OncologySTAT: end run around objectivity
The Chronicle of Higher Education has a brief news item today about a Reed-Elsevier web portal for oncologists called OncologySTAT, which provides free access to medical research in journals that are otherwise mainly accessed through library subscriptions, and pays for the service by showing ads to users. The kind of ad-based model in use here bypasses libraries and reduces scholars and practitioners’ dependency on institutionally funded services that aren’t as slick. If I find fault in this model an obvious thought might be, “Of course – it’s your job that’s disappearing.” But I could work for a commercial information provider if I wanted to. (Okay, Library Juice Press is technically a commercial information provider, but it’s not the same thing.) The point is that I choose to work in a library because I believe the library model has reasons behind it that are ethical and practical. Libraries aren’t funded by ad revenue, and that is part of how we ensure that what we present to users is not colored by commercial bias, by a desire to sell something. We’re not here to manipulate user behavior but to support user autonomy. There’s no conflict of interest in the library model. There’s no incentive to bury research that would hurt the sales of a sponsor’s product, or promote research that’s in the sponsor’s interest. An ad-based model has a built in factor for distorting the truth. The library model does not (at least in its pure form).