Open access publishing is a blessing and a curse in some ways. Some very popular journals are not peer-reviewed, they are instead looked over by an editor who may or may not be qualified to determined its technical validity - but since they are taking money from scientists to publish the article, rather than relying on subscriptions, the concern is that the researcher is now the customer rather than the science.
Open access publishing has been fantastic for researchers and the public because it gave everyone access to data - but it has growing pains. Who is to blame? Publishers who regard publishing a lot as a necessary evil in order to publish good stuff? Maybe. Corporate media is corporate media and anyone generating millions of dollars is thinking in terms of perpetuating its existence.
David Colquhoun, writing in the Guardian, instead blames funding agencies and university public relations people. It's a bizarre claim; funding agencies want to know that society is getting value out of research and the way to do that is to track how many citations and papers that result. Nothing in a funding agency mandate says researchers should just pay a thousand bucks to someone publishing 7,000 articles a year. Likewise, university media groups have a thankless job - they have to do their best to make dry research interesting to journalists and the public and researchers often have little interest in that.
Yet Colquhoun says "hard-pressed authors go along with them". What does that even mean? Does he know any scientists? Literally every scientist I know would jack up any marketing person who tried to oversell their research. Research gets oversold all of the time - we get a missing link story every two months and astronomy could practically co-brand sentences 'may have implications for finding life on other planets' but researchers, for the most part, get that their research is incremental. No one is curing cancer. It's still interesting and that doesn't have to be reflected in a story on Science 2.0 or USA Today.
He does note an alarming statistic; the US National Library of Medicine indexes 39 journals that deal with alternative medicine. They are all 'peer-reviewed'', he says.
The peer review for a journal on homeopathy is, presumably, done largely by other believers in magic. If that were not the case, these journals would soon vanish.This leads to a credibility problem in science and it can placed in the context of our desire to make research be more open; how will people know when peer review is meaningful and when it is not? We have done half a decade of work to make science more open, and it has worked, but how do the public know what open access is credible?
There's good news too. The twin of open access science is the rise of citizen science and citizen journalism. In politics, non-experts are a keen source of information about political candidates when the mainstream media picks someone they want to win and glosses over the facts. So it goes with science; science bloggers/columnists have replaced science journalists as assets when it comes to providing context for research, new and old.
Science bloggers have their own biases too so how will the public know which science bloggers are agenda-free? Well, they won't, people will continue to read sources that affirm what they want to believe, as they always have, but at least they can read science studies now, more than ever.