Thursday, December 23, 2004

Should scientific articles be available free online?

The movement for free online access to science research dates back as far as 1991, before most of us had even heard of the Internet. But now, as Slate reports, the US National Institutes of Health has thrown its considerable weight behind the notion of free access to biomedical research.

"How should we harness the enormous possibilities of the digital world while trying to reckon with vested interests that stand to lose in the transition? Ultimately, the potential benefits of open access, for both scientists and the public, are too significant not to pursue aggressively. At a time when technical material is accumulating more quickly than ever before, extensive online databases can help scientists do the most informed work possible. At a time, too, when patients are asked to participate much more actively in health care decision-making, better access to information is crucial."
Part of the argument goes that the public would benefit directly from greater access. For patients who have rare diseases or are considering controversial therapies, access to cutting-edge medical research may be vital—especially since new work is developing so quickly that even the most assiduous general practitioners may have a hard time keeping abreast of it all.

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