Should publicly-financed research be publicly-available?

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Rep John Conyers is siding with publishers of scientific journals, and has reintroduced legislation to embargo publicly-financed research indefinitely if the publishers want to assert their copyrights in that manner. Currently, research funded by the NIH must become available to the public a year after it is published, but apparently the publishers and their lobbyists think they will lose money if the research is publicly available one year after publication. How can this be? Scientific research moves pretty quickly, and few professionals or institutions could afford to forgo subscriptions and wait for a whole a year to find out what's happening in their field now.

http://www.techlawjournal.com/topstories/2009/20090203.asp

February 3, 2009. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and others introduced HR 801 [LOC | WW], the "Fair Copyright in Research Works Act", a bill to protect the copyright interests and incentives of authors and publishers of research works when the government provides funding for that research.

Rep. Conyers introduced a substantially identical bill late in the 110th Congress, HR 6845 [LOC | WW], also titled the "Fair Copyright in Research Works Act".

Rep. Conyers is the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee (HJC). The original cosponsors of the bill are Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Rep. Rob Wexler (D-FL), Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN). All are members of the HJC.

This bill would add a new subsection 201(f) to 17 U.S.C. § 201, which pertains to ownership of copyright.

The bill provides that "No Federal agency may, in connection with a funding agreement ... impose or cause the imposition of any term or condition that ... requires the transfer or license to or for a Federal agency of" certain exclusive rights of copyright enumerated in 17 U.S.C. § 106.

The introduction of this bill follows adoption of a policy by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) titled "Public Access Policy". An appropriations bill mandated this policy.

The NIH provides research funding. It now ties that funding to loss exclusive rights of copyright. It provides public access to peer reviewed NIH funded articles in a NIH internet accessible database. See, NIH release of January 2008.

An NIH spokesman told TLJ on February 6, 2009, that the "NIH's Public Access Policy is in place and has remained in effect from its start date in April 2008".

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chemisttree
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Are you sure that the publishers aren't just trying to prevent an article from being freely available to the public? If I were a publisher and was told that copies of the article I had published in my periodical were freely available to anyone with an internet connection, I would also be in a snit. Remember, the article in question has been likely peer reviewed, has the standing and status of the periodical in question and has significant distribution costs associated with it. Loss of income from reprints or from subscription sales could be significant and would drive up the cost of those periodicals to the subscribers or might cause the periodical itself to go belly-up.

The current financial status of the various newspapers around the country are a perfect example of this 'free' news now available on the net.

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The point is that the current NIH policy embargoes all articles for a full year after publication before they are available on the NIH site. How can the publishers lose money through lost subscriptions? It would seem that by the time a year is up, all researchers and scholars in related fields would have accessed the articles in question through either journal subscriptions or pay-per-article purchases.

Yes. Publicly-financed research belongs to the public. If publishers and researchers are worried about their bottom line so much, they should find private investors. As it stands, I don't see any reason why anyone should be allowed to place restrictions on my access to the research I funded. It's on level with stealing.

Maybe journal publish should just shut down because the internet can so easily make the obsolete. The same something happened in music and video, but who really gives a crap about that junk.

If scientific research can be made easily available to everyone it should, for free. Who cares if a publisher loses money or shuts down, the point of science isn't to keep publishers in business, they were an accessory industry that is clearly becoming usurped.

"In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely." Science Fiction Writer Jerry Pournelle

Bystander
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Manhattan Project? Public funds. Riiggghhhhttttt.

Office_Shredder
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Manhattan Project? Public funds. Riiggghhhhttttt.
Obviously not the research being discussed

Maybe journal publish should just shut down because the internet can so easily make the obsolete. The same something happened in music and video, but who really gives a crap about that junk.

If scientific research can be made easily available to everyone it should, for free. Who cares if a publisher loses money or shuts down, the point of science isn't to keep publishers in business, they were an accessory industry that is clearly becoming usurped.

"In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely." Science Fiction Writer Jerry Pournelle
You're not recognizing the point that people have the inalienable right to profit from their endeavors. And that works on every level. The publisher deserves to get paid for doing the publishing, and the scientists deserve to get paid for doing the research. But, what government seems to forget all the time, is that the public deserves to profit from the use of its tax dollars. That profit comes in the form of deciding how the money is spent, and then having complete access to the projects, not just after they are finished, but as they are being worked on.

Along that same line of reasoning, if someone were to bankroll their own operation, and invent some incredible machine that creates an inexhaustible source of energy, thus releasing from our dependency on fossil fuels, it would most definitely be a day of worldwide celebration. But, we would still have to address the fact that, in this situation, the invention belongs to the inventor. They could smash it to bits, and destroy any trace of his research, and while mankind would be disappointed, no one would be able to complain. It was their invention, and they could do what they wanted with it. But, if we use the same rationale that the publishers are using, we would have the right to seize the invention from the inventor, despite the fact that we did nothing to help in the creation of this incredible invention.

It's not just a question of whether or not we should get rid of the old in favor of the new. This is a question of individuality. Allowing the government and private companies to take our money and spend how they please without giving us any say in the matter is fascist in nature.

If they publish research then they do have the right to make profits from selling it, if scientists bring the research to them to be published and others are willing to pay but the point I am making is that there is no further need for a "publisher" in this day and age.

mgb_phys
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Thanks very much for the link. I searched for NIH and Conyers and got no hits, so I thought that his legislation might have slipped under the radar.

mgb_phys
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Expensive peer review journals from professional publishing houses are going to go away.
The online replacements are going to be hosted by either the research funders NIH/DoE/Nasa or individual institutes. The peer review will be done by the same mechanisms that peer reviewed the funding for the research in the first place.
There is an opportunity for professional bodies too, in most industries the trade body eg. IEEE publishes the journals, so the Institue of Physics could actually become relevant at last.

chemisttree
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The point is that the current NIH policy embargoes all articles for a full year after publication before they are available on the NIH site. How can the publishers lose money through lost subscriptions? It would seem that by the time a year is up, all researchers and scholars in related fields would have accessed the articles in question through either journal subscriptions or pay-per-article purchases.
Do you believe that all revenue generated from a publication is realized within one year? Why do you believe this?

chemisttree
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Expensive peer review journals from professional publishing houses are going to go away.
The online replacements are going to be hosted by either the research funders NIH/DoE/Nasa or individual institutes. The peer review will be done by the same mechanisms that peer reviewed the funding for the research in the first place.
I can't think of a less efficient way to do this. There will be much duplication of effort or there will be no effort at all. The same work done by the Journal of the American Chemical Society might be done by EPA, NASA, NIH, etc... depending on the application???? I can't think of a more convoluted way to do business! Unless, perhaps the government steps in and becomes the uber publisher. Then we (Americans in this case) pay for the whole world's access to research.

Of course, that's probably the point.

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Do you believe that all revenue generated from a publication is realized within one year? Why do you believe this?
Scientific journals contain time-sensitive information that professionals and academics need timely access to. It is unlikely that the publishers realize significant revenue from selling journals and articles that are over a year old.

In addition, it is only fair that the public have access to the results of the research that they have paid for. As long as the material is not classified, it is only fair that it be publicly available and not restricted to those with enough money for journal subscriptions and/or academic affiliations with research libraries.

My collaborators and I had no grants, no academic affiliations, and no grad students to enslave when we started our 2+ year project studying interacting galaxy pairs. We submitted to a Springer journal (Astrophysics and Space Sciences) and after we addressed referees' suggestions (very good suggestions, BTW) the editor told us that the paper was accepted for publication AND suggested that we immediately post it on ArXiv. Clearly, the editor of this very pricey Springer journal valued the advance publicity and did not worry about lost revenue. Springer also published the paper on their electronic subscribed service and published it in the subscription print journal soon after. Springer's approach is not as monolithic and restrictive as one might expect. Reasons for choosing that journal include the fact that it is a prestigious journal, it is supported by subscription fees, and it does not charge authors per-page fees. The loss of such journals would be detrimental to independent researchers, so I hope mgb phys's prediction does not come true, at least until the next few papers in the pipeline are submitted.

chemisttree
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I guess you've never been privy to a library's budget for journals (current and back issues). Ask a librarian and be ready for a jolt!

I note that you use the term publicly available in place of the more descriptive term freely available to anyone.

I hope mgb phys's prediction does not come true, at least until the next few papers in the pipeline are submitted.
How about every one else's paper as well?

mgb_phys
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The same work done by the Journal of the American Chemical Society might be done by EPA, NASA, NIH, etc...
The only 'work' the journals do is running the presses.
The authors aren't paid - and in most cases they have to pay page charges to publish.
The authors do all the typesetting and editing work
The peer reviewers aren't paid.

The only value the journal adds is it's badge of respectability - which following some of the high profile fake papers that got published, they don't even do that.

There is already a huge duplication in work, the same work gets written up, reported and peer reviewed for internal and external research assessment exercises, quality audits, grant applications and publications in different journals and conference proceedings. And all this work is done for free by the academics

CRGreathouse
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The only 'work' the journals do is running the presses.
To be fair, the editors select the reviewers, and act as middle-men to provide a buffer (and anonymity for the reviewers).

The authors aren't paid - and in most cases they have to pay page charges to publish.
Very true, and the per-page charges can be daunting to independent researchers who have no academic support or grant money to live on.

The authors do all the typesetting and editing work
Again, true. The journals set up their standards, and it is up to the researchers to submit their work in a format that conforms to those standards, and provide all the editing services.

The peer reviewers aren't paid.
True, and judging from the detailed suggestions (very cognizant of not only our references, but of related work) the reviewers were doing a LOT of work, which we acknowledged in the paper. These are the people (aside from the submitters) who are doing the heavy lifting.

really no one has any copyright to their intellectual property. copyright and patent laws were put in place by the government to give people an incentive to invent and create. we can see that patent laws have stayed fairly moderate and only grant 15 years of protection, probably to maintain a competitive market. copyright on the otherhand has gotten ridiculous. lifetime plus 75 years?(or however long its been since disney died) that's just disgusting especially considering that we're talking about the for profit ownership of human knowledge and ideas. things that may one day be a part of our common culture and history. and a vast amount of it is in the hands of large corporations. how anyone can be ok with this is beyond me and the idea that anyone wants to create a situation where this could happen to publicly funded scientific research is rather disturbing.
if this goes through the funding sources should start requiring all recipients to sign the rights to any research they're funding over to them so the journals have to ask permission every time they wish to publish the material.

I've never understood it. The public, through the government, pay the salaries of academics and give out research grant money. Then the product of that research gets locked away from the public. I mean, imagine if we spent millions of tax money building a museum or gallery like the Smithsonian or the British Museum, then on the day that anyone turned up to go in, there'd be a flimsy sign on the door saying "You must have institutional permission to access this resource".

If I want to keep track of the current research in my discipline (philosophy), let's say I subscribe to the top five journals. Just based on a rough calculation, that'd be $350 a year. But, here's the thing: I'd guess that probably 90-95% of the people who write for the top five general journals in the field are employed by mostly publicly-funded universities in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, NZ and a few in continental Europe. We should see any attempt to open up the academy for non-academics and non-scientists to see what goes on inside as a good thing. Most people tend to buy into the idea that science, the arts, philosophy and other scholarly pursuits should be open to all, rather than restricted to a narrow group of professional scholars. Well, we should walk the walk. I want the general public to become significantly smarter than they currently are. In fact, with climate change about to kick us back to the Stone Age unless we buck up our ideas, it'd seem that now is the time that we need to solve the problem. But when it comes to science, the best that the average Joe can get to without too much trouble if he's interested and motivated is a textbook or a popular science book. Cutting edge research is just locked away - it's too expensive (seriously -$32 to read a paper for twenty-four hours?!), or it's hidden behind institutional barriers.

Either the government, the universities, the academics and the journal publishers sort it out, or the current undergraduates will fix it as they've fixed the music and movie industry to be far more usable - by using P2P. People will get their science and their humanities papers from the same place they get their Britney and their South Park. I've found torrents containing textbooks for every subject under the sun: biology, linguistics, psychology, theology, organic chemistry, forensic pathology, trigonometry... If it's got an -ology suffix, there's probably someone who's bundled all the key texts into a folder and shared them online.

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