I recently watched a panel titled Librarians Collaborating to Produce Systematic Reviews, which was delivered as a webcast and hosted by the Medical Library Association (MLA). It was an informative webcast. There was quite a bit to learn about conducting systematic reviews and it was interesting to hear how librarians are working on these types of projects. In fact, watching the panel discuss this topic reminded me of the kind of rational, rigorous approach to the practice of librarianship that prompted the early scholars in this field to call it library science.
With the webcast and related issues in mind, I later saw a post on Google Plus by Peter Suber, who shared a link to, and seemingly endorsed the arguments in an article hosted on Medium.com about the need to "modernize citation practices." One of the arguments presented in the article, the one I think Dr. Suber endorsed, contends that in every instance possible authors should reference research available as open access (OA) instead of research that exists behind a paywall or is "buried away in some library."
It is, as Dr. Suber noted, an interesting argument. It is also, I might add, a little scary, and what I'm concerned with is that it signifies a turning point in the arguments among those who strongly advocate for open access (I've seen glimmers of this attitude about referencing only OA material elsewhere). That is, for most of the OA movement the argument has been largely about the moral and practical good in publishing one's research in an open access journal (gold OA) or making it available in an open access repository (green OA). The above argument, however, speaks to a different supposed good --- only using research that is OA; and hence the apparent turning point is one that involves making every effort to produce OA material to one that now adds making every effort only to consume OA material.
Since the set of all openly accessible scientific research is still only a portion of the set of all scientific research, it might be nice to have a discussion about what it would mean to consume OA material intentionally and singularly. For example, while I have never met the librarians who discussed the details involved in conducting systematic reviews, my guess would be, given the purpose of systematically and thoroughly reviewing the literature using the methods they described, that these librarians would think it negligent to ignore any research that is relevant and pertinent to the study at hand if that research only exists behind a paywall or is "buried away" someplace in the stacks. Fortunately, my understanding is that most scholars and scientists would feel this way, and I was recently reminded of the scope of this sentiment when a student at my school was describing her interlibrary loan work as an intern at the National Library of Medicine, which processes around 250,000 document delivery requests "for articles, books, audiovisuals and microfilm material" annually.
In the end, it might be morally praiseworthy, as well as good science, to place one's research in an accessible channel so it is available to as many as possible without any direct cost to end users, but the same criteria does not necessarily transfer to how we use research. In this aspect, I would emphasize that it is a duty for researchers, as it is for librarians, to locate and use the best information that exists, even if this means having to use a library's service or visit the stacks.
The scientific process is not contained in the lab. It extends also to the communication of that process. Furthermore, the epistemological rigor scientists attach to their work just as easily applies to the kind of rigor needed in scholarly information seeking. I made the following comment about this need for rigor and persistence on Dr. Suber's post, and it seems worth repeating:
Rather, the search and retrieval of good information might best be served by the same kind of activity that P. W. Bridgman described in 1955, that Gerald Holton picked up on in 1994, and that Susan Haack continued in 2003/07 about the scientific method --- that "it is nothing more than doing one's damnedest [...], no holds barred" (Bridgman, p. 534; Holton, p. 78; Haack, p. 24).
See also Sean's Research Notebook / Twitter