The Guardian is reporting on a recent change to the BBC’s editorial policy that calls for links to primary research from their online science articles. Without intending an I-told-you-so, this is something I’ve been doing since I started blogging, and I am thrilled that mainstream journalists are starting to do the same thing. There are tons of reasons why it’s a great idea, but these are my big three:
- The decision to avoid linking to hard science is based on the assumption that the “general public” lacks the patience, intelligence, and/or education to read primary science and interpret it for themselves. I don’t think this is true, and especially not amongst online consumers of news.
- Although many scientific articles are still behind paywalls, paper abstracts and supporting information (which often contains all the juicy experimental how-to) are commonly available for free. This information in and of itself is often enough to make intelligent decisions about what conclusions can and cannot be reasonably drawn. Plus, more readers clicking through to primary sources means more pressure on scientific publishers to make fulltexts available, which brings us that much closer to true open access to the scientific literature.
- The possibility of very large online audiences for primary scientific writing may encourage scientists to write more accessibly, which is better for professional scientists and citizen scientists alike.
So, in short: Hear, hear! If you’ve got a blog that covers science, please consider taking the time to run down primary research links online. It’s not hard to do once you get the hang of it, and it will only get easier as the trend spreads.