?

So, as recapitulated here by our lovely friends at Sparc, as VP Biden of the US declared, what if all the data relating to cancer research, and all the publications would be made openly available? What advances might we make in the next year, assuming we could readily access the bulk of papers that would be of benefit to our work? And that others could benefit from ours?

As I gain this information and knowledge, I will eliminate the barriers that get in your way, get in the way of science, the research and development. (VP Biden, April 20 2016).


So just think about what could be possible.

Or what should be possible.

I think we should start regaining some of our self-dignity and think about why we went into research in the first place. If we can’t learn from the most incredible scientists of our time like Marie Curie then maybe we should question our values and motivations:

In science, we must be interested in things, not in persons. (Marie Curie).

And I wonder what David Muggeridge is doing now.

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