The difficulty celebrating my first first-author paper

Sadly I didn't get a paper copy as it's an online-only journal!
My paper

The paper that my thesis worked towards was published last week.

It was a very proud moment for me and everyone involved but, at the same time, a bit of an anticlimax.

I’ve thought of a few reasons why:

  • 3 years work (plus 3 more of my predecessor, Christophe) is summarised in just 10 pages, 5 figures and a table.
  • In the age of massive data, one paper gets lost in the whole publication world very quickly
  • It’s behind a paywall, meaning even if everyone wanted to read it, only those with access to the Nature Publishing Group can read beyond the abstract.

The third reason is perhaps the strongest. I understand that publication is the ultimate destiny of scientific work and that work will end up competing with many other papers – which is why where you publish is so important to many scientists. But having worked in science communication for a little while and seeing how much of this work involves getting current research out there for all to see and interact with, I’ve really experienced how much restricted access is a barrier to public understanding of science. I’m involved in producing the Christmas Lectures for the Royal Institution which goes out to millions on BBC4. How amazing would it be if my work could be featured?

There are ways around the paywall of course, using friends, connections, #canhazpdf, and old university access and I can always promote the work myself. But more and more I’m seeing how important open access is – not just for scientists, not just for development (see previous post), but for the general public and anyone who just wants a browse of contemporary science.

I probably shouldn’t upload the paper for all to access – it’s held by copyright and I don’t want to get busted – but if you do want to read it (or anything else), get in touch!

Update: As of January 2016 Nature Communications has opened up its back catalogue of research for free. That means everyone can now freely access the paper. Enjoy it here. The passage of time has eased the difficulty celebrating – I’m now proud of what we brought together and achieved. The paper is now getting citations, indicating the scientific community is digesting it, and now that it’s freely available, hopefully some of the wider world will digest it too. It’s a shame it wasn’t open earlier, as that did prevent friends and those new colleagues from accessing it at the time, but I’m nevertheless very happy with Nature Communication’s decision.


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