Since its beginning, science has often been perceived as an isolated, elite institution, only for the smartest, most well-educated academics and absolutely no one else. As a society, we are thankfully moving away from this perception, however slowly that may be, and a prime example of this is the rise of open science.
“Science has often been perceived as an isolated, elite institution, only for the smartest, most well-educated academics and absolutely no one else.”
Open science is the movement to bring the wider population of non-academics into the world of scientific research. The website zooniverse.org, for example, allows anyone to access information about exoplanets, classify illustrations in old scientific manuscripts, and watch for solar storms. The mass participation of “citizen scientists” allows academic scientists to analyse mass amounts of data, much of which is outside of the realm in which computers work reliably, in a fraction of the time. It also allows for automatic repeatability, by having every participant run through the same data. It is essentially the equivalent for scientists of having hundreds of technicians running through experiments, but even quicker and cheaper, since these people are volunteering their time.
Trinity itself has a worldwide open science project in the form of the International Dark Skies Project, a project to maintain areas untouched by light pollution, known as dark sky preserves. Our very own Professor Brian Espey, of the School of Physics, works closely with the Dark Skies Project in his research on light pollution. The Dark Skies Project relies heavily on public input, including research by citizen scientists with mobile phones. There are a number of apps, including Dark Sky Meter and Loss of the Night, which allow users to collect data on the extent of light pollution in a particular place at night, and consolidates this data for research purposes. You only need access to a cell phone to contribute to actual, tangible scientific research.
Despite this move toward open science, some aspects of science are thoroughly stuck in the old ways. Academic journals, for instance, remain inaccessible to the general public. These journals are so expensive that they often are only accessible to large institutions that have budgets dedicated to that sort of thing. Thus, if you are not affiliated with an institution, you don’t have access to scientific journals.
To combat this, Dublin City University recently announced the launch of DCU Press, an open access university press and the first of its kind in Ireland. According to a DCU press release, DCU Press “is dedicated to publishing books on research in all fields where the print version is available for purchase and the high-quality digital eBook is freely available to anyone in the world at no cost.” This is truly a step in the right direction of making research accessible to everyone, not just students and academics.
Unlike many universities around the world, such as Oxford and Cambridge, Trinity does not have a university press. However, there previously was a printing press on campus, though it is now an Electronic and Electrical Engineering building. Known as ‘Dublin University Press’, it was a specialist academic printer which released its first book in 1738 and remained operational until 1976, making it Ireland’s oldest printing press. Throughout that time, Dublin University Press printed academic books of all kinds, including the first all-Greek book printed in Ireland – Plato’s Dialogues, Indo-European Origins of the Celtic Verb, and books out of the Royal Dublin Society and the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies. It was a major part of academic life in Ireland, but closed when it was absorbed by Brunswick Press in 1976.
“A quick Google search shows that the majority of them are able to remain afloat selling paperbacks for an average of €20, an entirely reasonable price for a book of research (as compared to scientific journals that can charge as much as €40 for a 3 page article).”
Though they are not always as big as those at Cambridge and Oxford, university presses are still an invaluable tool in getting research published and out into the world in a practical way. On top of that, the majority of these are able to remain afloat selling paperbacks for an average of €20, an entirely reasonable price for a book of research, in comparison to scientific journals that can charge as much as €40 for a three page article. University presses are not meant to be businesses that have huge profit margins. The fundamental purpose of a university press is the same as what the fundamental purpose of a university should be: education. Giving people the opportunity to learn for learning’s sake. The benefits of accessible research and open access to science far outweigh the costs of a small university press, particularly one that invests in creating eBooks. It seems a shame that DCU beat us to the punch here, but that is no reason why Trinity can’t do its part to expand open science and allow non-academics to enjoy the amazing research that goes on every day.