Summary: In the wake of Covid-19, scientific journals should become more accessible to all citizens of the world, in the interest of public health.
Keywords: web accessibility, scientific journals, public health, peer-reviewed articles
As the 21st century rages on, the world is more connected than ever, thanks to the free exchange of information available through the internet. Every day, the world’s citizens produce some 2.5 quintillion bytes of data, a number that may seem unfathomable to most of us. Additionally, Forbes reports that there are 5 billion internet searches performed every day.
Despite these huge numbers, however, it can be difficult to separate verified facts and data from the various forms of disinformation that plague the web. All over the world, disinformation comes in many forms, including biased and / or misreported information, click-bait headlines accompanied by little or no substance articles, and fake news. The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated the problem, known as an “infodemic”.
As real news and fake news increasingly becomes available online, the scientific community is looking for ways to keep disinformation at bay. Scientific journals of all types regularly publish peer-reviewed scientific research and articles verified for accuracy. Peer review is a form of self-regulation, promoting accountability and open dialogue, regardless of the subject matter.
Unfortunately, however, the bulk of online science journals are monetized, limiting their readers in the name of profit. This is a disservice to the general public, who may not be able to access peer-reviewed articles, but are bombarded with false information in open access. In the interest of public health and to help curb the spread of disinformation, scientific journals should be made more widely accessible to the general public. Here’s what you need to know about the value of open access and how scientific journals can make their writing more accessible.
Weigh the benefits of public accessibility
Interestingly, there are many peer-reviewed articles that address the topic of free access, its potential impact, and its viability in terms of bridging the knowledge gap. Many of these articles are published in scientific journals which restrict readers in one way or another or require access fees. Broadly speaking, open access “refers to peer-reviewed scientific research that is available, without restriction, to anyone with an Internet connection,” according to Your Genome.
Proponents of open access claim that it benefits everyone, from the scientific community to students in developing countries and the general public at large. On the other hand, there is a lot on the other side of the question. Some scientists and journal editors believe that open access is akin to a slippery slope, where the traditional process of peer review is abandoned, thus undermining its very mission.
Yet when it comes to scientific journals, the advantages of increased accessibility outweigh the potential disadvantages. For starters, researchers themselves can benefit from open access, as their work becomes more widely available and relevant. At the community level, open access has the potential to crack down on disinformation while keeping the general public informed.
Improving communities through open access
In discussions about open access, it is important to keep the needs of the general public in mind. Scientific articles often include niche-specific jargon, for example, that may not be familiar to the average citizen. To improve accessibility, researchers, writers, and journal editors should strive to explain difficult concepts in terms that lay people can understand.
Fundamentally, open access is really meant to help every citizen, including people with a disability or physical impairment. When posting an online journal, visually impaired people (many of whom can use a screen reader) should also be considered. To improve the accessibility of online publications, it’s a good idea to keep it simple: avoid low contrast colors and excessive pop-ups, create tables to help organize large data sets, and provide file transcriptions. video for the visually impaired.
Of course, the last step in improving the accessibility of scientific journals is to allow open access to at least some available articles, in particular those related to public health and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
The battle against disinformation in a digital world
As mentioned earlier, the Covid-19 pandemic has helped spawn an abundance of misinformation online, and the European Union has been hit particularly hard. Yet some countries are more heavily affected by fake news, clickbait and other forms of disinformation online. In a study on disinformation published on Facebook in 2020 and 2021, researchers determined that “Italian citizens are more exposed to the infodemic” than other citizens of the EU and the United States.
Keep in mind that much of the misinformation disseminated through Facebook and similar channels is directly linked to the Covid pandemic. Average citizens searching for data on vaccine efficacy and safety, for example, often find themselves inundated with information of questionable origin and dubious accuracy. And it can be extremely difficult for novice researchers and ordinary citizens to determine if a website is trustworthy, or if the article they are accessing is in fact fake news, especially if it looks professional and is well written.
Access to the web is a crucial part of everyday life today, both for students and for much of the workforce. And in terms of public health, the accessibility of peer-reviewed articles published in scientific journals can even be a matter of life and death. Rather than requiring journal readers to have college affiliation and login credentials, or charging a fee, consider allowing open access to all citizens of the world.