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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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  • Preprints (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jmcharry ( 608079 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @08:54PM (#21275483)
    Unless things have changed since I was a grad student, scientific papers are circulated as preprints to others active on the subject matter. I have read that lately preprints are often hosted on PCs in the authors' lab. While this is often cited as being unfair to less well known researchers, one of my advisers pointed out that he sent out significantly more preprints than the number of people actually likely to be able to build on his work. Still, it does seem if the government is paying for the research, it should be publicly available without charge. For that matter, it should probably be unpatentable also.
  • horrible idea (Score:1, Interesting)

    by sentientbrendan ( 316150 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:06PM (#21275653)
    >Having access to papers is one step, but surely any fruits of this research should also be
    >placed in the public domain.

    Place the fruits of research in the public domain? Let me ask you something, who do you think *does* research an *why*? Do you have any idea how much it costs to develop a new drug?

    Most people agree that the current software patent system is bullshit, but even if you think software patents should be thrown out entirely, what about drug patents? Without pharmaceutical patents, there's no reason whatsoever to develop a given drug, or to publish the results of research. As it is, if pharma patents were removed, much of medical research would halt and never progress beyond where it is now.

    We want researchers to publish the results of their research without worrying about giving away the product of their companies research to competitors. Currently, patents and only patents protect this system.
  • by neapolitan ( 1100101 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:10PM (#21275695)
    I'm a researching physician -- You did not take your own points to the logical conclusion:

    A great deal (almost all) research has an NIH component of funding. Thus, if the bill goes through, *all journals will open their access* rather than have the scientists publish in lesser known journals, which will instantly become prestigious. The only articles that a 'closed' journal could publish would be those from industry or private/semiprivate funding sources (e.g. HHMI).

    This is an indirect way of forcing open access to journals, which is a *great* thing.

    Many journals have already opened up archive access. For instance, the New England Journal of Medicine [] has its archive with free access, and also releases "important" or widely read articles for free immediately.

    For the average scientist (including me) at a large institution, this has no effect. All of the hospital / university computers are whitelisted for almost all major journals by IP given the hospital / institution subscription. This will still occur, as I need journal access for articles when they come out, but this open archive access will benefit those not tied to major universities or private doctors out in the community.

    Of note, it is an unspoken agreement in science that researchers at major institutions help others. Rarely we will receive an email from a doctor / researcher in Bumbletown, Argentina asking "Can you send me article from 1997 in X journal, they want $399 USD for an archive copy," I have a patient with this reported disease, etc.

    They get a .pdf attachment in reply.
  • Re:horrible idea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:25PM (#21275857) Journal
    Let me ask you something, who do you think *does* research an *why*?

    College professors and because they love it.

    Without pharmaceutical patents, there's no reason whatsoever to develop a given drug,

    Really? Bettering the health of the general population isn't any incentive at all?

    pharma patents were removed, much of medical research would halt and never progress beyond where it is now.

    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.
  • by m2943 ( 1140797 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:33PM (#21275957)
    what about drug patents? Without pharmaceutical patents, there's no reason whatsoever to develop a given drug,

    Drug patents are an even better candidate for throwing out because the drug patent system isn't working.

    Right now, a big part of drug development is already publicly funded. Furthermore, the government pays a huge amount of money for those patented drugs. 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.

    And that's assuming that the drugs that are being developed are actually useful. In fact, market forces cause companies to develop the most profitable drugs, but those are not the drugs we actually need. Drugs that provide symptomatic relief for common, non-fatal illnesses are profitable. They become even more profitable if they are simply minor variations on well-known drugs (i.e., provide little additional benefit). Drugs that actually cure, that are based on public domain substances, or that go for risky and small patient populations are not profitable, but those are the drugs that we actually need.
  • uh, economics? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Quadraginta ( 902985 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:53PM (#21276149)
    I'm really sympathetic to this idea. Personally, it'd be great. When I was on a university faculty, I never thought twice about access to papers. If the journal had an online version, it was pretty much guaranteed that the university had a subscription and (thanks the magic of IP mapped subscription) I could just access the stuff from my office computer.

    Now, in private industry, it's a whole 'nother ballgame. If I don't want to trudge down to the God-damned library to read papers, which is very expensive in terms of my time, I'm screwed. I work for a small company, and there's no way we could afford subscriptions to all the journals I might like to occasionally read an article or two from.

    But on the other hand...who is going to pay the salaries of all the people who collect and publish scientific papers? I realize we don't have so many typesetters and draftsmen and layout artists needed, since stuff can be distributed right from the author's PDF file. But that just means we have to pay for server bandwidth, people to set up good security so that the server doesn't get hacked and start spewing a billion penis-pill ads, people to program a simple but robust user interface so people can upload and download papers, pay other (expensive) people to maintain a database and good search engine so you can find what you're looking for, et cetera and so forth. No way it won't cost loads of money to distribute high-quality work broadly.

    So who's going to pay for this? Should the taxpayers just take on this cost, too? The gummint set up a big server and run it? Is it really fair that all taxpayers pay for a service that a relatively miniscule number (mostly research scientists in academia and industry) are going to use? Or should it be some kind of overhead charged to each grant? (But in that case what happens to the private industry researcher not supported by a grant?)

    It's a nice academic-minded wish, that stuff should just be free, but it misses the ugly fact of TANSTAAFL that all of us outside the ivory tower understand all too well. "Free" just means you personally don't pay the cost, which means some other poor schlub is paying his cost and yours. (Indeed, the fact of the matter right now is that university researchers get virtually free access to scientific journals, since the subscription fees are typically paid by the university with tax-free money, and the massive cost of providing that is paid for my researchers in the private sector, who pay enormous fees out of taxable income for their subscriptions.)

    I don't have any good simple answers, and I agree something should be done, as the present system is Byzantine and unfair, and probably needlessly expensive -- but a blind mandate from Congress that research results should be "freely" available, unless accompanied by some plausible, fully-funded plan to pay for making it available, is just more unreal lawyerly crap like legislating that all children must test above average, declaring poverty and stupidity illegal, requiring all cars to get a billion miles per gallon by 2025, or defining pi as 3.
  • by raddan ( 519638 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:56PM (#21276181)
    I work for a publishing company that shall remain unnamed, but has a rather large stake in scientific publishing. Several years ago, our company president commented, in reference to state legislation that was being pushed to control the cost of college textbooks, that "campaign contributions just don't have the effect they used to anymore" and that the state PIRGs were just a bunch of fearmongers. While it it true that the cost of textbooks has gone up, because our customers are demanding more and more elaborate kinds of books, it is also true that our profit margins have remained the same: very large. His comment simply disgusted me. You can't go from talking about how "sudoku books are pure profit" to bemoaning the fact that people don't want to pay $200 for their intro psych book. Obviously, I don't want to bite the hand that feeds me, nor do I think this is a bad company to work for (quite the contrary), however this kind of shortsightedness is exactly what is wrong with the world. I expect them to fight this legislation with equal vigor.
  • Re:horrible idea (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mi ( 197448 ) <> on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @10:22PM (#21276435) 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.

    American public funds it, but placing it into public domain — as GGP poster wants — would make it automatically freely available to the rest of the world too.

    Making stuff is easy these days — designing, researching, developing it is hard. I would like us to be able to pick and choose, what we give away, and what we keep.

  • Slashdot is... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gillbates ( 106458 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @10:58PM (#21276769) Homepage Journal

    A peer reviewed journal for geeks. What we need is to take the same approach to the peer reviewed scientific journals. Currently, they leech off the authors, and turn around and charge exorbitant fees to the readers to boot!

    Example: Just today, I needed some information on a relatively esoteric mathematical topic: maximal count linear feedback shift registers. I'm interested in relatively fast ways of finding dense polynomials, without doing the brute force try and see approach. However, most of the articles returned by Google were either to simple - they just discussed the general theory - or they were pay to view. Not only is the abstract uninformative, I have to pay in advance to read, which means that even if I should fork over the exorbitant fee, I might still end up with an article which reveals little more than Wikipedia. To folks like me, who do need this knowledge for professional work, even the peer-reviewed articles are worthless to me if I have to pay for them in advance, without a preview. I can't help but wonder how someone supposedly well-versed in math can't figure out the economics of publishing: that if they pay to have their article published, and the publisher charges readers a fee, that their article isn't likely to be read by anyone of consequence. Because I do professional work in this field, such an article would be of great interest to me; however, those who go the pay-to-publish route literally work themselves into obscurity.

    Honestly, I don't understand why the prestigious research institutions don't offer their grant-funded research for free. Rather than publish in a little-read, expensive, journal, they could publish on the net and let advertising pay their editorial costs. Instead of hiring experts, articles could be rated by experts across the world, using digital signatures to verify the authenticity of not just the author, but the moderator as well. Readers could choose articles for reading based on their endorsements by recognized authorities in the field, rather than the selections of a few ivory-tower types.

    Some might say that top research journals must be pay-to-publish in order to retain editors who are experts in their field. However, this argument doesn't really hold that much weight in light of the Alan Sokal Affair [] in which a peer-reviewed journal published rubbish that was easily recognizable as rubbish to even the most casual reader.

    Interestingly, names like Schneier, Daemen, etc... are well known because their work is widely available, without a fee. I can't help but wonder if paying to publish in one of these peer-reviewed journals actually does anyone any good - because they are generally ignored by both industry and the public at large.

  • Re:horrible idea (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @11:34PM (#21277089)
    The average cost of a new pharmaceutical in the US is roughly $1.2 billion

    No. That's the cost of developing a drug + a couple of hundred million dollar advertising campaigns + millions to each of the board members so they can keep their 20% annual pay increase. Real costs are a fraction of that.

    Do you have any idea what you are talking about, or are you just talking out of your ass?

    Pot, kettle, black.
  • Great (Score:5, Interesting)

    by arrrrg ( 902404 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @11:52PM (#21277231)
    Maybe this will cause more journals to go the way of Machine Learning, which IMO would be awesome.

    From wiki []: The [Journal of Machine Learning Research] was founded as an open-access alternative to the journal Machine Learning. In 2001, forty editors of Machine Learning resigned in order to support JMLR, saying that in the era of the internet, it was detrimental for researchers to continue publishing their papers in expensive journals with pay-access archives. Instead, they wrote, they supported the model of JMLR, in which authors retained copyright over their papers and archives were freely available on the internet.
  • Re:clever wording (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Abeydoun ( 1096003 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @12:24AM (#21277463)
    Maybe I should have been more clear. As stated in the article, some of the journal publishing companies are non-profit in the sense that the profit which they gather from selling subscriptions of their journals is redistributed towards grants to other research projects. In fact these journals provide for a significant source of grants for projects which are not qualified for federal funding. So by harming the business model of these journals, this bill could essentially clamp down on said research giving government even more control over who can do what research.

    Hope that makes more sense...

  • Re:clever wording (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Genda ( 560240 ) <> on Thursday November 08, 2007 @12:34AM (#21277549) Journal

    I love the idea that this might happen...

    My only concern is that publicly available scientific material might cause the cerebrally challenged (as frequents the Bush Whitehouse), to be more inclined to censor scientific material paid for by public funds before they even get to be displayed. They've made it perfectly clear that when the truth is either incovenient, or embarassing to their religious affiliations, or whichever corporate interest that owns them this week, they haven't the slightest discomfort in hacking the truth right out of a good scientific research paper.

    I'm all for public information... sadly we don't currently live in time or place that empowers great thinking... or any other thinking for that matter.

  • Journal grants (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Per Abrahamsen ( 1397 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @04:05AM (#21278691) Homepage
    > In fact these journals provide for a significant source of grants for projects which are not qualified for federal
    > funding.

    I have never in my ten years working with scientists heard of anyone getting a grant from a journal.

    Can you provide any numbers that suggest this should be a significant source for anything?

    (Even if it was, with a few exceptions scientific journals are read almost exclusively by scientist, usually paid for by the basis research money for the institution. Thus, it would just move research money from one pocket to another, with a lot of overhead loss in the process).
  • Re:bullshit (Score:5, Interesting)

    by m2943 ( 1140797 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @05:28AM (#21279047)
    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?

    I said "$50k per journal". And, no, of course there is no way that Nature could get by with $50k/per journal; that's because Nature spends a lot of money on things unrelated to the core function of a scientific journal: they are spending money on increasing their ranking and citation index, they are spending money on making things better for authors (at least the ones that are accepted), they finance a big staff of journalists, etc.

    But those are really abuses of scientific publishing. Not only is it unnecessary for Nature's function as a scientific journal to do any of the other, expensive stuff, it artificially distorts the importance and reputation of the journal.

    The costs needed to maintain these journals, however, will have to come out of somewhere.

    Or, alternatively, the journals will simply have to focus on the essentials: reviewing and distributing, essentials that can be provided at minimal cost. If behemoths like Nature can't be financed that way, all the better. Nature is a fun and interesting journal, but people should pay for the "fun and interesting" part separately from the peer reviewed journal paper part.

    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

    So am I. If you need a "big staff" for publishing 10 articles a year, you are doing something wrong and deserve to go out of business.
  • by Non-Huffable Kitten ( 1142561 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @07:58AM (#21279679)

    The current system wastes total wealth by:

    1. Artificially limiting the production of patented medications (since those who can't afford the prices for patented medications won't buy them)
    2. Very large marketing efforts

    I'd venture the guess that this quite outweighs government inefficiency.

    Also, as has already been said in the comments multiple times but can't be reiterated enough, the government already pays anyway through research grants and healthcare.

  • Most university researchers probably don't have a problem.
    I'm a university researcher and I have a problem.

    About 70% percent of the papers I go looking for are under lock and key, with the key being upwards $30 per paper. This is just for an electronic, windows only, pdf file, which I download from an automated site. Precisely why papers cost this much is beyond me, as most are poorly written and not very useful. You're essentially playing lucky dip, looking for that paper that will be of use to you. The difference is that you're paying $30 a pop.

    Strictly speaking, I had a problem. I have in fact simply given up on restricted content, and if my university doesn't have a subscription to a journal, and I see a "give us money" splash page, I just regard the paper as "lost" or "unavailable" and move on. It's not really much of an impediment to research, though there are drawbacks. The drawbacks are however significantly less that blowing $300 in one day on mostly useless pdf files.

    Basically, if I can't get my hands on your paper, I'm not citing it, and frankly that's your problem, not mine. If people insist on publishing in restricted journals, they'll have to accept the consequences. In this digital age, online pay per view content may as well not exist.

How many NASA managers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? "That's a known problem... don't worry about it."