Science communication researchers aren’t the only people interested in science communication research. Reporters, bloggers and researchers from various fields interested in sharing their work (among others) are interested in learning what “scicomm” can tell us about conveying scientific information to various audiences. But reaching the relevant research findings can be difficult.
I doubt that most people expect scicomm research to give us a specific prescription for how to communicate effectively. Research doesn’t work that way, and most of us know it.
However, I do think that learning as much as possible about how people find, process and react to information improves our general understanding of the various processes involved in science communication. And for that reason, staying abreast of the peer-reviewed research on science communication can be both helpful and interesting.
That said, there are a couple of obstacles that can make this somewhat difficult. One, which I’ve written about recently, is that the language many scicomm researchers use in their journal articles can be challenging to non-experts. The second obstacle, which I’ll touch on here, is that much of the scicomm literature is behind a paywall, and inaccessible to the public.
There are open access journals that publish scicomm research findings – the Journal of Science Communication, for example, and some multi-subject journals, like PLOS ONE. But many scicomm-specific journals (such as Public Understanding of Science [PUS] and Science Communication) are for paying subscribers only.
In an email last month, Susanna Priest, editor of Science Communication, told Communication Breakdown that the journal has discussed ways to improve access to its articles, but notes that “many open access models are author pay models – which does not work well for a field in which most researchers have no significant grant funding, and other sources of funding are not so easy to develop.”
Priest notes that SAGE Publications, which publishes Science Communication, is experimenting with OA models. “The one I find appealing is the one that allows authors to open up their work for free access if they choose to pay,” Priest says.
However, Priest adds that “any change will be evolutionary, not revolutionary,” and that Science Communication is unlikely to make any major shifts in its publishing model.
“On the large scale of things, open access is clearly an important policy, in particular with regard to medical and other life-and-death research,” Martin Bauer, editor of PUS, told Communication Breakdown in a recent email. “It’s also important because of the obscene profits made by some publishers. However, a one fits all solution cannot be the future business model for academic publishing. Niche markets like PUS might require a different model.”
Bauer noted that PUS – which is also published by SAGE – is holding on to the “wait and see” position it took on open access in 2010. However, Bauer said that authors may make an article open access for a fee.
To this point, however, Bauer says that very few authors have chosen to make their articles open access – only 3-5 papers per year (out of around 80) are OA.
So, the good news is that scicomm journals have definitely been thinking about OA. The bad news is that they don’t see a financially viable way to pursue an OA model.
PS: The OA journal F1000Research has announced that it is waiving its publishing fees for all science communication papers in 2014.