The Importance of Access

Three men, reading
Three men, before they read a paper on the dangers of tobacco. Photo: John Henry Harvey.

Kevin Folta has put up a thought-provoking post on his blog, Illumination. There’s been a flurry of news stories around a new research paper that shows a Round-Up, Monsanto’s herbicide, in rain. A closer look at the paper reveals that’s not quite the story.

What the research shows is there are chemicals in very low concentrations that are consistent with Round-Up. This might seem like pedantry, but it’s important pedantry because the same tests show a reduction in other chemicals associated with more harmful herbicides and pesticides between 1995 and 2007. It’s consistent with Round-Up and GM crops being ecologically safer.

There is room for debate. The fields were different crops in different places so it depends what standard of proof you want. What the paper does show is that chemicals are not-trivial additions to an environment and in some cases have a long-term presence.

Kevin’s post on the paper also shows access to papers is important. The original paper is here, but unless you’re at a university with a subscription, you might have trouble getting it. In a perfect world all papers would be Open Access, and for AoB, all papers in AoB Plants and this month Annals of Botany has three open access papers. Access to subscription papers is more difficult. In our case papers in Annals of Botany become free access after a year, but that’s a long time to wait.

For press releases we have a policy that if we put out a press release for a paper, we make the paper free access to anyone can compare the release to what is actually in the paper if they want. However, we can’t do this for every paper. We do have a limited marketing budget though. If there is interest in a paper and we see it get blogged in a couple of places we’ll do what we can to make it free access.

As always, if a blogger wants access to a paper behind a paywall then contact me and I’ll get a copy so you can write about more than just the abstract.

Or you can do what Kevin Folta, and no one else did, and contact the author.


Three men sitting in deck chairs, smoking pipes and reading newspapers by John Henry Harvey. Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria, Asutralia.

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