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The Media Science

Who Owns Science? 308

Posted by timothy
from the wants-to-be-free dept.
immerrath writes "The New York Times has an article [Sorry, tomorrow's article, no Google link yet] on a movement that is rapidly gaining support in the scientific community: the Public Library of Science(PLoS). The founders, Nobel Laureate Harold Varmus, Stanford biologist Pat Brown and Berkeley Lab scientist Michael Eisen, argue that scientific literature cannot be privately controlled or owned by the publishers of scientific journals, and must instead be available in public archives freely accessible by anyone and everyone. This has very important implications for the fundamental principle that Science must transcend all economic, national and other barriers. For a while now, PLoS has been trying to get scientific journals to release the rights to scientific papers; many major journals have not complied -- in response, PLoS is starting PLoS-standard-compliant journals (for which they received a $9 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation), to demonstrate the validity of the idea and persuade academic publishers to adopt the free access model. They even have a GPL-like open access Licence, and their journals have some very prominent scientists on the editorial board. Here is the text of an earlier Newsweek article about PLoS, and here is a Nature Public Debate explaining the issues. Michael Eisen received the 2002 Benjamin Franklin award for his work on PLoS. Don't forget to sign the PLoS open letter!"
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Who Owns Science?

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  • Everyone has access to Nature. It is just waiting for someone to find out all its secrets.

    But for those that do, it is important that they receive some sort of carrot to keep them motivated. If this means charging for academic journals, then perhaps that's the way to go about it.

    Those that would steal their hard work because "Science is for everyone" doesn't quite grasp the concept of the reward system.
    • by mph (7675) <mph@freebsd.org> on Monday December 16, 2002 @09:52PM (#4903796)
      Everyone has access to Nature.
      But if you want to subscribe, it'll set you back up to $159 a year.
      • Yes, if you want to subscribe. However, to read a paper of interest, you can just get off your lazy duff and go to a local library...if your public library doesn't have it, then check out the local university library. True, that's not plausible for everyone, but if it's important to you and you lack the money, it IS availible.
        • OT: .sig (Score:3, Insightful)

          by gilroy (155262)
          Blockquoth the poster's .sig:

          If not all sentients are human, it stands to reason that not all humans are sentient either.

          "If not all fruits are oranges, it stands to reason that not all oranges are fruits, either." Um, no... it exactly does not stand to reason.
        • by JanneM (7445) on Monday December 16, 2002 @11:09PM (#4904297) Homepage
          Yes, "Science" and "nature" are prety much available for everyone. They are possibly the two most prestigious journals you could find yourself in. Also, because they are the most prestigious journals, the cost is very low, as so many people - not just libraries or departments, but individuals - are subscribers. They also charge quite a bit for every page you publish.

          I think the very point is that mosts cientific publishing is not in the vein of science or nature. There you get the finished results; the consensus stuff or the magnificient breakthroughs that would be a pride to any daily paper headline setter.

          Most of scientific publishing is very boring, very cautious or very incredible. I know that all I've published certainly belongs to this class. That doees not mean it's bad science; for every revolutionary, you need a small army of people dotting the I:s and crssing the T:s. In that process you also tend to find a surprising amount of good, solid science.

          Unfortunately, as soon as you step away from the Big Stars of science, things look bleak, as so many othes are documenting. /Jannne
    • by lucabrasi999 (585141) on Monday December 16, 2002 @09:59PM (#4903868) Journal

      Those that would steal their hard work because "Science is for everyone" doesn't quite grasp the concept of the reward system.


      "Stealing" is not quite the word that I would use. Remember that every piece of science today is based upon someone elses past research. In order to develop and prove new theories, you have to "steal" from someone else. If you, as a researcher had NO information on widgits, how would you even start developing a theory? Most researchers would begin by finding out what everyone else thinks of Widgits and go from there.


      This all reminds me of a quote I read in college (can't remember the person that created the quote). "Western Civilization is a footnote to Plato". This means Without Plato beginning political discourse, the western world would probably have developed in an entirely different manner. It's the same way in pure science. Without having someone to start, how do you develop your own theories?

      • by rodgerd (402) on Monday December 16, 2002 @10:39PM (#4904151) Homepage
        It also shows a number of flaws with the theory:

        1/ Plato hardly started the philosophies that much of Western thinking are based upon. You may recall that Plato studied under Cratylus and was heavily influenced by Socrates. And Cratylus studied under...

        2/ Many of Plato's views would likely be considered pretty horrible by those of us working in many of the major Enlightenment streams of thought. Western Civilisation may owe debts to Plato, but the like of Adam Smith, J S Mill, Woolstoncroft, Bertrand Russell, William Morris, and sundry others play a much more immediate role in our day to day lives, in much the same way that Rutherford splitting the atom is more meaningful for people getting their electricity in the US than Newton's work.

        Essentially, picking Plato is arbitary. And that's the problem with most notions of identifying the "great thinkers", especially in collaborative areas that build and change over time; things are all too often reduced to popularity/PR contests. Hell, how many people think Edison was a great inventor?
        • Essentially, picking Plato is arbitary

          Not really. He was a prolific writer, whose writings have survivied. Whether by coincidence, or not, it's because where have a record of what he did that he gets credit, rightly or wrongly.

          I belive that there is a parrallel that could be drawn here, about people wanting a public record of what they did.
      • by VoidEngineer (633446) on Tuesday December 17, 2002 @12:37AM (#4904829)
        Despite the media propoganda that scientists are 'rational and analytical', the fact of the matter is that much of scientific discourse is based on animosity/debate, personal motivations, and mostly 'un-scientific' behavior. The thing is, however, that scientists have got these protocols established which allow for improvement, peer review, and communications.

        Now then, most scientists are not exactly in science for the money, so I'm skeptical about the reward system argument. Moreover, I agree that 'stealing' may not be the correct term to use. Therefore, I am going to go out on a limb here, and say that it may be the case that scientists themselves may not completely understand the reward system.

        Now, I've known a lot of scientists in my time, and I'd have to say that most of them:

        1) Specialize in a certain field, and have a great grasp of that field;
        2) Don't have a great concept of money (unless they are specializing in that field, although that still doesn't mean that they have alot of money).
        3) Have general human interests and desires, just like everyone else (health, security, friendships, feeling of importance, etc).
        4) Are interested in receiving credit for work they've done.
        5) They wind up receiving credit for their work, but rewards go to other groups, because of the structure of modern science.

        Anyhow, I'm digressing. Your question: Without having someone to start, how do you develop your own theories?

        Yeah... That question has sort of been asked, and answered, by a guy named Thomas Kuhn. He writes to the affect that generally one has to start with someone else's theories. The exceptions which proove the rule are what he calls 'Anamoly of Oservation' (I think that's the term he uses). Anyhow, the answer to your question, as I understand it, is that you develop your own theories by observing something which nobody else has ever observed before, and stating a theory about it. This is a rather difficult proposition generally, but it does happen. Examples include:

        measurement of the speed of light (constant! no more Ether!)
        radioactive isotopes (they glow! different weights!)
        electromagnetic spectrum (waves in the air!)
        nucleic acid alpha/beta structures (stores information! genetics!)
        penicillin production (germs! small things! drugs!)
        columbus crosses the atlantic (america! real estate for the taking!)

        These examples illustrate general 'ah-ha' experiences and fundamental observations which may very well defy the 'reward system' and the concept of stealing (well, maybe columbus and folks stole america, but that's another story).

        I'm rambling. Signing off.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 16, 2002 @10:13PM (#4903968)
      The scientists who publish in the non-free journals don't get any money. The only carrot in publishing in the journals is the increase in reputation and job prospects for publishing in a top journal. The only people who profit from the journals are the publishers.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 16, 2002 @10:28PM (#4904087)
      Those that would steal their hard work because "Science is for everyone" doesn't quite grasp the concept of the reward system.

      Someone doesn't understand the concept of the academic reward system, all right. Unfortunately, that person is you.

      1) Scientists (and other academics) get their rewards (tenure, grants, etc.) by publishing material so that others can build on it, not by hoarding it or selling it for large amounts of money. That's how academia works.

      2) Academics almost never get any money from journal articles. In fact, some journals CHARGE THE ACADEMIC FOR PRINTING THEM.

      In the past, journals were expensive for a legitimate reason: printing a small press run (and let's face it, most academic journals have circulations measured in the hundreds or low thousands) resulted in a very high unit cost.

      Now, with online publishing, there's no reason for this, yet the journal publishers are still charging exorbitant fees to their subscribers.

      Academic publishing isn't anything like commercial fiction or non-fiction publishing, sorry. It's an entirely different business model.

      If you have a vision of some guy doing neurobiology becoming the next Tom Clancy, you're just wrong.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Well, if I can discover a fact for $1000, someone else might be able to discover it for $500. Someone else might discover it for $100, and finally someone else could do it for $0.50. Since it's just a piece of information we're talking about, I don't think we have to reward people all that much. We're not talking about some hot new song or movie, we're talking about repeatable facts.

      Someone will discover the jewels nature has to offer.

      Ignoring the fact that most scientists DON'T see much reward, of course. I remember one of my profs in EE telling us about his advancements in night-vision optics, and how he made his company millions and millions of dollars from his inventions and improvements. Someone in the class asked him how much of that he saw, he laughed and said "all I got was a plaque".
    • by Idarubicin (579475) <allsquiet@ho[ ]il.com ['tma' in gap]> on Monday December 16, 2002 @11:16PM (#4904335) Journal
      But for those that do, it is important that they receive some sort of carrot to keep them motivated. If this means charging for academic journals, then perhaps that's the way to go about it.

      Those that would steal their hard work because "Science is for everyone" doesn't quite grasp the concept of the reward system

      Who's stealing from whom? Journals don't do scientific work; scientists do. They've already been compensated for their work. They only publish because they want to contribute to the sum of human knowledge, because they want the prestige, and because their tenure-track job depends on it.

      If Nature or Science or Cell can make a buck by printing a researcher's work and selling copies to other people, good for them. By putting together a selection of good papers they're saving me time and providing a useful service. After six months or a year, they've really squeezed all the money they're going to get out of the papers. (Very few reprints are purchased after this point.) The manuscripts should be released to a public repository. If anything, it may stimulate more research and lead to more fodder for the printing presses. And it ensures that older papers are not lost--trapped, mouldering, in musty old library collections--if a publishing house goes out of business.

    • I'm having troubles deciding whether this post is just plain ignorant, or whether it is a subtle parody of the music/napster/copyright/RIAA debate.

      Almost all scientific journals charge the researcher money to publish in them. This money is paid from the grant that supported the research activity.

      Like almost anyone, academics like to be well paid, but it isn't journal subscriptions that pays any part of their salary.
    • But for those that do, it is important that they receive some sort of carrot to keep them motivated. If this means charging for academic journals, then perhaps that's the way to go about it.

      That kind of thinking is just wrong.

      If scientists are motivated only by the money, they're in the wrong field. The reward is knowledge itself, and being the first person to discover and share that knowledge. Eureka! That's what it's all about: that is what has driven scientists for centuries.

      I'd wager that scientists today haven't changed all that much on average. It's the big companies backing them that drive the lust for money and power.

      There are other ways to make money than to hold the information ransom. What if Einstein Co. had all the rights to general relativity? How much less would we have advanced as a result?

      Ultimately, I think, big picture of the future is that our willingness to learn will be the driving force behind humanity. That's a looong way off, though, but the winds of change are blowing and open source, sharing of information, and revolutionary new concepts and ways of thinking are helping to make it happen.
    • The scientists who actually research and submit papers to journals usually receive no monetary compensation. It's just the opposite. Journals might charge for having eminent "names" in the field "peer-review" your article (the reviewers don't usually get paid), and the journals charge exorbitant subscription fees.

      You might notice the common trend: only journals receive money. Much more money than the cost of publication. And they don't want anyone else publishing -their- papers (the ones they didn't write, nor pay for).

      Science should be free. Most researchers have to jump through hoops just to get published, and they get no pay for having published, just notice and prestige. I completely agree with the PLoS.
    • Francis Bacon (Score:3, Insightful)

      by j_w_d (114171)
      ...advanced arguments that outlined many of the basic ideas that distinguish modern science including the idea that investigations need to cooperative, that many research questions will require social backing and multiple generations of endeavour in order to succeed. The earliest scientific bodies were organized around the baconian model.

      Key to these ideas was the view that science advances through the open commnuication of data and ideas. Once published, stealing "their hardwork" is an absurd idea. Without the review of others, their "hard work" might have been little more than mistakes and nonsense. Besides which, few journals pay authors much. The "carrot" a journal offers is usually exposure - fame not wealth.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Those that would steal their hard work because "Science is for everyone" doesn't quite grasp the concept of the reward system.

      As a scientist, I find that to be an offensive remark. If you ask any serious scientist why they research a problem, the answer should be, "Because it's there," not "Because I'll make some money." That's what separates scientists from economists.

      The only way to "steal" work from another scientist is plagiarism and/or fraud- practices that are immoral in any academic field. Nobody can "steal" Newton's Laws. They can reference them, use them to build new theories and to reinforce existing ones, and that's all that's really possible.

      If you believe that science is valuable to the general public-- that is, if you think the little line in the U.S. Constitution stating that Congress should support "the useful arts and sciences" says something important-- then there really shouldn't be any argument. If science is for humanity, which it should and must be, then charging for access to it when there's a perfectly reasonable method for free dissemination negates the original premise that it's for humanity for a large number of reasons.
    • But for those that do, it is important that they receive some sort of carrot to keep them motivated. If this means charging for academic journals, then perhaps that's the way to go about it.

      Bollocks, it's little that the article writer gets compared to the publishing houses. Besides, because they're commercial publications some of poorer people in this world may not have the access for such publications.

      This has been a long time coming and I'm sure all scientists will embrace this model. It's the parasitic publishers that will do what they can to prevent this.

      This is not that far from artists vs record companies dispute....
  • by mikecheng (3359) on Monday December 16, 2002 @09:48PM (#4903757) Homepage Journal
    google partner link to nytimes [nytimes.com]


    Merkac Dot [apocryphillia.com] : 48210

    Links to Google Cache(N.B. Not always cached.)

    article [nytimes.com] cache [google.com] [Link not cached at time of posting]
    Public Library of Science(PLoS) [publiclibr...cience.org] cache [google.com] [Cache link active]
    Nobel [nobel.se] cache [google.com] [Cache link active]
    Harold Varmus [accessexcellence.org] cache [google.com] [Cache link active]
    Pat Brown [stanford.edu] cache [google.com] [Cache link active]
    Michael Eisen [berkeley.edu] cache [google.com] [Cache link active]
    journals [sciencemag.org] cache [google.com] [Cache link active]
    journals [publiclibr...cience.org] cache [google.com] [Link not cached at time of posting]
    Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation [moore.org] cache [google.com] [Cache link active]
    Licence [publiclibr...cience.org] cache [google.com] [Link not cached at time of posting]
    editorial board [publiclibr...cience.org] cache [google.com] [Link not cached at time of posting]

  • Way back in the 19th century, protestant Englishman and Americans celebrated the new religion of amorality. This belief constituted a release from moral stricture for the then ruling class. Well this class rules today, and so does their moral law that they established.

    Look, I don't know how to tell you this, but corporate america owns science, and has owned science for over a century. I think you should
    consider what this means.
  • Check out arXiv.org (Score:5, Informative)

    by Samir Gupta (623651) on Monday December 16, 2002 @09:52PM (#4903798) Homepage
    Many authors of scientific papers, at least in Physics, Math, and CS are making preprints available for free on arXiv.org [arxiv.org]. This is a great site, and as a fellow scientist, I for one would like to see more authors do this and make their knowledge accessible to those who don't want to feed greedy journal publishers.
    • by jaoswald (63789) on Tuesday December 17, 2002 @11:16AM (#4907147) Homepage
      "greedy journal publishers" is pure flamebait. What is this, an argument about record labels?

      The problem with arXiv is that much of the stuff on there would not pass peer-review, and some of it never gets revised to pass muster. By the time the author gets around to publishing it in a peer-reviewed journal, the on-line preprints have moved on, so the topic is no longer considered worth the effort of publication.

      The end result is that all the readers of preprint servers have to do their own peer review, which is incredibly wasteful of effort.

      Journal publishers are *not* making any kind of outrageous profits. Instead, they are defraying the substantial costs they incur in managing the editorial process that keeps scientific journals from becoming cesspools of "we publish anything!!!"
  • If I am not mistaken, the financier George Soros has also made noticeable contributions towards the liberalisation of science journals. Even though some of his other business "ventures" are more ruthless, I am glad to see that he realizes the importance of free information and the societal benefits that it will provide.
  • by sflory (2747) on Monday December 16, 2002 @09:54PM (#4903823)
    Newton put it best. "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants"

    All science, and technology is built on prior theories, experimentation and research. Putting more information out there is the best to speed our understanding of the world. As well bring new technologies into being.
    • by ice cream koan (634082) on Monday December 16, 2002 @10:17PM (#4904006)
      In computer science, we stand on each other's toes.
    • by mao che minh (611166) on Monday December 16, 2002 @10:24PM (#4904058) Journal
      Ain't that the truth. Just think about the legions of people that still think our Earth to be 6,000 years old, or do not understand the fundamentals of evolution, or who still harbor belief in scietific impossibilities like ghosts, or blatant myths like efreets and virgins giving birth to supermen that can walk on water. The world is suffering from a severe lack of scientific education and frankly, any little bit helps.
      • That was good except for one thing: scientific impossiblities like ghosts.

        I don't believe in ghosts, and doubt the IQ of people who do. But there is nothing I know of that vigorously proves them to be impossiblities. There are just a ton of reasons to think they are very highly improbable. By saying something is impossible that you can't prove to be so, you are making a statement of faith instead of science. Which is what you are trying to decry in the first place.

        • Can you see a ghost? If so, then how can such a thing (something that reflects or emits photons) act as they do? How could such a thing pass through solid material, materials such as concrete and wood (if it was capable of reflecting or emitting photons)? Why would a camera, a device that is less complicated, slower, and efficient then a human eye ball detect ghosts while we cannot?

          Think harder grass hopper.

          • Now you are defining a ghost. Which starts putting you on the right path, sempai. But originally you were making a blanket statement without definitions using absolute judgments.

            I am not disagreeing with your case, only with your imprecision in describing it.

            And as for another take on what a ghost is, that is likely to be at least partially correct in the long run, take a look at the research being done by Persinger at Laurentian University in neuro psych. Very interesting stuff. Here is a link [wired.com] to a pop article about some of his work.
          • That is simply your definition of a ghost. As your definition stands it is impossible. While I don't bel;eive in ghosts you are still making a HUGE mistake in your reasoning.

            Now how about this one. We have inside of us a soul, you can't measure or see it. Once we die this soul leaves our bodies, with some people an event has happened that the soul stays around on the earth. Now some people souls are able to perceive another soul and thier mind simply interprets that as a vision, but the vision is not directly through the ocular nerves, but that section of the brain processes this.

            proove it wrong. You can say there is not a shred of evidence to support this and you are right, produce some that says it's absolutly wrong. About camera's taking a ghosts pictures? they can't, they are all fakes, only a being with a soul can actually detecty one. Said ghost could easily pass through a wall (do you know the physics governing a soul? maybe they can also travel in time: who knows?)

            Should what I said be belived? not really, I made it up on the spot. Any evidence for it? no. It has never made it passed the hypothesis stage, nor will it ever make it past that stage. I bet you can't prove it doesn't happen, lack of detection of the whole soul things means it can never be disproved. Is it impossible? no, it just not very probable (impossible means you have show, with evidence, that it can not happen, and even then you sometimes are proven that your "proof" is not right, it's happened a few times in scientific history).

            In short, be VERY carefull about using absolutes, especially when you have no way of proving them to be absolute, it's just another version of faith when you do so (though I by no means think faith is a bad thing, it's amusing when someone uses faith to disprove and ridicule faith).
  • by Quirk (36086) on Monday December 16, 2002 @09:55PM (#4903826) Homepage Journal
    Research, knowledge and learning are co-evolutionary endeavours requiring persons capable of sending and deciphering symbols. Proprietory interferrence has no place in the process and proprietory interlopers are late comers to a process that began with the development of speech.

    A strange but perhaps helpful analogy might be the railroads. The paths the railways followed were those travelled by those who came before the railways but the capital investment necessary to lay the track and get the trains rolling required huge outlays of private capital. To compensate the capital investment much land and resources was given to the railways. Now with the new technologies the proprietory moguls are trying to make a case that knowledge can't be dissiminated without similar out lays of capital to that necessary to underwrite the railways. And that the outlay entitles them to ownership of the goods and services that use the infrastructure and technology. This is akin to the railways being given ownership of all the goods and services the railway brought to developing nations. This amounts to the old adage of putting the cart before the horse. For knowledge and research to thrive it must have free reign and if the new technology is to carry the fruit of new research then it must be underwritten by government or non-proprietory means.

    • Blockquoth the poster:

      The paths the railways followed were those travelled by those who came before

      Sometimes, but not always. Read Empire Express for a decent treatment of how much the transcontinental railroads followed known paths and how much they actually blazed new paths -- including levelling or raising the grade, if need be.
    • The paths the railways followed were those travelled by those who came before the railways...

      Horsepucky. There might be places this is true, but there are a TON where it isn't. Like anywhere with real elevations. Once you get past parts of the northeast in the US, I am willing to bet this is almost entirely bogus. One of the keys in building railroads in the US was blowing holes in mountains. Obviously, people weren't treading those paths before.
  • Here's one definition:
    science: The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena.

    Some science is patented, some science is copyrighted, some science is just plain hidden, and some science is common sense. The only way all science will ever be completely free/open is if we are all borg'ified.

  • How Ironic... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bdesham (533897) <bdeshamNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday December 16, 2002 @09:56PM (#4903842) Journal
    scientific literature cannot be privately controlled or owned by the publishers of scientific journals, and must instead be available in public archives freely accessible by anyone and everyone
    Interesting... this is being run in the New York Times, FRRYYY . Obviously its editors aren't reading their own articles that closely...
  • by sunguru (219528) on Monday December 16, 2002 @09:57PM (#4903850) Homepage
    This is exactly the kind of stuff being done today up at Dartmouth College. The fMRI Data Center [fmridc.org] is home to a public data warehouse of MRI scans. Publishing research involves more than just glossy pictures and a paper, the actual data should be shared to allow others to repeat the experiment.

    The community [nature.com] has not yet decided if this is a good idea but they will come around.
  • This movement is not new. It is in fact, the original way that science came to be. It only stopped when secrecy became involved.

    When science was used to devolope weapons, it stopped being pure and became a new form of global currancy.

    Corporations picked up on this later and started restircting information sharing by use of patents and such.

    These have been the norm for so long, that a lot of the scientific growth we have made in the last centruy belongs to one entity or another. NOW we are saying that it needs to be shared... interesting.

    We are all veterans of the latest battlefield, intellectual property. How many of us have had great ideas that we can't share with anyone else because we'll loose our jobs, or even worse, get sued for all we are worth because we violated our hiring contracts?

    Is it too late to return to the way that worked? This is something to think about.
    • I hate to tell you this, but science has been advancing the state of weaponry since the dawn of humanity. If that makes it unpure, the it never was pure to begin with.

      Oh and patents are legal instruments, worthless without the backing of government which is elected by the people. (or it would be if people would stop bitching and get out and vote) Corporations may lobby all they want for increased intellectual property protections but at the end of the day it will be the people *we* voted for (if we voted) who write them into law. If you haven't expressed your opinion to your representitive then you've nothing to complain about. Blaming everything on corporations is just a cop-out.
  • I do (Score:4, Funny)

    by cca93014 (466820) on Monday December 16, 2002 @09:58PM (#4903857) Homepage
    I own it all, and i will sell it to you for one million dollars

  • Bad Idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cperciva (102828) on Monday December 16, 2002 @10:00PM (#4903870) Homepage
    These people are asking authors to pay $1500 per paper to cover the editorial costs. This is a Bad Idea.

    First, this will inevitably have a negative effect on the submission of papers; I certainly wouldn't have submitted my first paper (now published) while I was still an undergraduate student if I had to pay for it.

    Second, this raises a conflict of interest. If a journal's costs are being met by its authors, there will be a pressure to keep those authors happy -- which means publishing their papers. The current situation, where a journal's costs are met by its subscribers is the opposite -- the journals are under pressure to keep the quality as high as possible.

    Finally, remember that quite a few papers are available online already. This varies from field to field, of course, but most mathematicians I know have all of their papers from the past decade online.
    • Very few journals make a profit. A typical journal article is paid for by the investigators to cover costs of printing. If you look, most scientific journal articles are marked "advertisement" because of this ...
      • Re:Bad Idea (Score:3, Informative)

        by Alomex (148003)
        Very few journals make a profit

        Actually, academic journals used to make small profits until the mid-1980s, when a wave of consolidations changed this entirely. In fact, last time I looked into this (a few years back) the profits of academic journal publishing divisions had been rising steadily and well above inflation.

        A typical journal article is paid for by the investigators to cover costs of printing.

        Wrong again. Depends very much on the area. Math and computer science are not this way. Physics is about half and half, with some journals being free, others charging above a certain number of pages, and lastly others charging a per-page fee.

        • some journals being free, others charging above a certain number of pages, and lastly others charging a per-page fee.

          Per page???

          No wonder Fermat was so concise with that Last Theorem.

          (In fact, Fermat refused to publish his work at all, except for a single anonymous article. The first Anonymous Coward?)

          --
          I have discovered a truly remarkable .sig which this margin is too small to
    • Re:Bad Idea (Score:2, Informative)

      Don't forget, this $1500 fee, which might just seem a tad expensive to labs in North America, is oftentimes backbreaking to struggling third-world labs. Science has already strayed from discovery to business. The last thing we need is financial discrimination to totally exclude certain sections of the scientific community.

      • Don't forget, this $1500 fee, which might just seem a tad expensive to labs in North America, is oftentimes backbreaking to struggling third-world labs.

        <voice='Sally Struthers'>
        ...which is why those labs must often finance their articles with the freelance production of anthrax or penis enlargers.

        So please give generously to Achmed and Asok, struggling third-world biologists, by supporting the Secularist Scientists' Fund.
        </voice>
    • Re:Bad Idea (Score:5, Informative)

      by gilroy (155262) on Monday December 16, 2002 @10:25PM (#4904059) Homepage Journal
      Blockquoth the poster:

      These people are asking authors to pay $1500 per paper to cover the editorial costs. This is a Bad Idea.

      Maybe, maybe not. In any event, in many fields of science, the investigator already pays. That's right -- for some journals, the author pays to publish, the subscriber pays to receive, and the journal holds the copyright! When I was a grad student, way back in the early 1990s, Astrophysical Journal charged about $100 per page.
      • Re:Bad Idea (Score:2, Insightful)

        by taehan (581426)
        To publish in any reputable journal, the authors have to pay a fee. This fee depends on the number of pages of the article along with the number of figures. The costs go up dramatically if color figures are included. My last paper cost nearly $2000, but most of that was due to my color figures.
        • Re:Bad Idea (Score:3, Insightful)

          by cperciva (102828)
          To publish in any reputable journal, the authors have to pay a fee.

          You have an interesting definition of "reputable".
      • Yeah, but they also send you a number of preprints of your article, which were very handy for sending to colleagues and interested students, back before the internet. Are there any journals you're aware of that still demand payment by the authors? I know some request it, but do not demand it.
    • If you read the statement, this is an initial fee until other sources of income have been established. In addition, as they mention, they have money for waiving the fee in any cases of insufficient funds.

      It sounds pretty reasonable; no, I wouldn't have the fee needed, but I could serve as a coordinator for a month or so, paying the fee in lieue. /Janne
    • Re:Bad Idea (Score:5, Informative)

      by Michael Eisen (634874) on Tuesday December 17, 2002 @01:06AM (#4904975)
      Sorry for bad formatting on previous post.

      As one of the organizers of Public Library of Science, I'd like to respond.

      From the outside, $1500 per article may seem like a lot. If you think of this as individual researchers digging into their own pockets to pay to publish the results of their research, sound a bit unreasonable. But that is not what we are proposing.

      The reality is that it costs money to provide the services that authors expect from a top scientific journal: rigorous peer-review, editorial oversight, and high production standards. We (the scientific community and the institutions, funding agencies and taxpayers that support us) are already paying journals to provide this service - total annual expenditures on scientific journals are well in excess of $1 billion per year.

      We are asking the funding agencies, universities and research institutions that support our work to recognize that the costs of publication are a fundamental part of the scientific research process. If they committed to directly paying journals to provide peer-review, editorial oversight and production (rather than indirectly as they do now) the latest scientific discoveries could be made freely available online to every scientist and physician or interested citizen in the world in comprehensive, searchable open archives of the scientific literature.

      There is a growing consensus in the community that this is a sensible model (it is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and several major universities including the University of California and Harvard).

      The system of giving away the copyrights to the original research reports and then paying to access them is woefully anachronistic. It costs more and it effectively deprives most of the world - including the people whose taxes paid for the research in the first place - from having any meaningful access to the results.

      You are right to be concerned that $1500 is a steep price to pay for a student, or a scientist from a small university or poor country. We never want our publication charges to be a barrier to publication, and will publish any paper that our editors and reviewers deem to be appropriate for the journals, either by significantly reducing or waiving the charges. In addition, organization like the Soros Open Society Institute, are providing funds to help offset the costs of publication for scientists from developing countries.

      I should also note that we expect the costs to decline significantly over time, as automated methods for peer-review develop, and as authors start to more widely use tools that allow for automatic conversion of documents to XML and properly formatted XML. In the end, the remaining costs will be primarily for editorial oversight, and authors will be able to choose the level that is appropriate for their work.

      Your concern about conflicts of interest are unwarranted. There were certainly be journals that will, for a fee, publish anything that is sent to them. These already exist. However, nobody will want to publish their works in these journals since the citation will carry no significance. Why pay to publish in a journal that publishes anything when you can just post the article on the web for free? Many journals will still have a tremendous incentive to maintain high editorial standards, because this is something that scientists value.

      Finally, you are correct that in fields like mathematics, computer science and physics, many works are already freely available. This, however, isn't true in biology and medicine, and thus initiatives like this are essential.

      • Some thoughts (Score:4, Interesting)

        by KjetilK (186133) <kjetil@kjer[ ]o.net ['nsm' in gap]> on Tuesday December 17, 2002 @08:34AM (#4906348) Homepage Journal
        Nice to hear your comments!

        I signed the Open Letter long ago, not because I agreed with every point, but because it was good to see something stir up some noise. I also licensed my thesis [urn.nb.no] under the PLoS license, not because I think it has much legal value (it confuses "public domain" with RMS' concept of copyleft), but because I think that if anybody wants to copy that thesis, it can only help me, and besides the fuzz you created was great! As it turns out, all of those of my childhood friends who have become scientists have independently signed the Open Letter! :-)

        One of my main beefs with the PLoS is the insistence of a centralized archive. True, it may be easier to build something good on the top of for example the existing Arxiv.org [arxiv.org] (I'm an astrophysicist), but decentralization is one of the fundamental principles of the web [w3.org]. It is wise to learn as much as possible from these architectural principles, and make use of them as fast as possible.

        I have for long wanted to write an article with the many thoughts I have in my head, but time has not allowed me to. The future of scientific publishing is perhaps the topic that I would most like to work with.

        I noted in the Nature debate [nature.com] (which I submitted a link to [slashdot.org] some time ago), that some of the non-profit publishers wouldn't let go of their published articles because they couldn't ensure the integrity of the articles [nature.com]. This has a rather obvious technical solution to most people here on Slashdot, in the form of signatures. Now that XML Signature [w3.org] is a W3C Recommendation, I think it is just a matter of implementing it, the problem is really solved.

        As for finance (now comes the excuse for posting in this thread), it is a problem that needs addressing for the whole Internet community. Many different modes should be available, for example, a nice, printed journal set by a professional typographer will not seize to be attractive although the article is available on the web. Some may well find a steady income there. Also, micropayments is something that is worth checking out.

        I would personally like to work on those solutions, so if anybody is hiring... :-)

      • Re:Bad Idea (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jonbaron (578700)
        I am associate editor of two journals (Medical Decision Making, Journal of Economic Psychology) and a member of the editorial boards of severa others. I do not get paid one cent. Yet, as an associate editor, I do most of the real work (both soliciting reviews and doing my own, plus final editing). I do not see why "rigorous peer-review, editorial oversight," are included in the cost of production. So far as I can tell, the main cost is copy editing, which often makes things worse! Editors seem to get paid too, for what I don't know, since I do pretty much what they do, and I am happy to work for free. Things may be different in real science, of course. But my field is a kind of scholarship, at least.
      • It seems to me that Michael Eisen and others setting up the PLOS initiative, are trying to appease the big publishing companies (Springer, Elsevier) by appearing not to threaten their cartel on the scientific discourse. The truth is that all scientific journals are dinosaurs from the age of paper. There is simply no reason why a larger version of the arxiv [arxiv.org], with electronic peer-review (Slashdot as a model?), would not be a workable substitute for every scientific journal. If the PLOS organisers were to be true to their principles of open science, they would be pushing for an end to the journal system altogether. Physicists are far ahead [arxiv.org] of the bioscientists in this respect.
    • Publish your stuff on the web for everybody to see, download and critique. Science belongs to the public who pays for it all, not just a bunch of elitist a-holes competing for grant money. If your stuff any good, someone will notice. If it's a bunch of boring and inconsequential crap (like most of the stuff published in peer-reviewed journals), nobody will give a hoot. Be like the Wright brothers and do your own science. You don't need the approval of the insufferable pompous know-it-alls in the scientific community. Paul Feyarabend said it best:

      "And a more detailed analysis of successful moves in the game of science ('successful' from the point of view of the scientists themselves) shows indeed that there is a wide range of freedom that demands a multiplicity of ideas and permits the application of democratic procedures (ballot-discussion-vote) but that is actually closed by power politics and propaganda. This is where the fairy-tale of a special method assumes its decisive function. It conceals the freedom of decision which creative scientists and the general public have even inside the most rigid and the most advanced parts of science by a recitation of 'objective' criteria and it thus protects the big-shots (Nobel Prize winners; heads of laboratories, of organizations such as the AMA, of special schools; 'educators'; etc.) from the masses (laymen; experts in non-scientific fields; experts in other fields of science): only those citizens count who were subjected to the pressures of scientific institutions (they have undergone a long process of education), who succumbed to these pressures (they have passed their examinations), and who are now firmly convinced of the truth of the fairy-tale. This is how scientists have deceived themselves and everyone else about their business, but without any real disadvantage: they have more money, more authority, more sex appeal than they deserve, and the most stupid procedures and the most laughable results in their domain are surrounded with an aura of excellence. It is time to cut them down in size, and to give them a more modest position in society."
  • e Print Archives (Score:2, Informative)

    by mentatjack (309991)
    I keep abreast of current science using http://xxx.lanl.gov

    Articles show up in the ePrint archive often 6 months before they shows up in the journals.
  • by SteweyGriffin (634046) on Monday December 16, 2002 @10:03PM (#4903893)
    There's a rarely-explored connection between science and freedom AFAIK.

    IANAL, but I still feel that the automatic assumption that these two things will always get better rests on the broad but not infinite shoulders of Aristotle, the Founding Fathers (regardless of where you live), and Ayn Rand-like characters.

    IIRC from my studies, during the 'Dark Ages', the accumulated knowledge of centuries vanished, and these instants nearly coincided with repression of freedom (either from church or state).

    PMFJI, but there is much evidence that the American era is coming to an end, and with it may come darker ages than those ever before known. (specifally, I cite the FDA, for crushing the advance of pharmacudical/medical science, as well as the departments of education, for caving to the mysics in their insistance that creationism be taught in public schools; and the gov't in general for any and all attempts to regulate, censor, or tax the Internet.)

    This may sound TLTBT, but I say enjoy the freedom you have while you still have it. Our time time may be running out.

    TXS.
  • google research (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rediguana (104664) on Monday December 16, 2002 @10:07PM (#4903925)
    What I would like to see developed is Google Research, a search engine of papers only. Yes, your milage would vary as some would, and some would not have had peer review. But it would still be a very useful research tool.
  • by StupendousMan (69768) on Monday December 16, 2002 @10:09PM (#4903935) Homepage

    Note that the PLoS plans to start with two journals which focus on biology and medicine. These are the fields where basic research can yield megabucks in the relatively short term. In my own field (astronomy), there's not a cent to be made by anyone; hence, I doubt we'll see a PLoS journal of astronomy or astrophysics anytime soon.

    Note also that if researchers didn't care about getting money from industry, they wouldn't be chary of publishing their results for all to see. The real problems occur when scientists need big money to set up big labs employing many people to develop new medicines (or do research which has obvious applications to new medicines) which can treat "wealthy" diseases: diseases which affect many people in wealthy countries. I don't see a way around this: investment by big pharmaceutical companies WILL speed the pace of such research (that's good), but will also lead to secrecy and higher drug prices for some time after the products first appear (that's bad).

    Some problems are just plain complicated. This is one of them. I wish the PLoS the best of luck, but I don't give them much of a chance. As long as a few researchers are willing to work in secrecy, they can use the PLoS results plus their "secret" results and often beat the "public" researchers to the punch. It's not unlike the prisoner's dilemma.

  • Enter Politics (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anik315 (585913) <anik@alphaco r . n et> on Monday December 16, 2002 @10:13PM (#4903972)
    Of course this is all noble, well-intentioned and all that good stuff in principle...

    But

    This changes subtly capitalistic influences to a subtly politicized ones.

    I don't care how accomplished these prominent scientists on the editorial boards are, they're not gods, and they'll have their own subconcious axes to grind. In journals like Science and Nature, at least the capitalistic incentive is dry and impersonal, unlike the motivation to maintain dogma.

    I'm not so sure the monetary incentive is worse than the political one which would emerge here.
    • by rodgerd (402) on Monday December 16, 2002 @10:46PM (#4904186) Homepage
      Yeah, the capitalistic process never influences scientific research and publication, leading to Great Purity. Why, look at all that research on the harmful effects of smoking in the 1940s and 1950s. Promptly published, it immediately led to a drop off in smoking and saved millions of lives that would have been lost if scientists had buried it at the beheat of their employers.
      • That's exactly his point.

        Capitalistic motivations are dry and unpersonal. If you want to know what's going on, you can always follow the money. This not to say that there will be no interference - no system can guarantee that - but that we all know what's motivating the capitalists and we can act accordingly. Political motivations are decidedly murkier.

        For instance, imagine there is a public debate about a new environmental regulation to be enacted. Imagine two main camps come to shape the debate. One is a large company that may be adversely affected financially by the rule. The other is a local environmental lobby group.

        We all know what motivates the large company - the are afraid of having to deal with higher costs.

        Can we say the same about the lobby group? It might be safe to say all it's members want a cleaner environment. But doesn't everyone?

        The lobby group will be portrayed as pure and honest because, you do like children don't you? But like the industrial, they will only advance arguments that support their case and have just as much bias as the industrial. The only difference is that we don't know why they fight or how much bias and we feel guilt bound to support them, because you do like children, don't you? In the absence of any direct threat to their wellbeing (i.e. toxic waste in their front yard) how do you know why they are fighting?

        Maybe they read a convincing paper in a prestigious science journal that convinced them of a real danger.

        Maybe they watched a competent investigative report that convinced them to act.

        Maybe they read their horoscope and deduced that they should fight.

        Who knows?

        But we *know* why the company is fighting.

        As the man said, dry and unpersonal.
    • They should just publish everything online (cheaper) and let peers rate the articles. Sort of like slashdot moderation. Wait, maybe that's not such a good idea...
  • by ice cream koan (634082) on Monday December 16, 2002 @10:14PM (#4903979)
    "It sounds very sympathetic to say this should be available to the public," he said. "But this kind of material is only used by experts."

    I have to disagree with this viewpoint. Just because the majority of people who want to get to this information are "experts" doesn't mean you shouldn't make it available to everyone. There are plenty of people (I am one of them) who have an interest in various scientific fields and like to read papers and yet who aren't studying for their PHDs. When are they going to start one of these journals for physics! (I guess there is Arxiv [arxiv.org].)

    Some people have said that lots of scientific work is copyrighted/patented, but that doesn't prevent free distribution. The whole _point_ of the patent process is to give the patentee a guaranteed limited monopoly so that they _will_ immediately publish their works, instead of hording them as secrets. Free distribution doesn't mean noone can make any money.

    Really, this seems like the trend that is happening in many areas where distribution has hitherto been controlled by a small group of publishers, due to the high cost of publishing. The internet can change the way we distribute information without killing commerce!

    At least Nature (the magazine) isn't passing their own version of the DMCA...
    • When are they going to start one of these journals for physics! (I guess there is Arxiv [arxiv.org].)

      Wow, I didn't know they changed names (to a more PC system, or to bypass nanny-ware, I guess) to arXiv. I was going to point you to the XXX site [lanl.gov]on the net where geeks actually contribute the most to the action. But apparently these sites are one and the same.

    • Its amazing, although unsurprising, that the head of Elsevier would say something so unbelieveably wrongheaded. The are certainly many articles that are not interesting to the general public (or, for that matter, many scientists). But to argue that the entire contents of the scientific literature is for use only by experts is undbelievably patronizing, and simply wrong.

      By his reckoning, the people Haank deems worthy of reading the scientific literature consist mostly of scientists at wealthy institutions in the developed world.

      People he deems unworthy of reading about the latest scientific research include scientists in poorer countries and at poor institutions in the developed world, physicians of all stripes across the globe, highschool and college students without access to major research libraries, and interested members of the public, such as someone recently diagnosed with cancer who wants to read about the latest research into treatment options that their tax dollars paid for.

      This quote, and this attitude, perfectly summarize why Elsevier (or any other individual or organization) should not be able to control the scientific literature.

  • When I want a copy of Science, I take a short bike ride to my local public library. It's good excercise, and it saves me quite a bit of money.

    Granted, this doesn't solve the problem with distribution in the Third-World, but I think that can be solved mainly through grants and generosity on Science's part. Third-World doctors are unlikely to subscribe due to the financial costs involved, so Science isn't going to be losing any potential paying customers anyways.

  • It's like that old saying "Anyone can experience and learn astronomy, all you have to do is look up". Well, not really, but you get the idea. Now all you have to do is hit the plos journals. This is tremendous news to me. As it stands now, I have to go downtown to the university library in order to read the latest Science journals. That, or pay way to much for my favorates, especially certain technology related journals. If this all pans out, the progression of man can be shared and enjoyed by all, not just by those with access ('$') to the "closed sources".
  • by JanneM (7445) on Monday December 16, 2002 @10:49PM (#4904194) Homepage
    I sent more or less this as a reply to the editorial board of the New York Times earlier today:

    You had a feature describing the reality of scientific publishing today.
    As a scientist I can unfortunatey inform you that it was nowhere near
    the actual situation today.

    This is the typical sequence of events for a scientific publication:

    1) We do science. This is sort of a basic prerequisite for anything else
    to happen. It is also usually funded directly by the public, or
    indirectly funded by various foundations. This part - which by many is
    seen as our core competency - is largely funded by public institutions.

    2) We try to publish. Now, here is the problem: We try to publish in the
    most 'prestigious' journals that we can. Why? Because the number of
    papers that we publish - and the importance of the journals that we
    publish in - is absolutely critical to our future careers. And our
    carreers is rather important to things like money for food, clothes to
    our children and so on. There is no certainty in the academic world
    apart from the one that expounds that few papers = few citations = no
    future. Of course, having a lot of papers in prestigious journals
    guarantees nothing except a greater chance of being noticed.

    3) So, our important paper has been sent away - in some cases with a $10
    charge (or more) per page. This paper is immediately sent on to the editors. Who
    are the editors? Why, our own colleagues. The very act of being an
    editor for any publication is still regarded as being important. In no
    case is either the author nor editor compensated for anything-

    4) Now, after several rounds between us, the editor and the reviewers
    (who, like the editor, are doing the work for free), the paper is
    finallyu ready for publication. Observe that not only is the content
    finalized, but the entire typographical layout has been perfected by the
    very same authours that are being paid by the university (ie. either a
    private grant or by the public) to do research, but are now spending a
    month of their time making usre their manuscript is conforming to the
    smallest detail to the publications' standards.

    4.5) As a small addendum, the authors are requested to sign a form
    agreeing to the publication actually publishing the paper in question.
    The researchers, having little choice, sign it.

    5) Finally, the paper is out. It appears, formated exactly as the
    researchers did it, in the next 'issue'. The number of 'issues' is equal
    to the number of research libraries prepared to pay $5000 or more for
    four issues of maybe four or five of these papers a year.

    These publications pay nothing for the content (the researchers
    sometimes evan pay cash to get content into them), editing (it is done
    for free by otherresearchers) or typesetting (as it is done by the
    researchers themselves). The total work for these publishers is
    maximally in one half-time secretarial position to connect papers with
    appropriate editors and reviewers. Yet they charge $5000 per year (or
    more - sometimes much more) for four issues - or more than $10 per page -
    for the very same results that the univerities, and, in the end, the
    public, has paid for being conducted in teh first place.

    6) So, even with this gouging, our researcher and her doctoral students
    have at least a good publictaion to their name? Well, no. It turns out
    that the to publish the rsults, the publishing company actually owns the
    text of the paper. The doctoral students can not use the text they have
    written as part of their theses. The people that have done the research
    - and that want only to spread the results to their colleagues - do no
    longer own their own text. Only with permission - and with a great deal
    of money - may they actually use their own text in other situations,
    like on the web or in their onwn theses.

    The end result is that the authors do all the preparatorial work, using the publics' money; the editors and reviewers does their work using the publics money, and som printer somewhere prints a few hundred copies of the publication for a standard (low) fee. Meanwhile the company owning the publication retains the ownership of the papers and $5000 minus the printing cost of one (out of a few hundred (at the max)) printed copies of the journal.

    Hell yes, I'd be delighted with being in a business with a 20000% profit margin...

    • by MrEd (60684)
      Good reply.


      Now if you could summarize it in fewer than 20 lines it might get printed in the 'letters' section...

    • The author makes some very good points, but I have one quibble: "The doctoral students cannot use the text they have written as part of their theses" is not a true statement. My PhD thesis contains three chapters that were previously published, and that's typical for many others I know (in biology, anyway -- is there some other rule in other fields?).
    • Wow - that is kinda close to the standard for our field. Except that editors get paid. But they don't edit so much as manage the editing process - they decide who reviews and edits which paper, and whether it is acceptable for publication.

      Students can almost 100% of the time receive an OK from a journal to publish their article as part of their theses if it is cited appropriately and published in entirety in the thesis.

      Journals usually typeset the paper. To do this they start by importing everything into Word. Why - it is a standard. Absolute crap for typesetting, but that is the way it goes. Some journals are getting adept at using TeX and PDF.

      The important service the journal provide is peer-review. This process provides some assurances about quality, and varies from journal to journal. Often, in some fields, the most read journals are not the best reviewed - yet they are the most desireable in which to publish because the whole point of publishing is getting as many people as possible to read your work. But really poorly read journals invariably have weak review processes, since no one is going to read the paper anyway.

      So different journals provide an important sorting mechanism: they sort papers by quality and by field. This sorting process dominates how we think about our colleagues. If an online publishing format is to work, it will HAVE to be better at sorting, which generally means the peer-review process must correspond better to the coverage of readership - better papers MUST appear in the more read online journals.

      And, in the end, there is no escaping it. The quality of the whole process is dominated by the quality of the scientists that can peer-review the papers. And for this - the online journal may think about re-inventing manuscript review to make peer-review open and work consistently.
    • I agree with you 100%. I am a cryptography researcher, and the situation is pretty much the same in my field too. I want to point out two further ill-effects of the publishers' greed:
      • It contributes to this pathetic situation: Scientists Don't Read the Papers They Cite [slashdot.org]
      • It makes life really difficult for independent researchers (i.e not working in an institution that will fund them), and for researchers in thrid world countries.
      Someone pointed out about arXiv.org. This is really not a solution, because all the really important papers go to "prestigious" conferences/journals for it to bring credit to the researcher.
      • A few comments on your comments :)

        First, remember that in this new public scheme, the authors still (well that's the standard in my field... astro) have to foot the bill for publishing. So, yes, it might be easier to get access to the publications, but there is still that wall to publish.

        Second, the point about arXiv.org is that you can put your paper there as well as publish in a 'prestigious' journal. At least, in my field, there hasn't been an argument from publishers (to my knowledge) for anyone to send papers there as well. As well, we have not had any problems having students use published papers in their theses. In fact, it's encouraged by most(?) faculty since it's great to have on your vita when you graduate and it lends more credence to your thesis results (in a case where peer-review is working properly).

        In fact, in some cases in astro it's gone to the extreme where pre-reviewed papers appear on arXiv.org (astro-ph in our lingo) and get incorporated into newly written papers before the referenced one has even been accepted/published. This happens more in the 'hot-topic' fields than anywhere. I, personally, am not all that crazy about that aspect of this public archive. In particular, without the ability for public discussion of said papers, there's little recourse for non-experts to wade into these non-reviewed papers and have some hint that they're verifiable (again, assuming peer-reviewing is working for the most part).

        mh
  • particularly where the bio genetics corporations are concerned. For instance, foods already 70 percent of processed foods in the US contain genetically altered material.....most of which is patented. What's to stop some company from patenting human gene structures and so forth? I really think somewhere humans have already been cloned ....will natural people, animals, and food be bioengineered to the detriment of thier natural counterparts or out of existence altogether? I believe that bio science will be the most talked about science now and well into the future. Talking about whether people are going to want to share this technology with each other is just the tip of the iceberg..... playing God with bio science may be something we shouldn't be tampering with in the first place. I don't claim to be too knowledgeable in this area, but instinct tells me that this kind of science is too dangerous to igniore. I found a transcript from a radio show that discusses the possible implications...take a look:

    http://www.radioproject.org/transcripts/9846.html
  • citeseer.org (Score:5, Informative)

    by timeOday (582209) on Monday December 16, 2002 @10:58PM (#4904231)
    I'm surprised nobody has mentioned citeseer.org yet. This is a big archives/search engine of published papers (mostly or all CS). I have had far better luck tracking down references at citeseer than anywhere else, including my university and workplaces' libraries, and paid online subscriptions (acm.org, ieeexplore, etc).

    I think (and hope) that this will continue to take off and become more and more complete.

  • The reality... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 16, 2002 @11:00PM (#4904247)
    is that limited information access is not the biggest problem for researchers. I can get access to any paper I want for little or no cost. I have the opposite problem - I can't keep up with all the material being published in my relatively narrow field.

    It's gotten so bad that unless I am familiar with the author(s), I often pass on a paper just based on the title. If the title looks promising, I scan the abstract. If the abstract looks promising, I add the paper to my "to read" list, hoping I'll have time to get to it.

    Let's face it, with more people than ever actively engaged in research, the biggest threat to important scientific ideas is not the control of publishers or the oppression of government/religion/CowboyNeal, it's the threat of being lost in the crowd.
  • by jjlilj (634861) on Monday December 16, 2002 @11:11PM (#4904308)
    Scientific journal articles are produced by academicians who are paid by the state (state and federal taxes), students, donors, grants (the state again). They are paid to research and teach and make no or little money by being published, except for change in faculty status.

    So, we've already paid for their research. The journals are charging people for what they've already paid for. Yes, they add the value of filtering, but the same could be achieved by an epinions.com like system, which would be much more effective than the journal's anonymous peer reviews.

    The end of papyrus journals would SAVE Universities, once again the state i.e. us, piles of money in acquisition, processing, and storage.

    The downside? Springer-Verlag loses a cash cow.

    Why this will happen: there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.

    Why this will not happen: academicians themselves are unwilling, unable, or unlikely to change and stop relying on or submitting to paper journals.


    • Scientific journal articles are produced by academicians who are paid by the state (state and federal taxes), students, donors, grants (the state again). They are paid to research and teach and make no or little money by being published, except for change in faculty status.


      The first part of what you say is espeically true for my field (astronomy), there is certainly no denying it. However, the last part is probably not strong enough. In most fields, I'd imagine that it's not just a 'change in status' that one is looking for, but for career survival.

      And, really, that's OK because if there wasn't that motivation, what would drive one to sit down an waste time writing up what you've done for the last few months instead of plunging forward with fun, new stuff? And, in an economic sense, this motivation, no matter how ego/self-centered it can be twisted to appear, is important for documenting the product of those tax dollars spent. Even if published in journals with subscription fees, the research is 'out there' and you can ask the author for a reprint or she/he can put it up on their website/FTP/Gnutella (at least for all the publications I submit to...). So, in the long run, I think it's a much better motivation than the possibility that you would be paid for submitting, that's for sure.


      So, we've already paid for their research. The journals are charging people for what they've already paid for. Yes, they add the value of filtering, but the same could be achieved by an epinions.com like system, which would be much more effective than the journal's anonymous peer reviews.


      Filtering certainly has gotten a lot of press lately, but it's not the only function of the peer review. When it works well (and I've had the pleasure of seeing and hearing of it working well in many instances recently), a reviewer/editor can actually recommend articles to be published that they've verified (to some extent) are accurate in method but that they don't agree with in interpretation. It's very tough to do, but I've seen it happen several times recently and it restores my faith in this system a little. Remember that a lot of great science actually comes from the fringe first and takes a long time to be 'accepted'. I belive science would loose a lot going to a model where public opinion (even if the 'public' is just field colleagues) rules.

      I think this model does have a place though. There are a lot of preprint archive servers popping up in many fields. The one we use (arXiv.org/astro-ph) is one of the oldest. Since such places are never going to do filtering, I personally think that these could benefit from a little public discussion to put submissions in context. Sometimes results from these places are used in other works before they are published. I'm not too hip on that, personally.


      Why this will not happen: academicians themselves are unwilling, unable, or unlikely to change and stop relying on or submitting to paper journals.


      Maybe astronomy is different than other sciences, but I don't think I've looked up a paper in a 'papyrus' journal in years. In fact, I first met the current librarian in the coffee room a few months after she started. I barely go to the library anymore and nearly all our journals publish on-line with multiple media options as well (PDF/HTML/PS). It's been great, but bad for burning those few extra calories a day ;)

      Frankly, I wouldn't care if all the journals I submitted to stopped producing paper copies.
  • Pubmed central (Score:5, Informative)

    by smoondog (85133) on Monday December 16, 2002 @11:23PM (#4904375)
    I really believe the best way to forward the open science movement is to publish using open standards. They are there. Pubmed central is one of them. I have, have you? [biomedcentral.com]

    -Sean Mooney, PhD
    Stanford University
  • I think it is high time we had a complete overhaul of the academic publishing system. The Journals which currently are the toll keepers have done a decent job of keeping things running for a loooong time (most of the last two centuries) but its now time to phase them out.

    Scientific papers are different than say movies or music, in that the distibutor is the only one who makes money. The authors (artists, content creators) don't get a dime, and in many cases actually PAY to get their stuff published. The journals themselves cost an arm and a leg, and only the richest on universities manage to subscribe to any large number of them. The formats these journals use are mutually incompatible, and essentially not searchable.

    What we need is some open publishing site, preferably managed by some organization of universities/research organizations. The papers may be submitted to this site in various categories, and then peer reviewed by people who volunteer to be reviewers for specific categories. The publication need not have ANY paper version. Downloadable pdfs can be provided for anyone who would like a paper copy. Access should be free and universal. The whole paper archive should be accesible to search engines (just imagine GOOGLE search power applied to full text of all scientific literature...the possibilites are mindblowing).

    Such an enterprise will need funding. Quite a bit of it. Many of the tastks involved can be automated, but the equipment costs and bandwidth costs are going to be huge. Ideas:

    * Hopefully eminent scientists in specific research areas will be willing to donate their time to be "editors", in return for the "bragging rights"

    * the initial capital can be provided by the government, as a research project. The money involved will be puny by govt standards, and will be a major help in changing the whole scientific landscape. Completely worth every penny.

    * the archive site can be built up in a distributed fashion, with various universities accross the world providing resources.

    * the archive can sell additional services for a reasonable fee. services can include a "scrapbook manager", virtual journals based on some keywords and topics customized for a paying member, email alaerting services, bibliography services, crossreferencing

    * advertisements: not banner ads, and "whack the monkey" kind, but like current journals, position available ads, ads for scientific equipment.

    the whole thing can be run, say under the unmbrella of the national acedemies, in collaboration with the royal societies or nat academeies of other countries (yeah, in scientific circles, these kinda collaborations can and does happen). These academies usually have the resources and the clout to get such a thing going, and to keep it running.

    Obviously this is a very raw idea, but it is something whole time has come. The whole dead-tree-journal idea is so antiquated. And the online versions of these dead-tree-journals are only slightly more easy to use..many of them even use pdf locking and other things for access control. In this specific case, without drawing ANY parallels with the entertainment industry, as the "content creator" doesnt get paid ANYTHING, forget about getting paid per copy, i think it is rediculous to try to prevent unlimited copying and free distribution. Unfortunately, charging per copy is what the business model of current publishers is based on. So they will NEVER allow "open publishing" as long as they can help it. They need to be taken out of the loop.

    just my two grains of salt...;)
    • Ideas like these are precisely what drove us to create Public Library of Science in the first place.

      The plan you outline here is very similar to those set out by Harold Varmus while he was NIH Director in his e-biomed proposal. See the original proposal [nih.gov] and comments.

      Unfortunately (and not unexpectedly) this plan came under withering assault from the established publishers who cast it as a government takeover of the publishing industry.

      So, in its place, Varmus launched PubMed Central [pubmedcentral.gov] - an open archive of the scientific literature that would allow full-searching and free downloads.

      However, content still needs to be placed into PMC, and most publishers (the pioneering BioMed Central [biomedcentral.com] excepted) will not do this, or do so only after a delay or with restrictions.

      It is a desire to see PMC and similar open archives of the scientific liteture thrive that drived PLoS.

  • If you may overhear one of my wittier remarks and quote it later in private discussion with your friends, taking credit for it yourself by not admitting that you heard it elsewhere, and if those friends can then quote you and so on and so forth, and I can not do anything about it even if I can prove that I said it first, then why such a fuss when something is written down?

    Really, I'm tired of the information / copyright double standards. Since first discovering the meaning of copyrights, I've never liked the idea. That anyone should be allowed to restrict the free distribution of knowledge is, in my opinion, morally and ethically wrong.

  • Scientific journals are about quality control and reputation. If noone could profit from owning that resulting reputation, then noone would take care of maintaining/building that reputation.
  • by apsmith (17989) on Tuesday December 17, 2002 @01:05AM (#4904968) Homepage
    Like a dinosaur, the print journal publishers have a huge inertia that has made it very slow and costly for them to adapt - but in fact they are, now, shifting to online publication, and the new business models that go along with that. It's actually very interesting to watch: access has expanded tremendously for developing countries - for those scientists lucky enough to have internet connections! And many smaller institutions in the US and other Western Countries have benefited from much wider selections through broad site licenses of one sort or another. But the big institutions have had to pay more, for what they see as minor improvements, and their libraries have been complaining. Even louder have been the complaints from scientists, as in this article and many of the /. comments today - as scientists and not business people, they see $1500 or more spent on their article and think "I could have that money for my research!" - well, it doesn't work quite that way.

    The reason publishers exist in the first place is due to the economies provided by a division of labor. Actually printing out the books has never been the primary expense of scientific publishers (as somebody mentioned referring to their "small print runs"). As Tim O'Reilly [openp2p.com] mentioned the other day [slashdot.org]:

    Publishing is not a role that will be undone by any new technology, since its existence is mandated by mathematics. Millions of buyers and millions of sellers cannot find one another without one or more middlemen who, like a kind of step-down transformer, segment the market into more manageable pieces. In fact, there is usually a rich ecology of middlemen. Publishers aggregate authors for retailers. Retailers aggregate customers for publishers. Wholesalers aggregate small publishers for retailers and small retailers for publishers.


    O'Reilly was talking about book and music publishing, the "trade" market, but scientific publishing is really little different. As others have mentioned here, many people read scientific journals (or are interested in them) who are not among the researchers who would be authors. And the huge volume of research published these days makes organization of it (traditionally via journals) more important than ever. And why not use the "free market" as reflected in library buying patterns to determine what journals exist, and which ones are discontinued for lack of interest? Is there an equivalent balancing measure in the PLOS plans?

    Ultimately, the proposal is very much like Red Hat's offer on operating systems, to turn a $10 billion industry into something much smaller. Publishing revenues may well decline as things become more efficient elsewhere, but publishers will still be around for a long while - as O'Reilly said, ""Free" is eventually replaced by a higher-quality paid service"!
  • Missing the point (Score:5, Interesting)

    by theMightyE (579317) on Tuesday December 17, 2002 @01:56AM (#4905294)
    Sorry, but a few of these posts seem to be missing the point of the idea of a public library of science (at least as I understand it). Yes, it costs money to discover stuff - a lot of money sometimes, given the specialized equipment and high-caliber staff you need. However, it should not cost money (or at least not much) to TELL people about what you've found. I work in a scientific field, and I couldn't count the number of times I've wanted to read some paper that was sited as a reference, but stopped short because my company didn't subscribe to the particular journal that the article was published in. I can't go to a website to get the paper, because the authors had to sign over exclusive rights to the publishers of the journal, and these publishers are in their business to make a buck, not to distribute things freely. Sure, I can go to the nearest university library, but it's about a half-hour's drive each way so I can only do it if the paper in question is REALLY needed.

    What would be nice, not to mention benificial to all of science, would be a place where I could (a) publish my own works, preferably in a peer-reviewed way to keep out the crackpot crowd (reviewers are rarely paid - it's a prestige thing, much like being a moderator on /.), and (b) have access to the works of others for free or a small, fixed, fee. Basically, the problem is not that scientists are greedy (you don't get money for publishing, sometimes you have to pay), but that we have the middleman journal publisher who, while maybe needed 20 years ago, is just a drag on the system today.

  • I subscribe to both Nature and Science. [Hey, I'll bet you don't!] These magazines are roughly in two parts. The first half are written by staff. Great science writing! Source material for NYT, etc. The second half submitted by outside scientists is technical beyond anything reasonable. It's been shown that even all the coauthors don't read it! These mags should make the second half free. That wouldn't lose them any money at all. But the first half, done by their staff science writers is great stuff, and somebody has to pay them to do it.
  • All or Nothing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ACNeal (595975) on Tuesday December 17, 2002 @08:47AM (#4906377)
    This is an unpopular opinion here, I know, but I will voice it anyway.

    If we believe that science is to be open and freely available, then we need to accept that all science needs to be open and available to everyone. We can not say that certain things need to be restricted because of their potential risk to other people. We can not try to hide certain ideas because of their negative implications on the world as a whole.

    And once we come to that decision, where does science begin, and comerce end. The implimentation of certain ideas is no less of a scientific discovery than the base idea. So where are the open and free research telling me how to make serin gas, so I don't have to go shoot up my school next time.

    We have come a long way from postulating that a stone and a feather fall at the same rate, or that 1 mass unit of gold has less volume than the same mass unit of some other metal. The research we do costs a lot of money. You can't even begin to compare todays science to days of old, when parapetitic schools and the socratic method ruled the land (or even more recent examples). Super colliders cost a hell of a lot more money than an unexposed film negative.

    The cost of research, both in its dollar amounts, and human costs are too high to believe that there is some sort of universal ethic that is inherent to science. It becomes very taxing to support research for research sake for institutions in the private sector. It is impossible for the public sector to efficiently allocate resources to productive research. Just think of all the people that have bitched on this very site about what NASA could have better used their money for, or more specificlly, what the US could have better used NASA's money for. Your really neat idea is my unacceptable research.

    For this reason scientific research shouldn't be publicly funded, and if it isn't publicly funded, the the private sector foots the bill. If the private sector foots the bill, then it is reall hard for a reasonable person to believe they are just going to give it away. And writing code in your basement in your free time is not the same as building a super collider, not to mention all the equipment it takes to observe the results of a super collider.

    Sorry for rambling, I know my thoughts weren't too coherent, but if you took them from a step back, they might make some sort of sense, whether you agree or not.
  • Spock said it best (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ReelOddeeo (115880) on Tuesday December 17, 2002 @10:51AM (#4906968)
    argue that scientific literature cannot be privately controlled or owned by the publishers of scientific journals, and must instead be available in public archives freely accessible by anyone and everyone.

    Spock said it best...

    "Since the information on Memory Alpha is freely available to everyone, no defensive systems were deemed necessary."

    Hopefully we don't make the same mistake. The federation did not have an evil copyright industry to contend with.

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