Written on March 11, 2008
Today at A Free Man: The Real Deal
One of the several things that I will miss about working in academia is unfettered access to academic journals. The cliche of academics locked away in ivory towers is reinforced by the unfortunate fact that many, and certainly the most important, of our journals are protected by a heavy subscription fee. An annual personal subscription to Nature, for example, is $200 (US). It’s kind of a hefty cover charge to get into the club. Effectively this prevents the general public from participating much in the scientific discussion – particularly unhelpful for those lay people that are slightly suspicious of scientists and their work.
To counter this ivory tower attitude, groups of scientists got together in 2002 and 2003 to push for open access to scientific literature online. Currently about 10 percent of academic journals offer free access to all of their contents. The primary criticism of open access journals is financial. Because they don’t receive subscription fees, OA journals charge a higher publication fee to researchers. This is kind of a bogus argument as nearly all journals, OA or subscription, use a pay to play policy.
The other problem with OA journals is that they don’t get the hottest research. If you’re a scientist and you put together some groundbreaking work – you go to Nature or Science or the high impact journal in your field. Open Access journals may not get the “sexiest” science, but they often publish thought provoking, beautifully designed or controversial papers. One of my favorite Science Tuesday posts was from a PLoS journal discussing the origins of syphilis – great stuff.
All this is leading up to the announcement that Science Tuesday, from now on, will feature only Open Access research. Unfortunately this is due more to necessity than a grand moral stand, but it’s all about the ends. This inevitably means that I’ll miss out on a lot of the hot news science, but the traditional media outlets cover that anyway. So come here looking for the quirky, clever and subtle science that often gets missed by the big guys.
In that vein, I have an odd one for the first Open Access Science Tuesday. BioMed Central is an OA publisher with nearly 200 journals in their stables. Earlier this week they featured an strange little study coming out of the University of Maryland that caught my eye. A research group led by Amelia Arria report in Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention & Policy results that may suggest that nosy parents, those that pay attention to what their kids are doing, are better at keeping their kids out of trouble with the bottle in college.
Yes, I can hear the “no, duh” chorus. But before we jettison this into the Journal of the Bloody Obvious, let’s take a look at what Arria’s group actually did. The Maryland researchers began this study with the hypothesis that parental monitoring in high school can have a long term protective effect on drinking once the kids leave home. To address this question Arria’s group surveyed over 1,200 students both the summer before they went to university and during the first year at university. They were asked not only about their drinking habits but also relationship with their parents.
There is a lot of statistical wrangling in this study, as the researchers are trying to eliminate variables other than parental monitoring in high school. For example, white students drink more than black students, men drink more than women and, surprise, members of fraternities and sororities drink more than non-members. Ground breaking research in College Park. After all the statistical manipulation Arria’s group find that the only real relationship between parental monitoring and college drinking is that those who drank less in high school due to parental discouragement continue to drink less in college. Once the variation in high school drinking was ignored there was no significant long-term parental effect. Take home message from the data as I see it – once kids leave the nest your influence as a parent wanes kind of quickly.
Arria, however, sees it differently. One of the things that really amused me about this paper was its built in disclaimers. Anyone who’s ever published a scientific paper knows that to avoid getting destroyed by reviewers you have to include little caveats – statements of uncertainty about your concusions, wiggle room if you will. Arria’s group has a couple of pages of these including (but not limited to) the recognition that college students are a pretty limited sample set, college drinking takes on many manifestations (binge versus daily), the measure of paternal monitoring is based on the children’s impression and that the study only looks at one time point in adolescence. A big one that they left out is that people lie, particularly those with substance abuse problems and poor relationships with their parents. Despite all these caveats and their own results, the researchers still conclude that parental monitoring is a key to curbing high-risk drinking in college. Probably true, but kind of not supported by your own data. Open Access Science Tuesday is going to be fun!