Free science is here and growing fast

Published November 9, 2020

Most of my readers are interested in science. Many of my blog articles are scientific and these are often followed by lengthy technical discussions in the comments. Some of my scientific articles have had thousands of comments; one article was over 5,000 when comments were closed. And there are many other blogs like this.

Thanks to the miracle of online commenting the discussion of science, especially related to policy, is now a major popular pastime.

The good news is that the scientific community is responding big time to this extensive popular interest. We are in the midst of a huge wave of activities designed to make the latest science available to everyone who is interested in it, free of charge.

Here are just a few great examples:

Open access (OA). This term refers to various ways to make journal articles freely available. This is a serious challenge because journals have mostly been paid for via expensive subscriptions, usually by rich university libraries. Total cost is estimated at over ten billion dollars a year. People with no connection to a major school have no access to the journals, which publish well over two million technical articles a year.

The most common form of open access is the author pays model, called Gold OA. The author, actually typically the research grant, pays the cost of publication so the article is free to all. There are now many OA journals, as they are called, funded entirely by author pays. Some are huge, called mega journals, publishing tens of thousands of free articles a year. In addition, many subscription journals offer their authors an OA option, for a price.

Repositories for articles. Many universities host what is called a repository, where their faculty deposits their published journal articles, which are then freely available to all. If the article is in a subscription journal there is typically a waiting period before it becomes open, usually 12 months from the date of publication. This is called Green OA.

By far the biggest system of repositories is hosted by the US Government, under the Public Access Program. Every journal article that flows from federal funding, in whole or just in part, must be deposited by the author. If it is OA then it becomes freely available immediately; if subscription then after 12 months. This includes well over 100,000 articles a year. I helped develop this program. There are also subject matter repositories.

Given the huge number of published articles it can be challenging to find the right stuff. By far the best free service for doing this is Google Scholar. It provides full text search for millions of articles in tens of thousands of journals, often going back 60 years or more. There is a powerful advanced search window that supports all sorts of specialized searches. Click on the three horizontal bars in the upper right to get the window. Repository copies are often listed and unlike Google the number of hits listed is real information about how much research has been done,

Preprint servers. Here authors post their draft articles before submitting them to a journal. Given that it can take years to get published this is a good place to find the latest science. I recently did an article based on a preprint. Most journals allow preprints and some even use these servers for article submission. In some cases the preprints are never submitted, making them another form of communication. A great many new preprint servers have recently been created. To my knowledge there is as yet no combined search service for these proliferating servers.

Speaking of other forms than the journal article, some federal agencies publish the final report from their funded research projects. These reports tend to be much longer than journal articles, often ten times longer, so they contain a wealth of information. Many of these reports can be found using the portal, which I also worked on.

In turn, is part of a global science search system that includes many national systems, called This global system features a unique translation algorithm that searches repositories in other languages. I helped develop the system and the translation feature was my idea. It searches hundreds of millions of pages of science and engineering.

In short there are a huge number of science and engineering research results that are freely available to the world with more coming on. Finding just what you need can be time consuming but a lot of people are working on that as well.

A grand revolution in scientific communication is upon us. Go for it.

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