The fascinating discovery presented by Professor Lee Berger at Dartmouth on November 16th, "Almost Human—the Discovery of Homo naledi”, is truly remarkable for many reasons. The significant new discovery of the Homo naledi skeletons in the Rising Star Cave, and the complex collaboration that brought this discovery to light, make a gripping story of exploration, bravery, and science. But this is also a story of a transformation in thinking about scholarly publishing that is needed to forward understanding of a new species. As noted in National Geographic, “In paleoanthropology, specimens are traditionally held close to the vest until they can be carefully analyzed and the results published, with full access to them granted only to the discoverer’s closest collaborators. By this protocol, answering the central mystery of the Rising Star find—What is it?—could take years, even decades. Berger wanted the work done and published by the end of the year. In his view everyone in the field should have access to important new information as quickly as possible.”
To this end, two of the scientific research papers resulting from this discovery have been published in the open access journal eLife. A new journal, eLife provides open peer review and rapid publishing services on a state of the art platform. It provides researchers with high quality publishing that reaches a broad audience, and is supported by a collaboration of funders and researchers from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society, and the Wellcome Trust.
The lead researcher, Lee Berger, and the others on this project, including Dartmouth’s Associate Professor of Anthropology Jeremy DeSilva, knew the skeletons in the Rising Star Cave constituted a very important discovery and wanted the work broadly available and published in the best journals. Through the open access eLife articles and public access to the specimen files on MorphoSource, anyone with a 3D printer can make and study the fossils! The two eLife papers have already been cited in the published literature, and the metrics for usage provided by the platform give insight into the rapid spread of knowledge of these papers through social media as well.
Homo naledi, a new species of the genus Homo from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa, by Lee Berger et al DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.09560 Published September 10, 2015 Cite as eLife 2015;4:e09560
Geological and taphonomic context for the new hominin species Homo naledi from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa, by Paul HGM Dirks et al DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.09561 Published September 10, 2015 Cite as eLife 2015;4:e09561
John Hawks, in his piece “Homo naledi fossil discovery a triumph for open access and education” in The Conversation September 28th 2015, describes why the open access approach is so important to education.
“Not only the public benefits from scientific open access; science itself benefits. Showing the process of science in action, we create better tools for educators to equip students with the scientific method.”
For information about support for open access, public access, and open education, see Dartmouth College Library’s Scholarly Publishing and Communication Research Guide.