Working in the dark

I have incredible access to conservation knowledge right now thanks to my university’s subscriptions to all the online journals. When I go back to work next year I won’t be able to access any of it – so how will I make sure I get the right technical background to support the decisions I’m making in my job?

I’m writing a brief to my fictitious boss of the national biodiversity authority to advise him on a current conservation issue and bring him up to speed on how the latest developments may inform changes in conservation practice (it’s an assignment for my course).

The topic I’m researching is whether we should intensify farming to increase food yields so we don’t need to convert more nature to produce more food, or whether we should make farming more wildlife-friendly. There are plenty of opinions and arguments for which one is best for biodiversity and it’s fascinating…

…but the shocking thing is that if I had been asked to produce this kind of information piece back at my job in the conservation organization I worked for, I couldn’t have. Why? Because conservation organizations (and probably government agencies though I’m not sure) don’t have electronic subscriptions to the journals that publish these papers! How can they/we make informed decisions and keep abreast of the current evidence for the relative merit of various conservation options without online access to the journals?*

This is definitely something that I need to do something about…or we will be doomed to keep making the same mistakes because we are not learning from the rest of the community!

A few ideas:

  • get a donor/company to sponsor a subscription for an organization
  • create a joint scheme for conservation organisations to share subscriptions with some way of limiting access
  • allow just senior level managers of conservation organizations to have access
  • create a mirror search system to facilitate searching but have a limited download policy per organization (technically feasible?)
  • Do you have any ideas?
*By the way, there are a few open access journals that are free to anyone, but most of the ones I’m finding helpful require a subscription. The abstracts (introductory summaries) of all subscription journals can be found online, but that is not enough as many of the leads one gets when reading an article to other related articles are in the main body of text. Conservationists in organizations with print subscriptions simply don’t have time to read on paper because following leads is so much more time-consuming. Online access really is key!


3 Replies to “Working in the dark”

  1. “Working in the Dark” poses an interesting challenge. But, put yourself also in the shoes of the publishers of those journals – what a problem they face! Challenged by the internet and people who expect things “free,” how do they keep the business running to pay for those valuable publications? I don’t have the answer, but Frdric Filloux, a French journalist, does an excellent job of addressing the issues in his “Monday Notes” blogposts. Start with this one, about whether print journalism should “stop the presses” tomorrow.

  2. That’s a great point -1. All conservation journals should be open access. Period. If they’re not, they’re clearly not reaching their intended audience, which is you!

    2. A good work-around I’ve found is that Google Scholar automatically posts links to any pdf’s available on the internet, even those found in subscription journals. Scientists are eager to share their work (it’s our job!) and often post pdf’s of their publications on their personal websites. Google is kind enough to find these and pop them into search results.

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