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United States Science

Congress Pushing Open Access for Government-Funded Research 208

jefu writes "According to this article from UPI Congress may be moving toward mandating 'Open Access' to the public for scientific papers. This move is prompted by the high prices scientific journals often charge for subscriptions and for reprints -- even when the papers were funded by government grants. The publishers and societies are opposed to the idea as it seems likely to cut into their financial base. This is an interesting move by politicians who usually find laws that make things more expensive for consumers all too attractive."
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Congress Pushing Open Access for Government-Funded Research

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  • Get over it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lord Grey ( 463613 ) * on Friday August 06, 2004 @08:51AM (#9898095)
    From the article:
    Representatives of scientific societies and publishers, some of whom attended [a meeting held by the National Institutes of Health's director], told UPI they were concerned articles would be placed on PubMed before they were properly peer-reviewed. Even if the final versions were posted, there would the possibility of confusion, they said.

    More urgent, however, the societies are worried that free publication would kill their financial base.

    If the U.S. government sponsors a paper that is funded with public money, the public should have access to the paper. That seems to be a no-brainer. Congress' move to make this happen is the Right Thing.

    As far as "killing the financial base" of the scientific publication market goes: Yes, it might just do that. I don't believe that anyone guaranteed that publication market any kind of revenue stream, let alone a good one. They've had it made recently, being able to raise prices to astronomical levels. Now those prices might have to fall. It's called business, people. Get over it.

    • Re:Get over it (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by jkrise ( 535370 )
      So if the government makes a rocket using public money, they should give free access to all citizens? Crazy idea.
      • Re:Get over it (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        This is about scientific papers and results.
        Meaning e.g. you'll get the papers on how the rocket
        was built, results of the scientific outcome of its use etc.
        for free/cheap, not get a ride on it ;)
      • Re:Get over it (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bludstone ( 103539 )
        No, but the citizens should have free access to the INFORMATION gathered via that rocket.

        Just like they are not saying that the public should have free access to the drugs made via this research, but the INFORMATION gathered via it.
      • Re:Get over it (Score:3, Insightful)

        by flossie ( 135232 )
        So if the government makes a rocket using public money, they should give free access to all citizens? Crazy idea.

        If the government can build a rocket that can be copied at virtually zero cost, using virtually no additional resoures and with no danger to the public from lunatics (literally!) crashing into each other and no adverse environmental consequences, then yes. Free access to text and diagrams over the internet is not really the same as free access to a specialist and dangerous piece of hardware.

        • That's silly. That's like saying that because software can be copied at small cost, that it must be. To extend your metaphor: the way that the journals see it is that they've taken your method and written a program. Now you want the program for free, because you developed the method. See the point?
          • Re:Get over it (Score:3, Insightful)

            by flossie ( 135232 )
            That's silly. That's like saying that because software can be copied at small cost, that it must be.

            No, it's more like saying that because software can be copied at near zero cost, government-funded software (which has been cleared for release to the general public) must be freely available. Something with which I think many people would agree.

            To extend your metaphor: the way that the journals see it is that they've taken your method and written a program. Now you want the program for free, because you

          • That's silly. That's like saying that because software can be copied at small cost, that it must be.

            No, it is like saying that because software can be copied at near-zero cost, government-funded software (which has been cleared for release to the general public) must be freely available. Something with which I think many people would agree.

            To extend your metaphor: the way that the journals see it is that they've taken your method and written a program. Now you want the program for free, because you deve

            • Yes, but the articles in the journals _are_ freely available, just not available for free. In many cases the articles are even available for less than the cost of a journal subscription: Just write to the author of the article you want, and I'm sure they'll be happy to provide you with a copy.

              The question is whether, in addition to being freely available, whether the researchers should have to pay (for example) for web space to publish their articles. The further question is whether the raw data is also pu
              • Yes, but the articles in the journals _are_ freely available, just not not available for free

                Ah, so that would be a new definition of the word free then? In the context of this discussion, "free" implies "zero cost" - the whole point is that journals are too expensive and that the expense cannot be justified considering that the government funded the research and writing of the paper in the first place.

                Just write to the author of the article you want, and I'm sure they'll be happy to provide you with a

          • Well, if your method is gnu liscenced then they better give you the program for free.

            Seriously though. Scientific research is for everyone, not just the people that can afford it.

      • Re:Get over it (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        No, but the knowledge gained from it sure as hell should be. We are paying for medical research (in this case) by pouring billions of dollars from taxes into research projects. So we should get a nice report at the end of the day that shows what that research resulted in. This in not a move to get free drugs or rockets or whatever that Joe Schmoe can play with. It is a move to collect what we already payed for without being extorted twice. I believe the term is "double-dipping" and in most cases it's a
      • Of course not (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Lord Grey ( 463613 ) *

        So if the government makes a rocket using public money, they should give free access to all citizens?

        Of course not. Let me fill in the between-the-lines bit:

        The government uses public money to fund scientific research and paper on some topic. The results are then made immediately available -- but only to those able to pay out the nose for a subscription to a periodical. The key point is "immediately available." That means that the research was not on a classified topic. In that case, the public shoul

        • I'm not sure, but the payment model provides for some kind of auditing to find out interested parties for research information. May be important for security.

          -
          • Re:Of course not (Score:4, Insightful)

            by JDevers ( 83155 ) on Friday August 06, 2004 @09:22AM (#9898319)
            You think the goverment keeps track of everyone subscribing to Nature, Science, Cell et all? There is no auditing at the journals either, you pay your money and you get the journal. The overwhelming majority of the research published in a journal is only interesting to about 0.000001% of the population of the Earth (and I'm being generous). The people studying that particular area NEED access to that research though, it is absolutely essential to keep up with the field. Whether that scientist is being 100% honest and works at an NIH lab in Bethesda or is 100% crooked and works in Tehran (sorry to our Iranian audience, Middle Eastern people are obviously this guys boogy man) he is allowed unfettered access to this information. Remember after 9/11 when people were talking about closing publication on certain biological research such as anthrax? The community decided that for the most part, the benefit to man of publishing that publically was more important than the slim chance that it would be used for ill will.
          • Yes because you know that I have to present ID and have that information logged whenever I look at any periodical at the universities science research library.
            /sarcasm

            It is impossible to find out everyone who is trying to obtain information, and we really shouldn't try unless we have a specific need. Besides if research is deemed to be dangerous the goverment can and does ask the researcher not to publish in a public forum, see just about any nuclear research during WWII, even if it wasn't classified it wa
          • Science is for everyone, reguardless of nationality. There is no security needed.
        • The key point is "immediately available." That means that the research was not on a classified topic. In that case, the public should have free access to the results. They've already paid for the privilege.

          In many cases, the paper is usually available for free on the university web page, or can be found in a local cache at another university. Both can be found using a Google search. For other documents such as technical reports and PhD papers, you can always make a standard request and receive a copy.

          Hav
      • Re:Get over it (Score:3, Insightful)

        False argument.

        If you'd said, "So, if the government does research on rocketry, that research should be freely accessable to citizens." it would make sense. And since the Gov't actually DID make a bit of it's rocketry research public domain...

        I hate people who confuse ideas/research with manufactured goods. Sure they're related, but Jesus Christ!
      • Re:Get over it (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Quixote ( 154172 )
        As long as the rocket is made of paper...
      • No - this is more of a GNU like "free speech vs. free beer" issue:

        Giving the people a ride on the rocket is "free beer", giving them the knowledge about rocketry is "free speech"...

      • This is why the government classifies things. If it's dangerous to put into the public, they classify it! yay! If not, the public can read about it all they want.
    • Re:Get over it (Score:2, Insightful)

      by xenicson ( 214967 )
      These papers are publically available, via subscription, visits to public libraries, and purchasing direct reprints.
      I'm not necessarily opposed to the idea of making these journals cheaper, but unless the government wants to fund the peer review process that papers go through before they are published, and the publication costs of the journals, this may well backfire.
      • Re:Get over it (Score:5, Informative)

        by flossie ( 135232 ) on Friday August 06, 2004 @09:06AM (#9898208) Homepage
        I'm not necessarily opposed to the idea of making these journals cheaper, but unless the government wants to fund the peer review process that papers go through before they are published, and the publication costs of the journals, this may well backfire.

        The government already funds the peer review process - grants to research institutions pay for the journal subscriptions, which in turn pay for the journals to put the papers through review. Bear in mind however, that the most significant part of the review process is having other researchers review the paper and they already do it for free (while being paid by research grants which often come from the government).

        • Yep, right on the money. This is how a paper gets published: Researcher A writes paper, Editor B gets the paper, distributes it to Referees C,D,E. Paper gets reviewed and accepted (say). Publisher F runs Researchers A's source (latex) through his own style file and wraps it into a little journal. This journal gets sold for a high fee to libraries so that Researchers G-Z can actually read it.

          Note that only F is not funded by the government, and only F gets paid for this work. Because Journal titles live mo

        • Re:Get over it (Score:2, Interesting)

          The employees of journals are paid by a private company. If the government wants to have the results of journals freely available, they can nationalize the company, or start their own journals. Requiring a company to provide its product for free is unsustainable (and possibly even unfair, no matter what you think of the scientific publishing system.
          • The employees of journals are paid by a private company. If the government wants to have the results of journals freely available, they can nationalize the company, or start their own journals. Requiring a company to provide its product for free is unsustainable (and possibly even unfair, no matter what you think of the scientific publishing system.

            I am quite certain that the law will not specify that publishers must make their journals available for free. Instead, it will specify that government-funded r

            • Yes, but author-pays sucks for a lot of different reasons. The main one is what happens when a journal rejects an article _after_ the review process (when the costs have already been incurred). Who pays then?

              Does the author of an accepted article pay for the reviewing costs if a Journal is crapflooded, or is the payment made before review? In addition, how do you tell the difference between author-pays and vanity publishing? I'd just note that there are very few author-pays journals in the physical science
              • Does the author of an accepted article pay for the reviewing costs if a Journal is crapflooded, or is the payment made before review?

                The main costs associated with peer review relate to the infrastructure required to manage the review process. The cost of reviewing additional papers is not particularly high, especially when you consider that the reviewers and editors are working for free (as they already do in the closed-access system).

                In addition, how do you tell the difference between author-pays and

        • The high price of journals seems to be straight up profiteering by commerical publishers.

          To follow up on what you wrote above, the entire administration of the journal is nearly free. The only place money goes is the salary of one secretary for the journal's managing editor and mailing costs for those journals that actually still mail out hardcopies to reviewers. The journal editor rarely gets any money from the journal, and the referees never do as far as I can tell. In principle, the only legitimate

      • The thing that strikes me is the scientists counterargument, "It's bad to release these things before they've been through peer review..."

        To me that seems like a major cop-out. I mean, if these things are usually only available in professional journals, one can assume a well-informed readership. If the information is classified or a security risk, fine, but otherwise anyone who actually WANTS that information is probably going to be a decent judge of its value.

        I think the government is doing the right thi
        • one can assume a well-informed readership.

          You mean like Congressmen and lawyers looking for something to sensationalize?

          Peer review is much more than 'well informed'. It's leading experts in the field.

          • Yea, like the average congressman reads those. Some scientist with a brain so big he's pulling it behind him in a wagon "peer-reviews" it, then tells a staffer, who tells a staffer, who boils it down for his dumbass boss, who then announces it to the world, wrong.
            • The problem is, science at this level is not allways obviously wrong or right. The conclusions are often easy to grasp and easy to apply, but the methods used to reach those conclusions are often only understood by a select few. That's why it's important for some of those select few to review these articles. Not only does it help the public because they can have some amount of confidence in the material printed in a journal, but it also helps the researcher. If he's wrong he's going to want to know, an
        • http://science.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=116995 &cid=9899221
    • Re:Get over it (Score:3, Informative)

      Here is a nice link to a thoughtful discussion of soem of these issues.

      http://www.nature.com/nature/debates/e-access/A r ti cles/johnson.html

      Project Euclid is a just one initiative to make math and statistics journals affordable.

      http://projecteuclid.org/Dienst/UI/1.0/Home

      Finally, Universities themselves can stand up against rising subscription fees. Cornell did, and told Elsevier to piss off.

      http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb031117-1.s ht ml
    • It's called business, people. Get over it.

      This is so much of a gross oversimplification it is scary. The journals play an extremely role in science. Generally, they're not in it for the money, most of them are non-profits, and published by the scientists' own societies. There are high costs associated with the service they do to the scientific community, and they need to get that paid. If you undermine the peer review process, it is going to be a disaster for science, and it is not unlikely that you c

    • thinks that somewhere, big multinationals are tired of subscribing fees to scientific journals, and want to reduce that cost. The cynic in my doubts that this has much of anything with doing the Right Thing, and more to do with money.

      I find it really sad that my second thought about my government's actions would be so.
    • Now, extend this to drugs that are developed with at least partial government funding? Shoud drug companies be allowed to patent those even though public money helped out?
    • This is a step in the right direction, now while the political jerks up in Washington are pointing their heads in this direction, where's the source code NASA promised?
    • You've missed a key point here. As you quote:

      "More urgent, however, the societies are worried that free publication would kill their financial base."

      Then you comment:

      "As far as "killing the financial base" of the scientific publication market goes..."

      You've mixed up two different things, the support that not for profit scientific societies receive from publishing scientific journals, and the for profit science publication market. Many societies provide all sorts of benefits for their members, put on gr
  • Excellent (Score:4, Informative)

    by mishmash ( 585101 ) on Friday August 06, 2004 @08:59AM (#9898149) Homepage
    This is brilliant, if the US does it then maybe the UK and EU will follow ... Biomedcentral [biomedcentral.com] is the formost open publisher in the natural sciences. Take a look at the site - how easy it is to start your own journal for example... an example of how it should/could be.
  • by 4of12 ( 97621 ) on Friday August 06, 2004 @09:03AM (#9898175) Homepage Journal

    ...only the scientific community does.

    The problem is that some journal subscriptions are getting so highly-priced that even institutions cannot afford to carry a full complement of the published literature. (Have you noticed the trend where there is an "institutional" price and a "personal" price for subscriptions? The first might be US$1000/year and the second might be US$600/year.)

    This is certainly a problem for me. A month or two ago I was looking for a journal article from the mid-1970's (no online PDF that I could print out) and my institutional library did not have a hardcopy or microfilm. I had to make a formal request, that was time-consuming for me and the librarians involved in obtaining a copy of the article from a different library that had that particular journal.

    It's scientists like me (and my work) that is impeded by the high subscription prices for scientific journals.

    [Having served as a reviewer, gratis, I can tell you that the subscription money is not going directly into the peer-review process that helps to keep the journal quality high.]

    At some point the inertia in the paper-driven scientific archival journals will start giving way to more online offerings where the search capabilities are superior anyway.

    • I appreciate some of your point, but could you explain how yould your problem have been solved by free journals? It seems like your problem was more a function of the inconvenience of pre-digital publishing than the prohibitive cost of the journals.

      • It seems like your problem was more a function of the inconvenience of pre-digital publishing than the prohibitive cost of the journals.

        No, while the journal in question was published prior to the digital error, the main reason for inconvenience was that my institutional library has limited funds for journal subscriptions.

        Even in the mid 1970's they did not have the money to buy and hold subscription to the journal I needed.

        Free or lower cost journals (even of the pre-digital dead tree variety) would h

    • During the current budget crunch, the UIUC librares had to drop subscriptions to some journals that they'd carried for years because the prices were getting so high.
    • This would be good because in my research I must sometimes access older articles as well. If they're not available through an institutional subscription they typically cost $8+ an article to purchase. So, I like the idea of publicly funded research being publicly available.

      However, I think that it would be difficult to say how far this should go back. Most journals only have online access for the last few years and are continuing to add to that. What incentive would they have to make these older articl

      • What incentive would they have to make these older articles available

        That's it exactly.

        No private, for-profit publisher or copyright owner of these scientific articles has much of any incentive to make them widely available for free.

        But a strong argument can be made that scientific progress in general would be furthered by such access.

        A possible solution is to decrease the length of the copyright (already sitting up near 75 years due to Sonny Bono's efforts on behalf of the Disney Corporation), or for

  • If a paper is 100% funded by public grant, it should be 100% free to access. However, being only partially funded by a grant makes it harder to figure out what to do. Many art museums have admission fees, but still receive public funding. They need the money to stay open, though, because the funding isn't 100% of what they need. Also, a digest of articles isn't the same thing as going and picking up the latest patent digest -- it's like paying someone to show you their top 10 favorite patents, instead of pouring through the zillions logged in each digest. How do you charge for and distribute something with partial public funding? Who gets paid? Are they allowed to earn a profit?
    • Bullshit, if they want to keep their research bottled up, then don't use government grants. If you use $1 of taxpayer money, I say the research should be open.

      Not one dime of taxpayer money should be paid for research that won't bennifit or won't be available to the public.
    • According to the article, the free electronic copy doesn't need to be made public until six months after publication. So, the publisher gets their initial fee as normal, and John Q. Public doesn't have to pay $30 to read the article three years after it's published. The publisher still gets to make money, and we still get to read the research WE funded.
  • That the current american politicians will do this...

    There is probably a catch as there is always...

    Don't get me wrong, it would be great if they pull it off, but the history tells different...

    Sorry I refuse to trust any government.
  • by myom ( 642275 ) on Friday August 06, 2004 @09:04AM (#9898186)
    A somewhat similar situation exists in Sweden, but instead of research institutes charging for prints and reprints and/or memberships we have a situation where the organisations that are participating in research projects and studies not only finance them, but also take part with personnel and other resources.

    For example: large energy companies and a few governmental departments and a university are members of an organisation that deals with future energy solutions. They all fund the organisation and projects with an amount depending on the company's size and type. The involved participators try to get projects started that would provide them with valuable information. Usually interesting projects get approved, and the different organisations recommend (usually their own) people that are suitable to execute the studies.

    The results are then spread primarily to the members of the organisation, and since the documents are primarily for internal usage, it can be hard or impossible to get hold of copies legitimately. Even in the universities the existing copies are used conservatively, so few copies spread to the public.

    After some time the results are published usign the Universities printing presses and made available more widely.

    This might not apply to all similar organisations in Europe or even Sweden, but these are my experiences of how it works over here. Many European Union projects also work like this, but I don't know if it is general.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Currently, one can trust the published papers in "reputable journals" - they've gone through the peer review process. Removing this from the equation will turn scientific papers into "the blog of xxx, yyy and zzz". The signal/noise ratio will go through the floor...
    • by cyclop ( 780354 ) on Friday August 06, 2004 @09:35AM (#9898384) Homepage Journal

      Yes. But the peer review process is *free*. No one pays my professor to peer review a ton of articles every month. But he does. And nonetheless my university *pays* for the subscription to the journals he serves as a peer reviewer.

      Peer review is at the core of scientific quality. But I think it won't be harmed by open access to scientific papers/journals. I think governments would spend much less by paying peer reviewers and servers to store papers in electronic formats, than financing a thousand redundant subscriptions to journals for every academic institution.

    • PLoS does not remove the reviewing process from the equation - in fact quite the opposite. PLoS realizes that if they are to be treated seriously as a journal and have any hope of scientists submitting to them, they must have a highly regarded review process. PLoS my be critized on many things, but this isn't one of them.
  • Now if only (Score:5, Insightful)

    by foidulus ( 743482 ) * on Friday August 06, 2004 @09:07AM (#9898218)
    they would allow people to get cheap access to drugs such as Norvir [kansascity.com] whose research was funded with public money. Now the manufacturer(who owns a patent paid for by the US government) just raised the cost from about $1.71 a day to over $8. There are countless other examples of this to.
    I wish I had lobbyists to get the government to pay for my education and then allow me to reap the benefits without giving anything back. But alas, I am not a pharmacuitcal.
    Maybe the difference between the journals and the pharmacuticals is that the journalists don't have good lobbyists.
  • by rackrent ( 160690 ) on Friday August 06, 2004 @09:08AM (#9898225)
    It's amazing that Congress, of all organizations, has caught on to the problems that have been going on for years. Most Academicians are required to publish something occasionally, even outside the sciences. Some journals will actually demand payment just to get an article published.

    Since the issue at hand is that most scientific research is funded by the government, why should a Library (public or private) be paying back these publishers for something the taxpayers/government already paid for?

    When I worked in a Library, I was a member of professional organizations that I'd never heard of simply so I could get the "individual" subscription rate (usually 1/4 of the "institutional" rate) then "donate" my copies to the same library I worked at.

    In my opinion, the publishers have been getting away with a lot for a while and again, it's nice to see someone other than a lowly librarian noticing it.
    • Sorry to reply to my own post.

      Another issue is that many libraries pay twice for these journals. They will pay once to obtain the online services for journal access (via services such as EBSCO or Lexis-Nexis, Medline, etc.,) and another for other subscription services (often the same ones) to gather the print versions.

      The Federal Government has for years provided for free research information from organizations such as The Smithsonian and will provide for free plenty of other information such as soil sur
  • About time! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Quixote ( 154172 ) on Friday August 06, 2004 @09:09AM (#9898230) Homepage Journal
    The high cost of access is also why I gave up my membership in IEEE [ieee.org]. Of all the organizations, one would think IEEE would allow open access; but they don't. And want to charge an arm and a leg for everything. Screw them. I urge others to drop their IEEE membership too. Only when people start leaving them in droves will they change their policies.
    • I tripple evil (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Something about IEEE just rubs me the wrong way, I always have had more respect for ACM.

      They are too corporate/profiteering oriented indeed. But their cowtowing to export restrictions was especially damaging IMO. When it was all said and done the ban was lifted and they exclaimed that just as they have argued indeed the restrictions didnt apply to them. Well they should have put their money where their mouth was, they were never sued ... they self censored, if they were so sure it didnt apply to them they
    • by jefu ( 53450 )
      I'm still a member of the IEEE but am considering letting my membership lapse. While the IEEE does good journals they cost quite a bit. But another part of the reason is the cost of some of the other stuff - I wanted to get a copy of one of the IEEE specification documents for something (dont remember offhand what it was) and even electronic access was going to cost more than it was worth to me.
  • by dwm ( 151474 ) on Friday August 06, 2004 @09:09AM (#9898233)
    This would effectively kill most printed journals (except for those heavily subsidized by advertising, which is a very small number).

    Now, whether or not this is a good thing is another debate entirely.
    • And Good Riddance... (Score:5, Informative)

      by agilen ( 410830 ) on Friday August 06, 2004 @11:38AM (#9899400)
      Journal publishers are one of the biggest contributors to the exhorbitant cost of higher education. For those unfamiliar with how it works...

      1) Someboday (Government in this case) gives a grant to a faculty member for some research
      2) Faculty member does the research, writes a paper, then wants to get it published in a prestigious journal.
      3) Journal gets the paper, asks other professors in the field to peer review it to make sure its "good research". This is done entirely for free by those peer reviewers.
      4) Publisher now owns the copyright, *PRINTS THE STUFF UP AND BINDS IT* (yes, no more work really than the sleaziest $1.99 magazine), and charges thousands of dollars per subscription.
      5)University must pay for subscription, which they often can't afford, if even the author wants to read his own paper. Yeah, im sure he has a copy, but his collegues aren't even allowed to read it if the institution doesn't subscribe to that journal.

      The publishers make all the money here, and really don't do much work at all. Plus, for whatever reason, most big publishers are Dutch, so they are making huge amounts of money off of US government-funded research.

      What makes it even more broken is really the tenure system in American universities. Its basically a matter of keeping your job if you are an associate professor trying to get tenure. If you can't give a nice list of the journals that you have been published in, you are not going to get tenure.

      Really, the tenure system is the root of the problem. However, by requiring free access, the government can go a long way in breaking this cycle, as the focus for giving tenure may move more towards quality of work and away from quality of journals that you get published in.
  • by stomv ( 80392 ) on Friday August 06, 2004 @09:11AM (#9898244) Homepage
    One possible ramification of this idea is that journals will be less apt to accept papers related to gov't sponsored research. In some industries this would be impossible; other industries, however, do have a healthy amount of non gov't sponsored research.

    So -- will some areas soon have journals less likely to accept gov't funded papers as a result of this proposal? If so, will gov't funding become less desirable?

    Perhaps Congress should use it's Library [loc.gov] as a "mirror" of gov't funded research journal articles instead of engaging in price control?
    • So -- will some areas soon have journals less likely to accept gov't funded papers as a result of this proposal? If so, will gov't funding become less desirable?

      With all due respect to other fields, biomedicine is the 800 pound gorilla of scientific publishing, especially here in the US. Most of the funding, research, journals, and profits are in biomedicine. And the vast majority of the funding comes from the NIH, with the vast majority of publications coming from NIH-funded labs. Any journal that decides

  • Why So Expensive? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tabdelgawad ( 590061 ) on Friday August 06, 2004 @09:12AM (#9898252)
    My guess is academic journals are extremely cheap to produce. The content is provided for free by academics and the review process is conducted for free by other academics. On top of that, they get advertising revenue with an extremely well-understood reader base.

    I guess academia is to blame for these high prices, since they farm journal-publishing out to commercial publishers. The fact that the vast majority of journal consumers don't pay out-of-pocket to read these journals (libraries and institutions pay) means that journals can charge the exorbitant prices they do, and libraries have to comply.

    Overall, cost is a non-issue in most of academia (I guess the undergrads pay for this indirectly to support the library :)), although I'm guessing this has more to do with the recent discussions about dislosures of negative results for clinical trials than with the economics of publishing.
  • by Saluton_Mondo ( 728648 ) on Friday August 06, 2004 @09:13AM (#9898253)
    Many papers can already be accessed, at least in astronomy, for free online, e.g. NASA's ADS [harvard.edu] or the arxiv.org [arxiv.org] system.
  • This move is prompted by the high prices scientific journals often charge for subscriptions and for reprints -- even when the papers were funded by government grants.

    It seems to me that these two are unrelated. The journals are certainly free to charge whatever they want, and given that the circulation of these journals is tiny it's understandable that they aren't going to be cheap. Since digital archiving is a bit questionable libraries of course want paper.

    The funding by govenment grants is all fine an
    • It seems to me that these two are unrelated. The journals are certainly free to charge whatever they want, and given that the circulation of these journals is tiny it's understandable that they aren't going to be cheap. Since digital archiving is a bit questionable libraries of course want paper. The funding by govenment grants is all fine and good, but last I looked that funding went to the researchers, not the journals.

      What about versioning? While academics have career needs to get their research int
      • It is not, for example, unusual for the same research to given to a conference, published in conference proceedings, published as a journal article and even as a chapter in a book at some point.

        If you are talking about basically word-for-word reproductions of a paper, this is strictly prohibited for every journal I've ever published in. You have to certify that the work you are submitting for publication is original, and has never been published anywhere else. That way, the journal is assured that the

        • Of course word for word reproduction is prohibited by journals. That's not versioning, that's reproducing. And, of course, they want first crack at major announcements. Nevertheless, the demands of journals should not necessarily preclude different versions being made public after - or in some cases before - the main journal article is published. Interim/prelinary reports, reports/summaries to funding bodies, conference presentations, and the like differ substantially from the level of detail and presen
  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Friday August 06, 2004 @09:20AM (#9898300)
    The Public Library of Science [publiclibr...cience.org] has been publishing two peer-reviewed biology journals on the net for over a year. They intend to be the model of open publishing. They charge the author $1500, which is comparable to submission charges in other journals. You get to read them for free. Many scientist write a few thousand in their grants for publication and conference travel.
    • Two related points... First, if your institution feels like coughing up a wad of cash anyway, you get a discount on publication fees. For the equivalent of a typical institutional journal subscription ($2k/yr), you get 10% off.

      Second, I know that BMC waives publication fees for authors that have recently done reviews for them. I haven't reviewed for the PLOS journals yet, but I'd bet they do something similar.
  • by Goonie ( 8651 ) * <robert.merkel@ b e n a mbra.org> on Friday August 06, 2004 @09:33AM (#9898371) Homepage
    I was going to post a rant about the evils of journal publishers...but I don't need to. Don Knuth [stanford.edu] has posted a letter [stanford.edu] he wrote to the coeditors of an algorithms journal about the gouging commercial journal publishers engage in. Ultimately, the board resigned en masse and have started a new journal using the ACM press, which is unfortunately not open content but is at least available at a more reasonable price.

    Knuth himself is a known fan of open source software and his letter shows a clear enthusiasm for the open content concept.

  • by ShatteredDream ( 636520 ) on Friday August 06, 2004 @09:34AM (#9898377) Homepage
    Let the receiver of the grant only patent the ideas granted from public research for 5 years.

    As much as I support most of the Libertarian Party's positions on the vast majority of issues, I think there is a place for government funding of general scientific research. A case could be made that spending more money on scientific research and less on social welfare would benefit the poor much more.

    The way I see it, if the government were to get rid of the social welfare programs and take maybe 10-20% of the budget and put it into "quality of life" research grants, the poor would have a higher quality of life. Think about it. Money going into:

    1) enhanced crops means cheaper and safer food
    2) genetic research means cheaper medicalcare
    3) automotive research for hydrogen and electric-powered vehicles means cleaner air and water

    All of which benefit society much more than tossing a wad of cash at the nearest "underpriveleged" person.
    • Your comments reaks like the trickle down economy vaporware the Reagan also endorsed...

      The problem was and is that nothing trickles down...

      You need to do both short term help for needing people while seeking a long term solution that can indeed be a bold one, maybe even less bold...

  • by blacklily8 ( 780659 ) on Friday August 06, 2004 @10:01AM (#9898640)
    Well, I wrote my representative after reading this article and hope he will comply with my request to support this "push," though there doesn't seem to be any specific bills at question here.

    As an academic who has published in commercial academic journals myself, I can only say that people probably don't realize how badly the commercial interests are impairing our ability to do research. These journals don't pay us to publish our articles, but then turn around and charge extremely high fees to our libraries--and upwards of $300 for an individual subscription (we're talking 4 Reader's Digest size journals here, folks).

    Get this--Let's say a professor wants her class to read a paper she published in one of these journals and puts it in one of those "course packs" at Kinko's. The publishers can charge whatever fee they want for the privilege, and some of them charge enormous fees--you might as well just buy the book/journal.

    Perhaps even funnier is when a professor wants to quote a sizable passage from her own work in another publication--say, a book. The commercial publisher will charge a massive fee for the privilege of reprinting a portion of YOUR OWN SCHOLARSHIP!

    What's really ridiculous is another argument that ALWAYS comes up when I argue with the university presses about releasing journal content online for free. They say, "Well, if we do that, then people will stop subscribing to the paper version." I'm stunned to hear this excuse; I mean, "Yeah? And....?" To be fair, this all comes back to the professorial tenuring/hiring/promotion process. To get anywhere, you have to publish articles in recognized journals, and most of the committees refuse to accept online publications as valid scholarly activity. Yeah, I know, I'm embarrassed for us.

  • Long overdue (Score:4, Insightful)

    by paiute ( 550198 ) on Friday August 06, 2004 @10:14AM (#9898793)
    Scientific societies are a scam. They do absolutely nothing for their members, who have to pay to get the official journal, pay to have their papers printed in the journal, and pay to attend the annual meeting. Oh, and pay the annual dues. The sooner these artificial entities lose their grip on information the better.

  • by Sir Holo ( 531007 ) * on Friday August 06, 2004 @10:24AM (#9898805)
    Excessive jornal costs are a huge and growing problem for scientists, and they are all due to the greed of the private publishers, worst among which is Elsevier. The problem is so bad that libraries have to cut out some journals, which hurts scientists, because we have to have access to the information.

    For those that don't know, here is the process of scientific publication:
    Scientist read the journal literature to keep up with what's new. Their libraries pay to subscribe to the journals.


    A scientist determines a topic for study, and writes a proposal to get the funding. This is often public money (NIST, NIH, DOE, etc..)

    The scientist does the work, writes it up, and submits it to a journal.

    The editor of the journal, also a scientist, determines what other scientists are experts in the area, and sends the paper to them for review. The journal does not pay the editor.

    The reviewers, usually one to three of them, read the paper, and determine whether or not the paper is good enough for the journal. The journal does not pay the reviewers.
    FYI, they ask themselves: Is the work new?

    Is it a reasonable next step from what we know?
    Are techniques explained?
    Are conclusions supported by the data?
    If the paper is accepted, the author pays the journal to offset publication costs.

    Libraries pay the journal to subscribe

    The journals get all this work, which costs them nothing. They publish print editions, and charge for them. It is reasonable that they're paid to print stuff. But some of them are out of control.

    Societies, e.g., American Institute of Physics, charge a few hundred $ a year. Top journals in most fields are society journals. Private publishers charge thousands, as high as ~$20,000, per year for subscriptions. Some are top-tier journals, but most are not. Worse, the private publishers like to bundle the journal subscriptions. So if you want the good ones (at less-astronomical prices), you have to but the crap ones, too.

    And, worst of all, all journals are now online, but they have become far more expensive. Online is a good thing: speeds research, no paper cost. But, publishers charge a yearly subscription for online access, so you end up buying the same thing over and over again. Even if you own the thing in hard copy already!!!

    Want more info? Check out this guy's web site [ehess.fr]. Or google "boycott Elsevier" for tons more.
  • by Actinide ( 772269 ) on Friday August 06, 2004 @10:18AM (#9898831)
    Sure, the the US government can force US government-funded researchers to publish in journals which allow open posting of their articles after six months, but there are not many such journals. I didn't see anything in the article to indicate that they were intending to force journal publishers to give up their copyright - that would presumably involve some pretty serious law changes and would be a lot more difficult than just controlling how (i.e. where) government researchers are allowed to publish in the first place. A large proportion of high-impact journals are located outside the US anyway.

    So let's assume US government-funded researchers are told they may not publish in journals which wish to retain copyright over their articles (that's pretty much all journals currently worth publishing in), and instead must either publish in obscure low-impact journals or release their findings on the internet sans independent peer review. This will not be good for their citation rates, nor for their employment prospects outside of US government agencies - researchers tend to be rated on the impact of their published work, both in terms of the impact factor of the journals it is published in and the frequency with which other researchers cite their work. This will probably only work if the government is prepared to commit significant financial support to the establishment of new, high-quality open journals. Good journals are expensive to produce - just ask all the scientific societies who spun their publications out to private enterprise in the first place..

    I guess the question is, are the NSF and NIH big enough to drag the big journals to a more open publishing model, or will the likes of Nature (which currently rejects 90% of papers submitted to it) just shrug their shoulders and get along with whatever the remaining 90% of the international scientific community can scrape together and send their way?

    This is all a bit of a red herring anyway - as others have noted it's the patents, stupid. Why get upset at a private publishing house wringing a measly few hundred dollars out of a government-funded research paper, when private pharmaceutical companies routinely make millions from government-funded NIH patents?

  • Next they need to license all of the government funded research to companies and use the revenue to lower taxes instead of giving away research funded by our taxes to some bozo to make a billion dollars. We also need to stop allowing private universites to license government funded research. There are too many professors that do government funded research and then make a bundle off the research after they quit their jobs and start new companies.

    http://www.hklaw.com/Publications/Newsletters.a s p? IssueID=33
  • A similar article [economist.com] should be available online in the Apologist for another 5 days or so, if you're so inclined.

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