It is not news that in order to make principled use of the data, ideas and knowledge from a scientific paper it is necessary to have read it. However, there are two immediate problems with this ostensibly simple fact. The first is that it is necessary to have access to the paper in the first place, and traditional publishing models require that the user needs to pay for this privilege – and not all can do so. The second is that even if one does have access to the paper, one potentially has access to millions of them (as I mention regularly, PubMed alone is increasing its list of peer-reviewed papers in biomedicine by two per minute!), so clearly any individual scientist (or layperson) needs means to prioritise those that they might wish to read. UKPubMedCentral (UKPMC) is a new service that is intended to provide them.
Thus, although I had many other appointments last week, including a thoroughly interesting and useful visit to the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology at Wallingford, with whom many of our own funded scientific community with relevant interests interact both strongly and effectively, this week’s blog will concentrate on the formal launch meeting of the new beta site of UKPubMedCentral.
To address the linked problems of accessing and then exploiting the biomedical literature, a variety of scientific funders in the UK have in the first place, and over time, been developing the wherewithal to make as many abstracts and full papers as possible available to all (“Open Access”), by mirroring a similar initiative led from the USA as PubMedCentral. The second problem is necessarily addressed by appropriate computer software that ‘reads’ all of the papers and develops methods of ranking and presenting appropriate analyses, and here the UK version has now developed some important innovations, based not least on the methods of text mining.
An attractive feature of the UKPMC launch was the recognition that essentially all of the main UK funders in biomedicine (including both ourselves and MRC from RCUK) had come to the party because of their recognition that Open Access to all of the peer-reviewed papers necessarily makes possible better science. The funders also recognise that funding dissemination is just as important as funding the experiments themselves. Indeed, I hold the view that a well-written review that synthesises a disparate literature to create new knowledge can have as much as or more scientific value than the experiments that generated that literature in the first place. At all events, only those who learn to make best use of the digital availability of the literature and any online data supporting it will be best placed to prosper in the future. I have no doubt that UKPMC will be an important part of everyone’s literature searching in the future, and I urge readers to try it here.
The upcoming launch of our new Strategic Plan leads one to reflect on the types of science we should be funding. Conveniently, my attention was drawn to a splendid anniversary piece by the estimable Sydney Brenner, from which the following is taken:
“Actually, the answer to the question of which type of science to fund is quite simple: since all science is problem driven, it should be judged by the quality of the problems posed, and the quality of the solutions provided.” Succinct, wide ranging and accurate.
- Brenner, S. (1998) The impact of society on science. Science 282, 1411-1412