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Bill to Require Open Access to Scientific Papers 213

Posted by samzenpus
from the share-your-answers dept.
Ponca City, We Love You writes "Congress is expected to vote this week on a bill requiring investigators funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to publish research papers only in journals that are made freely available within one year of publication. Until now, repeated efforts to legislate such a mandate have failed under pressure from the well-heeled journal publishing industry and some nonprofit scientific societies whose educational activities are supported by the profits from journals that they publish. Scientists assert that open access will speed innovation by making it easier for them to share and build on each other's findings. The measure is contained in a spending bill that boosts the biomedical agency's effective budget by 3.1%, to $29.8 billion in 2008. The open-access requirement in the bill would apply only during fiscal year 2008; it would need to be renewed in yearly spending bills in the future."
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Bill to Require Open Access to Scientific Papers

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  • Re:clever wording (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrbluze (1034940) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @08:44PM (#21275399) Journal

    Oh, they'll give you free access to all the papers you want. But nobody said anything about charging for the ink.
    All of the journals I read are published online as well as in print form. Some (such as the BMJ) already open up their papers after a period, but enforcing this to happen within 1 year of publication is _fantastic_ news, because, even if I am 12 months behind my boss who paid for his articles, I am still 4 or 5 years ahead of my juniors who have only just finished reading their textbook.
  • by damneinstien (939730) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @08:56PM (#21275521)
    I have modpoints, but I just had to post here.

    Though in theory the idea sounds great, the issue becomes that there aren't too many open-access journals that are prestigious. This is partly because of the high cost of maintaining scientific peer review. Anybody managing a journal must keep enlist reviewers, make sure reviewers review, edit, do layout, maintain a highly dynamic website and a bunch of other expensive tasks. It makes sense then that there should be a way for journals to recoup their expenses. I don't think forcing top authors to publish in lesser known journals is the way.

    A better solution, I feel, would be to ensure that the (NIH grant winning) authors pay an up-front cost to ensure open-access for their articles. Most of the big name publishing groups I'm familiar with (i.e. Science, Nature, Elsevier, etc.) allow this. The cost is usually not prohibitive (~1000 USD) and would be a better solution for ensuring that the science paid for by government agencies is open to everyone.
  • by Etherwalk (681268) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:18PM (#21275787)
    > ensuring that the science paid for by government agencies US taxpayers is open to everyone.

    fixed that for you.
  • Re:Not so easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by backwardMechanic (959818) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:35PM (#21275971) Homepage
    Yes, but what are the costs? You write the paper for free, and deliver it in electronic form half-way ready for publication, draw the figures, etc. It's reviewed by your peers for free. It can now be published purely in electronic form (not free, but cheap). Journal publishing houses might as well be printing money - the model needs shaking up.
  • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:38PM (#21276009)
    The context here is for NIH-funded papers about NIH-funded developmnents.

    If the people have already paid for the development (through NIH funding) then who should benefit from the patent?

    The whole ethics of patenting is a seperate subject, but in general, I'd think that if public money funded the development then the fruits should be put in the public domain.

  • Yearly? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JoshJ (1009085) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:41PM (#21276027) Journal
    What the hell is the point of making it require yearly renewal? If it's a good law, it should be permanent; if it's a bad law it shouldn't be passed at all. In this case, making it require yearly renewal means universities and such can't depend on the journals remaining open.
  • Re:horrible idea (Score:2, Insightful)

    by hedwards (940851) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:48PM (#21276105)

    Really? Bettering the health of the general population isn't any incentive at all?
    Do you have any idea what you are talking about, or are you just talking out of your ass? The average cost of a new pharmaceutical in the US is roughly $1.2 billion, and this is something that an individual or corporation is just going to do out of the goodness of their hearts when other corporations can immediately go out and sell the same pills without having the overhead that is R&D? I find that hard to believe.

    Nope. It wouldn't change the demand for new drugs at all, just the process by which they are developed. Instead of handing over large chunks of public money to pharma companies which they then leverage into large chunks of private money, we could put both public and private money into public research. And in doing so we could better prioritize research. You know, fund the things that actually help people instead of what's just going to turn a quick buck.
    It wouldn't change the demand, but it would pretty much ensure that no credible lab would bother to make invent the drugs and get them through trials. You have to actually be able to turn a profit in order to pay for the research that gets done. I know that its popular to badmouth the pharmaceutical industry, but developing a new medication is an extremely large commitment, you have to have the cash in order to fund the research, most of the prospective drugs don't even make it to the first stage of testing.
  • Re:horrible idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by daeg (828071) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:54PM (#21276163)
    So before we had these huge pharmaceutical companies and drug patents, we didn't have any medical research, right?
  • by Secrity (742221) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @10:05PM (#21276259)
    I am so happy for you that you and people like you in your ivory towers have access to ALL the major journals. Not all of us have that sort of access to those articles, even though our tax money paid for the research that allowed them to be written.
  • by ahaile (147873) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @10:41PM (#21276607)
    I was on the board of a small scientific journal deciding whether to go open access. We decided not to for two main reasons. First, though, you need to realize that peer reviewed journals are expensive, especially the "nichey" ones like us. The peer reviewers themselves are volunteers, but precisely because they're volunteers, you need a lot of paid staff hours to make sure everybody's got what they need and is getting it turned over in a reasonable timeframe. Most small journals barely break even. So why didn't we go open access?

    1) "Open access" sounds great, but you have to realize that "open access" means "author pays." Someone has to cover the journal expenses. Right now, it's largely the library budgets of research universities that fund journals, as they take out expensive institutional subscriptions. (Individual subscriptions generally lose money, by comparison.) Once a journal goes open access, the libraries drop their subscriptions and journal revenue plummets. To make up that money, journals have to raise the publication fees they charge authors dramatically. So "open access" just moves the barrier from access to publication. We have interests in attracting more international authors, and when we told these authors, particularly those from developing countries, what it would cost to publish in an open access journal, they said there was no way.

    2) There's a perception that open access is cheap, because a lot of journals are only charging around $1000 or so to make a single article open access. But the fact is that those journals are radically underpricing open access. They can do that because right now, only a few of the articles in each issue are open access, so the research libraries aren't dropping their institutional subscriptions just yet. So at the moment, that $1k is just gravy for the journal. But if you actually price out what it costs to publish a journal article, it's 3-10 times what they're charging. So once the scientific publishing world really shifts to open access, those journals are either going to sink or have to boost drastically their open access fees.

  • Re:horrible idea (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @10:45PM (#21276649) Journal
    Ultimately, the money should come from grants. Pay the researchers reasonable salaries, don't waste money on marketing and we should be in a better position to fund research than we are now. The money the pharmaceutical industry spends on research comes from the public anyway, either in the form of grants or selling the drugs to the public. Why not cut out the middle man? I really don't care if research isn't profitable because it's best done by non-profit institutions anyway.
  • Re:Not so easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ahaile (147873) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @10:59PM (#21276771)
    You've obviously never served on a journal board or seen one's budget. Most journals barely break even. The reviewers might be "free" volunteers, but the cost of that is that you're 5th or 6th or 37th on their list of priorities, so you need a lot of paid staff hours to get them to stick to a non-glacial timeframe. And every author believes that their papers are ready for publication until you show them that half their citations are wrong or missing, that the chart they whipped up in Excel forgot to include the critical data, etc etc etc. Scientists are good at being scientists, as they should be, but they're not always good at being writers. If your overriding goal is to publish the best science, you can't just kick out the papers with these kinds of errors. You need paid people to do that kind of grunt work, and that costs money.
  • by gyrocyclist (1122255) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @11:02PM (#21276801)
    Bottom line: journals that publish freely online will be quoted more often than those that don't. This works, because several highly respected journals currently publish online. So it's self-reinforcing. So I guess I don't care if congress passes a law or not -- I think it's inevitable. Closing thought: a year ago I was searching all available libraries to get a copy of paper X, which was published in the 60s -- way before the www or internet. Finally I found it online! Someone had scanned it. And I'm much happier now that I've got the original source, and can read/interpret it for myself, instead of relying on others to summarise this oft-quoted paper. What does this mean? Journals that publish freely -- of for minimal cost -- online, will flourish. Those that don't, won't. -regards, dh
  • Re:bullshit (Score:2, Insightful)

    by damneinstien (939730) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @12:13AM (#21277383)
    Well, you must not have worked on a journal before. I am on the board for only an open access college journal and though we only publish ~10 articles per year, we still need a big staff doing all the tasks I mentioned and more And we have a fairly high budget. If my university's general funds and outside grants didn't cover our costs, our journal would disappear instantly. You seem to suggest that Nature (only an example because I happened to be reading something from there), which has over 50 journals to manage, 1000s of reviews to track, 1000s of articles to edit, 1000s of authors to communicate with, servers to host, "standard software packages" to customize and deploy, advertising to attract, subscriptions to manage and keep track of, among other things, costs can be accomplished through a "1/2 admin position" and a "cost of $50k/year!" And you were modded informative?

    The argument that the legislation will force journals to go open access might have some merit; however, I don't foresee t. The costs needed to maintain these journals, however, will have to come out of somewhere.
  • Re:horrible idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ElDuque (267493) <[ude.hgihel] [ta] [5wda]> on Thursday November 08, 2007 @01:12AM (#21277833)
    "Comrades, what is our research quota this month?"

    "2000 science-hours! We have already reached half that!"

    "Good, then we will be assured of our grant next month!"

    The point is...the free market is best (not perfect, but best) at directing funds to the 'best' research.
    If research were centrally funded, how would one decide which to fund? How would one pick a decider?
  • by damneinstien (939730) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @04:53AM (#21278905)

    If you do the math, it would be cheaper for the government (i.e., cost less in your and my tax dollars) to do away with drug patents altogether and pay for the full development cost of each drug.
    Not that I support big drug companies or anything, but how are you coming up with that? Logic dictates that governments would be less efficient in producing drugs (like they seem to be with everything else). Further, you are then forced to rely on the current government in power to decide on what avenues (drug development wise) to pursue. If that was the case, you would never get things like the "morning after pill" or anything else that has any controversy behind it.

    In fact, market forces cause companies to develop the most profitable drugs, but those are not the drugs we actually need.
    Really? Well, the market seems to think that we need these drugs, doesn't it?

    Drugs that actually cure, that are based on public domain substances ...
    Huh? What are you suggesting? That pharmaceutical companies provide no drugs of non-trivial value to society? Interesting. What about the HIV cocktails like Isentress [wikipedia.org], Zidovudine [wikipedia.org]? I could go on and list a 100 more, but I think I have shown my point.
  • Re:Not so easy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by epine (68316) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @05:23AM (#21279021)
    I don't understand your point at all. For the most part, all the costs of the existing model already come out the NIH budget, the only question is when: on the publication side (at the expense of the person publishing a new result), or the journal subscription side of the fence (overhead to the institution which supports the research scientist, and probably already comes out of the NIH grant money flagged as overhead).

    If all the costs are moved to the publication side, then the finished result can be read by world and dog essentially cost free. Isn't it just an accounting shell game how the money required for quality publication is funneled into that process?

    Perhaps the problem is that the supporting institutions will essentially perform a money grab, but not decreasing overhead ratios charged to the scientist in proportion to their decreased cost in journal subscriptions which much eventually follow once the majority of papers have become open access. Am I wrong, or is this not just a short term accounting glitch?

    I see no reason why open access should necessarily imply that less is spent on preparing a quality publication in the first place.
  • Re:horrible idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kadin2048 (468275) * <slashdot.kadinNO@SPAMxoxy.net> on Thursday November 08, 2007 @01:57PM (#21283555) Homepage Journal
    Whoever pays for the research ought to own the results. If that's the NIH, than the taxpayers, the public, own the results.

    If you work for the public for less than you'd work for substantially less than you'd work for a corporation, then either you're very generous or you're a fool. But it's not the NIH's fault if you underbid yourself.

    The point of funding basic research with public money is because it's generally not profitable. If there's profit to be made as the result of it, maybe you should be looking for industrial funding instead. But since it's generally assumed to not be the sort of thing you can patent and turn into a revenue stream, there ought not be a lot of problem putting it into the public domain.

    What you seem to be asking for is to have your cake and eat it, too: you want the public to pay for your research, but then you want to own it at the end, and prevent the public from getting what it paid for. Sorry, but I don't think it should work that way. If you want to own the results of your research, and you think it has profit potential, go find some venture capitalists. The public's purse is not your bank.

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