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The Almighty Buck United States Science

Bill to Require Open Access to Scientific Papers 213

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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  • Not so easy (Score:5, Informative)

    by smoondog ( 85133 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @08:53PM (#21275477)
    As a search scientist, I am a huge fan of open access and I have published and promoted its use in the past. However, there are more issues than just making it law. For example, PLOS Biology charges $2750 US for a single paper []. Right now, a budget of $2-3k per year for publication is a reasonable cost, if that were to rise to $2-3k per paper, it could get very expensive, at tax payer cost and at the expense of research activity. How are we going to bring down the cost of open access, perhpas the feds should get into publishing? I am personally a fan of looking at other, perhaps less expensive options, such as creating open data repositories that are publicly funded or focusing on community driven knowledgebases that are in the public domain. Lots of papers aren't very interesting, requiring those authors to pay open access costs is a recipe for useless expense.
  • This needs support (Score:5, Informative)

    by digitalderbs ( 718388 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @08:56PM (#21275517)
    Publishers make cash from advertisers, from readers (subscription costs) and even the authors (charges for publications, color figures). As an academic and NIH scientist, I find it appalling that NIH funded research isn't openly accessible to the public -- I further believe that all academic publications should be free, but that's a different topic. NIH and NSF (National Science Foundation) research is really the property of the people that pay for it -- the public -- and authors have been somewhat powerless to change this broken system. We're required to adhere to the policies of high-impact journals as well as sign over copyrights in many cases.

    I hope this is the beginning of new open policy for academic reports. At the very least it belongs to the US public (or whichever gov't funds the research), and at best, it belongs to the public in general. With digital costs being a fraction of printed costs, there's really no reason this shouldn't happen.
  • Re:horrible idea (Score:5, Informative)

    by Kadin2048 ( 468275 ) * <> on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:18PM (#21275785) Homepage Journal
    I don't think the parent was talking about putting privately-funded research into the public domain; the issue is research funded with public monies, by the NIH.

    I agree with him, that research paid for by the public ought to belong to the public; you shouldn't be able to get the government to pay for your research and then use it to get a patent that lets you deprive others of the fruits of that research for a few decades.

    Nobody is saying that a company can't pay for research itself and reap the benefits of it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:23PM (#21275831)
    FYI, HHMI (Howard Hughes Medical Institute) is going public access: []

  • bullshit (Score:2, Informative)

    by m2943 ( 1140797 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:42PM (#21276041)
    Though in theory the idea sounds great, the issue becomes that there aren't too many open-access journals that are prestigious.

    Well, and this legislation fixes that by forcing prestigious journals to either become open access or go out of business.

    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,

    Peer review, editing, and peer review management are handled by unpaid volunteers.

    do layout

    Even if the journal does all the typesetting, that is a trivial cost given the uniformity of layout and desktop publishing tools available.

    maintain a highly dynamic website and a bunch of other expensive tasks.

    The "highly dynamic websites" are based on standard software packages that require about as much work to install and maintain as your average Wiki. Furthermore, that work is usually shared between dozens of journals for the same publisher, so the cost per journal is negligible.

    If publishers need more than 1/2 admin position for a journal plus overhead, they are doing something wrong. We're talking a cost of maybe $50k/year.
  • Re:Not so easy (Score:5, Informative)

    by gEvil (beta) ( 945888 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @11:20PM (#21276985)
    Honestly, I've given up on this debate around here (and for the record I fully support these open access policies). I used to work at a nonprofit scientific journal (small 3 person office, 15 AEs, ~45 review board members). Our print run was a little over 20,000. Our operating budget was a bit less than 1M a year. We barely broke even each year, and any extra that was made was funneled back into the next year's operating budget. We were all making average salaries and could easily have been making more in the for-profit world. Slashdotters are all convinced that they know how to run a publication for absolutely nothing. Save your breath. They simply don't want to understand that regularly producing a quality journal has costs, time, and effort associated with it.
  • Re:clever wording (Score:3, Informative)

    by discontinuity ( 792010 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @12:10AM (#21277369)

    Whaa? You might get paid to publish a Harry Potter novel, but not a scientific article. In fact, it isn't uncommon for authors to have to pay to have their work published (e.g., there are many journals for which the authors must pay to publish if their paper exceeds a certain number of pages).

    If anything, pushing toward a free publication model would only serve to help researchers who have limited funding because that would be less $ spent on accessing the research of others. (Though this expense tends to be borne not by individual researchers as much as by their institutions, and thus is more of an indirect overhead expense to them.)

  • by line-bundle ( 235965 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @12:33AM (#21277543) Homepage Journal
    Researchers, particularly young ones, do not have much of an option in deciding where to publish. Their tenure, funding, life depends on them publishing in a prestigious journal.

    It's not really their choice. The people who can make tenure decisions are deans, but deans tend beancounters who only look at the historical prestige of a journal.

    been there, done that.
  • Re:clever wording (Score:4, Informative)

    by tsa ( 15680 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @01:36AM (#21277995) Homepage
    Full costs for publishing are around $10k, and journals generally do only marginally better than break even.

    I don't believe that. Everything that you have to do to have a paper published costs YOU money. You have to pay for the research, and to get the paper published you have to pay a fee of around 80 USD per page. To get your paper published you usually have to give up the copyright, and to read your own paper you have to pay for the journal subscription, which usually is an insane amount of money. On the other hand, the publisher is happy to not pay you anything for peer reviewing other papers (which costs at least an afternoon if you want to do it right), or do other work for them. Only if your are employed directly by the publisher you will get paid. So scientific publishers have much less costs than magazines and newspapers (they don't have to pay their authors), and they get much much more money from subscriptions. I think they earn quite a lot of money.
  • Re:Not so easy (Score:3, Informative)

    by Hobbex ( 41473 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @05:13AM (#21278979)

    Slashdotters are all convinced that they know how to run a publication for absolutely nothing. Save your breath. They simply don't want to understand that regularly producing a quality journal has costs, time, and effort associated with it.
    Here is a completely free journal [] that is among the most reputable in its field. I guess it doesn't exist.

    Elsevier made a profit of 850 million USD off academic publishing last year, a more than 25% profit margin.
  • Re:Journal grants (Score:4, Informative)

    by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @07:05AM (#21279451) Homepage Journal
    > I have never in my ten years working with scientists heard of anyone getting a grant from a journal.

    Now it is true that publishing in the right journals can get you grants from people who read those journals. But that isn't what the GP said. It is misinformation to think these journals are handing out grants, the idea does not make sense on multiple levels.
  • Re:horrible idea (Score:3, Informative)

    by nyctopterus ( 717502 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @08:04AM (#21279703) Homepage
    Simply stating something doesn't make it the case. The free market is poor at directing research for several reasons - there is more money to made in tweaking 'symptom relief' drugs than cures for difficult diseases, and the customers of products lack the necessary knowledge to buy the most effective treatments (just look at how well herbal, and worse, homeopathic remedies sell for evidence of that). Leave it to the free market, and all we'll have is flu capsules with slightlytweakedmolecule(tm) and snake-oil.

    Research could be directed by the department of health informed by academics and doctors. Believe it or not, that's how an awful lot of research is done anyway.

    This make for interesting listening on the subject: []
  • Re:Not so easy (Score:3, Informative)

    by iabervon ( 1971 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @10:50AM (#21281067) Homepage Journal
    $1M/year is absolutely nothing compared to what for-profit journals gross, and they don't have huge costs that you didn't. If anything, the better-known the journal, the less trouble it will be to put together, because reviewers will care more.

    And $1M/year is not all that much to raise from a group of research institutions, even without providing a tangibly different benefit to those that pay versus those that don't. Divide it among the institutions that regularly publish in your journal, and have them mark it as part of the administrative overhead of doing research, and it's negligable. It's not that it costs nothing to run a journal, but the costs aren't large compared to everything else that's necessary to have research get done that doesn't get individually earmarked funding.

    For that matter, if it costs $50 to make a year's set of issues, and you're selling most of your print run and not making a profit, your subscription price couldn't be something that even an interested individual would balk at paying just for the warm fuzzy feeling of doing their share of supporting a valuable resource. $1M/year/20K readers is, in standard approximation units, "less than the price of a cup of coffee", i.e., nothing.

"If the code and the comments disagree, then both are probably wrong." -- Norm Schryer