Boycott research on firefighters that is not Open Access

Open Access logo
Open Access logo

We all hate paying for something and then not receiving what we paid for. That is what is happening now to taxpayers who pay for government-funded research and then have no access to the findings.

We have ranted about this before, and documented another example a few days ago when we discovered that it will cost us $41 to obtain a copy of the findings from research conducted by the University of Georgia. Associate Professor Luke Naeher and others found that  lung function decreases for firefighters who work on prescribed fires for multiple days and are exposed to smoke. Further, it showed that respiratory functions slowly declined over a 10-week season.

This is not the only research that has explored the effects of smoke on wildland firefighters, but it may significantly add to the limited body of knowledge we have on the topic. We won’t know, however, unless we pay a second time in order to see their conclusions.

Researchers at some organizations receive pay raises and promotions based partially on the “publish or perish” meme. A system that requires researchers to publish in journals that are not completely open to the public, is antiquated and has no place in 2011 when a paper can be published in seconds on the internet at little or no cost.

Some of the research that has been conducted on firefighters requires a great deal of cooperation from the firefighters, including for example, ingesting core temperature monitors, carrying a drinking water system that monitors every drink they take, and even lubricating and then inserting a rectal thermistor probe attached to wires.

The Boycott

There is no reason for firefighters to go to extreme lengths to help researchers advance the researcher’s career paths unless the firefighters can receive some benefits from the project. So, we are jumping on the idea proposed by Rileymon in a comment on the University of Georgia article:

Maybe it’s time to suggest that firefighter/research subjects boycott new research studies unless the findings are put into the Public Domain?

Here is what we are proposing:

  1. Firefighters, administrators, and land managers should not cooperate with researchers unless they can be assured that findings from the research will be available to the public at no charge immediately following the publication of the findings, or very shortly thereafter.
  2. Researchers should conform to the principles of Open Access.
  3. Scientists who assist in the peer review process for conferences or journals should pledge to only do so only if the accepted publications are made available to the public at no charge via the internet.

More information:


Typos, let us know HERE, and specify which article. Please read the commenting rules before you post a comment.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

5 thoughts on “Boycott research on firefighters that is not Open Access”

  1. We in the world of wildland fire to to get “with it”! We shouldn’t just propose a boycott, we should figure out someplace to “Occupy” – I hear the weather is nice at the University of Georgia this time of year? Are they still playing football, too? We could pitch our fire tents on the lawn, eat MREs, prepare “Occupy Objectives” just like in an IAP, schedule Operational periods, issue an ICS-209 every day with details about our Occupation, etc.

  2. As a follow-up, I think it’s ridiculous that, even at a large university with a subscription to that particular journal, I do not have access to the previously mentioned article on “firefighters’ lung function” without also paying $41 due to restrictions from the publisher.

    This is the message I get:

    “Full Text: 01/01/2006 to present (with a 12 Month delay)
    *Full text delay due to publisher restrictions”

    I think it’s definitely time for a new model/framework to take place of this very outdated one.

  3. While I agree with the sentiment here, as a student who does university research targeted at the fire service, I feel hesitant to say what the next steps are to resolve this problem. One on hand, academic journals and conference proceedings provide a means to document and archive the results of a research study aimed at the fire service in a peer-reviewed environment. On the other hand, I also greatly dislike that the results of many publicly funded studies are locked behind a paywall and are generally inaccessible to the public and the fire service.

    The issue is that publishing is based on a very traditional and outdated model, and the ones that benefit the most are the publishing companies who charge to host digital copies of work that was performed and reviewed for them by others. I fully support the idea of open access journals, but there are issues with quality control and peer-review that make it problematic for now. There is not an existing reputable framework for the peer-review, archival, and verification of study results, yet.

    That being said, I’m not sure that a boycott helps us move towards a viable solution. Right now, the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) has a working group, the Fire Service Committee, that aims to connect fire-service-related work done in the fire protection engineering field directly to the fire service via modern, online tools. We are in the early stages, but our goals are to not only disseminate research related to the fire service, but to make it more widely available and accessible. We’d love to talk more with members of the fire service, in fact, we have several active fire service members on the working task groups.

    In the end, I do fully support the sentiment of open access for studies related to public safety and the fire service, especially government-funded studies as you mentioned. This same sentiment is what motivates me to use free and open-source tools in my own research and contribute to freely available computer modeling tools. I’m not sure that the blame can be placed on the researchers, institutions, or students that are working to better understand some of the issues in the fire service that you mentioned. Thus, I do think that it is imperative that the fire service and researchers talk more about these issues and then we can start working on specific solutions as we move towards a more modern, open, and accessible nature for this important area.

  4. Government funded research, like grants, need to have strings attached. The “free money” train needs to end.

    IF a land grant or private institution is using Federal dollars and not releasing it to the public after it is spent…then it is time to pull the monetary plug on that institution for 10 years until it can PROVE its research is in the betterment of society that it needed Federal money in the first place under the veil of “research!!”


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